I regularly receive messages from teachers asking how to teach meditation in schools. They have read the research and they understand just how beneficial mindfulness and meditation are for kids.
Over the past five years, mindfulness programs have become hugely popular with both adults and kids. Listening to meditation music, practicing mindful breathing, using mantras… these are all mindful practices that would have looked alternative or even controversial in schools only ten years ago, but today are commonplace.
The focus, of course, is to help kids relax, focus, and feel happy at school, both for their mental health and for their results in school.
Amanda Moreno [associate professor at Erikson Institute, a graduate school that trains professionals in child development] told Washington Post that educators hope mindfulness will help students to handle the stress and pressure they encounter at school. By making it easier to handle the stress, kids are more able to focus on what matters: studying. “[Mindfulness and meditation] are meant to help them better attend to what’s happening around them,” Moreno said. “It’s kinda like you slow down to go fast.”
Research has proven that there are indeed big benefits of teaching mindfulness and meditation at school. Some simple mindfulness and meditation exercises help kids to relax, to overcome stress and anxiety, and ultimately to be successful in the classroom.
The Many Benefits Of Teaching Mindfulness, Meditation At School
The majority of scientific research into meditation has been done on adults. From this we have learned that there are more than 100 benefits of meditation.
Recently, however, science has begun to investigate the effects of meditation on the developmental brain, (in other words: kids). From this research we know that there are indeed some big benefits of teaching meditation in school.
1: Concentration and reduction in ADHD symptoms
Perhaps not surprisingly, the number one benefit of meditation at school is an increase in children’s concentration. A study conducted in 2004 found that children with ADHD who practice meditating with their parents twice a week in a clinical setting and continuing at home, had markedly improved concentration levels. A 2013 study showed that boys with ADHD who practiced an eight-week mindfulness program had decreases in hyperactivity and increases in concentration. Applied to schools, this essentially means kids can focus on studies while also being better behaved—a benefit for both teachers and students.
2: Less anxiety and depression
It’s a well-established fact that meditation improves mental health, both for adults and for kids. One study showed that a 12-week meditation treatment will alleviate the symptoms of anxiety in children. A further study [source] found that kids who participate in an after-school meditation and yoga program felt happier and more relaxed. It should be noted, however, that this research is still in its infancy and further research is required to substantiate these findings.
3: Improved grades and attendance
Two of the most important metrics for kids at school are attendance records and grade results. Anecdotal evidence shows that meditation can improve both those things. A school district in California increased its school day by half an hour in order to give time to introduce meditation. The school reported improved grades and better attendance with less suspensions. Science backs this up. One study showed that mindfulness reduces anxiety in children while also improving memory, and this led to improved results. Again, further research is needed to substantiate these findings.
4: Helping with stress at home
One reason why children might struggle at school is because of stress at home. Trauma at home makes it almost impossible for children to focus at school because their minds are overloaded with stress. Intervention is required in order to help these children to relax and focus when they are in class. Many believe that mindfulness and meditation are the best solutions.
One problem with this, however, is that it can be challenging for kids with trauma to sit still and meditate. For this reason, many experts advocate using physical exercise before meditation, which helps the kids let of steam before they are asked to focus on meditating.
5: Self Control
One of the main benefits of mindfulness is that it helps both adults and kids to be more aware of their thoughts and feelings, and thereby to have more self control. Mindfulness, an exercise that principally involves focusing on the breath while observing thoughts and feelings, can greatly increase self regulation. This empowers children to have more control of their behaviour. Research shows that when we teach children mindfulness meditation, we help them to gain more understanding of themselves and this in turn leads to better executive functioning. .
6: Less bullying
One big benefit of meditation that schools will be interested in is the fact that it reduces bullying and inspires kids to treat each other better. One study showed that kids who took a mindfulness program combined with a social learning program had higher levels of empathy and self control (when compared to a second group who were given a “social responsibility” program).
Clearly, there are many benefits of teaching meditation at school. But actually teaching kids ho to meditate in the classroom is an altogether different thing. With different schools having different philosophies, and parents having different ideas of what is right or wrong for their kids, you might wonder how to teach meditation in schools in a way that is generally approved and beneficial. So, let’s take a look at how to do precisely that.
How To Teach Meditation In Schools
The key to successfully teaching meditation in schools is to take an approach that is easy for kids while also agreeable to parents (who will have different ideas of what is right or wrong for their children).
Here are some ways of doing precisely that.
1: Use simple mindfulness exercises
There are myriad different mindfulness exercises that kids can use. They range from mindful painting to simply listening to relaxing music, and everything in-between. It’s best to have an understanding of the different options available, that way you can find the right solution for your students. My guide to beginning mindfulness will help get you started.
One way you can introduce mindfulness in the classroom is with fun mindful breaks. In these breaks, you allow kids to do the activities they enjoy while doing so mindfully. For instance, if one kid enjoys painting and another enjoys music, you can let the first kid practice mindful art and the second listen to mindful music. Mindfulness is a very versatile practice, and that means you can adapt it so that it is suitable for each kid.
2: Introduce “Mindful Moments”
There will be times during class when the kids are becoming unruly. This is the perfect time for a “mindful moment”, a thirty second break in which everyone closes their eyes and takes some mindful breaths. This little break acts as a refresher and can calm kids down so they can once again focus on studying.
3: Mindful lunch
A mindful lunch is simply a lunch in which we eat food slowly while being consciously aware of what we are eating. This practice is doubly beneficial. On the one had it teaches kids to be mindful. On the other it makes them eat slower, which is healthier for the gut. To do this, encourage the kids to eat slowly and discuss their food with them, talking about the colours of the food, the textures and tastes and so on.
4: Mindful walking
Mindful walking is actually one of the most traditional forms of meditation. And it is a form of meditation you can teach in school. Although there are proper instructions for the traditional method, I would keep it simple for kids. Just go for a slow walk and discuss the things you pass by so that the kids actually look up and take notice. This is much easier if you take the kids somewhere relaxing that they will actually be interested in.
5: A quiet spot
The idea here is to create a “quiet spot” where kids can sit by themselves and relax. Provide everything they need to help them relax, such as colouring books and relaxing music. For younger kids you might also like to include some stuffed teddies.
As you can tell from the ideas above, there are many different ways to teach meditation in the classroom. Perhaps the key to success is finding the best method specifically for the kids you teach. You might find one technique works really well for your class and other techniques not so much. It all depends on the dynamics of the classroom and the students in it.
By using a few easy mindfulness and meditation exercises in the classroom you can help kids to relax, help them focus on their studies, and improve both their attendance and their grade results.