Make School More Effective with Mindfulness


By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.


“Before we can teach a kid how to academically excel in school, we need to teach him how to have stillness, pay attention, stay on task, regulate, make good choices. We tell kids be quiet, calm yourself down, be still. We tell them all these things they need in the classroom, but we’re not teaching them how to do that.” – Jean-Gabrielle Larochette


Childhood is a time of tremendous learning. This is not only true in the knowledge and skills spheres, but also in attitudes, inclinations, emotion regulation, and social skills. It is also the time when the child learns self-regulation, moving from spontaneous uninhibited thoughts, behaviors, and emotions to control and restraint. Guiding much of this learning is a class of cognitive abilities called executive functions. These include inhibitory control, cognitive flexibility, and working memory.


In recent years, drug abuse education has been incorporated into grammar school curricula. Although, at the beginning of grammar school most children have negative attitudes towards drugs, as schooling continues, attitudes become less negative. The idea is to build and reinforce negative attitudes toward illicit substances, alcohol, and cigarette smoking that will help to prevent future drug abuse. The effectiveness of these programs, however, has not yet been established.


Also, in recent years, mindfulness programs in schools have been initiated with positive effects. These include developing stronger executive functions, self-regulation, and social skills. In addition, in adults mindfulness training has been found to be helpful in treating drug, alcohol, and cigarette addictions and in preventing relapse after successful treatment. But, it is not known if mindfulness training might help build anti-drug attitudes in grammar school children. In today’s Research News article “The impact of mindfulness education on elementary school students: Evaluation of the Master Mind Program.” See:

or below or view the full text of the study at:

Parker and colleagues examined this question. They implemented a 4-week, 15-minute per day, mindfulness training program called “Master Mind” that included meditation, yoga, and body scan components in two American grammar school classrooms with 4th and 5th grade children. They measured the children’s executive functions, self-regulation, and attitudes toward drugs before and after training. The results were compared between the “Master Mind” group and wait-list control classroom groups.


They found that after training the “Master Mind” group had higher levels of executive functions This was true both in comparison to before training and to the control group. Teacher ratings of the children’s behavior also indicated that the “Master Mind” group had fewer social problems and less aggressive behavior than the control group. Girls in the “Master Mind” group were found to have significantly lower anxiety levels while boys were found to have greater self-control. There were no significant differences found between the groups in future intentions to use drugs, alcohol, and cigarettes.


These results are quite impressive. They demonstrate that mindfulness training has important positive effects on grammar school children including greater executive function, emotion regulation, and self-regulation. These are important skills for children’s success in school and socially and may suggest greater academic achievement, adjustment, and later success. These results, along with previous findings, suggest that mindfulness programs have important positive effects on school-aged children and that widespread implementation of these programs in schools should be seriously considered.


The lack of effectiveness of mindfulness training on attitudes towards the future use of drugs, alcohol, and cigarettes were disappointing. The students, however, had very low intentions to use these substances to start, with very low scores in pretesting. So there was very little room to show improvement. Hence, the lack of significant improvement may well have been due to a floor effect. It would be interesting to follow these children into later adolescence to see if the training had any long term effects on subsequent drug use.


Regardless, it is clear that schools can be made more effective with mindfulness.


“Once the kids feel that they can actually calm themselves even just through breathing it’s like the ‘wow’ moment. The ultimate goal is self-awareness and self-regulation.” – Rick Kinder


CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies


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Study Summary

Parker, A. E., Kupersmidt, J. B., Mathis, E. T., Scull, T. M., & Sims, C. (2014). The impact of mindfulness education on elementary school students: Evaluation of the Master Mind Program. Advances in School Mental Health Promotion, 7(3), 184–204.



Children need to be equipped with the skills to respond effectively to stress and prevent poor decision-making surrounding alcohol and tobacco use. Training and practice in mindfulness is one possible avenue for building children’s skills. Recent research has revealed that mindfulness education in the classroom may play a role in enhancing children’s self-regulatory abilities. Thus, the goal of the current study was to extend existing research in mindfulness education in classrooms and conduct an assessment of the feasibility and effectiveness of a new mindfulness education, substance abuse prevention program for 4th and 5th grade children (Master Mind). Two elementary schools were randomly assigned to be an intervention group (N = 71) or waitlist control group (N = 40). Students in the intervention group were taught the four-week Master Mind program by their regular classroom teachers. At pre- and post-intervention time points, students completed self-reports of their intentions to use substances and an executive functioning performance task. Teachers rated students on their behavior in the classroom. Findings revealed that students who participated in the Master Mind program, as compared to those in the wait-list control condition, showed significant improvements in executive functioning skills (girls and boys), as well as a marginally significant increase in self-control abilities (boys only). In addition, significant reductions were found in aggression and social problems (girls and boys), as well as anxiety (girls only). No significant differences across groups were found for intentions to use alcohol or tobacco. Teachers implemented the program with fidelity; both teachers and students positively rated the structure and content of the Master Mind program, providing evidence of program satisfaction and feasibility. Although generalization may be limited by the small sample size, the findings suggest that mindfulness education may be beneficial in increasing self-regulatory abilities, which is important for substance abuse prevention.


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