Many districts are starting to incorporate mindfulness training into school curriculum. Mindfulness can be an excellent skill to help students have better focus, more empathy, and more social skills. And contrary to what many may think, mindfulness isn’t just for older kids 一 it benefits elementary school students, too.
Will you have a class full of first graders quietly sitting in mindfulness for hours at a time? Probably not. But teaching mindfulness to elementary school students can help them have better focus and be more able to cope with difficult feelings and experiences.
It’s possible to get your elementary-aged students started with mindfulness with the right techniques. Here’s our guide to how to do it successfully.
Why Teach mindfulness in school to elementary students?
Teaching mindfulness in schools is a relatively new venture in the world of education, but it’s been a successful one so far. One meta-analysis that measured the impact of school-based mindfulness programs around the world found that these programs were helpful for students in many ways.
First, school-based mindfulness has been found to improve students’ overall well-being. Students who learn mindfulness report more positive emotions, stronger self-identity, and less depression and anxiety, among other benefits.
Mindfulness also helps kids learn. The meta-analysis found that students who engage in school-based mindfulness programs process information faster, have better focus and concentration, and have a stronger working memory. Teachers report that students who participate in our program at Calm Classroom also exhibit fewer emotional challenges, which also frees up their energy to focus on learning.
Kids, especially younger ones, don’t only come to school to learn 一 they also come to socialize with their peers. Mindfulness in schools has also been shown to have social benefits. Many kids who learn mindfulness exhibit more prosocial behaviors (like empathy, kindness, and generosity) and do better with SEL skills.
And it’s not just high school students who benefit from school-based mindfulness programs, like many believe. Surveys we’ve conducted at Calm Classroom tell us that elementary-aged students benefit just as much.
Lastly, teaching mindfulness in elementary school may help the teachers and staff as well. Around three-quarters of the teachers taking part in Calm Classroom report using mindfulness skills outside of the classroom for their own benefit.
The challenges of teaching mindfulness to elementary school students 一 and how to overcome them
Teaching mindfulness in elementary school doesn’t come without its challenges. The good news is that all of these challenges can be overcome, and there’s no reason why teachers couldn’t successfully teach these important skills to younger children.
Here are the top three challenges of teaching mindfulness to elementary students, and how to overcome them.
One big worry that many elementary school teachers express when thinking about teaching mindfulness to their students is whether or not their kids will buy-in to the program. Without student buy-in, mindfulness sessions can become a struggle. With younger K-5 students, you might find that they feel silly doing some of the activities you ask them to do and refuse to participate.
To tackle this problem, explain to your students why you are going to start practicing mindfulness as a class. Try to make mindfulness as fun and engaging as possible for them 一 mindfulness is about a lot more than simply “sitting still”! The more your students enjoy the practice, the more they’ll want to continue.
State-mandated curriculum is already packed
Another challenge that elementary teachers face when looking to teach mindfulness is scheduling. How will you fit another topic into your already packed state-mandated curriculum?
It’s completely understandable to feel overwhelmed when thinking about adding yet another thing to your to-do list. An easy way to incorporate mindfulness into your daily schedule is to use time set aside for social-emotional learning (SEL) lessons for mindfulness. Mindfulness-based activities fit in perfectly with SEL; mindfulness can increase empathy and emotion regulation in students.
Too much energy
Many K-5 teachers worry that their students’ high energy levels will become a challenge when teaching mindfulness in schools. You might imagine a worst-case scenario of squirmy, giggly students getting up to run around during a mindfulness session.
But high energy doesn’t need to be a problem when teaching mindfulness! Many people have the misconception that mindfulness is about sitting in silence for long periods of time - and it can sometimes look like this - but mindfulness is much more than that.
Students, especially younger students, don’t need to “sit still” for half an hour a day to reap the benefits of mindfulness. Lead your elementary students in mindfulness activities that are fun and engaging, but that also invite some calm into their (and your!) days. Squirminess is completely acceptable.
You can also tackle this problem by being mindful, yourself, about the ebbs and flows of your students’ energy throughout the day. For example, right before the first recess bell rings, your students’ energy level may be sky-high. It would probably be difficult for them to sit through any kind of mindfulness activity during these moments. But what do you notice about their energy levels when they return from recess? What about at other times during the day? Choose your mindful moments wisely.
How to teach mindfulness in elementary schools
To successfully implement a mindfulness program at your elementary school, follow these tips.
Get adult buy-in
Getting younger kids’ buy-in isn’t usually the hardest part. Often, the more difficult piece is getting buy-in from staff and parents. As adults, we may have preconceived notions about what mindfulness really is. Some staff and parents might mistakenly believe that mindfulness is a (non-Christian) religious practice. Others might think it is new-age nonsense that won’t help their child.
To get buy-in from adults, explain to them clearly and neutrally what, exactly, mindfulness is. Inform them that mindfulness (as it’s practiced today in the West) is a secular practice that has been scientifically proven to reduce stress and improve well-being. You might also consider making participation voluntary at first. With time, the adults whose students participate may start seeing the benefits of mindfulness and become ambassadors to get others’ buy-in.
Train your own staff
Often, school districts hire outside mindfulness organizations to send instructors to teach their students directly. Although this can initially be a good option to deliver mindfulness in schools, it’s often not sustainable. School leaders may also want to consider training their own staff to become in-house mindfulness experts.
Having your own instructors on-campus will help make your school mindfulness program sustainable and long-lasting, even after your outside experts have left. When mindfulness becomes a regular part of your school’s routine, it’s more likely to stick over time. A successful mindfulness practice is a habit 一 and behaviors don’t become habits overnight. It takes time.
Use developmentally appropriate lessons
When teaching any skill as an educator, you keep your students’ developmental level in consideration. For example, you’d never teach your third-graders science by asking them to listen to an hour-long chemistry lecture. In the same way, take their developmental stage into consideration when teaching mindfulness, as well.
For example, younger students are often curious, and need to feel safe to explore the world around them. Take their natural curiosity and create a mindfulness lesson with it. Perhaps you can invite them to use their 5 senses to pay attention to their classroom in ways they never had before. Get rid of any fixed ideas about what a “mindfulness activity” looks like. Mindfulness looks differently in a 7-year-old than it does in a teen or an adult.
Have realistic expectations
Lastly, make sure your definition of a “successful” mindfulness program is realistic. Teaching mindfulness in your school will not eliminate all student behavioral issues. It won’t mean that your students will come to school with 100% focus 100% of the time.
It will, however, mean that both you and your students are equipped with important skills for mental and emotional wellbeing that will serve them through the years.
Calm Classroom has the resources and training available to help your elementary school implement a successful and sustainable mindfulness program. Get in touch with us today to learn more about our service options and how we might be able to help.