updated February 24, 2020
Photo by Kaboompics // Karolina from Pexelsby Catharine Hannay
"We must make ourselves sensitive and present to all... the ordinary, everyday things, that have stopped attracting our attention.. an apple, a shoe, a blade of grass, a telephone... This is easy to do; it requires just three things:
- wanting it (wanting to exist in the real world rather than a virtual world that is impoverished by our narrowed attention);
- allowing it (having decluttered our mind and expanded our awareness); and
- doing it (raising our head, opening our eyes and really looking)."
from Looking at Mindfulness by Christophe André
There are a lot of different reasons why you might be interested in five-senses activities.
- Perhaps you're looking for a fun way to introduce mindfulness to kids, or adults;
- Perhaps you're looking for an alternative to breath-based practices;
- Perhaps you'd like to take a moment to enjoy your surroundings, as part of your personal practice of mindfulness and self-care;
- Perhaps you'd like to supplement a lesson on gratitude with activities focused on noticing pleasant everyday moments;
- Perhaps you're interested in integrating mindfulness with your course content, for example by asking your students to practice their observational skills and write about what they experience or depict it artistically.
As always, I've tried to provide as wide a range of activities as possible. Use your own best judgment about what's most appropriate for your particular context.
Activities here at MindfulTeachers.org
Blue-Red-Yellow: What Do You See? What you see depends on what you're looking for.
Counting Sounds: A Mindful Walking Practice: This activity combines mindful listening with gentle movement.
A Dozen Ways to Explore the Five Senses, including 10 Ways to Look at a Tree, as well as three activities for mindful tasting and sniffing.
Four More Ways to Focus on the Five Senses: Baby Touch, The Sense of Scents, and two mindful eating practices.
Five Contemplative Art Practices: Looking at and creating art can help us to focus on our surroundings and appreciate what we see.
Five Senses Snack: A Mindful Eating Chart: Rather than mindlessly munching your favorite snack, you can focus on what you see, feel, taste, smell, and even hear.
Mindful Listening in a Noisy World: practicing awareness of sounds and silence, from Ira Rabois, author of Compassionate Critical Thinking.
Mindful Moments in Nature: This lesson by Bianca Browne of Mindful Minis includes tactile awareness, breath awareness, mindful listening, and a mindful art project.
Noticing the Five Senses: A Daily Mindfulness Log: This chart helps us focus on what we see, hear, taste, smell, and touch throughout the week.
Rainbow Walk: A Mindfulness Activity to Move the Body and Rest the Mind: This is the most popular activity here at Mindful Teachers, for self-care and for teaching mindfulness to all ages.
Red, Orange, Yellow: A Mindful Driving Practice: This is how I focus on my surroundings and keep my mind from wandering while I'm driving.
Even More Activities
Mindfulness and the Art of Chocolate Eating from MindSpace/Meditation in Schools: Who could resist? Just make sure nobody in your group is allergic to chocolate!
Listening Deeply to Music: Music therapist Maya Benattar explains how to listen to music mindfully, to "really hear it and experience it on a deep level... really hear and notice all of its complexities, layers, and subtleties."
Sensory Awareness Practice from the Stanford University Mindfulness Programs, with a downloadable handout.
15 Five Senses Activities from Play to Learn Preschool
The following books have many five senses activities, as well as a variety of other approaches to practicing mindfulness.
For personal practice, or if you teach adults:
- How to Train a Wild Elephant: And Other Adventures in Mindfulness by Jan Chozen Bays (This is probably the book that's been most influential on my own approach to mindfulness.)
For those of you who teach kids:
- Child’s Mind: Mindfulness Practices to Help Our Children Be More Focused, Calm, and Relaxed by Dr. Christopher Willard, the author of several mindfulness books for adults and kids.
- A few years ago, he did an interview here at Mindful Teachers on Best Practices in Teaching Mindfulness to Children
- Planting Seeds: Practicing Mindfulness with Children by Thich Nhat Hanh and the Plum Village Community. There are two sample activities here at Mindful Teachers:
About the Author
Catharine Hannay is the founder of MindfulTeachers.org and the author of Being You: A Girl’s Guide to Mindfulness, a workbook for teen girls on mindfulness, compassion, and self-acceptance. (Chapter 2 focuses on Savoring Pleasant Moments by focusing on the five senses.)