“On a cold March afternoon, the hallways were abuzz with chatter and giggles at Chatsworth Elementary School in Larchmont, New York. As the kindergarteners from Liz Slade’s class ambled into their classroom from lunch and recess and put their jackets and lunch boxes into their cubbies, Slade asked, “Can today’s mindful leader please come upfront and begin?”
Isabella, a 6-year-old wearing a heart-clad gray shirt and polka-dot leggings, quietly took a cross-legged seat on the classroom rug facing her peers. With her palms facing up and resting on each knee, she began to tap her thumbs on each of her fingers, simultaneously repeating the words “I-am-calm-now” with each tap. Without hesitation, each of Isabella’s classmates, along with their teacher, followed their mindful leader, tapping their thumbs and saying “I am calm now,” gently lowering their voices after each repetition until the room grew quiet. Slade then asked her students to slowly make their way to their tables and take out their “feelings” journal.” (Gerztberg, Caren Osten, “Mindfulness in Education” https://www.mindful.org/mindfulness-in-education/, Accessed 06/22/19).
Imagine a world where all children were given the opportunity to take a few moments out of their day to meditate and center themselves. Schools all over the world are beginning to do just that. With the pressures of academics starting as early as kindergarten, it is important for children to take time to release stress and tension in a healthy way. According to the National Institutes of Mental Health, 25% of 13 to 18-year olds will experience an anxiety disorder. Early stress levels can negatively impact memory, behavior, and health.
In the UK, the government is leading the charge by investing public funds into studying the benefits of mindfulness in the classroom–the largest research study of its kind to date. This study aims to follow existing research into how mindfulness and mental health education can benefit children in the classroom and how effective different approaches are used to assist schools in promoting mental health and wellbeing among our most vulnerable population–our children. Currently, in the UK, over 5000 teachers are trained in delivering mindfulness exercises to the children in their classrooms and are already showing the benefits in terms of improved cognitive skills and academic performance.
Mindfulness-based interventions in the classroom “can reliably impact on a wide range of indicators of positive psychological, social, and physical well-being and flourishing in children and young people.” Professor Katherine Weare, co-lead for education at The Mindfulness Initiative Policy Institute.
While stress, sadly, is nothing new and is not going to go away anytime soon, helping kids learn skills such as focus and collectedness and enhancing skills like kindness and open-mindedness will be important in helping the next generation meet the challenges in our rapidly changing world. Toxic stress is said to be the greatest, unaddressed public health threat facing our children today. Studies at Harvard University’s Center for the Developing Child has found that toxic stress impedes the healthy development of our children, literally changing their brains and affecting their ability to learn, even in the best schools. Mindfulness, learning how to move from toxic to tolerable stress levels, is the much-needed puzzle piece in an otherwise frightening picture.
Unfortunately, in the United States, we are severely behind in implementing these strategies in the classroom. So, what can we do at home to teach our kids mindfulness techniques that they can apply in school and in life?
Helping our kids cope in an ever-changing, stressful world can become a full-time job, but helping them learn to practice mindfulness to manage their stress will help them become successful in the long run. Until each classroom in the United States gives our students mindfulness breaks during the day, we as parents can help our kids be successful and as well balanced as possible by implementing a few of these useful strategies.
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