According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, eighty percent of students report feeling stressed. Thirty-four percent report feeling depressed. Mindfulness can be the key to easing away this stress. So how does mindfulness help students? In this post, we’ll discuss mindfulness for students.
Why Do Students Need Mindfulness?
According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, eighty percent of students report feeling stressed. Thirty-four percent report feeling depressed. Mindfulness can be the key to easing away this stress. So how does mindfulness help students? In this post, we’ll discuss mindfulness for students.
At any age, the learning process is chaotic. Students forget their homework, skirmishes break out, they are shy in front of the class, or simply dislike the subject. Learning puts stress on children who would rather be spending their time doing everything but being mindful. Add to it the pressure of tests, grades, future college applications, projects, presentations, their future, the stress is overwhelming.
A recent study by researchers with the Boston Charter Research Collaborative which included Harvard University (CEPR) and MIT proved that mindfulness can help students. Six graders who received mindfulness training four times a week for eight weeks were less stressed out than their counterparts who didn’t. The findings suggested that students who were taught mindfulness techniques had better attention spans. They also developed better coping mechanisms.
Why Is Mindfulness Important For Teachers?
Mindfulness education has been picking up steam. Not just because it helps students, but because it helps educators, teachers, and parents too. After all, children that are focused, less agitated, and happy tend to be less chaotic and disruptive. Mindfulness education can help students learn in many ways. Here are a few ways that are listed below.
What is self-awareness? All of us know we exist. How do we make students and particularly young children self-aware? Through reflection and introspection, individuals can objectively and clearly see themselves. Although no one can be a hundred percent objective, let us be honest, how many time are we aware of our breath? Do we think and realize our actions or function like automatons constantly worried about the future or pre-occupied with the past. If you have trouble beings self-aware how much more challenging it is for students?
Beginning mindfulness education and emotional learning early in schools can train children to believe they are ‘the thinker.’ It helps them to refocus their attention on their inner self. Through this inner self, they can find their actions either align or they find a discrepancy in the alignment with a standard of correctness. Every action thereafter is to align with that standard.
Here’s the thing, as self-awareness increases, it has been found that it boosts self-development. It also increases self-control and allows individuals to see things from others’ perspective. Becoming more self-aware also increases decision-making capacity. And finally, it increases self-confidence. Self-awareness can make students more productive in the classroom and at home. They communicate better with their teachers and peers. Who does not want their students to be more confident? No matter their performance students can learn to be satisfied and thus be happier and healthier.
Studies showed that medical students practice more self-care with increased self-awareness. Once they started mindfulness techniques to increase self-awareness, law students experienced a boost in their emotional intelligence.
Research has shown that mindfulness among students can increase empathy. Emory researchers used cognitive-based compassion training (CBCT) for eight weeks. Their goal was to see if they could increase empathy by shifting the focus from ‘me’ to ‘others.’ They wanted to realize aspirational compassion to active compassion. After eight weeks, participants could more accurately intuit the expressions of the individuals in the photographs they were shown. Their brain scans also demonstrated increased neural activity in parts of the brain associated with empathy.
Mindfulness Techniques Help To Calm And Focus The Mind
Studies reveal that children who do practice mindfulness techniques tend to have better retention rates and also lower anxiety levels. This is because when trained in mindfulness, their amygdala is less activated. The pre-frontal cortex and hippocampus are in control. With a calm mind, children can focus better on their work at hand and tend to do better at school. Here are some mindfulness techniques you can do with children. One easy meditation technique is to simply listen to the sounds of nature. Birds chirping, the sound of rain or waves can be extremely calming for children. It helps center them at the moment. Their monkey minds will be refocused on the present moment in time.
Another technique could be to take them on a nature walk, simply to allow their senses to be involved. Smelling the flowers, observing the colors, and hearing frogs or crickets. Creating games out of mindfulness techniques can be helpful too. For example, you can ask the child to take ten slow breaths, feeling their breath go in and out. Or you could tell them to drop anchor, that is squat to the ground and then explain the sensations in different body parts. Blindfold taste tests can also be played to increase their sensitivity to taste.
