What is mindfulness?
When people think about “mindfulness” it is often associated with Buddhism and meditative practices; however, mindfulness can also be practiced in a secular way. Mindfulness is the ability to clear one’s mind to focus more clearly on one thing, one task, or one experience. While many of us who hear this word associate it with the unfamiliar or unusual, it is a practice that most of us do daily, in some form or another.
Mindfulness is now slowly infiltrating the world of education, specifically because of the benefits associated with the practice. The Mindfulness in Schools Project (MiSP) began in 2009 by Richard Burnett and Chris Cullen, both of whom were educators and practitioners of mindfulness.
In addition to MiSP, there is also the Association for Mindfulness in Education (AME), which educates and informs by providing resources and mindfulness seminars across the United States, South America, and Europe.
How can mindfulness benefit my student/child?
According to the MiSP website, mindfulness is an effective practice that improves health, well-being, and learning. Is there evidence to substantiate these claims?
Last year The Atlantic published an article where they observed a classroom in New York City where mindfulness was being taught to teenage students, most of whom came from one of the most impoverished area of the city. The teacher began each class with a 5 minute mindfulness session, where he asserted that this practice would help to improve student concentration, behavior and overall well-being. While some may see the concept of mindfulness as being something that high school students and teens can practice, others may have reservations that the idea may be too abstract for younger children. However, in recent years, there have been multiple studies conducted to help to substantiate the positive effects of mindfulness and its practice, including several in elementary school settings.
Recent studies in mindfulness education with younger students
In 2011-12, Mindful Schools conducted a study in conjunction with University of California, Davis, which involved nearly 1000 elementary school students spanning 3 separate Oakland, CA Elementary Schools. Throughout the course of the study, researchers monitored behavior in terms of attention, self-control, self-care/participation, and showing care for others. Across the board, elementary students in the “treatment” group scored higher than their peers in the “control” group. While some of the differences may have been too small to be statistically significant in some categories, in categories like attention and participation, there were significant benefits.
Benefits of mindful practices do not stop with elementary school students either. For instance, in 2015, Developmental Psychology published a study where a 12-week mindfulness program was tested in pre-school classes. During this period, 7 classrooms were selected to participate and they received a total of 10 hours’ worth of mindfulness training.
While there may not have been a large statistical difference between control and experimental groups, there were some notable differences. For instance, students in the experimental group earned higher grades in 3 out of 6 grading categories, where in the remaining 3, there was no difference between groups.
In both studies, teachers reported that students who experienced the mindfulness training were much more receptive and they also made note of positive changes in social behavior among these students.
These studies and others like them lay important groundwork for mindfulness education in schools. While more research is needed in order to further substantiate mindfulness integration into an educational setting.
The Future of Mindfulness in Education
It’s clear from recent studies, integrating mindfulness into schools is an emerging facet of education. While some may be concerned about the religious roots of mindfulness, conferences and studies across the country have been able to implement mindfulness study in a secular way.
(2016). Mindfulness in Schools Project (MiSP). “What is mindfulness?” https://mindfulnessinschools.org/mindfulness/
L. Cassani Davis. (2015). When Mindfulness Meets the Classroom. The Atlantic. http://www.theatlantic.com/education/archive/2015/08/mindfulness-education-schools-meditation/402469/
L., Goldberg, S. B., Pinger, L., & Davidson, R. J. (2015). Promoting prosocial behavior and self-regulatory skills in preschool children through a mindfulness-based kindness curriculum. Developmental Psychology, 51(1), 44-51.
(2016). Association for Mindfulness in Education (AME). http://www.mindfuleducation.org/
(2017). Mindful Schools. “Mindful Schools Research Study”. http://www.mindfulschools.org/about-mindfulness/research/