Lately, there has been a lot of research on the benefits of mindfulness. So much so that aside from being a popular topic in academics and research, it has also basically become a phenomenon in mainstream life as well.
Although we have learnt, and are still learning, about all the powerful benefits of practicing mindfulness, that is not the sole reason it has become so popular. In fact, one of the major reasons behind so many people wanting, or even opting, to include this in their lives is due to its simplicity. In addition to that, it is basically free and can be practiced by anyone, no matter the time or place.
Beginning the journey of mindfulness can be a little tough, as it takes time for people who are used to being busy to really get into the zone where they are able to calm their minds. However, once you start practicing it, you will find that it starts to get very easy very quick.
In the words of a New York Times Best selling author and teacher of Buddhist meditation practices,
“Mindfulness isn’t difficult. We just need to remember to do it.”
- Sharon Salzberg
Introducing Mindfulness in Education
Introducing mindfulness to children? Are you crazy? Have you ever met a child in your life?
If any of the above thoughts crossed your mind while reading the topic, then you’re probably not alone. It is true that even thinking about trying to teach students concepts such as mindfulness may sound like complete madness to anyone who’s spent any time with kids; let alone a whole class full of them.
However, in reality, education settings are actually some of the best places to introduce mindfulness. This isn’t because it will be easy to teach kids to be mindful; in fact, it will be the opposite. But the truth is that the settings in which it is difficult to teach and implement mindfulness are usually the places that need it the most; hence making classrooms perfectly suited for these.
An interesting yet relatable way to introduce the idea of mindfulness is by telling them this short story about Winnie the Pooh and Piglet.
“What day is it?” asked Pooh.
“It’s today,” squeaked Piglet.
“My favorite day,” said Pooh.
- A.A. Milne
This may be a very simple passage from a children’s story, but it captures the essence of mindfulness in a simple yet effective manner. As this is what mindfulness is all about… to be present in the moment. The fact that it comes from such a popular and relatable cartoon character is all you need to introduce it to younger children.
However, just teaching them this passage won’t teach them to practice mindfulness, and you’ll have to take a lot of other steps to achieve that. There are a ton of benefits of introducing mindfulness in education, and various ways to introduce it. Read on to learn some of the best methods you can adopt.
How Do You Define Mindfulness in Education?
Before you start making the kids in your class leave their work and close their eyes to start deep breathing without really understanding what they’re doing, both you and the students need to understand what mindfulness in education really means.
Mindfulness is often linked to meditation. Causing people to automatically think that the only way to remain mindful is by practicing meditation in their daily life. Although it is true that meditation is a great way of practicing mindfulness, and it has many other benefits as well, it isn’t the only way to practice mindfulness.
While introducing mindfulness in an educational setting, meditation may not be the best way to go about things.
Mindful education means to purposefully include mindfulness and the principle, theories and practices of mindful meditation in education.
There are certain goals that you must be aiming to achieve if you intend to introduce mindfulness to your students. These include:
- Teaching them self-awareness. The main purpose of practicing mindfulness is to be aware of oneself; of how you are feeling and how you process emotions among other things. So no matter what the setting may be, that should remain the main goal of mindfulness.
- Another thing that is a very necessary goal of learning mindfulness is to learn empathy. By becoming self-aware, a person also learns to be able to empathize with others. Hence, giving them the opportunity of becoming more empathetic.
- Coming to more practical benefits of practicing mindfulness, students should be able to learn techniques that will allow them to calm their minds and focus on things better. These techniques should help them in everyday life, and not just while they’re practicing mindfulness.
- Practicing mindfulness should also teach children to communicate in a more mindful manner. They should be able to communicate their thoughts and ideas in a more constructive way.
- Ultimately, the goal of introducing them to this skill should be to help kids learn to apply these mindfulness skills to their everyday life.
In recent decades, there has been a lot of research about introducing mindfulness as a subject and guiding principles in educational settings and how to go about it. This means that there is already a lot of information regarding this subject and how it can benefit both, the students as well as the teachers.
Benefits of Mindfulness in Education
Aside from having a defined purpose, you also need to know what ways of practicing mindfulness will benefit your students. Being aware of the benefits will allow you to encourage and motivate them in a more effective way.
