“Mindfulness within schools makes a lot of sense. There is a growing body of evidence that supports the claims that mindfulness improves working memory, attention, academic skills, social skills, emotional balance and self-esteem.” – Joseph Pound
Childhood is a miraculous period during which the child is dynamically absorbing information from every aspect of its environment. This occurs almost without any intervention from the adults as the child appears to be programmed to learn. It is here that behaviors, knowledge, skills, and attitudes are developed that shape the individual. But, what is absorbed depends on the environment. If it is replete with speech, the child will learn speech, if it is replete with trauma, the child will learn fear, if it is replete with academic skills the child will learn these, and if it is replete with interactions with others the child will learn social skills. It is up to adults to structure the environment to be conducive to learning what is most important.
Elementary school is a wonderful time to structure the environment to develop knowledge, attitudes, and skills. This has been known for centuries. But, which ones are most important to the development of a high functioning adult? Elementary school environments stress academic skills. This is appropriate and necessary. But at times, particularly in the United States, the emphasis on academic skills, especially factual learning, is so great that other important learning is neglected. There is often little effort to develop the so called softer skills; emotional, mindfulness, creative, meta-cognitive, psychological, and social skills. This is unfortunate as these skills are important unto themselves’ and also turn out to be very important in developing academic skills. In addition, it’s been shown that these softer skills in childhood predict health, financial stability, and educational attainment into adulthood.
One method that has recently been employed to help develop these softer skills in school children is mindfulness training. This has occurred for good reason as mindfulness training has been shown to improve academic performance, social skills, emotions, and meta-cognitive skills in grammar school children (see http://contemplative-studies.org/wp/index.php/2015/08/08/building-a-better-adult-with-elementary-school-mindfulness-training/) and even in preschool children (see http://contemplative-studies.org/wp/index.php/2015/07/17/building-a-better-adult-preschool-mindfulness-training/). This is a potentially very important development and as such deserves far greater research scrutiny.
In today’s Research News article “Mindfulness Training in Primary Schools Decreases Negative Affect and Increases Meta-Cognition in Children”
Vickery and Dorjee delivered twelve ½-hour mindfulness lessons over approximately 3-weeks to 7-9-year old primary school children in the classroom in addition to the typical curriculum. A second group of children were provided the typical curriculum without the additional mindfulness training. Children were measured with objective and observational measures before and after training and 3-months later. They found that positive changes in mindfulness were associated with positive increases in emotional awareness in the mindfulness trained children. They also found that at follow-up the mindfulness training produced a significant increase in teacher rated meta-cognitive skills and also a significant decrease in negative emotions.
These are potentially important findings. Meta-cognitive skills include working memory, planning/organizing, organization of materials, initiating and monitoring activities. These are important skills that are generally predictive of academic performance and success later in life. Mindfulness, paying attention to the content of the present moment, may be a prerequisite for meta-cognition. One cannot initiate, plan, organize, remember, or monitor activities without paying attention to them as they are occurring. So, mindfulness skills may be seen as foundational for cognitive skills. It is exciting that this appears to be effective in young 7-9-year old children and makes a strong argument for the implementation of mindfulness programs in grammar schools.
The decrease in negative emotions is also important. They can lead to anxiety and depression. It has been shown that mindfulness training in adults and adolescents is effective for the reduction of anxiety and depression. It is exciting to observe that mindfulness training may have similar effects in 7-9-year old children. This suggests that the mindfulness training may develop resilience and psychological well-being in the children. It is possible that mindfulness training may be an effective early intervention for the prevention of later psychological problems and act to promote the development of psychological health.
It should be noted that Vickery and Dorjee did not find significant changes in measures of mindfulness, positive emotions, emotional awareness and expressive reluctance, and positive well-being. It is possible that a the total of 6-hurs of training is simply insufficient to impact these domains. Further research is needed to clarify this issue. Regardless, the positive findings that were reported are exciting and potentially important and support the further development and research on the use of mindfulness training in grammar school curricula.
So, help kids emotionally and cognitively with mindfulness.
“People are stepping back on that full focus on reading and math scores and are looking more holistically at all the skills that really matter. Social-emotional learning is not only crucial to academic success, but also career success and lifelong being.” – Sara Bartolino Krachman
CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies