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Back to School: Mindfulness practice in schools

This is an introduction to Mindfulness Based Practices in the Classroom from Positive Psychology Program. See the link above for the whole article.

What is Mindfulness Education?

“Mindfulness means paying attention in a particular way; on purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally.” – Jon Kabat-Zinn (1994)

Mindfulness education is exactly what it sounds like: the purposeful inclusion of mindfulness and mindful meditation principles, theories, and practices into education.

The goals of mindfulness education are to help students learn:

  • Self-awareness

  • Empathy

  • Techniques to calm and focus the mind

  • Mindful communication

  • Applying mindfulness skills to everyday life

How to Teach and Apply Mindfulness

Researcher Erica Baxter (n.d.) from Surya Chandra Healing Yoga has some helpful suggestions for those looking to implement mindfulness programs in their school:

  1. Ensure that support comes from the top down.

  2. Teachers and staff should have training to help them reinforce any lessons taught by professional mindfulness instructors.

  3. Teachers should show full support for the mindfulness program to encourage their students.

  4. Parents should be involved and incorporate some aspects of mindfulness practice at home; a separate course for parents may be a best practice.

Richard Burnett (2009) echoes some of Baxter’s sentiments but gets a bit more specific as well. According to him, it’s vital for teachers and instructors of mindfulness to:

  • Strike a balance between variety and structure in mindful activity; there must be some repetition to allow students to build up their practice, but too much and you will find them disengaged.

  • Offer a long-term, “drip feed” approach to mindfulness when possible; students may learn better with this method rather than the intense, all-at-once method that adults are subjected to.

  • Be flexible! Some exercises and lessons simply won’t work with space and resources available to you in the classroom, and you need to be ready for that.

Benefits of Incorporating Mindfulness in the Classroom

The Mindful Schools organization lists ten major areas in which studies have shown mindfulness can have a positive impact, including:

  • Attention and focus

  • Better grades

  • More effective emotion regulation

  • Better behavior in school

  • Greater empathy and perspective-taking

  • Better social skills

  • Reduced test anxiety

  • Less stress

  • Decreased frequency/severity of posttraumatic symptoms

  • Lower rates/severity of depression

Activities to get you started

This great piece from Cassie Nguyen (2017) at TeachStarter describes 18 quick mindfulness activities you can use to promote mindfulness in your classroom.

You could implement the quick Mindful Breathing exercise:

  • Students can stand or sit for this activity.

  • Ask students to put both hands on their belly.

  • Students should close their eyes, or look down to their hands.

  • Guide students in taking three slow deep breaths in and out to see if they can feel their hands being moved.

  • You may like to count “1, 2, 3” for each breath in and “1, 2, 3” for each breath out, pausing slightly at the end of each exhale.

  • Encourage students to think about how the breath feels, answering the following questions silently, in their mind. o What is moving your hands? Is it the air filling your lungs? o Can you feel the air moving in through your nose? o Can you feel it moving out through your nose? o Does the air feel a little colder on the way in and warmer on the way out? o Can you hear your breath? o What does it sound like?

Or, you might want to try the Body Scan exercise for children:

  • Students lay on the floor, with their eyes closed if they are comfortable (or they may prefer to look at the ceiling).

  • Encourage students to pay attention to their feet for 5 or 10 seconds.

  • Questions to ask during a body scan: o How does this body part feel? o Is it cold or warm? o Does it feel tight or relaxed? o Is all or part of that body part touching the floor? o Or clothing? o What does that feel like?

  • Move on to their toes, then ankles, then calves and knees. Continue body part by body part until you reach the head.

  • Question how each part of the body feels to bring students’ awareness to their body in the moment.

  • If there is tightness or stress, imagine breathing the stress out of that part of the body with each exhale.

You could also try the Mindful Steps exercise:

  • This activity is best completed outdoors and if suitable, students may like to walk barefoot.

  • Give students a clear boundary for where they can walk during this activity.

  • Each student selects a small area where they can walk in a line for about 5 or 6 steps and back then back to where they started without getting into another person’s way.

  • Begin this practice with three deep breaths, or the Shark Fin activity (#4 above).

  • Take 5 or 6 steps in one direction, turn slowly and then take 5 or 6 steps back to where you started.

  • While walking, students bring their awareness to their breath and their body. o What does the ground feel like under your feet? o Which part of your foot touches the ground first when you take a step? o Does your body feel heavy or light today? o Are you slouching when you walk? o Or, is your back up quite straight? o Try not to change the way you walk, but instead just notice how your body naturally moves.

See the above link for complete article, activities, and references.

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