Relief From Stress and Anxiety
For as long as history has been documented, we can see that mindfulness has proven to be an effective method for managing stress and anxiety. In most cases, both of these conditions stem from internal or external pressures; or both.
Self-doubt, self-criticism, questioning or doubting your abilities, etc. are all forms of internal pressure, and are very common among students. Students who suffer from a health condition tend to develop anxiety over their future wellbeing as well. On the other hand, factors such as parental pressure, peer pressure, school workload, academic expectations, etc. are all forms of external pressure.
As one practices mindfulness, they are able to allow oneself to acknowledge this pressure in a healthy manner instead of dwelling on it. In fact, in a study in which 125 students were assessed during exam time, it was discovered that mindfulness exercises were an effective way of reducing stress and anxiety.
Enhances Emotional and Social Intelligence
A person’s school environment is one of the main teachers from whom they learn most of what they know about social interactions as well as emotional management. A lot of factors play into how a child develops during school; their teachers, the peers they interact with, their experience with studies, etc. Some of the students develop empathy and learn to display more emotional understanding than others. Whereas some tend to dwell in negative behavior and habits due to succumbing to peer pressure or suffering from emotional manipulation.
However, no matter which of these groups a student belongs to, practicing mindfulness can help improve their quotient of emotional intelligence or EI. Mindfulness has a direct link with EI. It is proven that learning basic mindfulness practices can help students improve their awareness of their emotions as well as of the people around them. This also teaches them to handle challenges better and increase their empathy toward other people.
Increases Focus and Attention
With social media coming into existence, the attention span of youngsters is lower than ever. Since paying attention is basically an allocation of resources, with so many options available for distractions, there is only so much attention one can spare for a certain activity or subject.
However, this isn’t a food thing for children. Especially since they are going through a development stage, and the things they learn now will benefit them for the rest of the life, it is important that they learn to focus on what they are doing instead of mindlessly scrolling through their phones at all times.
According to some recent research by psychologists, it has been proven that mindfulness practice is an effective way of improving this allocation of resources, as it increases the attention span of children and allows them to focus better. These will then allow the student to become an overall better learner.
Improves Cognitive Performance
Practicing mindfulness does not only improve the learning skills of a student, but it can actively improve their cognitive performance as well. A study showed that allowing students time to practice mindfulness during exams resulted in them getting higher scores. This could be due to the fact that mindfulness improves the effectiveness of learning, students’ attention spans along with increasing memory retention in students.
Another study had Taiwanese students undergo one semester of a mindfulness meditation course. At the end of the semester, it was assessed that the students were showing a significant improvement in their overall academic performance. Hence, proving that mindfulness has some significant benefits for a student’s academic performance.
Another scientifically proven benefit of mindfulness is the positive effect it has on improving memory. If you think about it, it is a very obvious benefit as well. Since practicing mindfulness allows you to be present in the moment, it is more likely that you will retain information better. For instance, if a student is taking a lecture while practicing mindfulness, they will pay more attention and actively listen to what is being said, resulting in them remembering things better afterward.
By training your awareness to stay focused in the moment, you can pay better attention to the present and take in information in a better, more structured manner. Hence, when the student looks at their scribbled notes after the class is over, they won’t feel like they’re looking at a foreign language course.
In fact, a recent study showed that just actively listening to the professor without letting their thoughts wander off allows a student to retain much more new information without having to put in any extra hours later or to memorize the lessons.
Helps Their Struggle With Perfectionism
There are always some students, especially with Type A personalities, who always want to be the best at everything and do everything perfectly. Although competitiveness and resilience can be great qualities to achieve one’s goals, overdoing it can cause more harm than good. The issues start when these students cannot accept defeat and start to take it in a harmful manner by blaming themselves for not being good enough.
Practicing mindfulness can help students who struggle with such perfectionism. The truth is that perfectionism and mindfulness cannot co-exist. Mindfulness requires you to regard everything, including yourself, without any judgments. So students who obsessively focus on perfectionism in things such as grades or other academic activities can benefit greatly by practicing mindfulness, as it can help them enjoy the learning process instead of obsessively focusing on the end results of their actions. At the same time, it can also reduce the internal pressure they’ve built up within themselves.
