Relationship Building

The Mindful Art Room (Ep. 191)

In today’s episode, Nic again solicits advice from expert teachers around the country–this time on the topic of mindfulness. No matter where you are in your school year, it can be helpful to bring some calm to your classroom. Listen as Nic shares ideas and listens to ideas from a number of teachers on mindfulness practices that work well in the art room.  Full Episode Transcript Below.

Resources and Links


Nic: No matter what part of the year you are in the midst of, this message could be very helpful to you in your classroom. Some of you are wrapping up. Maybe just a couple of days left in your school year. Congratulations! Some of you have about 20 days left or so going into mid-June. Some of you, across the world especially, are sitting in the middle of your school year, just rocking out every day. Well, no matter what, I’m guessing that all of you could listen to this message today because it’s going to be all about mindfulness, how to bring calm to your classroom.

This is Everyday Art Room and I’m your host, Nic Hahn.

Mindfulness is something that I love to bring into my classroom, but I do not consider myself an expert by any means. I like to bring in some breathing techniques. I like to bring in some calm music, maybe a chime once in a while. We have practiced a lot of different opportunities in our school to create mindfulness in our class. Because I don’t consider myself a mindfulness expert, I have asked on Instagram if there are experts out there, people who use mindfulness in their classroom on a regular basis.

I had a good reply from multiple people of, “Yes, I use mindfulness in my classroom. I reached out to some of those individuals, and I have some experts to bring to you today. What I like about today’s conversation is the fact that we’re going to hear from multiple people again. We’re going to hear different techniques, but also learn about some new tools that you can implement directly into your classroom. They’re canned, ready to go, and safe to implement into your classroom perhaps even tomorrow.

Our first guest is Josie Carter. She’s going to talk to us about some techniques that she uses, as well as an app that she uses on her phone.

Josie: Hi, my name is Josie Carter, and I am the art teacher at West Smithfield Elementary in Johnston County, North Carolina. And a couple of mindfulness activities that we did at my school, one of the programs that they use is Capturing Kids’ Hearts. And in this program, they utilize things like at the beginning of the year, the class would develop a social contract of how to treat each other. And then as you go along in the year, you would remind them of things that they had as a group put down ways that other people should be treated.

And then there’s hand signals that go along with that program, a timeout signal to show that the teacher is talking and everyone needs to listen. And some other signals too. I think there’s like a reminder signal where if somebody puts that signal with their hand next to somebody else, that is to remind them that they may not be treating each other the way that they agreed to in the beginning of the year. They also have calming corners involved with that. If somebody is upset, they can ask permission to go to the calming corner for a few minutes to get themselves together.

It encourages positive behavior choices. So if somebody is not making those positive choices, they might need to sit down and write down some reasons or ways that they need to correct their behavior. But another mindfulness thing that I used a lot of times at the end of the class was called It’s Mind Yeti, And it has this one place on the website where it’s called powers. And when you open up that section, that has these different islands and the islands are like gratitude islands, senses, body, feelings, thoughts, breathing exercises, and kindness island.

And if you click on those different islands, they have little short stories, like maybe about three, four-minute little stories about how to show gratitude or ways to show kindness and how to get your feelings under control and things like that. Sometimes at the end of class, after we clean up, I’ll turn off the lights and they’ll just sit there and put their head down for a minute and just listen to one of these to calm down before we line up to go. Thank you very much. Bye.

Nic: Josie had some great ideas there. I love the idea of a social contract, and that might be something to start the year off with perhaps next year. Think about the nonverbal cues that she described. I love that. Not yelling at someone about not following the rules, but having nonverbal cues for students to communicate with each other. That is a great tip. Having a calming corner in my school. Many of our teachers use a calming corner as well. I was a bit resistant of a calming corner because of that one hour or that 30 minutes or 45 minutes that you have with each of our students in our classroom.

Here’s how I made my mindset change. I thought about the fact that if they are upset, the student is not going to be learning. They’re not going to be actively engaging and probably just getting under your skin because they’re not doing the job that you’re asking them to do. So if there is a calming corner, this allows them to take a break and you to take a mini time out as well. And what I also like about it that we have implemented in our school is we’ve added a timer. And that has been brilliant.

