Mindfulness has been shown to reduce anxiety, improve body satisfaction, reduce bias, and even help depression. It’s never too late to start meditating if you’re an adult, but you can also help kids practice mindfulness with fun games too.
In the age of iPhones and tablets, we all need time to unplug and re-center ourselves — especially children. Here are fun activities that anyone of any age can do to help them practice mindfulness.
What is a Mindfulness Game?
A mindfulness game is one that forces you to slow down and think about the present moment or your inner world. They foster mindfulness, or the feeling of being aware of one’s body, emotions, or current experience.
Mindfulness is a skill one must grow and improve upon through time, like how a weightlifter must grow their muscles after increasingly adding the duration of their workout. The more one practices mindfulness, the easier it becomes, and the stronger the mindfulness “muscle” becomes.
These mindfulness games are a way to dip your toes into the mindfulness field. While the best way to practice mindfulness is perhaps meditation — or focusing on your breath for extended periods of time — these games certainly help if you or your kids get bored with meditation.
Why Mindfulness Games Are Helpful
They Don’t Take Up Much Time
The best part about these mindfulness games is that they can usually be done in less than five minutes. That short amount of time matches a child’s short attention span perfectly.
Once you master one mindfulness game for a certain amount of time, you can slowly increase the duration of the activity. Since mindfulness games tend to require patience and paying attention to something, whether it be one’s surroundings or internal world, the games help improve one’s attention span.
A long attention span is crucial for accomplishing meaningful work, but this current age opens us up to countless distractions. Cal Newport says as much in his book Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World, which highlights the danger of distraction to our true productivity.
Adults tend to mind this more than children, but children can benefit from building their attention span too. Not only will being able to focus help boost performance in school but also improve their enjoyment of highly edifying acts like reading and talking to friends and loved ones.
Our attention is constantly being undermined by social media, notifications, and videos with lots of jump cuts. Increasing how long you do your mindfulness games is a way to get your and your child’s attention back.
Support Self-Growth in Emotional Intelligence
Some mindfulness games aim to improve one’s focus and attention span. Others prompt you to notice your emotions and reactions to things, which in turn force you to be retrospective.
When one learns deeper truths about how their minds operate, they improve their emotional intelligence. For those who don’t know, emotional intelligence is defined as the ability to understand and manage one’s own emotions and the emotions of others.
You may slowly grow your emotional intelligence as you go through life. Facing arduous experiences like death, break-ups, and moving cities force us to act calm and collected even when our emotions run haywire.
But instead of facing a situation that spurs us to grow, we can slowly grow our emotional intelligence so that we can be prepared when life hits us with tough experiences.
Building mindfulness, emotional intelligence, and maturity through daily games is one great way to do that.
People of all ages feel stress. Lots of kids feel pressure to succeed in school and in other extra-curricular activities, thanks to their parents, peers, and society. And as kids grow into teenagers and young adults, the stress of college and joining “the real world” can make that stress grow exponentially.
That’s why it’s good to teach kids how to manage their stress at an early age. Everyone is bound to experience intense periods of their stress at some points, and so it’s easy to rely on unhealthy coping mechanisms during that time, such as binge eating, drinking too much alcohol, and consuming illicit drugs.
Stress can be considered a toxin due to how intensely it can disrupt your mind, body, and relationships. Therefore, the better someone learns to handle their stress, the better off they’ll be in life. The same is true for children as well as adults.
Help Beginners Get Started
It’s really easy for beginners to mindfulness to get bored. Meditation can be daunting. Sit in a dark room and just listen to your breath for 10 minutes? You can’t scratch that itch on the back of your neck, and you feel awkward when you have to cough at some point. Besides, is just sitting there and breathing actually helping you grow?
Well, yes, but some people more so than others need to build up to meditation and it’s mindfulness fruits. And like with how these games can help build your attention span, so too can these mindfulness games help build your tolerance to mindfulness in general.
This notion is especially true for kids, who need more encouragement to stay still and be introspective. While mindfulness games can aid anyone in life, kids will appreciate them more than other age groups.
Help Socialize and Boost Self-Esteem
Some mindfulness games can be done alone. Others require a group or an instructor to facilitate the game.
When mindfulness activities are done with more than one person at a time, they instantly become social endeavors. And since mindfulness games tend to spur you to be retrospective and positive, they can help boost the participant’s self-esteem.
The more people — especially children — do group mindfulness games, the more they do build rapport with the game’s members. If the kids start as strangers, they’re likely to become friends by the end of the game session. And if the kids already know each other, they can deepen their friendship into life-long bonds thanks to mindfulness games.
Top Mindfulness Games
The first mindfulness exercise helps put our emotions into perspective. As a result, it builds patience and emotional intelligence.
For this game, all you need is a jar, water, and glitter. Put some glitter into the jar and add water till it’s full. Immediately after adding the water and attaching the lid, the glitter should be suspended in the water and floating about, but you might still be able to see some clear parts of unobstructed water.
Now, shake the jar vigorously. Upon doing so, the glitter should completely obscure the water so that you can’t see through it.
