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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.”

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29 Responses

  1. Alex Shalman says:

    I must say that start­ing with the younger gen­er­a­tion is the way to go!

  2. Joel Witherspoon says:

    When I was a kid, I was diag­nosed as man­ic depres­sive. 20 years ago, that meant “crazy” or “dis­turbed”. The stig­ma of that diag­no­sis affect­ed me from mid­dle school through col­lege. Only after col­lege when I stum­bled onto Med­i­ta­tion did I over­come what the med­i­cines could not. Med­i­ta­tion real­ly, real­ly works and it’s NEVER too late to start.

  3. Alvaro says:

    Hel­lo Alex and Joel, you are both right: nev­er too ear­ly, nev­er too late!

  4. Thomas Kern says:

    Per­for­mance Anx­i­ety, for me has caused me to per­form poor­ly on timed test and musi­cal audi­tions. I use the tech­niques of motion med­i­ta­tion of Inter­nal Ener­gy Plus and have found that I can per­form exact­ly how I have prac­ticed!!!

  5. Alvaro says:

    Hel­lo Thomas, indeed, per­for­mance anx­i­ety is one of the most impor­tant areas where good emo­tion­al self-reg­u­la­tion is crit­i­cal. Glad to hear you have found the way to per­form at the lev­el that you can!

  6. emu store says:

    I wished they did this when i was a kid…teaching the kids to be more relaxed is so impor­tant..

  7. Julia Borsos says:

    Hel­lo Alvaro,
    this is a great arti­cle, I’d love to link to it and write a cou­ple of para­graphs about med­i­ta­tion in school on my blog ‘Some­thing is Wrong’, a blog writ­ing about the next gen­er­a­tion, the edu­ca­tion sys­tem and media influ­ences.

    Let me know if you are inter­est­ed! Keep up the good work!

  8. Alvaro says:

    Hel­lo Julia, of course, blog about the top­ic and this arti­cle, and please link back to Sharp­Brains and to the Greater Good Mag­a­zine-your read­ers will enjoy both!

  9. CG Walters says:

    There is noth­ing bet­ter that could be giv­en to any­one, much less kids.
    Many bless­ings,
    CG

  10. Valerijs says:

    I think what these peo­ple are doing is worth a nobel prize in peace mak­ing, edu­ca­tion and health. When ower­all pro­gramm suc­cess results will be obtained it will be seen clear­ly. They are cre­at­ing healthy future soci­ety with no psy­cho­log­ic-men­tal prob­lems… good luck to them..

  11. blau augen says:

    This is a great idea, they need this in every school. I wish I would have had this forced on me as a child.

  12. Deborah says:

    OK. I am sold. I teach 6th grade and am always look­ing for an edge to over­come test anx­i­ety. Where can I get more infor­ma­tion about mind­ful aware­ness?

  13. John says:

    bril­liant. this has been my vision: for chil­dren every­where to learn med­i­ta­tion in school. the future would be so much bet­ter

  14. Alvaro says:

    John, I agree. Schools, as places for learn­ing, could do a bet­ter job at devel­op­ing impor­tant men­tal skills such as atten­tion and emo­tion­al self-reg­u­la­tion, and med­i­ta­tion can be a great tool for that.

  15. Nicholas Alexander G.P. says:

    Hel­lo!
    I am 19 years old and I am also from Roma­nia. I like to state that the impor­tant things are: to know your­self (Socrates), to know what you want, to know your lim­its and to push them fur­ther. There­fore edu­ca­tion in my opin­ion should always help a per­son know the rules of the game based upon the view of the soci­ety and the indi­vid­ual abil­i­ties.
    I hope I got it all right…as well as I hope to read some­thing new soon!

  16. Thanks for the infor­ma­tive post.. and thanks for adding our com­ment to the blog. I am sub­scrib­ing to your feed so I don\‘t miss the next post!

