Planning For It

When you Might Use This Practice

  • At the beginning of the school year, to set up and decorate your classroom
  • To build community
  • As a brain break, stress-reduction, or well-being exercise


Time Required

  • ≤ 30 minutes



  • Coloring materials (pencil crayons, crayons, felt pens)
  • Print-outs of coloring sheets or plain paper


Learning Objectives

  • Students will:
    • Explore the benefits of appreciating and being surrounded by visual design
    • Color or create their own visual design piece
    • Contribute to creating classroom community and visual design in the classroom


Additional Supports


Character Strengths

  • Appreciation of beauty and excellence
  • Spirituality
  • Transcendence


SEL Competencies

  • Self-awareness
  • Social awareness


Mindfulness Components

  • Open awareness

How To Do It

Reflection Before the Practice

  • One elicitor of awe that we don’t always think about is human-made visual design—like art and grand buildings (e.g., Taj Mahal, cathedrals).
  • Do you recall seeing a piece of art or visiting an extraordinary building or place that elicited a moment of awe for you?
  • One beautiful recurring piece of awe-inspiring art throughout many cultures is the mandala. Take a moment to review the history and culture of mandalas below.
  • Next, try creating or coloring your own mandala—as your own contemplative, mindful practice before bringing this activity to your students. Take a moment to notice how you feel after this practice.

The Practice

  • Tell students:
    • Today we are going to create some visual designs for our classroom in the form of mandalas. Art has always inspired and connected humans. Science and history have shown us that creating art and being surrounded by beautiful visual designs can make us feel positive emotions like wonder and awe—and it is good for our well-being!

Step 1: The history and culture of mandalas.

  • Share some of this history with your students:
    • The word mandala is a Sanskrit word that means “circle.”
    • Mandalas are circular images of patterns that can be drawn, built in nature, painted, or even danced.
    • Many cultures around the world create or use mandalas. Here are some examples of mandalas from different cultures.
    • Mandalas can represent many things, such as time, our spiritual beliefs, or nature. They’re often used in sacred ceremonies. (If appropriate, here is a short video (3:26) about the making of a Tibetan sand mandala.) People also use or make mandalas to help them concentrate or to relax and lower their stress levels.
    • Researchers have shown that the repetitive patterns and light/dark contrast that you often see in mandalas can inspire awe—that feeling when you are amazed at how beautiful or wondrous something is—which can help us feel better and also more connected to each other and to the whole world. So, creating mandalas is a good stress-relieving activity!
  • Discussion question:
    • Let’s look at these examples of mandalas. What do you notice about them?
    • What is similar across all of these? What features are different? What patterns do you see repeating in each one? Which ones are both light and dark?
    • Have you noticed mandala designs anywhere else? In nature? Science? (For example, think about a molecule or patterns in a tree stump!)


Step 2: Students color or create their own mandalas through one of these options:

  1. Select one pattern of mandala for students to color today.
  2. Present students with options of mandalas and have them choose a design to color.
  3. Invite students to create their own mandala designs in other ways:
  • It is nice to play relaxing music while students color or create their mandalas.


Step 3: Post their art around the classroom!

  • Or, if students created mandalas out in the world (for example, with sticks, sand, or leaves), try taking photos of their creations and sharing a slideshow or printing them out (if that is available to you).


Step 4: Art Walk (this step can happen on another day, after you have a chance to post their art)

  • Invite students to do an awe art gallery walk to view their classmates’ mandalas.
  • Have them reflect on features of visual design that elicit awe (patterns and light/dark contrast) and other emotions. Invite them to note anything else they think or feel while they view their classmates’ art.


Optional Extensions

  • If there is an opportunity, consider using this as a school-wide project and post the art around the school!
  • As an optional extension and discussion, you can use Google Art & Culture site to share some famous works of art and have students reflect on the feeling(s) the image evokes, whether awe or otherwise.



  • Tell students: Let’s take a moment to reflect on our creations of art and our art walk.
  • Can you share an emotion word for how you felt while creating your own visual design piece? What feelings or thoughts did you notice when you did the art walk?
  • What features of your classmates’ art stood out for you? Prompts: Choice of colors, patterns, dark/light contrast
  • Have you ever seen any visual designs in your neighbourhood or out in the world that made you stop and say “Wow!” This doesn’t have to be a mandala—it could be any art or grand structure.
  • Have you seen mandalas used in your own families or cultural communities? How are they used?



Practice inspired by works of Dr. Keltner and colleagues

Reflection After the Practice

  • What emotion words did students use to describe their feelings after the awe gallery walk?
  • Did students come up with unique stories of mandalas or art they have seen out in the world? Did any students share anything from their individual cultures around these designs?
  • Did you notice any shifts in students’ moods or stress levels after this practice?
  • Was this challenging for any students? Did it particularly resonate with others? Did anything surprise you about students’ reactions?

The Research Behind It

Evidence That It Works

Visual design has always provoked a sense of awe and wonder for human beings, from ancient drawings on cave walls to the elaborate painting in European cathedrals, connecting us socially, and making us feel part of something bigger than ourselves.

In a study of 132 adults who visited two art museums in London, UK, almost all participants (87%) reported feeling awe by viewing and being surrounded by art, as well as other positive emotions such as joy and inspiration.

Scientists have also discovered that the act of coloring itself can help people manage their emotions and even reduce test anxiety.


Why Does it Matter?

Students experience a lot of stress at school, from pressures to succeed to daily social challenges and conflict. Incorporating art and beauty into the classroom has a dual benefit of improving well-being on its own and eliciting awe, a positive emotion which, too, leads to greater well-being.

Both creating and experiencing art, and even being surrounded by an aesthetically beautiful classroom, can also foster children and adolescents’ resilience and well-being, as well as increase their motivation and success in school.

“Art is an expression of joy and awe. It is not an attempt to share one’s virtues and accomplishments with the audience, but an act of selfless spirit.”
–David Mamet
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