Simple Mindfulness Activities to Help Students Learn

Helping students understand their emotions and behavior when they’re young will set them on a path to being successful learners and empathetic people throughout their lives. Our new book Teaching Kids to Pause, Cope, and Connect provides easy-to-implement lessons and activities that help students develop self-regulation strategies, healthy coping skills, and empathy and compassion.

This exclusive look inside Teaching Kids to Pause, Cope, and Connect shares how you can implement a brief mindfulness routine in your classroom.

Simple Mindfulness Activities to Help Students Learn

A brief mindfulness routine can help students prepare to start a lesson or to move on from it by calming their physical activity and their thoughts. A consistent and brief mindfulness practice can develop into a habit for students when done repeatedly. These routines are highly customizable based on the classroom environment and the mix of personalities present on any given day.

Here, we offer suggestions for ways to guide children through mindful pauses, helping them calm their minds and bodies before beginning each lesson (mindful check-in). A similar routine to conclude each lesson (mindful checkout) pro­vides an extra opportunity for students to solidify what they have learned before moving on to their next activity.

Mindful Check-In

Mini Mindfulness Script

You can use the following script as a mindful check-in at the beginning of each lesson to help students practice mindfulness and be present for the lesson.

Sit comfortably and notice your body settle down.

Let go of what you were doing before this.

Breathe normally. Pay attention to your breath as it comes in and goes out.

Breathe in . . . breathe out . . . That’s one breath.

Count your breaths up to four.

Pause for students to take four breaths. When you reach four breaths, focus your attention on me.

Notice how your body feels right now.

The Pause

The Pause is another mindful check-in option. Once students learn the Pause, we recom­mend using it as a mindful check-in for each lesson in this book to reinforce the practice and help students build a habit. To use the Pause for a mindful check-in, follow the steps below.

Invite students to find a comfortable position and close their eyes or gently gaze downward. Guide them through the Pause:

  1. Stop; take a breath; observe; proceed.
  2. 4 × 4 × 4 Breath: Exhale to the count of four. Inhale to the count of four. Repeat four times.
  3. Mindful Detective: Ask: What signals are you getting from your body? What are you feeling? Pause. What are you thinking? Pause.
  4. Wise Action: Ask: What should you choose to do? Students may not have something immediate to So you may suggest they prepare to sit quietly and pay attention.

Ask students to open their eyes if closed. They can wriggle their fingers. Then begin the lesson. (The Pause can also serve as a mindful checkout; see below. If you’re using the Pause for a mindful checkout, move on to the next activity of the students’ day.)

Mindful Checkout

At the end of each lesson, you can do a mindful checkout to help students consolidate their learning and prepare to transition to their next activities. Invite students to find a comfortable position and sit quietly. Then, guide them through one of the following mindful checkout activities.

Practice Breath Awareness

Guide students through the Mini Mindfulness Script (use the script above). After students have taken four breaths, ask them to notice how their bodies and minds feel at that moment. Then move on to the next task.

Be Mindful of Change

This mindful checkout has students pause to notice how they feel at the end of the lesson compared to how they felt at the beginning. This is a simple way for students to notice changes they experienced as a result of the lesson and a way for you to assess the effect of the activity on members of the group.

Begin by asking students to sit comfortably and notice what they are thinking and feeling in their bodies. Ask them to consider how they felt before the lesson and to notice how they feel now. To add fun and creativity to the checkout, suggest a playful checkout metaphor, which can change with each lesson. Introduce a category for students to use as a metaphor (such as an animal or a color), asking them to describe how they felt before and after using items from that category.

For example, you could prompt students by saying, “Describe how you felt before and after the lesson as . . . animals.” Demonstrate this by sharing your own description first. For example, you might say, “Before this lesson, I was feeling a little stressed and racing around—like a squirrel. Now, after practicing belly breathing with all of you, I feel relaxed and sleepy—like a bear getting ready to hibernate.”

Summarize the comparison: “Coming in, stressed squirrel. Now, hibernating bear.” Then ask students to give their own descrip­tions using animal metaphors. One student might say that he felt angry like a growling lion before the lesson. But afterward, he may feel calm and confident like a soaring eagle.

