During 19 years teaching in public schools, I witnessed consistent (and in many cases, increasing) stress and anxiety among students. I also observed that learning can be hindered in a high-anxiety environment. I have been learning about mindfulness and meditation for the past five years. I integrate mindfulness practices into my own life and have noticed many positive changes in my level and management of stress. At the most basic level, mindfulness is a way to calm your mind by paying attention in the present, non-judgmentally.

Mindfulness activities can begin with very young children to help them develop self-awareness, and potentially help with concentration. In our busy, technology-driven world it is often difficult for children (and adults) to concentrate. I think that mindfulness-based interventions are a great gift we can give to students. Examples of simple mindfulness practices include:

  • Mindful hearing – students sit quietly, close their eyes and listen to all of the sounds that they hear around them.
  • Mindful breathing – students sit quietly, close their eyes and focus on each in and out breath. They can count “in, one, two, three” and then “out, one, two three” to aid focus.
  • Mindful seeing – students sit quietly and choose an item (e.g., a picture, toy, plant) on which to focus. They look at the object while breathing.

In addition to integrating mindfulness activities, like the ideas mentioned above and in this article, Mindfulness for Children, “the best way to teach a child to be mindful is to embody the practice oneself” (Gelles, 2017). In other words, model mindfulness.

Many teachers embrace mindfulness and meditation, and incorporate practices into their daily schedule. Schools that use mindfulness intend to decrease disruptive behavior and reduce student anxiety and stress to result in an overall calmer atmosphere in the school. While I believe in the benefits of mindfulness, the research that exists on mindfulness interventions should be considered. A review of studies (Maynard, Solis, Miller, & Brendel, 2017) indicate that mindfulness-based interventions may improve cognitive and socio-emotional outcomes among students; however, there is no support for improvement in behavior or academic outcomes. At this point, there is more research support for mindfulness with adults. I would argue that more high-quality studies on mindfulness-based interventions in schools are necessary. Regardless, it is evident from some teachers’ enthusiasm and programs such as MindUP by actress Goldie Hawn, that many are eager to integrate mindfulness into PK-12 school settings. Here is an interesting NPR article that defines mindfulness and shares further perspective.

Cowritten by Dr.’s Stephanie Sebolt and Emily Ely

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