Just giving an iPad to the student with maybe two, three minutes on it and that allows them to have that calm downtime with a visual timer in front of them. And it also allows them to know that there’s a limit to how much time we can spend in a calming corner. But the Mind Yeti as an app that you can put right onto your phone, amazing. I love the idea of having like a breathing island, as she called it. Knowing those breathing techniques, having them guided through or gratitude, that seem to be one that stuck up in my brain as well.

We will, of course, put that Mind Yeti link into our podcast notes so that you have the opportunity to look at that a little further if this seems like something that would be interesting to you. Another expert that we’re bringing on today is Nikki Leatherwood. She seems to have a lot of experience using mindfulness in her classroom.

Nikki: Hi, I’m Nikki Leatherwood, and I’m from Austin, Texas. I have an associates of arts in art from Austin Community college and a bachelor’s of fine arts and visual arts studies from the University of Texas at Austin. I am currently living and working in the same district I grew up in and have been teaching at Guttle Elementary for 11 years. I teach a mostly TAB choice-based curriculum. I have cobbled together a mindful practice that works in my room rather than using just one technique.

My district has historically had a supportive social-emotional learning department with really good training available. They have a two-year leadership class teachers can sign up for to learn how to incorporate SEL into their classrooms and have paid for me to go to a week-long responsive classroom training. Something that has made mindfulness really accessible to me is Mindful Classrooms, which was developed by the former mindful guru in our district, James Butler, who taught pre-K at my school for many years.

Mindful Classrooms has a bunch of resources, but the one that I find the most useful is Mindfulness in a Jar, which has mindful prompts that you can pull and do with your class at any time, and they take about five minutes. It’s a good tool for when class is getting a little intense and you want to calm everyone back down. If we are doing something that is going to require everyone to stay calm the whole time, I will sometimes start class with a Mind Yeti video, which is a soundscape resource on YouTube that helps kids focus their attention and calm themselves down.

I also like to incorporate mindful artmaking prompts into class. We have done Zentangles, neuro graphic paintings, made art based on feelings and the mood of music, and I also have mindful coloring sheets available as needed. The benefits to mindfulness are that students are generally calmer. Sometimes they come in really riled up from the class before or lunch or recess and doing a quick mindful activity helps them get into the right frame of mind so they can focus and be successful in art. The biggest challenge is really buy-in. Some kids are just not interested in mindfulness.

They don’t want to be quiet and close their eyes and breathe and notice their surroundings and how they feel. I try to combat this by making almost everything but being quiet optional. You don’t have to listen or close your eyes or breathe along, but you do have to be quiet so the people who want to participate can. I like to think that maybe just listening to it happening is still helping a little. I think one of my main jobs as an art teacher is to teach my students how to go out into the world and be artists on their own.

Even though I want all of my students to become famous artists and for the drawings that they give me to someday be worth millions, I know that the real way most will use art in there outside of class life is as an outlet for stress relief. And I want them to have the tools that they need to do that effectively. I hope incorporating mindfulness helps some of them achieve that goal.

Nic: Now, both Nikki and Josie have brought up the app Mind Yeti. That seems like something we can all check into if we aren’t using mindfulness in our classroom, because that seems to be a way to have it easily accessible. And again, you don’t have to be an expert. The app itself is the expert in it leads you through it. But this Mindfulness in a Jar, that is a clever idea. To know that you have this jar of who knows what you’re going to be doing I bet creates a little bit of excitement in the classroom when your hand goes in there and you pull out a mindfulness activity.

That’s clever. I love that Nikki reminds us that art, art subject, the subject that we teach actually is a mindfulness tool. Yes, absolutely. Zentangles comes to mind right away, but even those adult coloring pages that so many of our peers and adults out there pick up to find that calm, that is a great thing to bring into our classroom as well. If adults are benefiting from it, guess what? So will kids. Nikki also brings up the opt out option. I love that she acknowledges that there are people in this world, not only students, but people in this world who are not buying into the mindfulness idea.