  17. Michael J. D'Angelo says:

    I love your arti­cle. I am an inde­pen­dent fit­ness instruc­tor in Brook­ings, Ore­gon. I spe­cial­ize in stress reduc­tion train­ing. I give two free class­es a month at the library, I’m giv­ing class­es at the com­mu­ni­ty col­lege, and I’m now work­ing with teach­ers to imple­ment an after-school stress reduc­tion train­ing pro­gram for the Brook­ings-Har­bor School Dis­trict. I will give two class­es a week for all teach­ers, stu­dents, and sup­port staff. I see this as a min­istry of ser­vice, so I do not charge for my ser­vices. I depend on the finan­cial kind­ness of the com­mu­ni­ty. My back­ground is Tai Chi, Chi Kung, and Hatha Yoga (since the 70s). But.…. I do not teach those prac­tices, nor do I teach med­i­ta­tion. Rather, I use their foun­da­tions to focus strict­ly on a sim­ple tech­nique of stress reduc­tion that can be used any­where, any­time, under any sit­u­a­tion stand­ing or sit­ting. And, those who have learned this sim­ple tech­nique can train those around them. Once I have the school pro­gram in force, I intend to help the City staff, includ­ing the police depart­ment and the fire depart­ment. Sim­ply put, Brook­ings is my mod­el of suc­cess. From here, I shall go nation­wide. Yes, it’s time we take care of our own, espe­cial­ly our chil­dren. Want to know more? Talk to Kurt Nadar or Charles Kocher, pub­lish­er of the Cur­ry Coastal Pilot, the local news­pa­per (541–469-3124). Michael J. D’An­ge­lo

  18. Michael J. D'Angelo says:

    I need to cor­rect an error in my pre­vi­ous com­ments. The con­tact name is Kurt Madar — not Nadar. A thou­sand apolo­gies Kurt. Also, my chal­lenge is in find­ing fund­ing. I appre­ci­ate any help in direct­ing me. Thank you all so kind­ly. Michael J. D’An­ge­lo

  19. TaChunda says:

    In ref­er­ence to Michael J. D’An­gelo’s com­ment, I am free­lance grant writer that enjoys writ­ing pro­pos­als for oth­ers. I am inter­est­ed in learn­ing more about your pro­gram and per­haps find­ing fund­ing. Please con­tact me at tachundasb@aol.com with more infor­ma­tion.

  20. Fiama says:

    I’d like to bring up such a pro­gram at my son’s pri­vate school. Is there a cer­tain orga­ni­za­tion that the Tolu­ca Lake School used? I’m also in the SFV and inter­est­ed in kid yoga class­es and med­i­ta­tions on a pri­vate basis. I’ve tried to google it and had trou­ble. Is there a list of close Val­ley places to go? After school and Sat?

  21. Anne Holmes says:

    What a fan­tas­tic sto­ry!

    I’ve just writ­ten a post on how we need to remem­ber the val­ue of inter­act­ing with friends — a sim­ple as shar­ing a meal, or chat­ting on the phone — as well as the huge val­ue of mak­ing sure to laugh dai­ly as a stress man­age­ment tech­nique.

    Yoga, of course, is huge­ly effec­tive, and high on my list. But who would have thought of train­ing kids this young!

    I’m blown away!!

  22. jean says:

    well, my childs school began this pro­gram and i am not hap­py. with bud­dhism as the basis for the progam and time carved out for this, ace­demics suf­fers! let me teach OUR reli­gious prefer­ance at home! seems good on the sur­face, dig a bit deeper…how about using the Bible to med­i­tate on?!

  23. Dear Jean, med­i­ta­tion is, at this point, a per­fect­ly sec­u­lar prac­tice, like, say, yoga. Sev­er­al types of prayer also resem­ble the prac­tice of med­i­ta­tion… so please don’t get attached to arti­fi­cial labels, but sim­ply see if this helps your kid or not, which is what mat­ters!

    Thank you for shar­ing your view.

  24. Ilan Kerman says:

    Dear Jean,

    Thank you for this very inter­est­ing post. I think it’s great that teach­ers are bring­ing mind­ful­ness into schools. It clear­ly helps chil­dren achieve their best, and it’s too bad that some par­ents are scared off by it.

    What do you think of teach­ing yoga as part of gym class­es? It has a many of the ele­ments of mind­ful­ness, but is also good for strength and flex­i­bil­i­ty.

  25. bill says:

    jean, fwiw, Bud­dhism isn’t a reli­gion, although some of its trap­pings give it the appear­ance of a reli­gion. At its, core it’s not God/faith cen­tric and does not focus on scrip­ture. Med­i­ta­tion prac­tices tak­en from Bud­dhism are essen­tial­ly sec­u­lar.

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