Keeping metaphors to one category rather than leaving it open-ended provides stu­dents with guidance and structure, as well as a way to compare their metaphors and relate to each other. This is a fun way for students to share their experiences and build connec­tions. As they get used to it, students may suggest their own categories of metaphors. Here are some categories you could use:

  • animals
  • colors
  • weather
  • types of food
  • types of flowers
  • insects
  • environments in nature (ocean, mountains, forest)
  • cartoon/video game characters

Practice the Pause

Once students learn the skills for the Pause, you may choose to practice it as both the mindful check-in and mindful checkout. This repetition can help children master the skill, so it becomes more automatic and accessible when they are distressed. To use the Pause for a mindful checkout, follow the steps listed above.

Adapted from Teaching Kids to Pause, Cope, and Connect: Lessons for Social Emotional Learning and Mindfulness by Mark Purcell, Psy.D., and Kellen Glinder, M.D., copyright © 2022. Free Spirit Publishing Inc., Minneapolis, MN; 800-735-7323; All rights reserved.

We welcome your comments and suggestions. Share your comments, stories, and ideas below, or contact us. All comments will be approved before posting, and are subject to our comment and privacy policies.

FSP Springybook Signature(c)© 2022 by Free Spirit Publishing. All rights reserved. The views expressed in this post represent the opinion of the author and not necessarily Free Spirit Publishing.

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Using Growth Mindset to Help Students Overcome Perfectionism

By Shannon Anderson, author of  Mindset Power: A Kid’s Guide to Growing Better Every Day

Using Growth Mindset to Help Students Overcome PerfectionismHave you ever heard the saying, “Practice makes perfect?” I spent many years thinking my goal should be executing something perfectly to achieve success. As an overachiever, I wore myself out and defined my worth based on my ability to do things perfectly. Since no one can be perfect, it’s hard to ever feel successful.

As a teacher, I noticed many of my students were hard on themselves. I had first graders who would cry if they missed one problem or didn’t know how to do something the first time they tried it. This led me to write one of my first picture books, Penelope Perfect. Based on my experiences as a kid and the students I witnessed with the same traits, I wanted to share what we miss out on when we chase perfection. People who strive for perfection are running a race without a finish line.

Perfectionism can rear its head in a couple of ways. There are times the perfectionist will work themselves to the point of anxiety. There are other times the perfectionist will avoid doing things to prevent any chance of failure. They would rather not try something new to avoid looking like they aren’t smart. It feels safer for them to do what is easy and achievable.

Having a growth mindset means that you believe that you can continue to learn new skills with enough time, practice, and effort. You believe that your abilities can be further developed. You apply the learning from your setbacks and try new ways to accomplish goals. You aren’t afraid of failure because each failure is a chance to grow. You recognize failure, or trials, as part of the learning process—a chance to develop your abilities further. Adopting a growth mindset is what helped me to conquer my perfectionist tendencies.

Growth mindset thinking gives you the grace to know that perfect performance isn’t the expectation. It helps you understand the science behind how the brain works. As we learn, our neurons (brain cells) are constantly communicating with each other. The connections these neurons make cause our learning to strengthen. Every new trial helps us create new connections, which strengthens our learning and helps us make progress. Knowing this helps us see that hard work and perseverance determine what we learn, not some talent reserved for the lucky.

Some perfectionists will see someone else perform a skill well and assume it was luck or some innate ability. This is what I call the iceberg effect – seeing the end results of lots of practice (the part of the iceberg above the water) without seeing the hard work and failures behind the scenes (the part of the iceberg below the water). We can encourage our students during the persevering part of learning—the struggle stage, by reminding them that they are doing exactly what it takes to grow.

We can help teach a growth mindset by pointing out people who students see as successful and their struggles and failures along the way to that success. We can celebrate our students’ failures as a brave step in trying something new. When I wrote the book, Yay! You Failed!, this is exactly the reason for the title. It is so much better to try and fail than to not try at all. This title was inspired by a scene in the movie, Meet the Robinsons, when a boy invents something he is proud to share. He gathers family and friends around and it completely fails. The reactions of the crowd are the exact feeling I want kids to have when they read this book. Here is the clip if you’d like to check it out or share it with your students:

When I go to schools and ask kids if they’ve heard that “practice makes perfect,” many raise their hands. I assure them that this is not the case. We need to adjust the advice to say, “Practice makes PROGRESS.”

