Students often doodle—sometimes to fidget, to focus, or just to stay awake in class. The habit can frustrate teachers.
But doodling can also promote mindfulness, said Tim Needles, an art and emerging media teacher at Smithtown High School East in St. James, N.Y., during a presentation at the International Society for Technology in Education’s annual conference here.
Mindfulness is about focusing the mind on the present and tuning in to what you’re feeling in the moment without dwelling on the past or future. The practice helps kids calm themselves, reduce stress, regulate their emotions and focus—key skills for students to be able to learn.
But too often when people hear the word mindfulness they immediately think of meditation, said Needles, and that can limit how people practice it.
“It’s a really good tool but it doesn’t work for me,” he said. “So, I needed to find different ways to be mindful that did.”
Here are 5 simple doodling exercises to practice mindfulness:
1. Doodle before and after breathing exercises
Have students doodle whatever they want before and after a breathing or meditation exercise, and then examine the differences between the two drawings. Needles said his students often draw with hard and sharp lines before the mindfulness exercise and then with soft, flowing lines afterward.
2. Tap into the senses
To encourage his students to be present in the moment, which is at the heart of the idea of mindfulness, Needles said he will have his students draw the sensations they are feeling—such as what they are hearing, touching, or smelling.
3. Draw emojis
Have students draw emojis expressing their current emotions. This check-in exercise gives teachers vital data about what kind of headspace their students are in at the beginning of the lesson. Needles said he uses Jamboard, a Google app that’s basically a digital whiteboard, that his students draw on simultaneously.
4. Sketch deeper thoughts
To dive deeper into the emotions they’re feeling, students can draw their emotions in more depth than a simple emoji. They can use the following prompts to explore how they’re feeling and how to take positive steps to improve their state of mind: What am I feeling? Where do I feel it in my body? If it could talk, what would it say? What might this be teaching me? What do I need right now? What tiny step can I take to meet my need?
5. Connect the dots, literally
Another simple exercise that helps students relax and de-stress is to put a vertical line of five dots on either side of a piece of paper and have students connect the dots in an expressive way. Students can also do this collaboratively using a program like Jamboard.