New research is offering a welcome and effective new tool to elementary school teachers in the Miami area. Miami Country Day School teachers are using mindfulness techniques to help students stay more focused, disciplined, and on task. Mindfulness, the key principle of Buddhism and incorporates focused breathing and meditation to achieve a higher level of self-awareness, is being introduced with great success at primary and elementary schools across the nation.
While it might seem like a daunting task to ask young children ages five to eight to remain still, focus on breathing, and be aware of how they feel, the teachers at Miami Country Day School are discovering what a powerful tool mindfulness can be in encouraging a more successful educational experience.
While teaching young children mindfulness techniques is more difficult than teaching adults, many of the Miami teachers have implemented the practice successfully. One teacher uses a chime to initiate a “mindful moment” and allows the children the autonomy to ring the chime when the classroom needs to quiet. Professor Amishi Jha, PhD, from the University of Miami, says, “The key is to teach it in a way that is accessible to children. You can’t teach it the way you would teach it to adults.”
Jha, who researches the ways in which mindfulness impacts the brain, has discovered that mindfulness positively impacts both attention and memory. She explains, “I definitely think it is something that should be explored in the educational context since attention is so important to learning.”
In a fast-paced, interconnected world, teaching children to be still and self-aware may be more important than ever. The teachers at Miami Country Day School use a video that teaches them the art of meditation, while the teachers incorporate teachings about the Buddhist faith as well.
The Miami Country Day School has been using mindfulness as a way to bring the students back to a calm state after episodes of intense activity, such as after recess or assemblies, or as a way to start the day. Susan Glick, a guidance counselor in the district who introduced mindfulness into the Miami schools curriculum almost five years ago, explains, “We really find the mindfulness practices to be very effective to help the children self-regulate in terms of stress, anxiety and focus.”
Formal research on children and mindfulness is in its early stages, but a pediatric psychologist at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine, Dr. Alan Delamater, believes that there are no negatives to mindfulness. “If you can get children to practice [mindfulness],” Delamater explains, “it would have a profound effect on their moral behavior and it would create a less impulsive group.”