As someone who has worked with children for years, I've come to appreciate the innumerable joys and challenges they bring to our lives. Equally, I understand how passionately we all strive to guide our little ones towards success, well-being, and happiness.
Over the years, one tool has risen to prominence in this quest: mindfulness.
It's no secret that mindfulness practices, once confined to the realm of meditation retreats, have now seeped into classrooms, playrooms, and even dining rooms across the globe.
Yet, it's only now that we're beginning to grasp the true extent of the benefits mindfulness can offer to our kids.
Hilary A. Marusak, Assistant Professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Neurosciences, Wayne State University says “I believe that mindfulness and meditation may be especially beneficial for children and teens because these skills may strengthen brain circuits that control the ability to focus and concentrate and to regulate emotions, which are maturing during this time. Establishing these habits early in life may also set the stage for good habits later in life.”
With a fresh cup of tea in hand and a keen mind at the ready, join me as we delve deeper into the transformative power of mindfulness for our children.
Before we explore the benefits of mindfulness in kids, let's ensure we're all on the same page…
At its core, mindfulness refers to the practice of being present in the moment, engaging wholeheartedly with the world around us, and nurturing an attitude of non-judgmental awareness.
It’s about encouraging our children to savour their sandwich at lunch, rather than gulping it down while fixated on a device.
It's about guiding them to listen to the sounds of the playground, rather than just rush through break-time.
It’s about teaching them to notice their emotions, rather than becoming impulsively swept away by them.
Mindfulness isn’t about creating robotic children who are all serenity and no spirit. It's about helping our children navigate the world more thoughtfully, more compassionately, and more joyfully.
In a world teeming with distractions, the ability to concentrate is an invaluable gift.
Studies have shown that mindfulness practices can significantly improve children's focus and attention span, aiding their academic performance and beyond.
In a study, researchers observed a group of third grade students for two months while they did mindfulness exercises in a programme at school. The results showed that these kids got better at controlling their behaviour and focusing on their work compared to the control group.
Similarly, another study focusing on kids in preschool showed that those who followed a mindfulness programme did better on school tests. Not only that, but they also showed more progress in areas that predict future academic success.
Mindfulness nurtures the hippocampus, the part of the brain responsible for memory and learning. Children practising mindfulness can retain and recall information more effectively, a great advantage in the classroom.
Children who practise mindfulness demonstrate increased cognitive flexibility. They become better at thinking creatively, problem-solving, and adapting to new information. The ever-changing 21st-century world is no match for these nimble minds!
We've all witnessed a child overwhelmed by anger or frustration. Mindfulness teaches children to recognise their emotions as they arise, understand them, and respond rather than react. It cultivates an inner calm that can weather the strongest emotional storms.
“For children, mindfulness can offer relief from whatever difficulties they might be encountering in life,” said Annaka Harris, an author who teaches mindfulness to children. “It also gives them the beauty of being in the present moment.”
Mindfulness exercises stimulate the production of happy hormones like serotonin and oxytocin while reducing cortisol, the stress hormone. Children who practise mindfulness are thus better equipped to handle stress and anxiety, leading to happier, healthier lives.
Mindfulness also helps children understand their emotions, which in turn aids them in understanding the feelings of others. This emotional intelligence fosters empathy, compassion, and improved social relationships.
Classrooms can sometimes feel like a storm, full of noise and chaos. Between children talking, teachers trying to teach, and endless interruptions, it's easy to get overwhelmed.
But there's a way to bring peace into the classroom – through mindfulness.
As the founder of One Goal, my interactions with teachers and educators from various UK schools are consistent and insightful. And what I've seen is pretty remarkable. Introducing mindfulness activities into the school day really helps students and even entire classes to unwind.
It's not just a quick fix - it's a long-term solution that empowers students to find their own calmness.
I have to say, it's been amazing to see the impact it's had.
There are easy and helpful ways to bring mindfulness into your teaching too. It's not something extra, but a way of helping children learn better and bring some calm into the storm of the classroom.
There are many ways you can incorporate mindfulness into your daily teaching routine. Here are some simple yet effective strategies:
Begin the day with a quiet, five-minute mindfulness practice. Encourage the children to sit quietly, pay attention to their breath, or listen to the ambient sounds. This practice can set a positive, focused tone for the day.
You know as well as I do that asking young children to sit still and concentrate is often easier said than done. Why not make it a bit more fun for them? You want to help your students focus on their breathing but in a way that will engage them.
Here’s a tip I picked from Scott L. Rogers, the author of ‘The Elements of Mindfulness’ and director of the Mindfulness in Law Program at the University of Miami.
Let your students imagine that they are a tree. When they stand upright, hands stretched above their heads, they take a deep breath and wiggle their fingers (leaves) and arms (branches) in a soft, soft breeze, exhaling as they let them fall at their sides.
This playful, imaginative approach not only facilitates mindfulness but also embeds a sense of joy and connection to nature in their practice.
Incorporate 'mindful listening' into your lessons. This could involve paying full attention to a piece of music, a nature sound, or even the silence between sounds. It helps improve focus and cultivate a sense of tranquillity.
Encourage 'mindful eating' during lunch breaks. Guide the children to savour the taste, texture, and smell of their food, promoting a mindful approach to nutrition and a break from the rush of the day.
While the concept of mindfulness may still be relatively new in education, its benefits are undeniably potent. As educators, we have the opportunity - and the responsibility - to introduce this powerful tool to our students.
Remember, mindfulness isn’t a quick-fix solution, but rather a lifelong journey. It's about small, consistent steps towards a larger goal: helping our children lead happier, healthier, and more inspiring lives.
As we cultivate mindfulness within our classrooms, we do more than teach.
We empower. We transform. And most importantly, we gift our children skills that will enrich their lives, far beyond the school gates.