Preschool-aged children are full of energy, and they can be easily distracted. Sometimes they focus on silly behaviors of other students instead of their lessons. Knowing these developmental characteristics is useful for planning how to channel this energy and silliness in positive ways to guide children in redirecting their focus.
Recent research in early childhood behavior has revealed the benefits of introducing mindfulness to help children to better control their feelings and actions. Mindfulness exercises improve one’s mental state of being in the present and lead to better self-awareness of one’s emotions and surroundings. There are some simple ways that teachers can use mindfulness activities to help children pay more attention to lessons and to draw their focus away from things that have the potential for distraction. Try the following steps to engage children in an exercise that works best at the beginning of a session to set the tone for spirituality and listening to God’s Word.
First, have the children stand in a circle in the center of the room. Ask them what is on their minds and what they did right before class. This exercise will help to clear their thoughts about other topics that are not related to faith formation. Tell the children to close their eyes and pretend that they are bubbles floating in the wind. If they have worrisome thoughts, they can let them float away, so they can listen to what Jesus is trying to teach them in the lesson.
Next, invite the students to march in place and shake their arms and legs to get out the wiggles. After this vigorous activity, help them channel their positive energy. Ask them to pretend they are tiptoeing through a room that is full of flowers. They should be careful not to step on the blossoms. This imagery will help them to transition to peaceful thoughts and open them up to the Spirit.
Lastly, ask the children to stand up and to close their eyes. Invite them to focus on their breathing as they work through this exercise. Instruct the children to breathe in through the nose and out through the mouth. Remind them to keep their eyes closed throughout the activity, while you guide them through the imagery of peaceful things from God’s creation, like the warm rays of the sun, fluffy clouds, a cool spring breeze, and the sound of the ocean.
Transitions and Movement
Helping children to refocus their energy at the beginning of a session is not the only time catechists can use these mindfulness activities to get out the wiggles. If one notices that children are becoming distracted, use the breathing exercise as a transition between activities.
Another strategy is to come up with an outdoor activity that is related to the lesson to draw attention to God through nature and exploration of the outdoor environment. When taking children outside, consider providing clipboards so that children can draw pictures of what they see and write down a few key words to capture how they feel about the activity.
An important thing to remember when working with preschoolers is to provide breaks between activities or a smooth transition that requires movement versus those in which children are seated and working quietly among themselves. When working on projects, some children will need more assistance than others, so offer additional activities for children who may finish a craft earlier than others and want to move on to something else.
In conclusion, there are numerous ways that children can be positively engaged to redirect their focus away from distractions in the classroom. Keep lessons moving, and channel the positive energy of children to keep them fully engaged in the lesson at hand.