I hope you and your students have the courage to continue making many magnificent mistakes this year. These mistakes will serve you well as you train your brain to make stronger connections and grow.

Looking for more ways to help students build growth mindset thinking? View other growth mindset articles here.

Shannon Anderson, M.Ed., authorShannon Anderson has taught for 25 years, from first grade through college level. Her career highlight was being named one of the Top 10 Teachers who inspired the Today Show. Shannon is also the author of many children’s books and a national speaker. She was named the JC Runyon Person of the Year for her work helping kids with social and emotional issues through her writing and speaking. To find out more, you can visit:

Free Spirit books by Shannon Anderson:

Mindset PowerY is for YetPenelope PerfectCoasting Casey

We welcome your comments and suggestions. Share your comments, stories, and ideas below, or contact us. All comments will be approved before posting, and are subject to our comment and privacy policies.

FSP Springybook Signature(c)© 2022 by Free Spirit Publishing. All rights reserved. The views expressed in this post represent the opinion of the author and not necessarily Free Spirit Publishing.

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Top 10 Books to Gift This Holiday Season

Holiday gifts in October? Yes! It’s never too early to look for special gifts for the holiday season. Check out our list below for books and series to share with the people in your life—or add them to your own wish list.

Top 10 Books to Give This Holiday Season

Laney Dances in the Rain

Laney Dances in the Rain book cover

Laney Dances in the Rain is a wordless picture book that allows young children to use their imagination to tell a story in their own words and their own way. Its empathy-building storyline about being true to oneself supports self-belief and self-expression even in the face of questioning or criticism.

Laney loves to dance in the pouring rain. One day, she encounters a scowling boy who tries to ruin her fun outside. But with the support of her mom, Laney goes back to what she loves—even after the boy attempts to destroy her beautiful yellow raincoat. When Laney embraces her true self, she brings joy to herself and her neighbors.

You Got a Phone! (Now Read This Book)

You Got a Phone! (Now Read This Book) book cover

Phones are super fun, really convenient, and amazingly useful tools! But when kids and smartphones are together, problems can pop up. You Got a Phone! (Now Read This Book) offers fun and straight-to-the-point advice for kids with phones and parents who want to keep phone trouble at bay, making this the perfect book for any kid with a new phone.

Starting with six basic phone rules to help keep kids safe online with a healthy life balance, this book also includes information on:

  • How to avoid muddled misunderstandings
  • Bullying, cyberbullying, and phone-y meanness
  • Safely posting and sharing photos online and how to avoid phone-related stress or anxiety

Check out the rest of the Laugh & Learn® series!

Screen Time Is Not Forever (Board Book & Paperback)

Screen Time Is Not Forever Board Book   Screen Time Is Not Forever paperback

Discover easy ways to set boundaries and positive screen-time limits with children. Part of the Best Behavior series, Screen Time Is Not Forever comes in a board book for ages 1–4 and an expanded paperback for ages 4–7.

You Wonder All the Time

You Wonder All the Time book cover

“Where do colors go at night, and why do shadows creep?” You Wonder All the Time celebrates curiosity and the thought-provoking questions children ask and supports them as they continue to learn. “Will you stay curious as you grow? It’s a brilliant part of you!” The book’s charming rhyme and heartwarming message that children’s many questions are welcomed and their wondering is loved make the book perfect for storytime, home, and the preschool classroom.

Also grab the rest of the All the Time series.

Jayden’s Impossible Garden

Jayden's Impossible Garden

Timeless and vibrant, this story highlights the beauty of intergenerational relationships and the power of imagination and perseverance in bringing the vision of a community garden to life.

Amidst all the buildings, people, and traffic in his neighborhood, Jayden sees nature everywhere: the squirrels scrounging, the cardinals calling, and the dandelions growing. But Mama doesn’t believe there’s nature in the city. So Jayden sets out to help Mama see what he sees. With the help of his friend Mr. Curtis, Jayden plants the seeds of a community garden and brings together his neighbors—and Mama—to show them the magic of nature in the middle of the city.

Dream Up Now

Dream Up Now

Dream Up Now offers a safe space for creative self-expression of all emotions, both positive and negative. Using simple journal prompts and art project ideas, with plenty of room for writing and reflection, Dream Up Now is a powerful tool for navigating emotions and self-reflection.

