Picture this: It’s 9 a.m., and the school bell rings to signal the start of another frenzied day. But instead of students frantically dashing to their classrooms, they quietly take their seats and close their eyes.
In unison, they begin to take deep, calming breaths as they enter a state of mindfulness. Welcome to the new age of meditation in schools.
In the heart of New York City, a teacher finds herself amazed as her once rowdy and easily distracted fifth-graders now start their day with serenity, focus, and increased empathy towards one another. This seemingly magical transformation isn’t the result of some top-secret educational experiment – it’s simply the power of meditation at work.
This is one of many stories emerging from classrooms around the world, as an increasing number of schools are introducing meditation and mindfulness practices to their students.
This isn’t fiction
At Chatsworth Elementary School in Larchmont, New York, teachers like Liz Slade have implement mindfulness programs for their students with incredible results.
Each morning she asks the mindful leader to the front of the class.
The nominated mindful leader walks to the front of the class. Placing their palms upwards on each knee, the child starts tapping their thumbs on each finger, gently chanting a mantra “I-am-calm-now”.
As the soothing words fill the air, the other children, along with their teacher, eagerly follow suit. They mirror the mindful leader’s actions, tapping their thumbs in rhythm and repeating the calming phrase, softly lowering their voices with each repetition. Gradually, a serene hush blankets the room, replacing the earlier chatter and bustle.
Once the atmosphere has become truly peaceful, the teacher guides the students to transition gracefully to their tables.
The young learners retrieve their “feelings” journals, ready to explore and express their emotions after experiencing the grounding effects of their shared mindfulness practice.
“They are learning the experience of settling their body,” says Slade. “What used to be a wild time now becomes a charming, sweet moment when we all take a pause and come back to being present.”
They’ve discovered that these simple techniques not only help create a more peaceful learning environment but also have profound effects on students’ mental well-being, academic achievement and performance, and social skills.
In this article, we’ll dive deep into the world of mindfulness in schools, exploring how it’s transforming the classroom experience one breath at a time.
We’ll meet inspiring educators and students who are breaking the mold and redefining what it means to be truly present in the classroom.
So, grab a comfy seat, relax, and join us on this journey of discovery – you might just find yourself inspired to bring a little zen into your own life!
What is Meditation?
Meditation is a mental practice where a person uses various techniques, such as mindfulness or visualization, to train their attention and awareness, and mentally pause in the present moment in order to achieve a mentally clear and emotionally calm state.
There are many different ways to practice mindfulness, ranging from simple relaxation techniques such as taking a few deep breaths to more intense practices such as Vipassana, also known as ‘insight meditation.’
Whichever route you choose, mindfulness can help to reduce stress, improve concentration and even lead to better physical health in your everyday life.
How Does Meditation Benefit Students?
Studies have shown that teaching mindfulness meditation as a part of a student’s daily routine can result in several positive outcomes.
Below are 5 key benefits of teaching and practicing mindfulness and meditation in an educational setting:
1. Increased Focus and Attention
Several recent studies have emphasized the potential benefits of meditation for children.
In one study, the effects of an 8-week mindfulness meditation training program on healthy children aged 7-8 years had a particularly positive impact on reducing issues related to ADHD, specifically inattention.
2. Improved Emotional Regulation
Meditation has been observed to have substantial benefits for the social and emotional learning regulation in children.
Another study found that compared to a control group, elementary school students in grades 5-6 who had completed a 6-week Mindfulness Education Workbook showed significant improvements in adaptive emotional regulation strategies, including anger, fear, and sadness.
3. Increased Resilience
Meditation is also a valuable tool for helping our students learn to build emotional resilience, which is the ability to bounce back from adversity and manage stress and negative emotions with greater ease.
Students aged 9-12 who received mindfulness training showed significant improvements in positive emotional state, positive outlook, and resiliency. These benefits continued even up to 6 months after the intervention!
4. Improved Academic Performance
Studies have also suggested that meditation can increase gray matter volume in some areas of the brain responsible for learning, memory, and executive function.
High schoolers aged 16-18 who participated in a 10-week mindfulness intervention for 30 minutes per week showed significant improvements in academic performance and improved mental health by decreasing state and trait anxiety. These educational achievement benefits are especially significant in students with learning disabilities.
5. Decreased Problem Behaviours
Finally, implementing mindfulness practices improves emotional regulation and self-control, which translates to decreased impulsivity and aggressive behavior in schools.