Sometimes, children will prefer to draw what the emotions they experience. High school children might express themselves through stories. There are numerous ways to teach a child how to be more mindful, by eating slowly, telling you how they feel, painting, acting, the list is endless. Children are wonderfully imaginative and if given the reins to do so they can find their own way to self-meditate.
One of the benefits of mindfulness among students is better communication. The students must be taught how to mindfully communicate. They can learn how to express themselves clearly and specifically by labeling and saying exactly what they feel or want. Mindful communication means doing so even during a conflict. Few principles guide these communications techniques. They include breathing, visualization, and being compassionate. Teaching mindful communication can be challenging among kids because they tend to be more reactive than responsive but even mindfulness meditation for ten days can help.
Applying Mindfulness Skills To Everyday Life
All the mindfulness lessons and courses will be for naught if students can’t apply them to their daily life. By teaching students to apply mindfulness skills to their everyday routines it’s likely to become a habit and a lifelong practice. You can teach students to simply begin every day with one minute of mindfulness.
Minute meditations are better for younger students and a wonderful practice to apply to moments of conflict. Mindful chores could help increase empathy as they see how wonderful their act of service is at home or in class. Eating slowly, one morsel at a time during a break or mindful snack time can teach children to eat mindfully. Giving them a nothing time, where they do nothing may be surprising to them but it can also allow their minds to freely wander. These are just a few ways students can be taught to apply the skills to daily life.
In high school students, they can be asked to focus on only one activity at a time. No other distractions are allowed until the job is done. Or they can be told to watch their mind, to identify their urges, cravings, and desires. These skills can be applied daily anywhere and will slowly help them develop self-control.
The Evidence-Based Research
We go back to the Boston Charter Research Collaborative. One of their research studies on mindfulness has made a huge impact on helping schools decide if they want to start a minfulness-based program. The goal of the research was to prove that mindfulness techniques reduce stress and anxiety in students and improve their academic and behavioral outcomes. They conducted a randomized controlled trial with 6th-grade students at a partner school. Researchers wanted to study the impact of a school-based mindfulness intervention on students’ attention spans and perceived levels of stress. As part of the study, students either participated in the mindfulness intervention or a coding training program. The students assigned to participate in the mindfulness intervention received eight weeks of mindfulness instruction. The control group of students was trained in computer coding.
Half of the study participants also participated in brain imaging before and after the eight-week program. The researchers found that students assigned to the mindfulness intervention displayed reduced levels of perceived stress and modest but significant improvements in sustained attention. On imaging, they also showed a reduced response of the amygdala. This part of the brain is associated with emotion and stress, to negative stimuli. It proves that mindfulness interventions alleviate stress and enhance sustained attention.
Does Mindfulness Actually Work In Schools?
1. Increased focus and alertness:
By increasing mindfulness, students are directed to focus on the present moment, at the task at hand. This makes them more alert about what’s happening around them. Their ability to focus improves.
2. Students will be more interactive:
Mindful students tend to be more interactive. They respond to the teacher by stating what they understand or don’t. They engage and communicate because they are wholly immersed in the experience.
3. It’s refreshing:
For both the mindful teacher and the mindful student, it’s a refreshing change from the usual teaching exchanges that students are usually forced to sit through. Since both parties are engaged, the atmosphere is charged and exciting.
4. Increased awareness and understanding of one’s feelings and emotions.
By increasing awareness, the teacher is encouraging their ability of students to calm themselves and regulate their emotions. This is especially important as this is a possible coping mechanism for dealing with stressors at home and potentially in later life.
5. Attention and focus:
Mindfulness techniques have been proven to increase sustained attention. That is not attention for the present moment but for the sustained period of completing a task at hand.
6. Better grades:
It goes without saying that students who are engaged, interested in learning, focused, and paying attention will have better grades. They will do better on tests and also study better.
7. More effective emotion regulation:
As discussed earlier, by increasing their self-awareness, students can learn to regulate their emotions. The understand the difference between reacting and responding.
8. Better behavior in school:
Mindful students tend to be more compassionate and so their relationships are better with their peers. This affects their behavior at school and home.
