Why Mindfulness Matters in Education
Research has proven that practicing mindfulness-based meditation and yoga in the classroom improves students’ focused attention and self-awareness, which contribute to academic success. Mindfulness-based practices also offer measurable health benefits and can reduce anxiety and depression. These valuable activities have become part of the daily routine in the second grade. Every day, after morning meeting, second graders move through yoga sequences, usually led by one of the students. They end each day with a three to seven minute guided meditation, also often student led.
According to second grade teacher Elliott Buck, “Mindfulness-based meditation directly supports and enhances the school’s Open Circle social/emotional curriculum. The practice helps with problem-solving, self-monitoring, and compassion. It gives children a sense of belonging and a healthy routine. We are teaching our students lifelong skills and habits for coping and, ultimately, for succeeding in life.” Buck believes that practicing mindfulness on a daily basis has really brought the class together and encouraged the kids to trust and support one another. She adds, “Students become more comfortable taking academic risks and self-monitoring their behavior. It raises self-esteem, and it’s fun!”
Each second grader wrote their own guided meditation script. They collaborated, tested them out on each other, and led the entire school in a guided meditation at a recent all-school assembly. They also shared their guided meditations with the seventh graders in their life skills class. Buck points out that meditation can be particularly helpful to upper school students, who are learning to manage stress around social challenges, anxiety, testing, and exams.
In upper school, GUS faculty are intentionally discussing and incorporating mindfulness techniques and practices in the classroom, particularly in life skills and in x-blocks, but also as a way to start classes or to prepare for an assessment. Director of Upper School Gretchen Forsyth comments, “We want to make sure that we provide kids with healthy, alternative ways to reduce stress so that they can thrive both inside and outside of school.”
“Extensive research has proven that mindfulness training integrates the brain and strengthens the important executive functions that support emotional and social intelligence as well as academic success,” explains leading neurobiologist Daniel J. Siegel, M.D., clinical professor and author of The Mindful Brain.
When they meditate, the second graders either lie down or sit on a block. They are asked to visualize a setting, such as a beach, and then go there in their mind. Each student has a “peace rock,” which they use in their mindfulness practices. They also gave a peace rock to each of the seventh graders, along with strategies for how to use the rocks.
“This is all student-driven,” comments Buck. “Meditating is learning how your mind and body work. The practice improves relationships and increases focus and understanding. And the kids are really excited about it.” She gave each of her students a small LED candle to use at home. Parents share with the teachers how their children are practicing mindfulness and how much it calms them at the end of busy and sometimes stressful days.
Mindfulness starts in kindergarten and first grade at GUS with breathing techniques. First grade teacher Marnie Potish attended a mindfulness workshop at the Esalen Institute in Big Sur, California, this past summer. The workshop was led by Daniel Rechtschaffen, founding director of Mindful Education, a mindfulness and social/emotional learning platform for educators and family therapists. The idea behind the workshop was that adults who practice mindfulness can share the techniques and transform the experience of children. Rechtschaffen identifies the following learning objectives that can be improved through mindfulness:
The teachers explain to the second graders that there are no right or wrong ways to meditate and that it’s okay if they don’t want to participate, but students are usually eager to join in. “Even the most restless child can learn to do this,” confirms Buck. “We do body scans of how the kids feel when they’re stressed and talk about the techniques they can use to slow down and be more aware of what’s going on around them.” Buck adds, “They are learning to calm different kinds of emotions and to develop healthy habits.” Other ways they are practicing mindfulness are mindful eating and guided walking meditation on Glen Urquhart’s nature trails. “Our walks help kids who are impulsive and might have trouble sitting still.” She and Maggie Clark and other teachers who work with the second graders see the results, noting that the students are more connected, focused, calm, and happy.
Elliott Buck is expanding her mindfulness studies and is currently enrolled in courses through:
http://palousemindfulness.com/ (The prerequisite for mindful schools.)
She hopes to put what she has learned into practice in the classroom and to promote mindfulness education throughout all grade levels at GUS.