Mindfulness has become very popular over recent years. Even corporations like Google and Nike are encouraging staff to embrace this ancient practice to increase productivity and reduce stress.
Teachers around the world have also found that practicing mindfulness in the classroom has significant benefits for learning. Many schools now include mindfulness exercises throughout the day to help children concentrate and reduce behaviour problems and anxiety.
An OECD report on student wellbeing found that 47 per cent of Australian students feel stressed when studying, compared to 37 per cent internationally. The major source of pressure, according to these students, comes from within.
Clearly there is a need for stress management in schools, and while parents generally welcome anything that will enhance children’s wellbeing, many don’t understand how mindfulness works.
To put it simply, this practice involves teaching children to become aware of themselves by noticing their breathing and observing their body and emotions.
These simple techniques work by grounding students in the present, which has a deeply relaxing effect. This grounding is especially important today when lives are so busy, and much time is spent online disconnected from the body.
“It’s about developing attentional control,” says Wynn Kinder, an instructor for the Wellness Works in Schools program. “If you can quiet yourself and get yourself to a place where your mind is settled, that is a great tool to have.”
By bringing their focus to the present moment, students are able clear their minds of worries, fears and thoughts of the future to concentrate on learning. When their minds are in this relaxed state, they are much more open to absorbing and retaining knowledge.
Discovering they have the power to calm themselves is very empowering for young people. Being aware of their inner states and having the ability to self-regulate allows students to develop higher order skills such as patience, empathy and resilience. They also have the tools to resist peer pressure and avoid risky behaviours.
Rachel Fisher, who teaches mindfulness to children and teens through her KindKids Project says, “Mindfulness shows that real choices come from self-awareness. It helps them notice their feelings before making a decision.”
Mindfulness is having a real impact in the classroom, with students showing significant improvement in focus, self-regulation and executive function. Mindfulness techniques are particularly helpful for ADHD students and those on the autism spectrum, but everyone stands to benefit from this simple practice.