That’s okay. We provide to all of our students. So in order to reach every student, mindfulness can be a practice that you add into your classroom, but allowing students to have that opt out, “Nope, I’m not interested,” and having only rule be sit quiet to allow your peers to really enjoy this mindfulness, that’s a great solution to implementing mindfulness in the classroom and assuring that all students have the option to feel comfortable and safe in the environment that you’re bringing them into.

I have one more expert guest who uses mindfulness in his classroom. Please listen to what Isaac has to share with us.

Isaac: Hi, my name is Isaac Carmen, and I live and teach in Northern California. I’ve been teaching for 15 years, 11 years, teaching students with special needs and four years teaching art in elementary school. Many of my students are and have been learning English as a second language, and I mainly have taught in Title I schools. I enjoy teaching art to students with special needs, as well as students in general education. I have put together and mindfulness toolkit for my classrooms from having taken any given child workshops with Kennedy Center presenters in association with Focus 5.

The founder of Focus 5, Sean Layne, is the author of the Acting Right book, which is the source for a lot of information I have used in my classroom. Their website is and the book Acting Right can be used with or without those trainings basically Acting Right emphasizes that students bring with them tools and skills every day, and tools can be used while skills can be developed.

The method uses music, visuals, breath, and kinesthetic movements to cue students to focus, concentrate, and have balance with their emotions while being able to choose when and how to use their voices and bodies. Especially while doing distance learning for the past year, I’ve had to adapt this method for Zoom. And the primary way I’ve done this through scaffolding the conversations about their artwork to guide them in reflection, such as by asking them to share something they like about their art and asking if there’s anything they would change.

This is inspired by Acting Right, which uses a strong and weak, rather than bad or good to describe behavior. And this is also relevant to describing art. I also asked students to use hand gestures such as thumbs up, down or sideways or sharing a word or an emoji in the chat or making a face to self-assess how they feel about their art, a new lesson or idea, or how they are doing for the day, as well as before, during, and after a lesson. In terms of benefits and challenges, the challenge of translating this to Zoom while encouraging students to reflect on their artwork is one aspect.

Another challenge is for me to release control so that students are using the tools rather than my providing a scaffold at all times for them. The benefit of Acting Right in the context of mindfulness is students hear the music or see my hand signals and respond without a discussion because they know what they’re being asked to do as a community.

The use of words like strong and weak and seeing students begin to self-assess without judgment are some of the best benefits as I hear the conversation move past whether their art or their behavior is good enough for me as the teacher and to a conversation among themselves and with themselves. The website I mentioned earlier for Focus 5, as well as the book, provide more information on the methods and training in using Acting Right for anyone who’s interested in learning more about this program.

I’ve been using it for four years, and it’s been very helpful and continues to be very helpful as teaching has changed so much in the past year due to the coronavirus and distance learning.

Nic: I’m so grateful Isaac was willing to share some of the tools in his toolbox. I like that he comes from a different perspective than a lot of us. He worked with primarily special needs students at one point and is now in the art classroom. I think that’s a good perspective for why or how to bring this type of method, this mindfulness, into the classroom. Things that I heard him mention that kind of were exciting to me were tools can be used. The tools that we give our students in mindfulness, tools can be used and skills can be developed.

We are always going to be developing and growing the skills of mindfulness practice. I really enjoyed those tips from him, but then also I like that he brought it into his distance learning. And not only just said, “And then I brought mindfulness into distance learning,” he gave us ways that he did that. Reflection is one of the best ways to have some conversations, some mindfulness, some focused thought on art in distance learning. We can do that, right? We can use the words strong and weak instead of good and bad. That is a good tip from Isaac.

And then also I heard him mention a ton of non-verbals. So asking students to give thumbs up or thumbs down, that’s something you can do within the classroom with live students or distance learning. And then adding that request on a distance learning conversation to use words in the chat or an emoji to express their feelings. A lot of non-verbals mentioned in Isaac’s practice. I too have a couple of mindfulness practices that I do in my classroom. Like some of our speakers today, I use non-verbals a ton, a lot of quiet, just peaceful instruction.

