Mindfulness in education?
Healthy stress is just a part of life. It helps kids and adults, alike, to be challenged to grow. However, stress in the educational system has gotten out of hand.
Students are feeling pressured to excel in rigorous academic settings while maintaining busy recreational schedules. Parents are stressed and exhausted, running kids from one activity to the next. And teachers are experiencing burnout left and right, with roughly half a million teachers leaving the profession each year.
Somewhere along the way, healthy stress came to be replaced with toxic stress.
According to a 2014 American Psychological Association survey, the “drive to get good grades and gain acceptance into elite colleges, combined with participation on sports teams and other after-school activities, and hours of homework mix together to make teenagers the most stressed group of people in America when school is in session.”
And while there are steps that parents and teachers can do to alleviate some of those stressors for kids, like cutting back on activities or limiting the number of advanced courses, one major change schools can implement is to include mindfulness in education.
While there is no set curriculum, yet, for mindfulness in the classroom, there are a few things teachers (or even parents at home!) can try.
Create a quiet space in the classroom
Classrooms can often be noisy spaces.
However, try finding a time or place in your classroom where the students (and even you, the teacher) can pause for a few moments and be more aware of the surroundings in the moment. After all, mindfulness, at its root, is just about being fully present.
If you’re unable to create a truly quiet space, try adding white noise to mask any background noise. One teacher, Terry Heick, created her own background noise to help quiet her students’ busy minds so they could read, write or focus. (I tested it out while writing this article and have to say that it did help me focus on the task at hand!
Introduce daily guided meditation or breathing practices
Start each day with a guided meditation or breathing practice before beginning the regular classwork.
Teach students how to use breathing to avoid panic or impulsive reactions. By encouraging them stop and practice deep breathing with you, you’ll be modeling calming techniques that they can use both at school and home.
“It helps so much. It really does,” said Lexxi Seay, a senior at Marblehead High School in Massachusetts, who has been diagnosed with anxiety disorders. “I tend to be less anxious afterwards. Let’s say I am having a real hard day at school and then I go to French and we meditate for 10 to 15 minutes, I feel so much better. No anxiety, no stress, just relaxed.”
If the kids are younger, there are a number of other meditative mindfulness practices that you might want to try, such as listening to a bell or making a glitter jar.
Introduce a gratitude practice
Being thankful for what you have is a big part of mindfulness.
You can cultivate gratitude in a few different ways. For example, you could ask students to silently take a few minutes to reflect on what they’re thankful for. You could also have your students keep gratitude journals where they can, daily, list things that they’re grateful for.
Encourage mindful eating
Encourage kids to eat their food slowly and engage all of their senses as they’re eating. What does the food smell like? What is the texture? How does it taste?
You can even introduce mindful eating in the classroom, passing out raisins for your students to mindfully eat.
Regardless of which aspect of mindfulness that you choose to introduce in your classroom – whether that it’s a gratitude practice or meditation – the important part is to be consistent. The more you make it part of your students’ daily lives, the more likely they will be to make it a habit in their lives outside the classroom and for years to come.
Final Thoughts on Why Mindfulness in Education is Needed and How to Get Started
Mindfulness practices such as meditation, breathing practices, yoga, and chanting, can all have a significant long-term effect on a child’s development.
According to Sonia Sequeira, Ph.D., a clinical researcher specialized in Investigational Therapies and director of the Institute for Meditation Sciences, “[In my research], what really mattered was finding practical tools that were not an on-off or intermittent practice for children, but something they could really grow with and that could affect their physiology as they grow from their young childhood into adolescence.”
There are a multitude of long-term benefits for teaching children mindfulness. Studies have found:
- Mindfulness can help kids to thrive at school
- It can be an effective intervention for autism
- It can help kids with ADD and ADHD
- It can help children with cancer and other serious health conditions
- A mindful family upbringing encourages children to self-actualize
Fortunately, what Sequeira has discovered is that teaching mindfulness to kids is very easy.
“Teaching mindfulness to children has always been the easiest for me because there’s no set patterns, or at least they’re not set in stone yet. With adults it’s much more difficult.”
Some ways teachers can introduce mindfulness in the classroom (or parents can introduce it at home) are:
- Create a quiet space in the classroom
- Introduce daily guided meditation or breathing practices
- Introduce a gratitude practice
- Encourage mindful eating
- Be consistent
Teachers, we would love to hear from you! Have you added mindfulness in your own classroom? How are you teaching your students to cope with stress?