Schools Teaching Mindfulness, Meditation to Help Lower Stress
Nov. 18, 2022 – On a recent Thursday afternoon, Connie Clotworthy greets a roomful of energetic fourth graders at Valor Academy Elementary School in Arleta, CA, about 20 miles northwest of downtown Los Angeles.
She starts by leading them in a mindfulness exercise, reminding the 19 students they have to give their brain a break “on purpose.” ...
...In a calm voice, she says, “for 30 seconds we are going to close our eyes.” She tells them to just breathe in, breathe out.
After the 30 seconds, she asks: “Who was able to only breathe in, breathe out? Who had a million other thoughts?” That draws ...
...laughs and some raised hands, both in response to the success question and the bit about “a million other thoughts.”
She talks about “big emotions.” Holding up Billy, she says: “When you get angry, you’ve let our dog start barking and biting,” waving the stuffed dog around.
“And how do we calm down our dog? Breathe. Who helps? Hoots.” But Hoots can only help after Billy calms down, she reminds them.
“Do you think Hoots will come out if Billy is barking and screaming?” The kids know the answer to that, shaking their heads “No” in unison.
She leads the once-a-week, 30-minute mindfulness and meditation program at Valor Academy Elementary and at five other area schools.
While the terms mindfulness and meditation are often interchanged, experts say that mindfulness is the quality of “being in ...
...the present moment, without judgment,” while meditation describes a more formal practice of quieting the body and mind.
Mindfulness is not religious, Clotworthy says, but a way to “stay in the present.” The word, put most simply, “just means paying attention. We teach kids to be in the present.”
Besides helping students deal with stressors, it can be good for society, as the Dalai Lama promised in his famous quote: ...
...“If every 8-year-old in the world is taught meditation, we will eliminate violence from the world within one generation.”
Teachers can play Headspace content through Vivi, says Simon Holland, co-founder of Vivi, to access mindfulness and meditation content designed for children and teens.
“We offer it at no cost,” she says. Sometimes it is a 6-week program, other times a year.
Students served are “recent arrivals, Spanish-speaking,” Segura says, and “there is a lot of anxiety and trauma, from their journey. We train students to stay in the present,” with the mindfulness exercises.
“Last year, we had a mindfulness garden, outdoors, with elementary students,” she says. The students would enter the garden and choose a sticker to match their mood.
“At the end of the session, the stickers would move up to the joyful, relaxed state. It was incredibly dramatic to see.”
Recent research also has found benefits for children and teens, although some experts argue that enthusiasm is outpacing the evidence and that the studies need to be more scientific.
“We had a lot of students with behavioral challenges and self-regulation issues,” she says.
“The third graders had missed out on all of [in-person] first and second grade. There was catty behavior among the ...
...girls, and the boys were very handsy out in the yards. They had missed out on [developing] a lot of play skills.”
Among the benefits, she believes, are that “it helps with increasing the sense of belonging.”
“They were all transfixed; they are all into it.”
Her findings: “91% of the students can correctly identify and describe the functions of the amygdala and the prefrontal cortex,” up from 10% before the sessions began.
“We begin with these teachings so kids will know where their emotions live, how to identify them, and how to stay ahead ...
...of the outbursts,” she says. Nearly 60% told Clotworthy they get in trouble less since starting her classes.
“I think that’s just showing they have a lot on their minds right now.”
“Mindfulness is a normal human state,” says Patricia (Tish) Jennings, PhD, a professor of education at the University of Virginia.
“Young children tend to be very mindful,” naturally capable of focusing on the present moment.
“I started doing this with kids in my Montessori class in 1981,” she says.
At the time, “I didn’t call it mindfulness or meditation. I would say, ‘We are learning to calm down, to focus our attention.’”
“It does help them pay attention, and it does help them calm down. Self-awareness and self-management are really important.”
As the mindfulness and meditation session at Valor Academy wraps up, Clotworthy asks the students for some thoughts on mindfulness and meditation, including how it helps them.
Kylie Garcia, a 9-year-old with dark brown eyes and hair, who had listened intently during the session and took part ...
...fully, says: “I like meditation because my body felt calm when meditating.” She compares it to a recess break.
Clotworthy says some students say they have taught the techniques to their parents.
At Valor Elementary, mindfulness class is on Thursdays; one girl offered: “I wake up and realize it is mindfulness day and I’m excited to come to school.”