Using meditation with children is not something that’s ever crossed my mind, but an article in the most recent issue of Scientific American Mind revealed that there are classrooms in Canada and the U.S. that have incorporated it into their curriculum. A program called MindUP, conceived by Goldie Hawn, has had great success in Vancouver area elementary schools and is catching on in other countries as well.
One of the main benefits that educators, administrators and researchers are finding is that this type of curriculum can help strengthen executive control function in children. Executive function includes cognitive skills like working memory, reasoning, self-regulation and attention. All of these things are crucial for classroom learning. Many teachers say that self-regulation and attention are two of the biggest areas with which young students struggle. Meditative style exercises can help them gain awareness of the conflict that arises in them when many things are competing for their attention. The ability to monitor this conflict and prioritize where their attention should go “has been linked to better math achievement, higher IQ and less antisocial behavior” (Wickelgren, 53). Mindfulness meditation has also been shown to reduce anxiety levels in children.
Granted, all children may not be able to sit still for very long, but even a few minutes can be beneficial. The Calm Classroom program that is used in the Chicago area incorporates daily breathing, concentration and relaxation exercises. Exercises can be as simple as paying attention to your breath or guided imagery. Children can visualize the waves on the ocean or a lake or balloons floating up that lift thoughts connected to negative feelings away. The exercises typically last 30 seconds to 2 minutes.
Parents can also use these techniques at home as well. If your child struggles with frustration, or anxiety or, paying attention, these exercises can be helpful. Using these tools before bedtime can help children who have sleep difficulties as well.
Are you a teacher that has tried meditation in the classroom or a parent whose child has participated? We would love to hear about the experience.