Coloring Book and Reflections for Social Emotional Learning

Coloring Book and Reflections for Social Emotional Learning

With a unique combination of coloring book illustrations and reflection prompts, this activity book effectively combines mindfulness and SEL. Each of the SEL topics features two pages of activities and prompts. The left page includes a prompt for reflection through journaling or free-drawing, and the right page is an illustration for mindful coloring. Topics range from positive self-talk to empathy to trying your best.

Also available in Spanish!

Me and You and the Universe

Me and You and the Universe

Foster an appreciation for all the ways everyone and everything—from the tiniest cells to the largest solar systems—are connected. Author and illustrator Bernardo Marçolla beautifully articulates the value of learning at an early age to look up to the sky and, as we see the stars, to know that we are part of them. The world will remain the same, but if we open our eyes and our hearts, our experience will be completely different.

“Although we seem different from each other, all of us, deep down inside, are very similar.”

Gentle Hands and Other Sing-Along Songs for Social-Emotional Learning

Gentle Hands

Favorite songs like “Frère Jacques” and “B-I-N-G-O” get turned on their heads with new, easy-to-remember lyrics offering lessons on social and emotional skills, such as how to manage anger, how to ask for help, what to do when you’re afraid, how to be a good friend, when to use a quiet voice, and more.

Happy Healthy Baby® Series


A perfect gift for baby showers, newborns, and birthdays. Bouncy rhythms and bright photos and illustrations capture the moments and moods of baby’s day and hold baby’s attention. As the books are shared with them, babies absorb concepts of love, safety, and confidence.

Available in English and in English-Spanish bilingual editions!

Which books will you be giving this holiday season?

We welcome your comments and suggestions. Share your comments, stories, and ideas below, or contact us. All comments will be approved before posting, and are subject to our comment and privacy policies.

FSP Springybook Signature(c)© 2022 by Free Spirit Publishing. All rights reserved. The views expressed in this post represent the opinion of the author and not necessarily Free Spirit Publishing.

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Acting Out: 3 Drama Exercises to Help Kids Manage Big Emotions

by Valerie Coulman, author of Dragons on the Inside (And Other Big Feelings)

Acting Out: 3 Drama Exercises to Help Kids Manage Big EmotionsWhenever we tackle a new skill, we need practice. Whether it’s playing an instrument, baking the perfect cupcake, teaching in a classroom, or driving a forklift, we all have a collection of abilities that have taken time and experience to reach our current skill level.

But sometimes, we expect children to be able to manage their emotions without giving them space to practice appropriate, contextual responses to the feelings they experience. For younger children placed in a new environment or situation especially, those big feelings can quickly become overwhelming.

Why not be intentional about helping them learn constructive ways to understand and respond to those feelings?

Theater, or drama-based exercises, can provide one practice arena for recognizing, naming, and managing big emotions. By helping children explore feelings in a managed setting, they have space to learn what those feelings are and how to respond in positive and helpful ways.

Here are three exercises you can incorporate into a classroom setting, use as warmup exercises before a larger activity, or use at home or in individual counseling sessions.

1. Bad Day at the Zoo

Just like humans, animals can express the same emotion differently. A wolf that feels scared and threatened may bite or growl, while a puffer fish inflates and “freezes” in that position to ward off whatever is frightening it. A monkey might scream to “scare back” whatever it’s alarmed about, and an elephant waves its ears, kicks its feet, or may trumpet.

What would it look like if those animals were having a bad day?

In this activity, children, through their actions, demonstrate how that animal might show whether they’re feeling happy or scared or hungry. For example, a cat purrs when content, a parrot bites things when bored, and a mouse runs when scared.

This exercise can be done as a teacher-led group activity where all children respond to the same prompt given by the teacher or as a presentation segment where each student is assigned an animal, is given time to practice, and then performs for the group to demonstrate their emotion (and the animal). Familiar animals will make this exercise more comfortable for children; unfamiliar animals can be used as a teaching opportunity.

Conversation points to include:

  • How do people show they feel angry? Facial expressions, loud voices (or silence), crossed arms, or even hitting or shoving might express anger.
  • When you feel afraid, what do you do?
  • How does your pet show you their feelings?
  • Which animal do you think is most like you in how they express their feelings?