In an Italian study, students aged 12-18 were asked to participate in Meditacíon Fluir for 15 minutes every day over a period of ten weeks.
The findings revealed a significant decrease in impulsivity and aggression levels among the high school students in the experimental group.
This indicates that regular mindfulness meditation practice could be a promising intervention to reduce negative behaviors among students.
Age-appropriate mindfulness practices
Along with these key benefits, it is important to consider the developmental needs of students at different ages and stages of their education when using mindfulness and meditation practices.
Age-appropriate techniques and exercises can ensure that students remain engaged and are able to apply mindfulness principles effectively in their daily lives.
For instance, younger students might benefit from simple breathing exercises, visualizations, or movement-based mindfulness activities, while older students may be introduced to more advanced meditation techniques or encouraged to explore mindfulness journaling.
Adapting Mindfulness for Students with Special Needs
It is essential to consider the unique needs of students with learning disabilities, autism, ADHD, or other special needs when implementing mindfulness and meditation practices in the classroom.
These students may require additional support, tailored techniques, and modified approaches to effectively engage in mindfulness practices.
Teachers should collaborate with special education professionals, therapists, and parents to identify the most appropriate mindfulness strategies for each student.
Incorporating sensory tools, visual supports, and clear instructions for mindful activity can make mindfulness practices more accessible and beneficial for students with special needs.
Why Teachers Should Practice Mindfulness
While we usually teach these mindfulness skills to students as a way to enhance their learning experience, it is equally important for teachers to practice mindfulness and meditation as well.
No matter what level they teach at, educators have extremely demanding jobs, which are emotionally and mentally taxing (I don’t know how they do it!).
This is what makes meditation such an invaluable tool for teachers, as it provides them with a way to reduce stress and manage their own emotions even in times of difficulty.
Studies have indicated that practicing mindfulness and meditation can reduce teacher burnout, something that causes teachers to feel overwhelmed, exhausted, and unmotivated.
Another study noted better classroom organization and performance, leading to greater classroom efficacy and less disruptive student behavior.
It’s safe to say that teachers have a lot to gain from embracing mindfulness and meditation. By using mindful awareness and prioritizing their own mental health, they can create a better learning environment and lead to more successful students.
Training and support for teachers
It’s safe to say that teachers have a lot to gain from embracing mindfulness and meditation. By prioritizing their own mental health, they can create a better learning environment and lead to more successful students.
To ensure the successful implementation of mindfulness and meditation practices in the classroom, it is crucial that teachers receive adequate training and support.
Professional development opportunities, workshops, and mentorship programs can help educators develop the necessary skills and confidence to lead mindfulness sessions effectively.
By providing teachers with access to resources and a network of experienced mindfulness practitioners, schools can ensure that both educators and students reap the full benefits of these practices.
The Challenges Of Implementing Mindfulness Programs
When it comes to introducing a mindfulness curriculum, there are many challenges that teachers and school administrators should be aware of and consider, such as:
One of the most significant challenges is parent opposition. The lack of awareness and understanding of the benefits of meditation can result in resistance from parents.
They may not consider that learning mindfulness is on equal footing with academic subjects and may not support it as a valid practice for school students to engage in mindfulness in schools.
To help parents and students understand the benefits of meditation, be sure to:
Clearly explain the benefits of mindfulness instruction for students
Share stories of success from other mindful schools or organizations that have adopted mindfulness practices
Highlight results from research studies on the positive effects of meditation on children
Provide resources and materials that parents can read to learn more about mindfulness
Be open to answering questions and addressing any concerns that parents have
Attention and concentration can also be a significant challenge.
Meditation requires a high level of focus and concentration, which can be difficult for children, especially those prone to distraction.
Here are some tips to help students stay focused during meditation:
Offer shorter meditation sessions, no more than 10 minutes
Provide students with cues or signals to help them stay engaged
Let students choose their own position for comfort and relaxation
Use music and/or guided meditations
Provide visual tools, such as mandalas and breathing exercises
Create a positive classroom environment and a comfortable environment for students to practice in
Another crucial challenge to implementing a mindfulness practice is navigating cultural differences.
Different cultural and religious backgrounds may impact students’ willingness to meditate or practice mindfulness in the classroom.
For example, some methods that promote the use of mantras or visual aids may conflict with some religious beliefs.
To ensure successful implementation:
Be aware of different cultural beliefs and practices
Create a supportive environment for students to express their feelings about the practice
Provide adequate resources for a meditation practice that are culturally appropriate
Address any questions or concerns that students may have about the practice.
