by: Rebeca Plantier
The benefits of meditation in all areas of life are well documented and used by people from all walks of life. But did you know that children as young as four-years-old can be taught meditation and mindfulness too? What is mindfulness? How can teachers and parents incorporate mindfulness and meditation into daily routines? What are some easy-to-use mindfulness resources?
Lafayette Elementary School, Washington DC’s largest public elementary school, has been teaching mindfulness and meditation to all students to as part of their weekly “Peace Class” for several years now. Every Pre-K through 5th grade student meets once a week with their Peace teacher, a full-time salaried teacher, to practice mindfulness and meditation, help develop empathy, manage anger, accept differences and learn conflict resolution.
What is Mindfulness?
“At the core of Peace Class is the concept of mindfulness, which is becoming aware and noticing what is going on internally,” according to Linda Ryden, the school’s Peace Teacher and creator of the program.
“We start class by turning off the lights, taking deep breaths with our eyes closed, ringing a bell and taking some time to be totally silent. For the older kids, this can be 10 to 15 minutes of meditation. For the 4 and 5 year olds, we usually stay calm for about one minute,” explains Ryden.
Peace Class also includes mindful breathing, mindful listening and mindful movements, such as balancing and stretching exercises. Some students practice mindful breathing and meditation every day with their regular classroom teachers.
Jared Catapano, a 4th grade teacher at Lafayette, incorporates up to 15 minutes of meditation every morning with his 10-year-old students, reinforcing their Peace Class practice.
“Many students who have trouble focusing become more engaged after having time to meditate,” he says. “I find my students are more manageable, able to deal with difficulties more easily, and participate more in class. These practices are invaluable to both the student and the teacher as it grows their relationship and the relationship to one another.”
According to Ryden the most notable benefits of mindfulness include children learning to slow down, calm down and pause before speaking, getting upset or doing something without thinking first. Following the introduction of Peace Class at the school, the “playground refocus room” (code for the school’s “detention hall” for misbehaved children) became obsolete. “The children have learned to apply mindfulness intuitively in their everyday lives, including recess time,” explains Ryden.
Ryden echoes the belief that mindfulness is key to reducing anxiety in children while helping them focus on their work. By learning mindfulness at a young age, she also believes children will be better equipped for middle school and high school where issues such as body image, bullying, depression, drugs and even suicide can often touch students’ lives. In a nearby Virginia high school where there have been multiple suicides over the last few years, the school administration has introduced mindfulness to help students cope with adolescence in general.
Furthermore, for schools with low academic performance and a large number of troubled children, mindfulness can be key in helping them learn. “Some children in other district schools are so traumatized that they cannot learn,” explains Ryden. “Mindfulness and meditation can help change their brain in order to make it flexible and capable of learning better.”
Paul MacGowan, the director of the upcoming documentary on meditation, “A Joyful Mind,” visited Lafayette to film the children practicing meditation and mindfulness during Peace Class. “A Joyful Mind” will focus on educating audiences and answering the questions: “what is mindfulness?” plus “what are the key benefits of regular meditation?”
For parents and teachers who want to introduce mindfulness and meditation to children, here are 18 favorite resources to try:
What is Mindfulness? Apps:
www.smilingmind.com – Free app from Australia to teach mindfulness
www.headspace.com – Mindfulness app for adults, but can be used by older elementary school students. It is free for 10 sessions.
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What is Mindfulness? Books for Children
Mindful Monkey, Happy Panda by Laura Alderter, Kerry MacLean
xMoody Cow Meditates by Kerry MacLean
What Does it Mean to be Present? by Rana DiOrio
No Ordinary Apple by Sara Marlowe
Have You Filled A Bucket Today? by Carol McCloud
The Peace Book (and many others!) by Todd Parr
What is Mindfulness? Books with CDs (for kids and adults)
Sitting Still Like a Frog by Eline Snel
A Still Quiet Place by Amy Saltzman
Building Emotional Intelligence by Linda Lantieri
What is Mindfulness? Books for Adults
The Mindful Child by Susan Kaiser Greenland
Mindfulness: An Eight-Week Plan for Finding Peace in a Frantic World by Mark Williams and Danny Penman
Wherever You Go There You Are by Jon Kabat Zinn
Ten Percent Happier by Dan Harris
The Way of Mindful Education: Cultivating Well-Being in Teachers and Students by Daniel Rechtschaffen
Rebeca Plantier is the founder of Fit to Inspire, an online community inspiring women to greater well-being regardless of their age, shape, size or level of fitness. She is the author of “Lessons From France: Eating, Fitness, Family”, a guide to the healthy habits of the French, including tips, recipes, expert advice and anecdotes to get readers inspired by the moderate (and delicious) approach to healthy living, French style. She is a regular Huffington Post and MindBodyGreen well-being contributor; her articles have also appeared in Salon, Business Insider, Elephant Journal, KrisCarr.com, EatLocalGrown, travel site Matador Network and many others. To follow her well-being adventures in France, click here. Follow Fit to Inspire on all social media @fittoinspire and www.fittoinspire.com.