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Sunday, October 29, 2017

A Dozen Ways to Explore the Five Senses

by Catharine Hannay

Focusing on the five senses is a popular way to introduce mindfulness to students or to bring awareness into our daily lives. You're probably already familiar with Eating a Raisin and Listening to a Bell, so for this list I've been poking around looking for activities you may not have seen elsewhere. I've also included a few of the most popular activities here at Mindful Teachers for those of you who are new to the site. 

I've drawn on a variety of sources for children and adults, and I've tried to include activities that are appropriate for as wide an audience as possible. As always, please try them yourself before sharing them with others so you can make appropriate adaptations for your particular context.


1. Human Camera: a mindfulness activity to engage the senses

Click on the green link above for this activity, which was generously provided to Mindful Teachers by Parallax Press, from the book Planting Seeds: Practicing Mindfulness with Children by Thich Nhat Hanh and the Plum Village Community.

2. Rainbow Walk: a mindfulness activity to move the body and rest the mind

Click on the green link above for this activity, which has been consistently in the top ten posts here at   

I came up with this idea as I walked to the bus stop every day on my way to and from a stressful job.  It really helps me to calm down and focus on my surroundings, and I've gotten a lot of positive feedback from folks who've used it successfully with students of all ages (from very young children to adults).

3. Ten Ways to Look at a Tree
  • far away; 
  • close up; 
  • as a color palette;
  • in separate parts: the leaves, the bark, the growth patterns, the root system; 
  • the space around the tree; 
  • symmetrically, 
  • diachronically (across time);
  • as a habitat; 
  • lightheartedly.

4. World of Color
"Collect paint chips from a paint or hardware store. 
Find colors you respond to in the world. 
Attempt to match them using the chips. 
(You can also match the colors using a portable paint set.) 
Make notes of where you saw the colors."
from How to Be an Explorer of the World by Keri Smith


5. Counting Sounds: a mindful walking practice 

Click on the green link above for this alternative to Rainbow Walk; a chance to explore different senses, especially when our surroundings aren't particularly colorful.  (I like to do this in the late fall on my local hiking trail, when everything is brown, brown, brown.) 

6. Layered Listening

"Once or twice each day pause for a few moments, enjoy a few full deep exhalations, and listen to the sounds around you. First you’ll hear the loudest, most obvious sounds—the air conditioner, the clock ticking, the traffic outside, the background noises of people and machinery... [Then] notice the next layer down—sounds of your breathing, a gentle breeze,... the shifting of your sleeve when you move your hand.”
from How to Think Like Leonardo da Vinci by Michael J. Gelb

7. 'Sound Seekers' Game

“Directions: Players make different sounds with their bodies. 
  • Snap fingers, 
  • clap hands, 
  • slap knees, 
  • stomp feet, or
  • smack lips. 
Another player is brought blindfolded into the group and has to find a certain sound, say finger snapping. 
The seeker wanders among the sound makers until the one making the identified sound is found.”

from Self-Esteem Games by Barbara Sher


8. Blindfold Touch
"Assemble... [objects like] a rubber ball, a silk scarf, a piece of ceramic, a Velcro fastener... a bowl of ice... 
Put on a blindfold and explore them all with receptive, listening hands. Describe the textures, weight, temperature, and other sensations."
from How to Think Like Leonardo da Vinci by Michael J. Gelb

9. Tactile Boards

"Collect materials based on texture.  
Glue the textures on a sheet of paper or cardboard. 
Invite people to close their eyes and guess what the different materials are.   
Experiment with touching the boards using different parts of your body (such as your cheek or elbow)."

from How to Be an Explorer of the World by Keri Smith


10. Comparative Tasting

"Buy three kinds of honey... and smell each one for thirty seconds...
Then taste each one in turn; hold half a teaspoon in your mouth and swirl it around with your tongue...
Now try the same comparison process with three kinds of chocolate, mushrooms, apples,… grapes, or vanilla ice cream."
from How to Think Like Leonardo da Vinci by Michael J. Gelb


11: Spice Up Your Life 

"Today carry a sprig of fresh or dried spice like basil or rosemary in your pocket... Reach into your pocket and squeeze the spice with your fingertips.  
Then smell its fragrance on your fingertips, and watch yourself snap back in to the pleasure of wonder."
from It’s Only Too Late If You Don’t Start Now by Barbara Sher
(This is actually not the same author as the "Sound Seekers" activity.  There are two different, apparently unrelated, authors named Barbara Sher.)

12. What Do You Smell Right Now?

"Describe what you smell, right now, as vividly as you can... Breathe in the smells of [a] book, an empty coffee cup, the palm of your hand, the back of your chair.
from How to Think Like Leonardo da Vinci by Michael J. Gelb

photo by Catharine Hannay of an azalea bush near my in-laws' house in Virginia

Book titles link to Amazon, so you can see where the activities come from. You may want to buy a copy of the book, so you can support the author and have many more activities for your students. I don't have an affiliate account, so I don't get a fee if you buy books through these links.


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