From smartphones to computers to video games, today’s youth are growing up in a world dominated by screens and multi-tasking. Learning how to focus on the moment at hand – rather than anticipating the future and jumping from one idea to the next – can be a huge challenge. Mindfulness teacher Jack Kornfield shares that “when we get too caught up in the busy-ness of the world, we lose connection with one another – and ourselves.”
This point is crucial to consider in education. A constant stream of mind-numbing media and marketing messages compete for students' attention. The stress that comes alongside this can be immense, with children worrying that they are missing out, not keeping up with the trends or not being involved in social interactions. Social media is constantly developing and changing and it can become overwhelming to some. It is a new and rapidly evolving world which at OWIS we strive to support our students through. And it's happening at even younger ages. Many students struggle to focus in class, whilst teachers strive to keep them on task. It is an important skill to learn, particularly for later life when our students are working, to be able to switch off from the buzz of all the media around us.
At OWIS, we're countering this trend with mindfulness training. Mindfulness is a basic awareness of where we are and what we're doing. In school, mindfulness training combines traditional meditation and movement. The goal is to calm the mind and focus on the here-and-now. Mindfulness keeps students from becoming easily overwhelmed."
Mindfulness research has most often focused on adult subjects; however, recently children have become a focus of several studies. While conclusions are tentative, two recent systematic reviews have been published in reputable scientific journals. These studies found that students with mindfulness training are less anxious and more focused. Additional findings include:
Jon Kabat-Zinn, a widely recognised scientist who is at the forefront of the newly researched, medical-based mindfulness practice, describes mindfulness as “paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment and non-judgmentally”. This is the basis of being able to give yourself enough distance from anything that may be causing you stress or unease, and give you time to observe and process the feelings and emotions. It helps to slow down thought processes and break the situation into manageable, bitesize thoughts and feelings so that you can make informed decisions without immediately reacting.
In addition to meditative practices, research also shows that mindfulness based movement practices such as yoga and Tai Chi provide physiological benefits that increase student body and mind resilience. These practises interlink physical, emotional and spiritual wellbeing together. They open up a world of opportunity for individuals to find the best way for them to manage stress or anxiety. It also makes them more open to other people's thoughts and opinions and opens their eyes to embracing new experiences.
Several teachers at OWIS are already practising combined meditation techniques in the classroom and after school. We aim to integrate further training throughout the school and we also plan to build on our current extra-curricular yoga offering so that we can spread the benefits of mindfulness throughout the entire school. We want this to be open to everyone so that our students can develop lifelong skills and understand the important role that mindfulness can play in their lives.
Encouraging mindfulness in the classroom may be new to primary education, however, early reputable studies clearly demonstrate significant results. In all cases, students who practise mindfulness feel more relaxed and more present. It allows them to take a breath from the present and find their “still, quiet place”. While peer-reviewed research is forthcoming, early results show that students who practise mindfulness experience improved physical health, a clearer state of mind and improved focus in studies. Such improvements can lead to better academic performance. It can also help them deal with unexpected challenges and become skilled in looking after the wellbeing of themselves and those around them.
Most importantly, learning how to be mindful at an early age sets students up for long-term personal and professional success. Mindfulness increases emotional regulation and self-control, lowers stress levels and improves clarity and focus, clearing the way for creative problem solving and innovative new ideas. It helps them become less emotionally reactive to situations which may or may not be out of their control. It gives them more space and freedom in their minds, allows them to take control of their emotions and feelings and will act as a lifelong skill.