Although most of these benefits will only start to show up after the children have grown into early adolescence, starting mindful practices at an early age will allow them to develop a mindset and functionality that will naturally allow them to experience all of these.
Now that we’ve learned about the benefits of practicing mindfulness for students, let’s take a look at some of the ways you can incorporate it into the curriculum.
How to Add Mindfulness to the Class Curriculum
To add activities to practice mindfulness, as a teacher, you have to make sure that you don’t overwhelm the students. In the beginning, the content should be delivered in weekly sessions that are short and easy to follow. However, with time, you can increase the frequency of the sessions for a better experience, but do not overdo it, as it is better to stick with short sessions instead of increasing the time.
Here are some great exercises that you can introduce your students to which will help improve mindfulness and also be fun at the same time.
For this exercise, you will need a stuffed animal or small object for each child who is participating. Hand these objects to the children and ask them to lay down on the floor and place the object on their bellies. Now ask them to breathe in absolute silence for a few minutes while paying attention to how the object on their bellies, which you can refer to as their breathing buddy, is moving up and down with each inhale and exhale. Also ask them to focus on any other sensations that they feel or notice. Make them imagine the thoughts that are coming to their minds turn into bubbles before floating away.
The reason behind the inclusion of the breathing buddy is to make sure that the kids don’t get distracted, as they have something to focus on right in front of them. It makes the whole exercise more friendly, and allows the kids to see how playful activities don’t always have to be loud and unruly.
The Art of Touching
This exercise also requires you to give each child an object. It can be anything from a soft toy, a feather, a ball, a stone, a flower, etc. Afterwards, pair all the children with each other. Now ask them to close their eyes, hold the object in their hands, and try to describe how it feels to touch the object to their partner. They don’t have to describe the object, just how it makes them feel. Then ask them to trade places as the other student talks about the object while the first one listens.
This simple activity allows children to learn how to isolate their senses from one another and turn them into distinct experiences.
Smell & Tell
The purpose of this exercise is very similar to the previous one, but isolates a different sense. Make the students sit in a circle and ask them to pass around various objects that give off strong yet pleasant scents. These could be anything from jasmine flowers, orange peels to springs of lavender, etc.
Now ask them to close their eyes as they hold the fragrant object and take deep breaths as they inhale the fragrance. Ask them to focus on only the scent they are taking in and nothing else for a moment, and learn another method of isolating their senses. Additionally, scents can be a powerful tool for relieving anxiety as well.
Get a huge bell to the classroom; but make sure it isn’t too loud to disturb the other classrooms. Make the students sit in silence and ring the bells. Ask the kids to listen to the vibrations of the ringing sound and pay close attention to them. Tell them in advance that they have to raise their hands once they aren’t able to hear the vibration anymore. But make sure they know that this isn’t a competition, and it doesn’t matter who raises their hand first and who raises it last.
Ask them to remain silent a minute after the ringing has stopped and pay close attention to all the other sounds they are can hear. Afterwards, ask each student to explain the sounds they noticed in that minute and share their experience with the class. Not only will this exercise be a great bonding experience for the kids, but it will also teach them to connect to the present moment and focus on the now.
You don’t need any special objects or toys for this one. It is the easiest yet most effective exercise that you can introduce in the class. All you have to do is sit casually and comfortably with the children and ask them to talk about their feelings. However, make sure that you don’t end up intimidating them. Instead, create an environment where they feel comfortable sharing their thoughts and feelings. Ask them questions. How are they feeling currently? What feelings do they usually feel? How do they know they are feeling those feelings? Is something bothering them? Where do they feel these feelings in their bodies? What feelings make them feel good? What feelings make them feel bad? What feelings do they like the best? The possibilities are endless.
By talking about their feelings, you can help them assess how to feel better. Ask them what makes them feel good, and suggest methods in which they can incorporate more of these in their life. If possible, give them productive activities that can help them get those feelings. And remind them that they can always get rid of negative feelings by turning them into bubbles while playing with their breathing buddy.
By providing these tools of Mindfulness in Education, you will help build a strong foundation of mindfulness among your students which will help them throughout their lives. They will learn mindfulness skills that they can practice whenever they are overwhelmed, stressed or troubled, even as they grow into adulthood.