While the glitter still flurries around the water, ask the person you’re playing with to hold up a certain amount of fingers behind the jar. It’s your task to guess how many fingers they’re holding up. The chances are high that you will say you don’t know or guess incorrectly.
The glitter is a metaphor for your emotions when they become very strong and feel like they’re getting the best of you. It’s hard to see what’s actually happening on the other side because you can’t see past the blizzard of feelings blocking your way.
The only way to guess correctly is to wait for the glitter to settle down to the bottom of the jar again. You might be able to guess correctly before the glitter completely settles, but your vision will still be obstructed because you didn’t wait long enough.
The main lesson of this game is that patience during tense situations is the only way to make rational, clear-headed decisions. When we’re angry or upset, we often can’t see past our emotions. They move too quickly and too forcefully, and the only way to see clearly is to wait. Trying to agitate the jar further only prolongs the flurry of glitter.
So the next time you get mad, give yourself some time. Take a walk for a few seconds or count to 10. You have to let time pass because that’s the only way emotions settle. You can’t hasten the process, and if you try to make choices when the emotions are still in full swing, you’re likely to make a mistake.
The point of the game seems to be solidified after the first time you play the game, but you can play the game multiple times until you have enough of it.
Balance on One Foot
When you try to balance on one foot, you often find yourself twitching to find your balance and sticking your arms forward and back to stay upright.
However, the reason you lack balance is that you’re unfocused. Try balancing on one foot and focusing on one spot on the floor near you. Stick your finger out and point to that spot to really visualize it. When you boost your focus, you boost your balance. Keep trying until you’re able to bend down and touch that spot on the floor while balancing on one leg.
The reason this game is so effective is that you can do it anywhere. You can do it while you wait for your morning breakfast burrito to heat up in the microwave while you’re still in your pajamas, for example.
This game is best done while you’re alone if you’re afraid of getting embarrassed, but you can do it with another person to feel less silly. By doing it with another person, you can add an air of competition to make things more interesting.
The more you do this game, the easier it becomes. You find your balance faster and touch the spot on the floor more quickly.
This game is nice because it gives your brain a button to push. You go from lackadaisical, unfocused blur in your daily life to a snapping into focus — as if you’ve pressed a button. It’s like a picture coming into resolution, and you feel your body and the spot on the floor like a whole unit.
You can then tap that mental focus button for school or work. Playtime is over — you have business to do. It was touching a spot on the floor originally, but now it’s getting a paper finished or filling out those invoices.
In short, while this game might seem silly and juvenile at first, it creates a shortcut to easily calming your mind and giving you total-body focus whenever you demand.
Again, it seems weird, but Jenga helps you improve your mindfulness. Here’s why.
Jenga is a game of patience and thinking before you make a decision. You have to be sure you want to pull that block out to prevent the Jenga tower from collapsing. As a result, you have to think with precision and pause before you make a choice. From there, you become more aware of the consequences of your actions to hopefully avoid making the wrong outcome.
So while Jenga seems like a fun, family-friendly group game, you can glean some mindfulness lessons from the session. It’s fun to do with friends and loved ones, so you have to put your choices in perspective to what other people will decide to do as well.
And not only that, but being the one to cause the Jenga tower to fall is a great exercise in emotion management. It’s never a fun feeling to lose and watch your mistake clatter onto the ground.
If your box of Jenga is slowly gathering dust on the board game shelf, wipe it off and bust it out. It has more lessons to it that you think.
This activity doesn’t solely need to be done with pennies, as you can do it with other coins as well. The penny is preferred, though, because it’s often deemed as a useless, forgettable currency. But it’s frivolity is where the learning lesson lies.
Have a small cup filled with pennies — about five to start. Pick one penny out of the cup and study it. Concentrate hard on the penny’s features, such as any dents in the penny’s side, the year it’s from, or how the president’s face looked.
After 10 seconds, return the penny to the cup and shake it around, so you lose where you placed it. Now it’s your job to try to find the penny you studied.
All pennies tend to look-a-like if you don’t pay attention. But when you hone your eye, you find that you can notice differentiation in seemingly identical items. There are differences in everything, though, which is why finding them is so enriching.
This game can be done anywhere at any age. It’s beneficial to all. This is especially good if you find yourself forgetful, or if your friends often comment that you’re oblivious to details. If you want to improve your ability to see detail and remember the little things, this game is for you.
This game is better suited for children. If you’re outside at, say, a park, prompt your kids to count how many animals they see — as if they’re at a free-range nature reserve, and they are the zookeeper who needs to keep track of them all.
There is an abundance of animals that we as adults see but often ignore, like squirrels and pigeons. But children don’t feel bored with these animals quite yet, which is why this game is so enticing. They can feel like they’re in control of their surroundings while noticing the cool creatures in their midst.
The purpose of this game is to notice all the animals around you and keep count simply. If you’d like to make it a competition, you could set the rule that whoever finds the most animals at the end of the time outside wins. Dogs and other domesticated animals count too.
The more animals you start to count, the more you notice differentiations between them, because how do you know if the pigeon you saw previously was the one you already counted? Not only does this game teach you to pay better attention to your surroundings, but you’re forced to notice finer details of what you do see as well.
