Overarching learning goals: The aim of these activities is to deepen personal connections and relationships with nature-based mindfulness. These activities provide opportunities to enhance student focus, emotional regulation, empathy and happiness through connection with nature. Students cultivate present moment awareness so that calm, considered and conscious choices can begin to replace impulsive, unconscious reactions.
Teacher background information:
The benefits of mindfulness
We are a culture increasingly becoming addicted to instant communication and ever-changing technologies. While technologies such as mobile phones bring wonderful opportunities, children are spending more and more time being passively engaged in these technologies rather than actively engaging in the world around them. This includes the natural world and our environment. There is growing concern about the lack of time young people spend in nature and the consequences of this disconnection.
The practices of mindfulness and meditation offer people of all ages an effective path to develop healthy responses to the chaotic world around them and often inside of them. The key benefit of meditation and mindfulness is developing self-knowledge, or learning about what’s going on inside. This positively influences student wellbeing, emotional intelligence and resilience. Other benefits include improved concentration, sharpened focusing abilities and simply being calm and still.
It is important to clarify the differences between relaxation and mindfulness.
- Activities such as reading a book, eating an ice-cream or lying in the shade can be considered relaxation activities.
- These same relaxation activities can become mindful activities by becoming more aware. Learning to observe the self and bring attention fully to the present moment is key to mindful activities. Mindfulness requires practice (although some would argue that the same could be said of relaxation!)
By practicing mindfulness activities outside, students can enhance their focus, emotional regulation, empathy and happiness through connection with nature.
Nature provides us with limitless, enjoyable opportunities to focus and be absorbed in the moment, and offers countless ways to improve our minds.
Activity 1: Planting seeds
- Clear plastic cups, cotton wool.
- Seeds that will sprout easily. Choose one type to be used in all cups (lentils,alfalfa, mung beans, etc.)
- A container of water with labelled cups for mixing liquids to match with seed containers.
- Additives, such as salt, vinegar, dishwashing machine powder, methylated spirits.
- Sticks, labels and pens to identify each cup.
Preparation: Find a suitable space for this activity and assemble all necessary ingredients and containers. Note: To speed up the germination process, soak seeds overnight in water. Drain in preparation for class.
Introduction: Discuss with students what plants/trees need in order to thrive, e.g water, soil, sunlight, etc. Explain to students that this is a simple visual activity to see first-hand the impact of conditions (light/dark) and a range of additives on the growing potential of seeds.
Step 1. Each student/group will need twice as many cups as you have additives. For each type of liquid you will be watering seeds with you will need two cups: one of these cups will be to grow seeds in and the other will be to mix and store your liquid for watering your seeds (e.g. if you have vinegar, salt and methylated spirits as additives you will need eight cups: two for each additive and two for just plain water).
Ask students to set up each seed-growing cup with a base of cotton wool inside the cup.
Step 2. Place a teaspoon of seeds in each seed cup on top of the cotton wool.
Step 3. Organise students to prepare liquids to add to each cup. One cup should just have pure water (even rainwater, if possible). Other cups should have a mix of an additive and water (2 teaspoons of additive to 100 ml of water).
Step 4. Students should clearly label each seed-growing cup and each liquid formula.
Step 5. Instruct students to add enough water/liquid solution to fully moisten the cotton wool.
Step 6. Place seed cups with access to light under a windowsill (where they receive light, but not full sun).
Step 7. Place one seed-growing cup (with pure water added) in a dark corner with no access to light.
Step 8. Each day, check moisture levels, adding more liquid as needed.
Step 9. Regularly observe growth levels of seeds in cups (the students might like to take a photo each day).
Step 10. Invite students to share a quiet moment for mindful meditation: take a moment when either seated or lying down together to create the ideal conditions for all the systems of the body/mind to return to being settled, calm and in balance, creating an ideal environment for the body/mind to harmonise, just like in nature.
- Ask students what this activity makes them think about in the way we conduct industry and manage the environment.
- Ask students to reflect on how the body and mind is affected by our habits: diet, hydration, exercise, drinking, smoking, taking drugs, etc.
Activity 2: The natural interconnected web
- Ball of string or wool.
- Use whiteboard to notate ideas from students that arise out of this session.
Introduction: Introduce the concept of inter-dependence/connection to students. “Humankind has not woven the web of life. We are but one thread within it. Whatever we do to the web, we do to ourselves. All things are bound together. All things connect.” – Chief Seattle
Read Chief Seattle’s quote to your students to cermet their understanding. Begin by asking them to consider the natural elements: sun, sky, wind, water, fire and earth.
Explain to students that in this activity they will be starting with a natural starting point, e.g. sun, water, earth or fire. They will explore the multifaceted connection points of each element by throwing the wool/string across the room as each student calls out a sequential connection and then throws the wool to another classmate.
For example: Starting with the ‘trees’ – trees providing shade, protection (wind, rain, sun), cooling environment, soil health, oxygen, resources such as timber/fibre/woodchips/fuel for humans and shade/homes/food for animals.
The details of this activity will emerge more clearly as you follow the procedure below.
Step 1. Arrange students in a large circle.
Step 2. Ask for someone to start the web, by holding the end of the string/wool, calling out the agreed starting point (e.g. trees) and throwing it across the circle to a classmate.
Step 3. The next student connects the idea and throws it to another classmate across the circle.
Step 4. Keep going as a ‘topic’ becomes covered and keep the process open and flowing as you move onto other connected elements. Continue until all students are holding onto the web.
Step 5. When everyone in the circle is holding on to the web, stop. Create a ‘meditative moment’. Ask everyone to practice a quiet, standing meditation and just simply let their hands, bodies (and tongues!) be completely still. Pause for a few moments and experience how every thread of the web can become completely still.
Ask how this activity helps students recognise the connected web of their life.
Consider social, emotional, performance, health connections arising from this theme, and the imperative to connect and look after nature.
Australian curriculum links:
General capabilities: Personal and social capability.
Cross-curriculum priority: Sustainability OI.2.
These activities can be used with all subject areas to enable student deep focus and engagement. They are also directly linked to the following Australian Curriculum content descriptors:
Year 7 & 8 Health and Physical Education
- Plan and use health practices, behaviours and resources to enhance the health, safety and wellbeing of their communities (ACPPS077).
- Plan and implement strategies for connecting to natural and built environments to promote the health and wellbeing of their communities (ACPPS078).
Year 9 & 10 Health and Physical Education
- Plan and evaluate new and creative interventions that promote their own and others’ connection to community and natural and built environments (ACPPS097).
Time required: 50 – 60 minutes for each activity.
Also check out:
Download the full lesson plan at www.coolaustralia.org/activity/schools-tree-day-nature-mindfulness-60-minute-activities/
Explore the Nature of Mindfulness Digital Library at http://www.coolaustralia.org/ca_topic/nature-mindfulness/
Register for Schools Tree Day at http://treeday.planetark.org/involved/coordinate.cfm
About Cool Australia’s lesson plans
Cool Australia is an award winning not-for-profit that helps teachers inspire their students through real-world learning. They provide free-to-access units of work and lesson plans that integrate topics such as sustainability, ethics, Aboriginal Histories and Cultures, economics and wellbeing across subject areas. Cool Australia in partnership with Planet Ark has created ‘The Nature of Mindfulness’ series to celebrate Schools Tree Day. These lesson plans provide secondary teachers with a range of activities that help their students concentrate, regulate their emotions, exercise empathy and experience happiness through connection with nature. The resources were written by Janet Etty-Leal, a highly experienced educator who designs mindfulness programs within schools.