The Benefits Of Meditation In The Classroom –

contributed by Beth Rush, Managing Edition at Body + Mind

The image of your 5-year-old sitting serenely on a yoga mat might calm your mind if you’re a harried parent, but does meditation benefit this age group?

What can teachers and parents expect, and how can schools reap the perks of teaching this practice at an early age? 

Multiple studies confirm the power of meditation to help people cope with daily stressors and even affect physical disease progression. Does it work for all age groups? Is teaching children this healing practice without risks, and if they exist, do the benefits outweigh them, and can people overcome them?

See also Meditation Apps For Children

The Role of Meditation in Early Education

Every teacher knows that behavioral issues interfere with education. You can’t teach anything, no matter how fascinating or important, if the pupils you hope to instruct are running around the classroom, engaging in bullying behaviors, or wallowing in anxiety or stress—anything but mindfully tuning into the lesson. 

Teaching children to meditate when young can transform a classroom. It cultivates self-awareness and emotional intelligence in children. Best of all, it does so in a safe and nonpunishing manner. No adult sternly delivers lectures — meditation allows space for realization to arise from the inside. 

Children can explore how their behaviors impact others and themselves when freed from the need to react defensively. They come to see how their actions create unintended consequences. Meditation allows space for mentally working through how they can do things differently. It does so while easing the tension and biological storm children experience as acutely as adults, even if they don’t understand their ‘big feelings.’

The Benefits Of Meditation In The Classroom

The Benefits of Teaching Meditation in Schools 

Existing research and experts largely agree that teaching meditation to children delivers the following benefits. 

1. Stress Reduction

Children can get every bit as stressed as adults. They’re also very perceptive and can overhear snippets of adult conversation that spur panic — and their fears aren’t always unjustified. For example, it may be true that the family could lose their home if a parent misses more work. Imagine the sheer terror a 5-year-old feels upon hearing their parents arguing about such matters late at night. 

Worse, parents in stressful situations often lack the emotional energy to guide their children through managing these feelings — they’re juggling a triage situation. Kids arrive at school in a panicked state, unable to focus. However, according to Christine Carrig, M.S.Ed, Founding Director of Carrig Montessori School, teaching children to meditate on a simple mantra calms their minds and bodies, reducing stress levels. Doing so allows them to learn.

Erika Sandstrom, a Digital Learning Coach and Digital Media Teacher in Massachusetts, says, “In my experience, having students create their personalized breathing bubbles in Canva has been a game-changer. Adding a personalized touch to mindfulness practices enhances engagement and ownership. Its straightforward integration provides a seamless way to infuse moments of stress with opportunities for self-regulation.”

2. Improved Focus and Concentration

According to a research study conducted in 2021 at Asia University, meditation improves elementary school students’ ability to concentrate on subject matter for longer periods. 

Researchers measured participants across five measures of attention:

  • Focused attention or the ability to continue prolonged activity 
  • Selective attention or maintaining attention despite distractions 
  • Alternating attention or switching between activities
  • Divided attention or multitasking

Tests confirmed improved attention in students who meditated for 10 to 15 minutes daily for 12 weeks, particularly in focused and selective attention. Over 50% of study participants reported focusing better in school, 29.1 improved their sleep ability, and a few mentioned stress reduction and decreased physical pain. 

3. Emotional Regulation

Emotional regulation refers to a child’s ability to control their feelings. They can recognize their emotions and manage them appropriately so that they don’t cause unnecessary harm to others or interfere with the learning process.

“Meditation teaches children to be aware of their emotions without being overwhelmed. This can help them navigate and regulate emotions more effectively, improving emotional intelligence,” says Kim Feeney, LISW, a Play Therapist at Butterfly Beginnings Counseling.

4. Enhanced Self-Awareness

Self-awareness entails understanding how others perceive you and how your actions affect others. Children with poor self-awareness often misbehave, not out of a deliberate intent to be cruel or mischievous but because they don’t understand how their behaviors impact the classroom environment or why they should care. 