That again has taken some training over time, but that allows students to keep that calm within the classroom. So that’s always been beneficial. But because we’ve talked about that, I’m going to focus on just a couple of techniques that I’ve used in my classroom. One is mindful breathing. This was brought to us by some training once upon a time, and I can’t recall the exact person who presented it to us, but it is a breathing technique. You ask students to give you five fingers up in the air. They’re holding five in front of you or in front of their face.

And then what their other hand, they’re going to take their pointer finger and start tracing their hand in the air. They’re going up and down kind of like a roller coaster on their fingers there. Their pointer finger is taking a rollercoaster ride along the fingertips. Every time they go up the roller coaster, they’re taking a breath in, and every time they go down the roller coaster, they’re taking the breath out. There’s five big breaths because you’re leading them as well. You’re doing your roller coaster on your fingers at the same time. They’re taking their breath in and out.

Sometimes this is very beneficial. But again, I really have noticed some students who just don’t want to do that. Earlier we heard the discussion of go ahead, give permission to students to just sit quietly, maybe not participate, but just sit quietly and allow students who are willing to participate and need that participation to do so. I also learned another technique from my student teacher Kara Mullin. She worked on mindfulness a couple of times in the classroom, and it was a technique that I had not used before.

And it was, again, this deep breathing, this bringing students to a calm by pretending that they’re holding onto a hot cup of something. So she would often ask the students, “What’s my cup filled with? Is it hot chocolate? Am I drinking coffee here? What’s a hot drink that I can hold on to?” And she’s cupping the air like as if she was cupping a hot drink. They have a quick discussion on that. And once they decide on the drink that they’re going to be holding in their hand, they’re going to smell the coffee fumes coming up into their nose and a very big deep breath, and then exhale.

It was really fun for the students to pretend with Kara as she presented that to our many classes. I would say that she most often used it in our younger grades. Those are two tips that I’ve used. I’ve also practiced some yoga with the students. If there’s extra time, we’re lined up in line and I’m noticing little squirrely bodies, I might have them do different yoga poses. So just maybe a kickstand where they bring one foot up onto the ankle of their other foot in kind of a L shape. Their heel is up on their ankle, their toes are down on the ground, and their base foot is fully planted.

This is a hard one thing for young artists or young bodies do to balance. If they feel more balanced, they can bring up that foot and place it on top of their calf muscle, and then try to strike that pose for a period of time. That’s pretty difficult for the kiddos, but I have seen some fifth graders be able to bring their foot all the way up to their inner thigh, not on their knees, but to their inner thigh and hold that balance. Some of them even better than I can.

We will then try it on the other foot giving some time, or just simply doing a mountain pose where the students are grounded, two feet grounded, hands to the side, open to the front, and some deep breaths in and out. I give them the extra challenge of closing their eyes. That really does increase the challenge of balance and it also helps them just concentrate in their own bodies instead of on who are standing in line. I would like to thank Josie Carter, Nikki Leatherwood, and Isaac Carmen for joining us today on Everyday Art Room.

I love that we had experts who are using this in their classroom on a regular basis, concentrating on mindfulness with their students, bringing their tips and tricks to us from all over our country. That was a lot of fun to listen to all the different ideas. We will have their links so that you can follow them on social media and keep up with what’s happening in their classrooms, as well as the links that they have provided with some of the tools that they suggested or are using in their classroom. You can find those podcasts notes on

And while you’re there at The Art of Education University’s webpage, you might want to check out the Summer NOW Conference. It’s one of my favorite ways to obtain professional development in the summer and winter, because it is bi-annual. It is July 29th, 2021 this year, and we have some amazing speakers who will be announced shortly. So pay attention to that. But it’s not too early to sign up. So while you’re there looking at all those podcasts notes, make sure that you look at the rest of the web.

Page two for both the magazine, the conference, and maybe you’re looking at obtaining some credits this summer as well. We have it all for you on The Art of Education University’s webpage.

Magazine articles and podcasts are opinions of professional education contributors and do not necessarily represent the position of the Art of Education University (AOEU) or its academic offerings. Contributors use terms in the way they are most often talked about in the scope of their educational experiences.