How can students benefit from Mindfulness practices within the classroom?
I created strategies for teachers to incorporate mindfulness-based activities for elementary students in the classroom, with the goal to enhance student learning and emotional intelligence.
Mindfulness is a cognitive science that can have a significant impact on student learning. Mindfulness-based activities are focused on increasing the overall well-being of an individual. They can offer students the opportunity to learn about their inner emotions and develop a greater sense of emotional intelligence (Rempel, 2012 p.201). One of the most well known definitions of mindfulness comes from Jon Kabat-Zinn, the founder of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction. Kabat-Zinn (1994) states that mindfulness is “paying attention on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally, to the unfolding of experience moment to moment” (p. 4). Mindfulness is mental training that encourages patience, open-mindedness, self-compassion, and non-attachment.
Interest in the use of mindfulness practices with children and youth is growing. The use of mindfulness-based activities has the power to facilitate and enhance student learning. Furthermore, mindfulness-based activities can support mental, physiological, and social development for children.
Considering the 21st century learner, there is a need to provide children with skills and strategies to combat the stress and pressure of living. Currently, rates of depression, fear, and anxiety are increasing and impacting children at an earlier age. In addition, more students are being diagnosed with ADHD.
Mindfulness practices offer an alternative solution for students to develop a greater sense of emotional intelligence, thus, finding more success as a learner.
In order to prepare for introducing mindfulness-based activities to students, I consulted several masters of mindfulness. This consisted of Lethbridge school counselors, community mindfulness teachers, and professional development sessions focused on integrating mindfulness in the classroom.
Incorporating mindfulness-based activities within the classroom was achieved through two methods: (1) participation in a “Day of Mindfulness”, and (2) daily mindfulness activities. Below is an account of how each of these two were achieved.
A Day of Mindfulness
In order for students to fully understand the concept of mindfulness-based activities, I organized an entire day that was focused on mindfulness, titled “A Day of Mindfulness,” as an introduction to mindfulness. Four different classes (Grades 3-5), participated in varying activities such as yoga, mindful coloring, mindful eating, personal affirmations, and writing gratitude letters.
Prior to participation, I planned for the school counselor to give a lecture to students and teachers on the theory and science behind mindfulness and how students – and teachers - may benefit from mindfulness exercises. This introduction set the stage for participants to fully understand and appreciate mindfulness-based activities. Furthermore, I sought community mindfulness teachers to coordinate each of the stations. As a result, teachers could fully participate and become more knowledgeable in the practice of mindfulness.
Throughout the day I facilitated the activities and observed the behaviors of students. The following day I asked several students to fill out a survey to give me feedback and to provide empirical evidence for the success of the day. Ultimately, I created this day as something for me to leave behind, since the school could continue practicing and growing in this area for years to come.
Daily Mindfulness Activities
After students obtained the understanding of mindfulness, I began to incorporate daily activities and teachings. Students participated in a variety of activities, which included, guided meditations, mindful walks, mindful mandala coloring, and guided yoga videos. These activities were used as brain breaks throughout the course of the day. Furthermore, during morning announcements, I included messages ways for students and staff to incorporate mindfulness into their daily lives: for example, “take time to today to focus on your breathing (the inward and outward of your breath)”, or “as you walk, feel how your body moves and the sensation beneath your feet”.
Overall, this project was a great success. Concerning students, the majority of individuals had heard of mindfulness, however, 35% of students had not. Furthermore, 95% of students who had participated found mindfulness beneficial in decreasing stress and increasing focus and relaxation. A significant amount of students informed me that they were likely to incorporate mindfulness into their daily lives and would consider recommending it to a friend or classmate.
Mindfulness is for everyone because it helps calm you down in even the hardest situations. Mindfulness also helps keep you calm in hard situations because it is easy to do.”
“It was amazing. I loved the cool things we did in yoga and I loved when we got to color and do your own design in mindful coloring, it helped me to understand mindful in a different way. Now I can do it all the time, I am so glad that I got to participate in this wonderful activity, thank you Mr. Fitz.”
“I like mindfulness because it is peaceful and gets to be a calm spirit for your soul and it is like mediation for the body and [you] get to do different things that are mindful for you.”
“It was amazing and fun ..[and] interesting. Yoga helped me stop being stressed and when I got home that letter (student gratitude letter) [I shared it] and it was heartfelt and true thanks to Mr. Fitz.”
I found mindfulness-based activities to be extremely useful for classroom management and overall student well-being. As energy levels rose throughout the day, mindfulness exercises allowed for students to return to a place of focus and relaxation. Good learners are listeners, observers, and problem solvers. Mindfulness is focused on cultivating these characteristics in individuals and can have a positive impact on learning. By practicing mindfulness-based activities within the classroom we can help create a learning environment where more students are ready to engage in learning.
- Wherever You Go, There You Are: Mindfulness Meditation in Everyday Life, by Jon Kabat-Zinn
- Peace Is Every Step: The Path of Mindfulness in Everyday Life, by Thich Nhat Hanh
- Sitting Still Like a Frog: Mindfulness Exercises for Kids, by Eline Snel (Audio Guided Meditations)
- No Ordinary Apple, by Sara Marlowe (Mindful Eating)
- I Think, I Am!: Teaching Kids the Power of Affirmations, by Louise Hay (Affirmations)
- MindUp. The Hawn Foundation. (Mindfulness Curriculum)
- PlantGrowLove. (Free Teacher Resources)
- GoNoodle, Maximo. (Yoga)
Kabat-Zinn, J. (1994). Wherever you go, there you are: Mindfulness meditation in everyday life. (p. 4) New York: Hyperion.
Rempel, K. (2012). Mindfulness for children and youth: A review of the literature with an argument for school-based implementation. Canadian Journal of Counselling and Psychology. 46, (3), 201-220.
Andrew is a University of Lethbridge graduate, with a Bachelor of Arts in Kinesiology. He is a Pronghorn athlete, competing in Track and Field. Andrew has background in athletics, interest in philosophy, and enjoys helping others reach their personal and academic goals.