Time is another major challenge for implementing meditation and mindfulness in schools everywhere.
With all the various academic and extracurricular activities, finding time for meditation can be difficult. Creating a realistic schedule that allows enough time for meaningful mindfulness practice without compromising other activities is essential.
A few ways to do this:
Integrating mindfulness into regular activities, such as engaging in mindful breathing and relaxing exercises during transitions
Holding regular mindfulness sessions for students and incorporating them into their daily routine
Allocating a specific block of time for meditation practice, like during lunchtime, recess, or before exams
Making mindfulness activities a part of homework assignments, such as meditating before bed or after completing school assignments
Scientifically Backed Evidence of Mindfulness Benefits
Despite the various challenges and objections surrounding the implementation of mindfulness programs in schools, it is important to highlight that there is a growing body of scientifically backed evidence supporting the benefits of mindfulness practices, including Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR).
Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction is a well-established and widely recognized mindfulness program that has been extensively researched and proven benefits, such as improved stress management, anxiety, and depression, as well as improving overall well-being and quality of life.
MBSR and other mindfulness practices have been shown to be effective in various settings, including schools, where they can have a positive impact on both students and teachers.
Some of the research findings supporting the benefits of mindfulness and MBSR include:
Enhanced cognitive abilities and academic performance: A study published in the journal Mindfulness found that an 8-week MBSR program led to significant improvements in attention, working memory, and executive functioning in both adolescents and adults.
Improved mental health: A meta-analysis of 209 studies involving over 12,000 participants showed that mindfulness-based interventions, including MBSR, were effective in treating a variety of psychological disorders and improving mental health.
Reduced stress and increased resilience: Research has shown that practicing MBSR can lead to a significant reduction in stress levels and increased resilience to adversity.
Examples Of Successful Mindfulness Initiatives
Successful initiatives of integrating meditation practices and teaching mindfulness in education settings are occurring worldwide. Here are a few inspiring examples:
1. Smiling Mind
An Australian-based program offers a range of various mindfulness courses, programs, exercises, meditations, and activities designed specifically for kids and teenagers.
Participating schools report better emotional regulation, improved academic performance and mental health, including lower rates of depression and anxiety, and improved social skills.
Check out the Smiling Mind website for more information.
2. Pause Breathe Smile
This New Zealand-based mindfulness program teaches skills and emotional well-being practices to primary school students and their teachers.
The effects of the same mindfulness education program were studied in two schools, with results showing that mindfulness practice leads to significant improvements in student well-being and engagement.
Explore the Pause Breathe Smile website to find out more about their breathe program.
3. Quiet Time Program
A program called Quiet Time provides twice-daily meditation sessions for students at several schools in San Francisco.
This meditation initiative has led to increased performance, improved student behavior, and decreased teacher turnover rates.
Read more about the Quiet Time Program in their brochure.
Mindfulness Resources For Schools
As all teachers know, finding resources can be challenging at best… Here are some useful websites that can help teachers get started with bringing mindfulness and meditation into their classrooms:
Mindfulness in Schools Project: Free online courses covering topics such as mindful breathing and mindful movement. It includes resources such as lesson plans, handouts and guidance on incorporating mindfulness techniques into the classroom.
Mindful Schools: Online resources, including articles, videos, workshops, and retreats. It also includes training and certification in mindfulness-based programs.
The Inner Explorer: Daily audio-guided mindfulness practices for teachers and students in K-12 schools.
Go Noodle: Movement and mindfulness exercises for students, focusing on reducing stress and improving focus.
MindUP: Developed by actress Goldie Hawn, this curriculum teaches children social-emotional learning and mindfulness practices in schools worldwide.
Calm Classroom: This program offers research-based mindfulness and relaxation techniques for educators to use in the classroom.
Edutopia: This education-focused website provides various resources, including articles, videos, and lesson plans, on mindfulness in the classroom.
Teachers do an incredible job of educating and inspiring young people every day. By learning to teach mindfulness and incorporating mindfulness training into their classrooms, teachers can provide students with an essential tool for lifelong success, which helps cultivate the ground for a more peaceful, mindful society.
Please share this with a teacher in your life who is making a difference in students’ lives, and thank them for their fantastic work!
Disclaimer: The information provided in this article is intended for educational and informational purposes only. It should not be construed as professional advice, diagnosis, or treatment. If you are experiencing symptoms of any mental health condition, we strongly advise consulting with a qualified healthcare professional.