Research shows that an increasing number of today’s kids are more stressed and anxious than ever before. This may be due to more general stress at home, school, academic expectations, and possibly even pressure from an excess of extracurricular activities such as music, sport and clubs. Some kids are able to cope better, but generally its helpful if adults can help develop coping mechanisms and strategies via mindfulness exercises.
Prolonged exposure to chronic stress has been shown to impair attention, sleep, willingness to learn, mood and emotional regulation. In addition, stress also has long-term mental and physical implications. Having said that, schools have now started to incorporate stress reduction strategies such as mindfulness in their school curriculum and it has been shown to be very beneficial to students with regard to their mental and physical health, emotional well-being, and ability to learn.
In this article, you are going to gain insights on the impact of mindfulness in schools and how it has helped students. Please keep reading.
What is Mindfulness?
Mindfulness is simply a process of bringing one’s attention to experiences occurring in the present moment. It can be practiced through mindfulness meditation and mindfulness exercises.
In addition, mindfulness is based on an accepting and non-judgmental orientation, and it can help enhance emotional control and cognitive flexibility.
Mindfulness and Meditation in Schools
Mindfulness is continuously being developed for use in classrooms with the aim of improving academic performance and the well-being of students and teachers. The following are some of the positive results some schools have had with mindfulness meditation including some feedback from head teachers at school’s that have invited me to read The Dog Who Chased His Tail at their school and practice the simple breathing song in the book with their students.
“When Greg March visited our energetic year ones late 2016, he shared his gentle book “The dog who chased his tail”. This softly illustrated picture book was perfect for inspiring our students to take a moment out of their busy brains. Based on a Zen story, the book focusses on how to stop “chasing your tail” and simply breathe.
Since Greg’s visit, the class sing a little breathing song after break to ease back into the school day. Thank you Greg, for sharing a simple but delightful book to help our students become more mindful. We can’t wait to see Greg’s next Zen-inspired children’s picture book.”
Teacher Librarian, German Swiss International School
Calming down students
One of the benefits of mindfulness meditation is that it helps students to calm down and so effective with kids with behavioral problems. For example, a school in Baltimore (USA) known as Robert W. Coleman Elementary School has been using meditation to help disruptive children to improve behavior instead of punishing them.
The school has a room called the mindfulness moment, which is filled with decorations, lamps, and luxurious purple pillows. Kids with disciplinary cases are often sent to the room where they sit and practice breathing or meditation, which have been shown to help such students calm down. The kids in this school are also encouraged to talk about what happened.
Teachers have also used mindfulness meditation to calm themselves more so when dealing with a choatic class. For instance, teachers from Quil Ceda Tulalip Elementary School in Marysville (USA) reported that they took time out from class to just take a few deep breaths especially when they were feeling frustrated by the chaos in class. Students noticed what the teachers were doing and they also started taking breaks for purposes of breathing and identifying their emotions more so when they were feeling stressed.
It improves Focus
School life can be busy and meditation has been shown to improve concentration, attention and focus among students. For example, a student from Woodson High School in Virginia (USA) said how mindfulness sessions helped her focus and pay attention to herself despite the busy school schedule. In her case, the English teacher would guide the class through 10-15 minute mindfulness sessions every week. She would ask the class to sit in a comfortable position and try to focus on their bodies.
It reduces stress and can even improve academic performance
Mindfulness has also been shown to reduce stress and improve academic performance among students. For instance, Visitacion Valley Middle School in San Francisco (USA) previously had incidences of gang violence and drugs, which would completely stress out and agitate the kids. Because of the violence in the community, there were several fights each day among students. However, it is reported that in 2007 a meditation programme known as Quiet Time was implemented, and after just a month, teachers reported having noticed changes in student behavior.
The Quiet Time programme helped the students to be more attentive, to work harder, and it also became easier to teach them. Not only were the students happy, but fights reduced drastically.
Burton High School has also adopted the Quiet Time programme, and according to the students who have participated, it has reduced stress and depression, and led to higher self-esteem. The decrease in stress has also helped them to improve their academic performance especially among students who were poor performers.
Fosters self compassion
Two students at Roosevelt High School committed suicide, and it was after that incident that the school administration made a decision to start a school-wide mindfulness program. Every Thursday, teachers were leading their students in a mindfulness practice, and guided sitting meditation, which normally took three to five minutes. The aim of the exercise was to help teachers and students to be kind to themselves, and it is reported that students would practice mindfulness before exams, when mentally stuck or overwhelmed.
Improves overall well-being and social competence
Not only does meditation lead to greater academic achievement, but it also improves the social skills and well-being of students.
A Meta review of the effect of meditation interventions in schools was conducted, and it included students from various schools in the US, UK, Australia, Canada and India. According to the review, students reported that meditation helped them to be more optimistic, to have a stronger self identity and self acceptance, as well as positive emotions. They also reported that meditation helped to reduce anxiety, stress and depression.
From the examples above, it is evident that mindfulness meditation is a tool used widely to equip students with critical skills for functioning such as ability to calm themselves, to interact effectively and to focus their attention. Mindfulness in schools has also been shown to improve academic performance and reduce depression, stress and anxiety.