This next game teaches participants impulse control, patience, and breathwork. It’s also a simple way to make a game out of items you probably already have lying around the house. As with Zookeeper, this game is particularly helpful for children.
Have the children participating in the game lie on their backs on the ground. This should preferably be indoors where the children in a setting the children are familiar with and comfortable in.
As the children lay on the ground, have small items on-hand nearby, such as Legos or small toys. Starting at the legs, place an item on the child’s leg. After about thirty seconds, add an item on the child’s knees. Slowly work your way up till you get to their chin. To keep things simple, opt to use only seven or eight items.
The goal of the game is to see how long it would take before the first item falls, so it’s best to have a stopwatch handy. Some children get bored and might go to scratch their chin or switch their position, but doing so will cause them to lose the game quicker.
Therefore, they must also learn to control their impulses and practice self-control. Self-control is often called the key to a successful life, as it allows you to not only do the necessary but perhaps unpleasant activities for a successful life, such as studying for your classes or going to the gym but avoid instant-gratification that is often at odds with successful habits.
It’s never too early to teach kids to control their impulses and practice willpower. This game is a great way to do that in a fun setting.
As with Jenga, Simon Says is a simple and popular game that teaches mindfulness principles. You can find the game in physical form at most board game stores or in a digital version online for free.
Simon Says consists of a circular game board with four parts so that it looks like a pie chart with four quarter-part sections. There’s also usually a circle in the middle that says “Simon,” so there’s no confusion about what game you’re playing.
Then, one of the four sections will light up. After it’s been lit up, it’s your turn to repeat what Simon said. Once you’ve hit the correct button, two sequences will light up in random order, and you’ll have to repeat the same sequence correctly.
The sequences progress longer and longer. With every round, it becomes easier to mess up. That’s why having laser-focus during every round decreases the likelihood of a mistake.
Simon Says is a classic game for a reason: the premise is simple, but it slowly becomes harder and harder to win. But the more you play the game, not only does your short-term memory improve, but your ability to focus as well.
If you’d like to play a free and rudimentary version of Simon Says, you can do so here. You might just have to ensure you have the proper flash plug-ins enabled on your computer.
This is more of an arts and crafts game, and it’s best to do with lots of people. Since it has a child-like element to it, it’s best suited for children 12 and under.
Bring in a bunch of old magazines you don’t mind cutting things out of. With plenty of glue and scissors to go around the group, ask everyone to cut things out of the magazine that they think is meaningful to them. It would be best to have some construction or printer paper on hand so that the kids can keep their cut-outs in one place.
The point of this game is to practice the other part of mindfulness that often gets forgotten about: affirmations. Mindfulness isn’t just about focusing on your breath or controlling your impulses. Mindfulness also includes changing the way we think about our thoughts and our abilities to influence them.
The more negative thoughts we have, the more likely we are to fall into toxic mindsets that foster more negative thoughts. When we think we’re not good enough, when we think we’re not as talented as the people around us, we let those thoughts take over and control our behavior. In short, we create our realities based on our thoughts.
That’s why actively trying to put more positive thoughts into our minds is so important. The more positive thoughts we think, the better the outcomes of our life will be. And not only that, those positive thoughts can lead us to have a better image of our bodies and ourselves as well.
With depression rising among young teens, it’s crucial to teach kids to treasure positive thoughts and keep it with them. It’s never too early to teach people to be positive and focus on the aspects of themselves that they like, and this exercise helps facilitate that.
On a warm, clear night, lay upon the ground and gaze into the stars. Not only will you be floored with immense perspective in life — mainly how insignificant you and all your problems are and how there are bigger things (like planets and stars) out there that you will never know about — you can also be lucky enough to see a shooting star.
Shooting stars are actually pieces of space rock or dust that gets close to the Earth’s atmosphere, which is why you can see it.
There are lots to observe about space if you only pay attention. So grab a blanket and lie out under the stars. If you’re with friends, try to see who can count the most shooting stars. It’s a fun way to spend time doing humanity’s most timeless activities: looking up at a starry sky and wondering what it all means.
Tense and Relax
This game teaches inner-body focus so that participants are always aware of what’s going on in their bodies. It’s also a relaxation game — and a great way to fall asleep.
Have participants lie down on their backs in a brightly lit room. You need the brightness to prevent people from falling asleep mid-game.
Tell them to clench their feet as tensely as they can for five seconds then relax. Ask them to note how their feet feel without having them actually say a word.
Next goes the calves, thighs, butt and hips, hands, stomach, chest, arms, neck, and face. Once each of these body parts have been tensed, ask the participants to tense their whole body then relax. They should feel a total body sense of calm and release as if they could drift off to sleep at any moment.
This exercise is good for people who are anxious and find that they can’t relax. It’s also good exercise for insomniacs.
Mindfulness isn’t just for the mind. Exercises like this one help incorporate the body into mindfulness as well.
These mindfulness games are a great way to let beginners explore the benefits of mindfulness without too much intimidation. You can probably do these games with the materials you already have, so there’s no reason not to get started.