By CHRISTOPHER WILLARD and ANDREW JORDAN NANCE
Kids can learn the basics of mindfulness — how to follow the breath — using a timeless toy: an expandable ball called a Hoberman sphere.
When we teach kids mindfulness, whether it’s at school or at home, it helps to turn the lesson into a fun activity — through play, movement, visualization, and games.
One of our favorite toys for teaching basic breath awareness is the Hoberman sphere, a geodesic dome that can be folded and unfolded. We call this tool the breath ball because we can mimic the movements of breathing through the dome’s movements: as the dome folds inward, we imagine the out-breath contracting; as the dome expands, we imagine the lungs expanding on the in-breath.
The Hoberman sphere might be more remarkable than the fidget spinner. Some are pocket-sized, glow-in-the-dark — others are hundreds of pounds, hanging from museum ceilings. For our purposes, consider what’s most practical or interesting for you and your kids.
Introducing the breath ball to your child or group
Your script can go something like this:
- First, place your hand on your belly. Ask your children if they can guess what you are doing as you make a somewhat exaggerated and loud breath, perhaps in through your nose, and out through your mouth.
- Once they guess that you are breathing, congratulate them and let them know that you are going to teach them how to open up their breath so that their bodies and minds can open up and work their best.
- Then reveal the breath ball, giving it any name that feels right to you. You might settle on the breath ball, magic mindfulness sphere, or even the Breathing Orb, which has a nice sci-fi ring to it that might appeal to some kids.
Explore these five breathing ball activities with your children:
1. Basic Breath Ball Practice
- Using both hands, gently hold the breathing ball in front of your belly.
- Hold one square on opposite sides of the sphere’s surface.
- Take a deep breath in. As your belly expands, let the ball expand with it. (As an added option, make your breath audible so the kids catch on to the in-breath/out-breath pattern.)
- Breathe in fairly slowly, maybe holding momentarily at the top of the breath as you fully expand the ball.
- As you breath out, allow the sphere to contract to its smallest size.
- Repeat a few times and ask if the children are ready to take their turn. You might even count along in a rhythm (in for three, hold for four, out for five, or another ratio that’s easy to remember.)
Mindful Tip: This is a great small group activity. Invite the participants to sit in a circle and pass the breath ball slowly around the circle.
We recommend each student has the opportunity to breathe with the sphere three times and lead the rest of the group in synchronizing their breaths before passing it their neighbor. You can even have a conversation about how everyone’s breath is a little different – faster or slower, deeper or more shallow, more smooth or rough, just like a fingerprint.
2. Breathing Buddies
Once your child or group has gotten the hang of breathing with the sphere, we can level up to breathing with a buddy.
- Divide the children into pairs. Each pair will share one breath ball.
- Invite each pair to grasp one of the squares on opposites sides of the breath ball. Each pair should be standing (or sitting) with the sphere between them.
- See if they can try to breathe in and breathe out together as they move the sphere together. They might even see if they can find that pause between the in-breath and the out-breath.
Synchronizing the breath bonds the kids and it’s a great way to promote connection, kindness, and community. They can certainly count together, out loud or, for an added challenge, in absolute silence.
3. Group Breathing
- Invite the children to form a circle.
- Select a volunteer to stand in the center — maybe a kid who loves mindfulness, but sometimes kids who get a bit silly can rise to the occasion when we give them a job of leading, although no guarantees.
- The volunteer begins breathing with the breath ball.
- One by one, choose another focused child to join the one in the middle, until the group has all grasped a corner of the breath ball and joins breathing in and out together.
- See how many students can breathe together at once! This is another great opportunity to get a group or class to synchronize their minds and bodies all together.
4. A name game
If the group is needs to learn each other’s name (or you do) in a fast and fun way:
- Invite the children to sit in a circle.
- Find a student whose name you know and ask them, “Chris, can I roll the breathing ball to you?”
- Their response is, “Yes, Andrew, please role the ball to me.”
- You then roll them the ball over to them. They then have the opportunity to breathe three times, perhaps even imitating your unique breath before choosing another participant who they know.
5. No breath ball? No problem
If you don’t have one of these “magic” spheres, or left it at home, or your students are getting restless waiting for their turn, no worries! Simply touch all ten fingers and palms together and on the in-breath, expand your hands out while keeping your fingers touching, to create your very own expanding breathing ball. Then can even do this in pairs facing each other. But it can get even bigger than that! Kids can also stretch their arms way out wide like they are giving the whole world a hug on the inhale, then wrap their arms around their own shoulders giving themselves a hug on the out-breath for even bigger movements. These will help kids follow along even if your budget doesn’t include a line item of breath balls for every kid!
Keywords; breathing exercises, children’s play, mindfulness