In a busy inner city school, twenty, elementary age kids are socializing, squirming, and running around in circles giggling, laughing, holling or screeching. The scene can best be described as sheer pandemonium.
Soon a calm, bespectacled, fourth grade teacher walks into the classroom and tells the kids to settle into a yoga pose where they lay flat on their backs and the palms of their hands face the sky.
He begins a guided meditation asking the kids to focus on a colorful tiny light bulb that is in the center of their hearts. Soon the room is silent and for ten minutes the kids lay on their mats, calm, relaxed and quiet.
This scene is being repeated, every day, in schools all over this country. Mindfulness training in schools is not a new concept but it is one that is being use by teachers and school administrators with more and more frequency. The reason is simple. Mindfulness meditation quiets the brain in a way that makes children more prepared to learn. These findings have been known for a long time but new research is showing that these mind quieting activities have a lasting effect on our brains and on our brain's chemical balance.
The balance of neurotransmitters in our brains changes constantly and is dependent on what we are experiencing. Stress, fear and fatigue can set up a brain chemical profile that is not productive to learning or paying attention but activities such as mindful meditation, yoga, relaxation exercises, focused play or simple reflection has the opposite affect.
Now that we have brain imaging studies that can see changes occurring inside our brains, we can see that children who meditate develop permanent changes in brain areas that control their attention, hyperactivity and emotional control. Several studies have now found that when you compared meditators and non-meditators, the meditator's brains have more efficient connections, have larger volume in areas important for attention, focus and emotion control as meditating brains also have more gray matter, a finding that indicates improved mental function.
Teachers and parent are using mindfulness exercises in their classrooms because they find that these exercises can have an extraordinary effect on not only inattention and impulsive behavior but also on the holy grail of school performance, academic achievement.
We have known for a long while that meditation exercises help control stress but a new study just published in the Journal of Child and Family Studies found that meditation helps more than just stress. In this study, parents that learned mindful meditation with their children reported that their kids were more focused and the children's teachers found the kids to be less oppositional.
Because children are sponges and learn to attend from the people that surround them, it is possible that teaching both parents and kids meditation skills is better than just teaching the kids. It is also possible that as the parent becomes more attentive, the child becomes more attentive as well.
Ten minutes of mindful meditation is free, easy to do and if your child's school does not have a program, starting a program at home is easy. Mindfulness should be thought of as attention training. The steps to mindfulness are simple.
1. Bring attention to an attention anchor such as a tiny colorful light bulb in the center of your heart that rises and falls with each breath.
2. Pay attention to the distractions that pop into your mind and note them and then blow them away and refocus on the Christmas light.
3. Repeat these two steps for ten minutes.
These simple steps teach the child or adult to pay attention to paying attention and they change the brain for the better. There are many types of meditation and many online resources for the different types of meditation that you can perform at home. You can find free resources for meditation in the links below to get you started.