9. Greater empathy and perspective-taking:
Students who practice mindfulness also tend to see the situation from other perspectives. They learn to see situations differently as the focus shifts from “me” to “them.”
10. Better social skills:
Since mindful students can regulate their emotions better with higher levels of self-confidence, their social skills also improve. They don’t ruminate on what could be or should be rather on things as they are.
11. Reduced test anxiety:
One of the major benefits of mindfulness among students is they have lesser anxiety. They are less agitated as they go from panicked to prepared. A South Korean study showed that mindful breathing exercises and cognitive reappraisal practices were effective in lowering test anxiety.
12. Lowers and manages stress:
Mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) is demonstrated through various studies. Even, low-dose mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR-ld) led to stress reduction according to a study. This means that even small efforts of mindfulness can lead to stress reduction. It can also help prevent burnout as students can manage their stress more effectively and work through it more quickly.
13. Decreased frequency/severity of post-traumatic symptoms:
There’s evidence that suggests mindfulness-based stretching and deep breathing exercise reduces the prevalence of PTSD symptoms. This is important as traumatic childhood events can lead to lifelong consequences.
14. Lower rates/severity of depression:
Studies show that Mindfulness-based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) reduces depression and anxiety. It also helped participants deal with their anxious and depressive feeling before, during, and after the stressful circumstances.
15. Imparts health benefits:
It’s known that frequent mindfulness practices, even if they are micro-sessions of a few minutes or less provides health benefits. Individuals who practice mindfulness are mindful of their health and physically active. They tend to have lower blood pressures, lose weight, eat healthier, and have healthier behaviors overall.
16. Improves cognitive performance:
Research suggests that mindfulness programs can improve cognitive performance as well as resilience. With as little as four days of brief mental training cognition improves.
17. They work for all ages:
Mindfulness programs can be easily developed and adapted for specific ages and situations. Educators who are sensitive to the developmental changes and needs of students can start as early as kindergarten.
18. Managing their emotion reactivity:
A review has shown that mindfulness techniques can help children manage how they react to their own emotions.
19. Helping students find peace:
Students who come from lesser privileged backgrounds and homeless youth tend to find peace when they started practicing mindfulness.
20. Improving their executive function and higher-order abilities:
Higher-order functions like planning and strategic thinking improved among elementary school children with mindfulness-based techniques in the classroom.
20. Mitigating or reducing ADHD symptoms:
Parents have reported that mindfulness interventions have reduced ADHD symptoms at home. Teachers are still on the fence about this as is demonstrated through this study. However, any marginal success whether at home or school is an added benefit in a limited arsenal for ADHD treatment.
While on the one hand mindfulness can increase resilience, it also makes students more compassionate. This can mitigate bullying if the programs are built into school-based programs.
Bringing Mindfulness To Your School
1. Build consistency and All across:
The first step is to ensure that this is a school-wide buy-in program. This means that it is adopted all across the board. There has to be a dedicated time to first teach students and staff the theory and science behind mindfulness. Students must know how to talk about mindfulness and understand why we’re doing so. These practices need to be consistent throughout the year. There needs to be a space and time devoted to this practice whether that includes, guided meditations or walking tours, mindfulness games, etc. By doing this consistently and widely, the entire culture of the school can change. The adoption of these practices can result in acceptance, self-care, and compassion.
2. Provide teachers with dedicated time to engage in mindfulness practice themselves:
For mindfulness to be effective among teachers, they need to adopt the practice themselves. This isn’t hippy stuff. MBCT is backed by research and science. Mindfulness is not just beneficial to students, it helps teachers as well. It helps them self-regulate during difficult circumstances in the classroom and improves their well-being.
3. Allow students to make their own time for mindfulness:
Encourage time and space for mindfulness practices for students. Identify situations and times they can freely practice it on their own. This could even include a specific period at the beginning or the end of the day, in a morning assembly or before their Physical education class.
What Does a Mindfulness Curriculum Include?
