Mindfulness and Meditation in Schools: Mindful Kids, Peaceful Schools

Mind­ful Kids, Peace­ful Schools

With eyes closed and deep breaths, stu­dents are learn­ing a new method to reduce anx­i­ety, con­flict, and atten­tion dis­or­ders. But don’t call it meditation.

— By Jill Suttie

At Tolu­ca Lake ele­men­tary school in Los Ange­les, a cyclone fence enclos­es the asphalt black­top, which is teem­ing with kids. It’s recess time and the kids, who are most­ly mindfulness exercises for teenagersLati­no, are play­ing tag, yelling, throw­ing balls, and jump­ing rope. When the bell rings, they reluc­tant­ly stop and head back to their class­rooms except for Daniel Mur­phy’s sec­ond grade class.

Mur­phy’s stu­dents file into the school audi­to­ri­um, each car­ry­ing a round blue pil­low dec­o­rat­ed with white stars. They enter gig­gling and chat­ting, but soon they are seat­ed in a cir­cle on their cush­ions, eyes closed, qui­et and con­cen­trat­ing. Two teach­ers give the chil­dren instruc­tions on how to pay atten­tion to their breath­ing, telling them to notice the rise and fall of their bel­lies and chests, the pas­sage of air in and out of their noses. Though the room is chilly the heat­ing sys­tem broke down ear­li­er that day the chil­dren appear com­fort­able, many with Mona Lisa smiles on their faces.

What did you notice about your breath this morn­ing?” one teacher asks.

Mine was like a drag­on,” says Michael, a child to the teacher’s right. Albert, anoth­er child, adds, “Yeah, I could see mine. It was like smoke.”

The teach­ers lead the chil­dren through 45 min­utes of exer­cis­es focused on breath­ing, lis­ten­ing, move­ment, and reflec­tion. At dif­fer­ent points, the kids are asked to gauge their feel­ings calm, neu­tral, or rest­less. There are no right or wrong answers, just obser­va­tion. The ses­sion ends with the chil­dren lying qui­et­ly on their backs, stuffed ani­mals ris­ing and falling on their stom­achs, as they con­tem­plate peace with­in them­selves and in their com­mu­ni­ty. Lat­er, seven–year–old Emi­ly sums up her expe­ri­ence. “I like the class because it makes me calm and soft inside. It makes me feel good.”

Tolu­ca Lake is one of a grow­ing num­ber of schools that are using “mind­ful­ness train­ings” in an effort to com­bat increas­ing lev­els of anx­i­ety, social con­flict, and atten­tion dis­or­der among chil­dren. Once a week for 10 to 12 weeks, the stu­dents at Tolu­ca take time out from their nor­mal cur­ricu­lum to learn tech­niques that draw on the Bud­dhist med­i­ta­tive prac­tice of mind­ful­ness, which is meant to pro­mote greater aware­ness of one’s self and one’s envi­ron­ment. Accord­ing to mind­ful­ness edu­ca­tor Susan Kaiser, bring­ing this prac­tice into schools is “real­ly about teach­ing kids how to be in a state of atten­tion, where they can per­ceive thoughts, phys­i­cal sen­sa­tions, and emo­tions with­out judg­ment and with curios­i­ty and an open state of mind.”

That such an uncon­ven­tion­al prac­tice with its roots in a reli­gious tra­di­tion, no less has made its way into pub­lic schools may come as a sur­prise to many peo­ple. But schools Yoga school studentshave been turn­ing to mind­ful­ness for very prac­ti­cal rea­sons that don’t con­cern reli­gion, and their efforts have been sup­port­ed by a recent wave of sci­en­tif­ic results.

Steve Rei­d­man first intro­duced mind­ful­ness prac­tices to Tolu­ca Lake about six years ago. Rei­d­man, a fourth grade teacher at the school, had been expe­ri­enc­ing prob­lems with class­room man­age­ment first for him, after many years of teach­ing. Con­flicts on the play­ground were esca­lat­ing and affect­ing his stu­dents’ abil­i­ty to set­tle down and con­cen­trate in class. When he con­fid­ed his prob­lems to Kaiser, a per­son­al friend, she offered to come to his class to teach mind­ful­ness, a tech­nique she’d taught to kids as a vol­un­teer at a local boys and girls club.

I noticed a dif­fer­ence right away,” says Rei­d­man. “There was less con­flict on the play­ground, less test anx­i­ety just the way the kids walked into the class­room was dif­fer­ent. Our state test scores also went up that year, which I’d like to attribute to my teach­ing but I think had more to do with the breath­ing they did right before they took the test.”

Keep read­ing…


  1. E. Okamoto on May 2, 2009 at 3:33

    Thank you so much for this arti­cle. I live and teach in Japan and would love it if there could be such a des­ig­nat­ed pro­gram — (espe­cial­ly since med­i­ta­tion tra­di­tion is so root­ed here). I teach a lot of anx­ious kids who have over­loaded sched­ules and high aca­d­e­m­ic pres­sures, and they could real­ly use an oppor­tu­ni­ty to just stop and be aware of one thing, such as the breath…I’ve made them stop and stretch a bit when they get stressed, and it’s helped quite a bit to get them back on track. Thanks again!

  2. Michael Levy on October 19, 2009 at 4:12

    Let Joy be your feel­ings, Love your attire, Peace your guide and you will dis­cov­er a mys­ti­cal par­adise here on earth.

  3. Binaifer Karanjia on October 20, 2009 at 9:32

    In India, and i believe in some pris­ons in
    Amer­i­ca, yoga asanas (pos­tures) are taught which specif­i­cal­ly release tox­ins in the body. Over a peri­od of time, the qual­i­ty and con­tent of the mind can be mod­i­fied and changed for the pos­i­tive. Just for your inter­est: Shasank asana or the rab­bit pose, if done three times in the morn­ing, after­noon and evening for sev­er­al days rids all feel­ings of anger and irri­ta­tion. Amaz­ing .…do try and see for your­self! Like this, there are so many oth­er asanas for dif­fer­ent needs.

  4. Release Technique on November 2, 2009 at 9:53

    Stress man­age­ment is nec­es­sary for phys­i­cal and men­tal health. Prop­er hor­mone bal­ance is nec­es­sary for stress man­age­ment. I found a web­site very use­ful with its infor­ma­tion on stress management.

About SharpBrains

SHARPBRAINS is an independent think-tank and consulting firm providing services at the frontier of applied neuroscience, health, leadership and innovation.
SHARPBRAINS es un think-tank y consultoría independiente proporcionando servicios para la neurociencia aplicada, salud, liderazgo e innovación.

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