I’m often asked about the Mindfulness for Kids training I do with children, and if I’m available to teach guest classes in schools or at events.
You may have heard about the practice of “Mindfulness” taking place in schools, as it’s becoming increasingly popular in public and private schools alike. But what does it really mean? As a Mindfulness teacher (kindergarten-6th grade) at Santa Cruz Children’s School and Guanacaste Waldorf School, I realize that most adults probably don’t know what my students are learning. I’ll give you a hint: it isn’t all about chanting “om” or learning the secrets to the universe; mostly they are learning how to best utilize their own brains.
Benefits of Mindfulness for Kids
Numerous studies on Mindfulness in schools have found that it improves student concentration, memory, behavior, attendance, and overall optimism and happiness. It’s also been shown to decrease bullying and aggression, increase compassion and empathy for others, and help students resolve conflicts. But why? Because students are mastering the skill of becoming aware of the present moment, including their own feelings and reactions, and learning how to calm the part of their brain that makes them upset.
I tell my students to wrap their hands around each thumb, put their closed fists together, and imagine their brains. The thumbs represent the amygdala, a small area in the middle of each hemisphere that acts as the brain’s alarm system. The amygdala reacts to stress, and responds with the primal reactions of fight, flight, or freeze. This reaction takes place in the presence of any type of stress, as mild as a disagreement with a classmate or an upcoming spelling test, and blocks the brain’s pre-frontal cortex where logical thought takes place.
In most cases of stress, my students realize they’d like to be able to think clearly and respond with more options than fight, flight, or freeze. So they are practicing sending the amygdala its signal to chill out: oxygen. Slow, deep breaths flood the brain with oxygen, calming the stress response and allowing the pre-frontal cortex to do its job. Even my kindergarten students understand and are mastering this. And it’s useful for us adults, too, when we remember to do it. Even though we’ve all heard “just breathe” a million times before, it’s enlightening to understand why it actually helps.
Mindfulness for Kids in Practice
Each week, my students share stories with me about how they catch themselves feeling stressed and use deep breaths to calm down: in an argument with a sibling, when they fall down and get hurt, when they see a scary spider. And parents are telling me the flip side, how their children are claiming, “My amygdala made me do it,” when they act out. I love hearing, and seeing, how learning about their brains is helping these kids to feel more in control and empowered in their lives.
Many of my students start the school year with challenges with focus, and some of them have specific learning difficulties (diagnosed with ADD, on the autism spectrum, bipolar, anxiety disorders, etc.). From the time I start teaching them Mindfulness, I see a huge difference in their behavior, focus, and engagement. They begin sharing their feelings, listening to their classmates with empathy, sitting still and focusing on their breath (even requesting certain breathing techniques), and telling other teachers about their amygdalas. I am so proud of them.
Find Out More
I follow the research-based MindUP curriculum developed by the Hawn Foundation, I’m trained in the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) techniques taught by the University of Massachusetts Medical School, and I’ve received a Mindful Educators Essentials Certification by Mindful Schools. I am available to lead guest classes within schools, groups, and events. Please contact me for specifics and logistics. Parents and teachers are welcome to attend my classes.
If you’d like to know more about what happens in a Mindfulness for Kids class, I encourage you to check out this article I wrote for MindBodyGreen on 7 Fun Ways to Teach Your Kids Mindfulness, with exercises I often use in class (it’s been shared more than 125,000 times on Facebook!). Or this one with 5 Easy Breathing Techniques To Calm Your Kid (And Relax the Whole Family).
And if you’d like to know more about bringing Mindfulness education into your school or group, please contact me.
I wish Mindfulness in schools had been around back in my generation. I look forward to seeing how it affects the lives, and the world around, the kids who are learning these techniques today. Please get in touch if you’d like to inquire about bringing Mindfulness for Kids to your school or group.