The usual Mindfulness Curriculum is based on the following twenty topics. Awareness, Attention, The Senses, Savoring, Movement, Recognizing Emotions, Managing Emotions, Self-Compassion, Optimism, Strengths, Gratitude, Making Decisions, Setting Goals, Empathy, Acts of Kindness, Positive Relationships, Positive Communication, A Curious Mind, Growth Mindset, and Resilience. They are mapped differently for different schools and boards.
The goal of each of the mindfulness-based lessons and practices is to develop self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, and social management skills. It must include a manual for educators, journals for students, and resources for parents. A school implementation guide must be provided so that teaching staff is following a similar pattern and not veering off onto their mindfulness scheme. Journals should include instructions, engaging activities, and age-based advice so that students take what’s learned in the classroom and through personal reflection integrate it into their personal lives.
Resources for parents must include the science and research about mindfulness. It must encourage them to use guided meditations, relaxation imagery, written instructions, videos or whatever means they find convenient at home. It takes a village to raise a child and involving the community will be a challenge for those new to this concept.
How To Start Mindful Education
1. Top-Down and not Bottom Up
The first step is to ensure that this comes from management and percolates all the way out to the school buses. Everyone must be on board with this concept.
2. Train the Staff
Everyone participating must be trained. This is not just about breathing exercises. Teachers and staff must be trained to deal with stressful circumstances in the classroom or negative behavior. Professional mindfulness instructors must supplement their education and fill the gaps in their knowledge.
3. Teachers must be supportive
While this will be challenging especially among senior teachers and the old guard, everyone must support the program. Only teachers that support the program will encourage their students to do the same.
4. Involve Parents and Caretakers
Parents must be trained too. The parents and caretakers have to be involved in the program. While a separate course for them would be optimal, resources for self-study would also be helpful.
5. Using Technology
An app could be super useful if you want to use technology. One example is the app Calm. It’s the number one app at the moment for meditation and sleep. It’s been downloaded fifty million times. The app starts with a free daily calm, ten-minute meditation. Users experience better sleep, lower stress, and less anxiety with the guided meditations, sleep stories, breathing programs, stretching exercises, and relaxing music.
6. School-based programs
There are various pre-made school-based programs based on neuroscience and mindful practice. You can simply add them to your curriculum. Mindup has various programs for teachers, families, and entire schools. For secondary students and adolescents, the learning2breathe program is more suitable. They even have a separate program for college students.
Success In Mindfulness-Based Education
Richard Burnett, co-founder of the Mindfulness in Schools Project has been precise as he explains how mindfulness school programs can succeed.
1. Strike a balance:
There has to be enough variety and structure in mindful activity. It must be consistent enough to allow students to build up their intuitive practices but don’t overdo it or you’ll find them disengaged.
2. Drip feed students:
Students have to be taught in incremental doses instead of information overload. While their minds are plastic and malleable, their understanding is limited. They learn better through drip-feed.
3. Remain flexible
Not all exercises work for all kids. Different students will adapt differently. Adapt to those differences.
Activities To Implement Mindfulness
In a classroom, teachers have to be inventive and innovative when it comes to mindfulness exercises. You could use any combination of exercises, meditations, and imagery to engage your class in mindfulness.
1. Heartbeat Exercise
Have the children jump up and down or sing a quick medley of songs with fast moving actions. Then have them sit down. Instruct them to place a hand on their hearts and experience their own heartbeat. You’ll hear the ooh’s and aah’s.
2. Blindfold Touch
Give each child an object. Ask them to close their eyes and described the object to their partners. Then make them exchange the objects and repeat. This will teach them to isolate the sense of touch.
3. Smell the roses
Take the students to a garden and hand each one a flower. Ask them to close their eyes and smell the flower. Make them focus and hone in on the scent. Beware, you may not have much of a flower left at the end of the demonstration.
4. Breathing Demonstration
Children don’t understand where their breaths are going and coming from. Give them a soft toy and have them lie down by placing the stuffed toy on their belly. Ask them to breathe in and out and feel the soft toy move. Teach them breathing exercises through this technique, they’ll be more receptive.
5. Bubbles Exercise
Have one child blow bubbles on the other as they work in pairs and let them experience the bubbles on their skin. For the children blowing, teach them correct breathing from their belly. Make them swap after two minutes.
