Mindfulness in schools is taking off, with wonderful results!
One recent study shows that "mindfulness triples students' ability to focus and participate in class activities." The techniques are being adjusted for kids as young as four or five years of age and can be continuously developed right through college and onward. A 4th Grade Teacher in New York describes the impact on students, “They’re less impulsive with each other, they think about their words before they speak so it definitely spills to into the daily routines.”
School psychologists note that even at these ages (K-5th grades), many students are showing signs of anxiety and difficulty concentrating. The effects of meditation included increased self-confidence and awareness, as well as self-control in dealing with anxieties when they do arise.
Meanwhile, in Chicago, money is being raised to get young people to a summer mindfulness camp to help them deal with the stresses of violence and poverty around them. There, Depaul University's Dr. Martha Mason teaches young women how to "surf the waves" of the mind. She notes that science is backing up the practice, as well, with studies showing improvements on such things as test scores.
Tools for young meditators:
- Sound meditation: ring a bowl or bell and having students close their eyes and listen to the sound. They can then listen to the room around them and report back on what they hear. (1-2 minute exercise)
- Dancing meditation (see video below): instruct students that at the end of a piece of music they should stop, close their eyes, and bring their breathing and awareness into their belly. Play fun music, encourage students to be up and dancing to it for a minute and then stop. The kids should freeze and observe and can report back (2-3 minutes)
- Observing anger (see video below): have one student act as the 'anger' of another, leading them around and controlling them. Then have the student turn around and say, "I see you, anger" - thus regaining control over the anger. Students can be told that this is how a lot of emotions are (including anxiety and depression). They take control, but we can use breathing and calm to turn and see them and get control back. (3-5 minutes)
- Raisin meditation: give out raisins to the students. Have them sit with it and very intently observe every possible aspect of the raisin. First looking at it, seeing every tiny feature in the raisin. Then touch: what does it feel like? Where is it softer or firmer? Have them gently move it around between their fingers. Then sound. When they role it and squish it a little bit by the ear, what sounds are produced (they'll be surprised!). Then smell. And finally, slowly, putting the raisin in the mouth, moving it around, exploring it with the tongue and teeth before eventually biting down, releasing all of the flavors, chewing it and swallowing it. (5-8 minutes)
- Mindful journaling: have students meditate for a minute or two and then write about their feelings for the day. If there is anxiety or anger, where is that felt in the body, can they explore and describe the feelings in writing. This practice will help them see those difficult emotions more clearly and quickly, often before they 'take over' and gain control over the kids. Optional sharing allows them to see that they're not alone and to learn from the experiences of others. (8-12 minutes)
Lastly, in Ohio, congressman Tim Ryan is working to bring mindfulness to schools in his district. The Democrat has used mindfulness in his own life for years and has even written a book about it, noting that it's not about religion - a worry that some parents have raised (Ryan notes that Marines use it, athletes use it, and he himself is still a Catholic).
Have a look, read more, explore ways to get meditation to young people in your community. If you are in or near Helena, Montana, contact me at email@example.com for tips or a seminar or course for teachers to learn the tools that can be used in your classrooms.