5. Increased Empathy and Compassion 

Meditation creates space for children to recognize that everyone else experiences the same emotions. Understanding the shared nature of the human experience drives home the meaning of the Golden Rule — children grasp why they should treat others as they want to be treated. 

6. Improved Behavior and Self-Control 

Children often behave impulsively. According to Carrig, meditation promotes impulse control by teaching children to respond thoughtfully to challenging situations instead of mindlessly reacting. 

Meditation also improves sleep, which is crucial for a child’s physical and neurological development. It also teaches kids a healthy coping mechanism they can use throughout life to manage stressful situations and stay centered amid challenging circumstances. 

Are There Any Negatives to Teaching Children to Meditate?

While meditation has impressive benefits for children, there are potential downsides that parents, teachers and schools should remain mindful of when implementing such practices. 

Meditation and Developing Emotional Awareness: the Risk of Retraumatization 

A significant risk of simply telling children ‘go meditate’ is that it can feel a lot like invalidation, dismissiveness or being asked to stuff feelings down without honoring what they are and what they mean. When not properly taught, meditation can feel like a “time out,” potentially retraumatizing a child, especially if lessons like “children should be seen and not heard” are frequently reinforced at home with physical or verbal abuse. 

Remember, children aren’t born understanding their feelings. Therefore, schools should pair emotional education with meditation training. They must convey several things:

  • Emotions are a natural part of being human, and simply having them isn’t wrong or bad.
  • Your feelings are a part of you, but they are not you any more than your left leg or right eye is you.  
  • How you choose to express and act on your feelings matters. 
  • You ultimately control how you express and act on your emotions, and meditation is a tool to help you decide how to do so best. 
  • You can sit quietly with your feelings without reacting to them. 

While some experts question whether the school is responsible for teaching emotional regulation skills, little learning occurs without them. Therefore, it’s worthwhile to take classroom time to teach about emotions and how to manage them. This could be especially crucial to children who are neurodivergent and already struggle with normal human interaction, who might otherwise lack proper role models to teach them how to get along with others. 

Religious Objections and Secular Use 

Meditation is integral to many Eastern religions, including Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism. Some parents object to meditation in schools because of this association, and out of concern, the practice may conflict with their religious beliefs. 

However, meditation can be entirely secular. Jon Kabat-Zinn pioneered the Western advance into mindfulness-based stress reduction or MSBR. This non-sectarian approach melds with any faith-based tradition or none at all. It’s equally inclusive to devout fundamentalists and atheists alike. Teaching children to meditate is, in reality, the opposite of indoctrination — it gives them practice in how to think for themselves. 

Case Studies: Meditation in School, Methods and Results 

What does it look like when schools teach children to meditate? The folks at Robert W. Coleman Elementary School rave about the results they receive from replacing traditional detention with meditation. The school did not have a single suspension during 2022 and 2023. The effects don’t stop at the elementary level. Nearby Patterson Park High School, which also uses the program, saw suspension rates drop and attendance increase, benefiting learning. 

How Should Schools Teach Meditation to Children? 

Robert W. Coleman Elementary School is a model for teaching meditation in schools. It partnered with outside experts, the Holistic Life Foundation, to offer yoga and meditation as a positive after-school activity, not a punishment. It teaches skills on the mat and ties them into daily life. 

Children help clean up local parks, build gardens and visit farms as part of the experience. They also co-teach the yoga classes. They aren’t treated as problems to ‘manage’ or even blank slates to fill but as active learning partners. 

The Magic of Teaching Meditation From Young Ages 

Although some controversy lingers about teaching meditation in schools, institutions that have implemented such programs have experienced impressive results. Teaching this valuable life skill creates a positive classroom environment for true learning. It does so in a gentle, non-threatening manner to which most children respond well. 

Teaching children to meditate does more than improve their classroom behavior. It imparts a valuable life skill to help kids manage life effectively after graduation.

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