6. Thankful Practice
At the end of each day, let each student write down five different reasons they are thankful. It can be a three-minute exercise that stirs them to reflect on all the positive things that have happened to them during the day.
7. Glitter Bottle
Hand each student a glitter bottle. Ask them to shake it and see all the glitter representing their emotions. Explain how when the bottle is vigorously shaken the bottle is cloudy. Similarly, when they are mad or upset, their emotions and anger cloud their minds and prevent them from making decisions. Simple deductions like this will teach them about effective decision making in difficult circumstances.
8. Silence Minute
Make the students stop during the middle of the class and be silent for a minute. Ask them to keep still and close their eyes. After a minute, ask them to listen to the sounds around them and then ask them to identify all the little sounds they hear. It could be a clock, a bell, an ambulance siren, anything. There are many more mindfulness-based exercises that can be adapted for the age and developmental stage of the child. Children are versatile and may absorb one or more the techniques and make it their own.
For educators, teachers, and parents, it can be challenging to look for mindfulness resources. There are thousands of books out there. Here are some of the more helpful ones that educators have found useful.
The first book comes from Irma Smegen, a mindfulness trainer and educator. Irma’s motto is ‘Education can be enjoyable for each and every child.’ The role of play is crucial to everything she develops.
In this book, you’ll find:
· the vision and background of mindfulness
· research into the effect of mindfulness on children
· tips for guiding mindfulness with your group
· 52 complete mindfulness exercises
Mindfulness for Teachers is based upon Patricia Jennings’ extensive experience over forty years as a mindfulness practitioner, teacher, teacher educator, and scientist. It draws upon basic and applied research in the fields of neuroscience, psychology, and education. Patricia explains how mindfulness can help teachers manage the stressful demands of the classroom, cultivate an exceptional learning environment, and revitalize teaching and learning. Teaching is a complex activity and many of her readers claim that Patricia Jennings ‘gets it’ about being a teacher. Some fans of this book claim it should be made required reading for teachers.
This foreword of this book has been written by Jon Kabat-Zinn himself. The Way of Mindful Education is a practical guide for cultivating attention, compassion, and well-being not only in these students but also in teachers themselves. Packed with lesson plans, exercises, and considerations for specific age groups and students with special needs, this working manual demonstrates the real-world application of mindfulness practices in K-12 classrooms.
The book itself has been divided into four parts. Part 1 explains what mindfulness is. In Part 2 teachers will learn the when, where, and how of mindfulness so they can effectively embody its practices with their students. Part 3 explores the qualities of a mindful teacher, the ingredients of a mindful learning environment, and helpful skills for appropriate, supportive work and varying age groups and developmental stages. In Part 4, a mindful education curriculum is explained. Eighteen ready-to-use mindfulness lessons for use in schools are discussed. These practical exercises are designed to foster skills like embodiment, attention, heartfulness, and interconnectedness.
Happy Teachers Change the World is the first official, authoritative manual of the Thich Nhat Hanh/Plum Village approach to mindfulness in education. The Plum Village approach stresses that educators must first establish their own mindfulness practice since everything they do in the classroom will be based on that foundation. The instructions in Happy Teachers Change the World are offered as basic practices taught by Thich Nhat Hanh, followed by guidance from educators using these practices in their classrooms, with ample in-class interpretations, activities, tips, and instructions. Woven throughout are stories from members of the Plum Village community around the world who are applying these teachings in their own lives and educational contexts.
Jeanie Iberlin, EdD, has thirty-two years ofexperience in education. Mike Ruyle, EdD, served as a teacher, athletic coach, assistant principal, and program director in the San Francisco Bay Area and Montana for 28 years. The authors share practical tools that align with the five key categories of mindfulness benefits -stress reduction, attention, emotional control, positive self-concept, and positive interactions- and offer a step-by-step process for establishing a formal school or classroom mindfulness program. It also answers questions posed at the end of each chapter to examine your understanding of mindfulness. This is a great book for those looking to start a formal school mindfulness program.
