Here, you'll find my writing as well as suggested reading and media.
1. Nature Mandala: best done in a natural setting where there are lots of safe bits and pieces of nature to explore
Whatever you find :)
You can begin simply introduce mandalas to your child by showing them pictures and pointing out the circular, radiating pattern that is common to mandalas. Explain the soothing nature of mandalas and, if you can, try to give cross-cultural examples while honoring the Hindu and Buddhist origins of this tradition.
Help your child collect items in your environment (shells, rocks, sticks, leaves, pine cones, etc.) You can collect all your materials first or collect as you build your mandala. Up to you!
You will begin the mandala with a defined circle, made from whatever you want. Bonus points if you can find a naturally occurring circle in your setting!
Your child will take their time. Give them space and time to collect items from nature and allow them to venture a distance away from you before returning to the mandala. This is a good way to help them build confidence and independence safely.
As your child returns help them create a radial pattern. If they don’t understand the concept or choose to create something totally different- that’s great! Encourage them to think freely!
Once you both agree that it’s complete, you may want to remind your child that this creation must stay in nature. It’s time to say goodbye to what you’ve created, take a picture of it or simply take a deep breath in with your child and move on.
The psychological benefits of mandalas have been well-documented. These patterns are meditative and naturally focusing for all ages. I’ve spoken about nature’s effects on one’s brain but I’ll mention here again- just being immersed in the outdoors is regulating to your child’s brain chemistry: their senses become engaged, distributing the cognitive load more evenly and brining them into the present without any effort. Our brains are designed to be creative and to interface with nature. Any activity that brings allows your child to be creative in nature will be beneficial. This activity also has a strong relational/attachment component, offering you the opportunity to praise your child, connect with them collaboratively and guide them to develop a sense of independence.
2. Sensory Box: this activity requires some forethought and planning. There are a wide variety of sensory-bins: wet, dry, shallow, deep. It’s up to you how much you want to invest. I’ll describe a bare-bones version here but feel free to elaborate and get creative!
A plastic bin or container with some depth- a shoe box could also suffice
A base material:
For a dry box: beans, rice, lentils (you could also use sand or any other material that might work)
For a wet box: shaving cream, water beads, water, cloud dough, etc.
Small objects with interesting tactile qualities such as:
-a piece of fun fur
The goal here is to help your child develop their ability to use touch to discern, and use their words to describe and use their imaginations to enjoy the mystery of discovering unknown objects within the tray.
Introduce the activity by telling them you’ve hidden some things inside beans/rice/lentils. Ask them to use their hands to try and gather clues about the objects. Invite them to tell you what they are feeling. They may want to close their eyes and as you ask them questions: is it hard or soft? Smooth or rough? Big, small, etc? When they make their guess they can pull the object out to see if they got it right. Either way join them in their curiosity and praise them for their discovery.
You can change out the objects each day and make this a sensory ritual at breakfast or after-school.
This activity is another opportunity to connect with your child as they develop regulatory skills. Our brains are so often overloaded with visual stimuli- asking a child to use touch to connect with their imaginal thinking is a great way to help them get grounded in their bodies, focused and calm. Because you’re with them through the activity you’re also helping them to develop a ritual of connecting with you in the present around a simple, fun, light-hearted activity.
3. Night hike: This one is best suited for those already comfortable with the outdoors.
None (maybe a flashlight!)
If you have a simple nature-walk you’re familiar with you can wait for a full moon and take your kids on a night hike. If you’re less comfortable with this, try an evening walk around the neighborhood. Let your child touch safe plant leaves or grasses. Their senses will be heightened- encourage their exploration and sense of adventure.
This activity is simple and it’s value lies in both the relational dynamic, sensory and nature-based elements. Beyond the brain science of nature-based and sensory immersions, this activity also invites your child to be a little courageous. If you are able to hold their hand through it- either literally or relationally- then this becomes great practice for them to learn that new experiences and tiny adventures can be fun and enjoyable.
4. Shaving Cream Painting: HIGHLY MESSY AND FUN!
Water colors & brushes
Mixing stick (optional)
A pieces of cardboard (2 per participant)
A tarp/placemat to keep things clean
Get ready to get messy. I’ll go over the nuts and bolts of this activity but I’ll leave the messy part up to you. Some parents prefer to do this activity outside and then rinse hands off with a hose. You’re the best judge of your child’s capacity for cleanliness so- up to you!
Spray some shaving cream on a piece of cardboard. Don’t set your kid up to fail if they have impulse issues- spray it yourself unless you know they can restrain themselves.
Demonstrate and describe to your child the process of dripping watercolor paint into the shaving cream.
Once you have a few different colors in the cream, use the back of the brush or a mixing stick to swirl the shaving cream around. This should leave a fluid and swirly pattern in the shaving cream.
Next, gently press your piece of paper onto the shaving cream color-swirl.
Lift the paper up after a few moments and scrape off the shaving cream.
A beautiful image of the swirly paint should remain on the page.
This is a simple creative arts activity designed to engage your child’s senses and imagination. The more involved you are with this activity, the more positive feelings your child will have about the natural imperfections that arise during the creative process. Allow them to make a mess, don’t judge their final product: the process is the point. It’s the journey not the destination.
5. Nostril Breathing: A classic breathing exercise that’s great for both parents and kids to learn
Come into a comfortable seated position. I recommend criss cross on a couch.
Use your thumb to close one nostril.
Breathe in through the other.
Release your thumb to open right nostril, and
Use your ring finger to close your left nostril.
Breathe in (still left nostril).
Close left and open right.
Close right nostril and open left.
Continue this for several rounds. It may be best to introduce your child to this as a mirror game, describing the steps (breathing in, breathing out). You may also want to go over this exercise a few times when they are calm before introducing it during a time of stress.
This classic breathing exercise comes from the world of yogic breathing. These techniques have a well-documented impact on soothing anxiety, relieving somatic symptoms of stress and increasing happiness. Feel free to ask your kid about how they feel before and after- use a thumbs up, middle or down, or a feelings chart. If your child demonstrates no change, not worries, keep trying!