A fun wrap-up to this activity is to show videos of animals whose behavior indicates an emotion. Startled cats are always a funny choice.

2. “Over the Top” Feelings

When emotions get really big, people often make choices they regret later or that have unanticipated consequences. This exercise helps children practice what those big emotions feel like and provides an opportunity to talk through how other people respond to emotions.

For this exercise, assign an emotion—and don’t forget the ones that feel good—to each student and have them imagine how they would behave if that emotion got too big for them to hold inside.

If the emotion is frustration, actions might include faster breathing, waving arms, lessened ability to listen (demonstrated by hands clapped over their ears), slumping in a chair or on the floor, or throwing a pretend object.

Then stop and discuss what they were doing and how the students watching were feeling as it happened.

Conversation might include:

  • How did you feel when you saw someone acting frustrated?
  • What actions might you do to show what your feelings were while they behaved that way?
  • When you were acting “over the top,” did you notice what other people were doing? How could they have gotten your attention to “interrupt” that emotion?
  • What do you think you want to remember when you see someone having a big emotion?

One note: if students work in small groups on this exercise, every group should be supervised so that the actions don’t get to the point of harming anyone. Ideally, doing this as a practice exercise in a managed setting is self-limiting—the emotion can’t escalate to the point of needing intervention—because the stimulus for a genuine outburst or negative emotion isn’t present. But an anxious student, for example, may not respond well to an enacted anger. Be sensitive to the children present for this exercise and adapt as needed.

3. Graceful Trees

Knowing how to de-escalate your big feelings is an important tool for managing emotions. This short exercise is a mindfulness tool that helps children learn how to step away from overwhelming emotions by focusing on their immediate environment.

For this exercise, have students spread out so they have space to move. Begin by having them plant their feet firmly on the ground, crouched down on the floor like a seed. Ask them to imagine their toes reaching down into the ground below them. What kinds of things would they find in the ground as their “roots” sink in?

Then ask them to slowly “grow,” without moving their feet, as you count to 10, reaching up to the sky and spreading out their arms and fingers like branches. Ask them to imagine the breeze blowing through their fingers, the sun warm on their face.

How will they move as the wind is blowing? Can they imagine water coming up from the ground and reaching their fingers? Have them listen as they breathe in and out, counting to three as they breathe in and three as they breathe out.

Now ask them to notice how their heart is beating quietly, how their breathing is relaxed, and how peaceful they can feel when they focus on something specific in place of a big emotion.

Drama can be a powerful tool to help our children move towards emotional awareness and management and gives them a wonderful space to practice those big emotions.

Valerie Coulman authorAward-winning author Valerie Coulman leads a creative life, working as a creative arts director, writer, artist, editor, playwright, song writer, photographer, seamstress, teacher, and/or set designer. Valerie and her husband, Randy, are proud parents of three amazing grown kids and grandparents to one tiny tot, and together they face dragons and sing with toads. Born and raised on the Canadian prairies, Valerie now lives in beautiful southern Oregon where she enjoys hiking and kayaking when the weather is good, and jigsaw puzzles and a cup of tea when it’s not.


Dragons on the Inside book coverValerie is the author of Dragons on the Inside (And Other Big Feelings).

We welcome your comments and suggestions. Share your comments, stories, and ideas below, or contact us. All comments will be approved before posting, and are subject to our comment and privacy policies.

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Enter for a Chance to Win Bullying Prevention Books!

This giveaway is now closed. Congratulations to our winner, Staci S.! In honor of National Bullying Prevention Month, we are giving away books that teach kids about friendship, social skills, and empathy. One lucky reader will win:

Follow the steps below to enter and unlock bonus entries.

Bullying Prevention Book Bundle Giveaway

The winner will be contacted via email on or around November 3, 2022, and will need to respond within seven business days to claim their prize, or another winner will be chosen. The winner must be a US resident, 18 years of age or older.

We welcome your comments and suggestions. Share your comments, stories, and ideas below, or contact us. All comments will be approved before posting, and are subject to our comment and privacy policies.

FSP Springybook Signature(c)© 2022 by Free Spirit Publishing. All rights reserved. The view expressed in this post represent the opinion of the author and not necessarily Free Spirit Publishing.

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