This book is a structured curriculum of classroom-ready lessons, practices, and worksheets for actualizing student mindfulness. It is written by Daniel Rechtschaffen, a Marriage and Family Therapist, with a master’s degree in counseling psychology. He founded the Mindful Education Institute and the Omega Mindfulness in Education conference. Daniel has developed a variety of curricula for mindfulness in the classroom and leads mindfulness training for schools and communities around the world.
The workbook offers a step-by-step curriculum of classroom-ready mindfulness lessons for personal and professional development. It is a treasure trove of fun, easy activities specially designed to help educators engage K-12 students and cultivate mindful attributes like attention, compassion, and well-being. Rich with simple and effective tips, techniques, worksheets, and guided exercises developed through extensive on-the-ground experience with real students and teachers, it provides educators with all the tools they need to integrate mindful education in the school day.
This handbook addresses the educational uses of mindfulness in schools. It summarizes the state of the science and describes current and emerging applications and challenges throughout the field. It explores mindfulness concepts in scientific, theoretical, and practical terms. Chapters discuss mindfulness and contemplative pedagogy programs that have produced positive student outcomes, including stress relief, self-care, and improved classroom and institutional engagement. It is a must-have resource not just for parents and teachers but also for researchers, graduate students, clinicians, and practitioners in psychology, psychiatry, education, and medicine, as well as counseling, social work, and rehabilitation therapy.
Everybody present is written by The Rotnes, a married couple and Danish educational consultants. It illustrates the transformative effects of mindfulness on educators, students, and their classrooms. Using concrete examples, Didde and Nikolaj Flor Rotne present a mode of classroom engagement that reduces stress to make room for thoughtful learning. It is a working manual addressed to everyone in the educational universe. Stories, exercises, and case studies demonstrate the effectiveness of mindful practices across all areas of education
If you’re still not convinced about mindfulness students here are a few inspiring TED talks that explain mindfulness and its advantages.
Daniel Siegel, MD, a Clinical Professor of psychiatry at UCLA, Co-Director of Mindful Awareness Research Center talks about mindfulness in students. He makes a compelling case of how teaching students to be mindful of their feelings through reflection can help them have better relationships with others and also develop resilience. His 3R model is worth a listen.
Mindfulness can set children up for success and break cycles of transgenerational trauma. According to AnneMarie Rossi, founder and director of Be Mindful, the one characteristic that caused people to become successful, higher personal wealth, and health was childhood self-control. They were the ones who practiced mindfulness and regulated their emotions. She states that mindfulness is the foundation for all learning. Ms. Rossi explains how our reactions determine our life. And according to her, mindfulness must be practiced. It’s a skill that grows with use.
Amy Burke, a teacher for the last fourteen years cried a lot as a teacher. She argues that much of education focuses on future accolades. Instead of the result, she asks why it’s not possible to focus on the process and who the students are moment by moment. Mindfulness she implies is bringing awareness back in our body.
There’s nothing like a powerful demonstration of how this works. Richard Burnett, co-founder of the Mindfulness in Schools Project guides us through a short mindfulness meditation. He shares his experience of teaching mindfulness in schools. He reveals some of the amazing benefits that mindfulness can bring to the classroom. Through simple ways, he inspires the audience to bring more awareness to how we respond to our everyday experiences.
With Chris Cullen and Chris O’Neill, Richard, a teacher, and Housemaster at Tonbridge School wrote the highly-acclaimed 9-week mindfulness course, .b (pronounced dot-b). It was designed to engage adolescents in the classroom. .b is now being taught in the UK, USA, Germany, France, Finland, Denmark, Holland and Thailand. Through his talk, he invites the group to train the muscle of our intention by increasing our sensing. With mindfulness, he advises that we can recognize when we overthink and ruminate and then realize we have to change gears. The Mindfulness in Schools Project has a simple message. Stop. Breathe. Pay attention.
Mindfulness for Students
Now you have the answer when someone asks you how does mindfulness help students? You can provide practical solutions when you talk to educators. There are so many; books, videos, and apps to help them start mindfulness techniques. Are you aware of other mindfulness practices for students? Let us know.