“What did you do at school today?” “Oh, the usual - Maths, English, Mindfulness.”
In a few years time that could be the standard conversation that Australian parents have with their kids on the ride home from school.
Mindfulness - the practise of quieting the mind and bringing attention to the present - as a school taught activity is on the rise, with a campaign to have it on the national curriculum by 2020. And there’s good reason:
New Australian research has shown that it brings significant benefits to students’ sleep habits, as well as boosting concentration and reducing stress and anxiety levels, and can even have the knock-on effect of lowering disruptive and bullying behaviour in schools.
“This research is a game changer,” Michael Carr-Gregg, child and adolescent psychologist and mindfulness advocate, says “The improvement in sleep and stress isn’t surprising to me, but the reduction in bullying is extraordinary - I get gasps when I tell people in education about the results.”
Currently, one in seven children aged 4 - 17 have a mental health disorder, according to the latest national survey. And a recent study in bullying of kids aged 8 - 14 showed one in four reported being bullied every few weeks or more. In recent years, mindfulness has gained popularity in schools as a way of helping prevent these issues.
The positive psychological benefits of mindfulness in adults have been well researched ( improves memory, emotional regulation and empathy, and more), but little research exists on kids.
The new study was commissioned by Smiling Mind, a not-for-profit organisation that produces free app-based mindfulness programs, and conducted by Victoria’s Deakin University and consulting firm InsightSRC. A total of 1853 students from 12 Victoria Schools took part, ranging in age from 7 - 18 years, along with 104 teachers. Split into two groups one-half did an eight-week Smiling mind mindfulness program while the other was in a control group. Then the control group also did the program.
Students completed a few 10-minute sessions a week during class time for eight weeks, learning breath awareness, body scanning for tension and mindful eating. Sessions were narrated by the app, but all participating teachers got training to support the app in class. Well-being levels were measured by questionnaire.
The vast majority of students that did the program reported a boost in sleep quality compared to the control group. There were also significant improvements in student behaviour and safety at school, including self-reported experiences of being bullied.
Importantly the kids who had low levels of well-being before the program reported the greatest improvements, including less psychological distress, improved concentration and greater feelings of being able to manage their emotions.
Geoff Seletto, the assistant principal of Rosebud Secondary College in Victoria's Mornington Peninsula, one of the participating school in the study, saw these changes first hand.
“The kids were a bit sceptical,” he says. “But by the end, teachers were walking into classrooms and seeing the kids lying down ready to go, almost demanding it. Older kids said it helped in the lead up to exams.”
Seletto says that he and other teachers benefited greatly too, eventually beginning their staff meetings with a mindfulness practise. “Everybody got into it, it was amazing, people could see it was working. There was no negative impact for the teachers, only that losing 10 minutes of your class puts pressure on other stuff.”
That pressure is something that Rosebud Secondary College is willing to take on board - they’re planning to put mindfulness in the school timetable and build a meditation space, so kids will have the opportunity to meditate three times a week, and also offer one-on-one meditation with struggling students.
“It comes down to the school’s commitment - and we have that enthusiasm. Getting it in the curriculum would definitely help, though.”
Carr - Gregg says that while there’s more research to be done he’s confident inclusion in the national curriculum will happen sooner rather than later. “There’ll be a generation of kids sleeping better, There’ll be a lot less aggression in schools and much lower levels of mental health problems,” he says.
Source: Body + Soul Magazine, Author Liz Graham
MY PEACEFUL UNIVERSE Mindfulness and Meditation Classes for Primary School Students