Mindfulness is an age-old practice for staying alert, aware, and accepting in the moment. How? By relaxing the mind and body to relieve stress and improve concentration. Practicing mindfulness in the classroom can help students lessen anxiety and negative thinking. Through breath control and guided imagery techniques, students focus on experiencing and engaging with their surroundings.
Mindfulness practice has become an increasingly popular element in today’s classrooms. Studies have shown that students who practice mindfulness can improve their attention span, emotional regulation, empathy, and cognitive control.
What Is Mindfulness in the Classroom?
Practicing mindfulness in the classroom can help students calm themselves, focus, and engage in learning and positive social interactions.
What’s Behind Mindfulness?
The brain’s amygdala, hippocampus, and prefrontal cortex are interrelated, communicating with each other to form a response to external events perceived as threats. An emotion such as fear or anger triggers the amygdala and hippocampus to react with a “fight,” “freeze,” or “flight” reaction. The prefrontal cortex can delay such a reaction, allowing time for rational decision making. Mindfulness can help students regulate reactivity and see how the prefrontal cortex helps control behavior.
Explaining Mindfulness to Students
In the brain, the amygdala tries to protect us but can mistake stress for danger. The hippocampus stores memories but shuts down when the amygdala is upset. The prefrontal cortex accesses information from the amygdala and the hippocampus to make decisions, but decision making shuts down if the prefrontal cortex can’t access any of that information. We need mindfulness because it helps us calm down, and that, in turn, allows us to make good decisions.
The Positive Effects of Mindfulness in the Classroom
In the classroom, teachers and students have repeatedly observed the positive effects of mindfulness.
Improved Attention and Learning Skills
According to a study reported by Mindful Schools, 83% of students who used mindfulness techniques in the classroom showed improved focus. And the American Psychological Association found a connection between mindfulness in the classroom and improved cognitive control on the part of students.
Better Social and Emotional Skills
According to Mindful Schools, a study found that 89% of students who used mindfulness in the classroom exhibited better emotional regulation.The study also pointed to increased empathy and classroom participation.
Mindfulness Techniques Teachers Can Use in the Classroom
Mindfulness techniques can help students of all ages. Teachers use different techniques depending on the age and needs of their students.
Mindfulness Techniques for Elementary School Classrooms
A technique for teachers to use with elementary-school age children is breath control for self-calming. This can take the form of simply having students count to three as they inhale and again as they exhale. Other breath control techniques include students pretending to inflate a balloon in their stomachs or visualizing their lungs contracting and expanding with a Hoberman sphere.
Student-led routines and group projects that foster mindfulness are another option for teachers. A student can lead a finger exercise to calm fellow students at circle time. Or students can create a gratitude tree together, as gratitude increases mindfulness of positive events.
Sensory experience exercises can enhance mindfulness for elementary school students. They can watch glitter settle in a jar of water or listen to soothing music, for example.
Elementary school teachers can lead students in guided imagery. For instance, students can close their eyes while teachers narrate a story filled with vivid imagery and then talk about what thoughts came up.
Movement can be mindful for elementary school students when teachers take them on a trip outside the classroom to discover sensory cues, like the smell of grass or wet paint, in their environment. Yoga is another form of mindful movement teachers can share with students.
Mindfulness Techniques for Middle School Classrooms
In middle school, teachers can show students how to transition calmly using a chime, or they can teach them how to calm themselves by noticing their bodies in their chairs and how they connect physically with the environment.
Assigning written reflections is another way teachers can encourage middle-school students to be mindful. Students can write in response to a daily prompt, after an academic lesson, or after a social interaction.
Apps and videos for mindfulness abound and are especially useful for this age group. They allow students to practice mindfulness at home as well as in the classroom. They also allow students to choose mindfulness practices that reflect their own needs and interests.
Mindfulness Techniques for High School or College Classrooms
Meditation is a useful technique teachers can encourage in high-school or college age students. In addition to traditional sitting meditation, students can try body-scan meditation and walking meditation.
Targeted mindfulness techniques, such as uncurling a finger with each breath, are especially helpful for older students who are stressed because they are about to take an exam. Students can also practice mindfulness between class periods by simply sitting quietly, breathing naturally, and observing the moment without judgment.
Mindfulness in the classroom increases focus and reduces stress in students of all grade levels and abilities. Take time to practice mindfulness in the classroom and help students blossom emotionally, socially, and academically.