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Be still and know

23 August 2019

In a new book, Sonia Mainstone-Cotton explores how mindfulness and silence can be used with children in worship

Gina Kelly/Alamy

THE general advice on using meditations with children is that you use a practice with one minute per age; so a five-year-old would be able to do a five-minute practice. In my experience, if you have been practising this for a while, a lot of children can manage longer. Noel Keating (Meditation with Children: A Resource for teachers and parents, Veritas, 2017) believes that meditation is a very ordinary practice to children. He suggests that, once they are used to the practice, they often enjoy its simplicity and happily use it regularly, but, to start with, keep it short.

In the meditations he uses with children, he guides them to use a prayer word or mantra — the word that he often uses with children is “Maranatha”. Below are some different ways to use meditation practice. I would suggest that before you use any of these practices with children you become familiar with them yourself. Also, when using these exercises with children make sure you do them alongside them.

How to write guided meditations

THERE are meditations available in books or online, but it is great if you can write your own, or encourage the children to be involved in writing them. You could use a poem, a prayer, or some words from the Bible as the basis of your meditation. My tips for writing a meditation for children are as follows:

* Keep it short.

* Use words they will understand.

* Use words that help create an image; for example, walking along a beach and how the sand feels under their feet, or picking a flower and thinking about the colour and the smell.

* Talk them through what you want them to do: for example, “Lie on your back, put your hand on your belly, notice your breathing.” This puts them in a good place to start a meditation

Meditation with visuals (age three and over)

THIS is a method I have used in a lot of different situations over the years, with groups of children and as part of an all-age service. This exercise is a simple early introduction to using meditations; it enables you to start using silent, meditative practice in a carefully curated way.

You will need:

* bean bags/cushions/blankets on the floor

* visuals on a screen.

Explain to the group that you are going to be listening to some words. Encourage the group to sit or lie on the floor. Explain that there are also some pictures to look at as well as words to listen to, and that they may prefer to lie with their eyes closed, or they may like to sit up and look at the pictures as well as listen to the words. Slowly read the words of your meditation and have an appropriate visual on the screen; for example, if I was using a meditation about creation, I would ensure that my images were of creation.

Meditation in silence (age four and over)

AT FIRST, meditating in silence can feel odd, and we can often be worried that children will not want to engage in this, but I have found that a lot of children are open to trying it out for short periods of time. This exercise is a very simple introduction to starting contemplative practice and experiencing times of silent prayer. You will need a timer to start and end the meditation: you can use an app on your phone or iPad for this; it saves you watching the clock.

Explain that we are going to sit and be with God for a few minutes, in silence. Remind the children that God is there with them in the silence. First, talk about how, often, when we sit in silence, our minds can be full of lots of thoughts and ideas and that is ok, God doesn’t mind. You could use a “calming bottle” as an example of how our minds can be (see the sidebar).

Encourage the children to close their eyes, put their hands on their bellies, and notice their breath moving in and out. Encourage them to notice what they can hear around them. Remind them that, if thoughts come into their head, that is fine: just notice the breathing. At first, keep this to about three minutes; as you do the exercise more, you can slowly increase the duration. You can remind children that they can use this at any time in the day. Remind them that if there are times in the day when they are feeling cross, upset, or are finding things hard, they can close their eyes and do a short meditation to help them feel calmer and more peaceful.

Meditation using a prayer word (age five and over)

FATHER Christopher, from Downside, talks about using a word-mantra as a meditation. This is also the main type of meditation that is used by Noel Keating (2017) in the Meditation with Children project. Father Christopher talks about using the word “Maranatha,” which means “Come, Lord Jesus.” The other type of prayer-word or phrase often used is the Jesus Prayer; Mother Sarah refers to this in Chapter 3 as the main prayer in the Orthodox tradition. The words for this are: “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on. . .”

This is a good exercise for children who find sitting in silence tricky. For this exercise, you are still in engaging in a stillness practice, but you have words, in your mind, to focus on. This method can also help to bring calmness to the child. You could use this exercise at the end of the day, before bed; it would be a calming, contemplative way to end the day. I know some families who use this together as part of their bedtime routine.

You will need a timer to start and end the meditation. Encourage the group or child to sit in a comfortable position, usually with their back straight and feet on the ground. Ask them to close their eyes. Suggest to them that they slowly repeat the word in their heads — “Ma-ra-na-tha” — saying each part on separate breaths; for example:

Ma – inhalation
Ra – exhalation
Na – inhalation
Tha – exhalation

For the first few times of using the meditation, set a timer for between three and five minutes.

This is an edited extract from Using Christian Contemplative Practice with Children: A guide to helping children explore stillness and meditation in worship by Sonia Mainstone-Cotton, published by Jessica Kingsley Publishers at £14.99 (Church Times Bookshop £13.50).

Calming bottle

THIS is similar to a snow globe. If possible make this with the child. Pour some glitter into the bottom of an empty plastic bottle. Fill the bottle with water and add one teaspoon of glycerine. Attach the lid and securely tighten (glue on if possible). Shake the bottle and all the glitter will fizz around. Explain that sometimes this is how our minds and our tummies can feel. Watch as the glitter slowly calms. Get the child to put one hand on their tummy and one on their heart. Ask them to breathe slowly as they are watching the glitter settle. Explain that our minds and tummies can be like the glitter, with lots of thoughts and feelings going fast. As we meditate and breathe slowly, our mind and tummy can begin to calm and we can begin to feel calmer.

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