Mindfulness represents a particular way of being present in the moment and noticing your surroundings. Jon Kabat-Zinn defines mindfulness as “the awareness that emerges through paying attention on purpose, in the present moment, non-judgmentally.”1
What began as part of meditation and yoga instruction has grown in popularity and has been implemented by many K -12 schools to help guide, direct, and calm students. Here are a few examples of practicing mindfulness in the classroom:
- Ambarvale High School in Australia has recently launched voluntary mindfulness classes, where students engage in activities such meditation and breathing strategies.2
- Students at CHANCE, an alternate school in British Columbia, Canada start their school day with a mindfulness practice of breathing calmly and grounding their feet into the floor. The small school has adopted numerous other mindfulness strategies into the day, even using a mindfulness app in the classroom.3
- The kindergarteners at Chatsworth Elementary School in Larchmont, New York begin their school day in a seated position with palms facing up and resting on each knee. The “mindful leader” taps her thumbs on each of her fingers, simultaneously repeating the words “I-am-calm-now” with each tap until the entire class joins in for the calming chant.4
Benefits of Mindfulness for Students
According to National Institutes of Mental Health, 25% of 13 to 18 year-olds will experience an anxiety disorder.5 Children are experiencing high levels of stress with less time for play and the arts. Stress at an early age can impact a child’s memory, learning, behavior and physical and mental health.
Studies show that mindfulness can help lessen stress. Practicing mindfulness helps students feel calmer and allows them to better empathize with others. This practice may also combat symptoms of anxiety, depression, and ADHD. Research also suggests that students that practice mindfulness will also have less anger management issues. Other benefits include:
- Kindness towards others
- Longer attention spans
- Improved listening and retention
- Better impulse control
- Better academic scores
How can you incorporate mindfulness in your classroom?
There are various ways to practice mindfulness in the classroom. At first your students might feel silly, giggle, look around at their classmates and fidget. This is because they aren’t used to actively working to calm their minds and bodies. Within a few weeks of practice your students will probably ask for more opportunities to calm down their minds and their bodies.
Here’s a great video that you can use to begin to teach students about mindfulness.
More Ways to Practice Mindfulness with Students
- Breath Work. When introducing mindfulness, begin by practicing breath work with students. Ask students to breathe in and out, focusing on the sensation they feel when breathing. Giving full attention to breathing sensations clears the mind, allowing students to be present in the moment. Additionally, the focus on breathing reduces the mind’s ability to circle stressful topics. To get started with guided breathing exercises, ask students to count the inhale and exhale of each breath. For younger children, start with guided inhales by counting to three, holding the breath for a count of three, and an exhale of a count of four. Older students should work toward longer inhale and exhales, while holding for a count of three
- Sitting Still and Bringing Awareness. Another way to practice mindfulness is by asking students to sit quietly and notice the noises around them. Rather than focusing on the sensation of breathing through counting, this practice asks students to relate and feel their environment through sitting quietly at their desk or on the floor. Students should also focus on the sensation of sitting, feeling where they are supported by the floor, chair, wall, etc.
- Notice Your Thoughts. Ask students to close their eyes and notice the thoughts that pop into their heads. Bring awareness to each thought and then send it away. Over time, students will learn how to notice stressful thoughts and redirect the mind back to the task of being mindful. This act puts thoughts of what you did before and what you need to do later on the back burner, allowing students to be present in the moment.
- Moving Meditations. Guided stretches and a mid-day yoga break are other ways to incorporate mindfulness into your school day. You can also take students on a mindfulness walk where you ask them to be quiet and focus on the sights, smells, wind, and sounds around them. This helps to calm the body and the mind.
- Guided Meditations. There are a plethora of podcasts, YouTube videos, and music that you can download to share with your class.
Incorporating mindfulness in the classroom can begin with children as young as three years old. The key to practicing mindfulness is consistency and practice. Dedicate consistent daily time slots—two short sessions of two to five minutes to work on being mindful.
Looking for other ways to promote mindfulness in the classroom?
Consider creating a dedicated classroom space to quiet reflection with comfortable seating and green plants. The space can include coloring books and journaling material to inspire quiet reflection.
For more on this topic, check out this case study of a school where they tracked the impact of mindfulness for over 20 years: Why Mindfulness Belongs in the Classroom
Do you have any mindfulness tips that you’d like to share with our community of educators? Please comment below.
1. Gerszberg, Caren. “The Future of Education: Mindful Classrooms.” Mindful.org, 1 Aug. 2016, www.mindful.org/mindfulness-in-education/.↩
2. Chenoweth, Ben, and Jess Layt. “Ambarvale High School Introduces Mindfulness Classes.” Wollondilly Advertiser, 4 July 2018, www.wollondillyadvertiser.com.au/story/5507940/ambarvale-high-school-introduces-mindfulness-classes/.↩
3. Peters, Jessica. “Alt-Ed Program Brings Mindfulness to the Classroom.” Smithers Interior News, 20 June 2018, www.interior-news.com/news/alt-ed-program-brings-mindfulness-to-the-classroom/.↩
4. “The Future of Education: Mindful Classrooms.” Mindful, Mindful, 1 Aug. 2016, www.mindful.org/mindfulness-in-education/.↩
5. “Any Anxiety Disorder.” National Institute of Mental Health, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, www.nimh.nih.gov/health/statistics/any-anxiety-disorder.shtml.↩