Teaching children about mental health is very important. As a teacher, I wanted to find a fun, memorable mental health lessons for kids. Although finding balance and focusing on the important things in life is a big concept for kids, it is one that is worth discussing.
Many years ago, I had a teacher do a lesson about filling your life with things that are truly important. I have changed her activity to be suited for a younger group, but kept the main takeaway from the lesson has stayed the same.
Whether you are at home, or in the the classroom, this lesson/activity creates a great visual representation of finding balance and focusing on what is important to you.
The materials needed for the activity are fairly simple. You will need:
- Foam Balls
- Small Pompoms
- Colored Water
- Clear Plastic Jar
Although I did this activity with a group of young children, the moral of the lesson and a reminder about the important things in life is a great lesson for all of us.
This lesson also opens the door to have a discussion about things that make children happy and the important people and things in their lives.
With any mental health lesson, it is also a great opportunity to let children or families know about different mental health resources available in your community.
Mental Health Lessons for Kids
This lesson is intended to be a fun visual to encourage children to reflect on what fills their lives and what they spend their energy on.
Start by showing children a large, clear container. To the container, add the foam balls. These should be the largest of the items that you add to the jar.
You can do this lesson two ways. You can tell children what each of the items you add to the jar represent as you put them in, or tell them at the end. I told them as I went through each item so that it was fresh on their minds.
The foam balls represent the big things in life. The important things, such as family, close friends, their health, passions and well being. These are the things that should be the priority and we should fill our lives (the jar) with.
These foam balls represent the things that money can’t buy. The things that we wouldn’t want to live without.
Next, ask children if the jar is full. When they answer ‘yes’, add in the small pompoms. Small beads will also work if you have them on hand.
The pompoms fill the spaces between the foam balls. The pompoms represent some of the other things in life that matter to us, but are not most important. These are some of the things that can fill our days, like sports, friends, house, and for adults a job.
These are the things that we ‘need’ in our lives.
Children all agreed that the jar was definitely full now. When we focus on these two groups of thing (the foam balls and pompoms) it fills our lives. These are the things that we need to strive to focus on and make the most important.
Next, I asked children if the jar was now full. Everyone agreed that it was.
I told the children that the jar was not yet full. Next, I added sand to the jar. The sand will settle between and around the foam balls and pompoms.
The sand represents all of the small things that are part of our lives and we often focus on and get caught up on, but things that we need to be careful to not make to focus of our lives.
These things can include video games, television, people that don’t treat us well and even gossip.
If you fill your jar, or life, with sand, you will not be able to fit any foam balls or pompoms into the jar. You will be focusing on things that do not truly matter. This is not to say that some ‘sand’ is bad. These are things that we may enjoy or have as hobbies.
The important thing is to not focus on these things because it will not leave room for anything else. If you fill your life, or jar, with sand then there is no room for the foam balls or the pompoms. It is all about balance.
You can show children this idea by filling another jar with sand to the top and then showing how there is no room for pompoms and foam balls. The representation can be very meaningful to children.
Finally, everyone agrees that the jar is full. The sand has filled all of the extra spaces and our lives are now full. However, then you can bring out the juice pitcher.
The final item that I add to the jar is juice. (I used just water with a bit of purple food coloring, but you can use juice it is just a lot messier.)
Pour the water into the jar. The ‘juice’ shows children that no matter how full your jar, or your life is, and even if you fill your life with all of the important things, you can always take time to have a little break or party with a friend or family member to simply sit and enjoy a favorite drink, snack or treat.
It is important to find a balance in everything you do in life. If you keep your priorities and make the most important things to you the first thing you fill your days with, then everything else will find its (smaller) space.
It’s up to us what we fill our lives with, and a little reminder is always good to find balance.
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More Hands-On Teaching Ideas
If you are looking for more mental health lessons for kids and ideas to do in the classroom, or at home with kids, below are some of my favourite and most popular learning activities.
From a collection DIY sensory fidget toys and mindfulness stones to an escape room and math and language activities, there are lots of things to keep kids busy and learning. Click image for activity description.