Should Schools Teach Mindfulness?
(Photo courtesy Leadpages.com)
Children in many Primary and Secondary schools in Australia are learning mindfulness.
Would you like it to be part of your child’s education? Some educators see real benefits. Others are still sceptical.
This article provides a little knowledge (a dangerous thing?) so that when someone raises the subject you won’t go “Wha’ ?”.
What is mindfulness?
Mindfulness, like meditation, is a means of bringing yourself into of the present moment by quietening the mind and ignoring distractions. To be more precise, by being aware of a distraction, recognizing it for what it is, and putting it aside. By being mindful you are able to observe your thoughts and emotions objectively from a distance. It requires active application by the participant.
Although mindfulness has its basis in Zen meditation, it is not spiritual or religious in a school environment, and assessment of its worth in modern day application should not be coloured by these considerations.
How is is taught?
There are already several organizations in Australia teaching mindfulness in schools, and many schools taking the opportunity to use their services. Some are listed below, but I strongly suggest you do your own search.
It is important to know that most of these organizations have developed programs form the ground up specifically for children and specifically to deal with school and school-related situations. They are also age-appropriate.
What are the perceived benefits?
While there are only a few well-conducted, peer-reviewed studies into the benefits of teaching mindfulness in schools, there is a growing body of evidence suggesting that all children will benefit from learning it.
Advocates aver that you will see positive outcomes in academic achievement and coping with stress, as well as enhancing concentration, resilience, social skills and the ability to solve problems.
Certainly those with mental health issues such as low self-esteem and symptoms of anxiety and depression have shown marked improvement by using mindfulness. So, too, have victims of bullying and those falling behind the class in learning.
There is a bonus. The value of mindfulness in adults is well studied and documented. When children learn mindfulness at school they accept it as a tool for handling life. So as adults they will use it without even thinking about it.
What do the critics say?
Most critics address issues other than the possible benefits.
Some teachers say it will add to an already heavy workload. Some parents feel it has undertones of religion because of its roots in Buddhism. Others feel that it is just another passing fad and that there are better ways to use the time allocated to classes.
Those who doubt the benefits say more research needs to be done, and there those who suggest that instead of relying on artificial procedures must change the way we live in order to deal with life’s challenges or our mental problems .
How do the kids feel about it?
Most kids seem to like it, if you can take newspaper reports and testimonials from interested parties as a guide. Some quotes taken from an article on dailytelegraph.com.au dated 28th June, 2015, are:
Ten-year-old Harper has also been using the technique: “I just went on a camp and started crying because I couldn’t get to sleep. I remembered mindful breathing and tried it; I calmed down a lot and stopped crying.”
“I just did the district cross-country race,” Oliver, 10, says.“Sometimes I get a stomach stitch and that affects my mood. I put my hands on my head and did mindful breathing, and my mood changed to happiness because I’m aware of my body”.
There are many similar positive remarks throughout the media, but I guess we are not going to hear any of the negative comments, are we?
So what, then?
Personally I believe teaching mindfulness is a good idea. One period a week devoted to teaching these skills will improve a child’s ability to learn every other subject. Even more importantly, it will be of immeasurable benefit in enabling them to deal with a multitude of difficulties that we cannot even imagine.
Arguably children spend more time in face-to-face contact and dialogue with their teachers than with their parents. So schools have a responsibility to teach life skills as well as academic subjects. Mindfulness is a valuable tool.
I will finish off with the thought that mindfulness is only one of a few non-academic skills that should be taught in schools. Kids need to be prepared for life. How are they going to learn to do that?
Thanks for reading.
There is a lot more to say about this, and I think it is a relevant topic of discussion. I will be publishing a fuller article soon.
If you would like to learn more, these are a couple of worthwhile sites to visit. I don’t necessarily endorse them. I post them for information. I believe you should do your own search.
The most active and prominent proponent of teaching mindfulness in schools is Mindfulness in Schools Project at mindfulnessinschools.org. They are British, not-for-profit and they do have a barrow to push, but they believe strongly in what they are doing.
A well-read academic paper (by the founders of Mindfulness in Schools Project) can be found at bjp.rcpsych.org/content/203/2/126.full