We all want what’s best for our kids. Let’s be honest: we want them to be better than we were.
We see how smart, creative, talented, and wonderful they are—so we enroll them in every available activity in the hopes that they will be happy, healthy, well-rounded humans.
They go to school and karate and play dates and soccer practice and birthday parties and…the list is seemingly endless.
And while we sit in the drive-through for the third time in a week, parents secretly wish that we could stop going for a bit and just be still.
But here’s the really important thing: kids need time to be still, too.
Alvin Rosenfeld, author of The Overscheduled Child, has been quoted since he published in 2001 with warnings of consequences like depression, anxiety, and a lack of creativity for children who are overscheduled and don’t have any down time.
Right now, it’s summer.
I remember being a kid and spending hours at the beach, riding my bike all over the neighborhood, and playing baseball after dinner. Now that I am a parent, I spend hours trying to find the right summer camps and activities to enroll my kids in to keep the screen time to a reasonable amount (if you have read my previous article about gaming addiction, you know I am losing that battle).
But what about during school? It has to be better then, right?
Not really. A typical school day makes it difficult for kids to focus.
Elementary schools seem like they should have extended periods for kids to focus, question, experiment, and create. In reality, if you are the parent of an elementary school child, she might transition through morning meeting, math, small group math, English language arts (ELA), small group reading, independent centers, science, social studies, writing, and art—each with different objectives and expectations for demonstrating high quality work. Many of these learning experiences may involve that she works cooperatively with a group of students, which adds to the stress level for some children.
My oldest son has attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and elementary school was difficult for him. The number of transitions and the expectation for constant social interaction with other students was overwhelming. His escape mechanism was to read. He was always reading, but never on task. The teachers complained. The kids complained. His desk was moved away from the group. He had so much anxiety, he would chew his fingers until they bled.
I am an elementary principal, but I felt helpless as a parent while I watched my own son’s self-image change. He began to see himself as not fitting in, not belonging. By third grade, my son had learned that he was different, and not in a good way.
Current research shows that mindfulness training can be powerful for young children, particularly children with ADHD. In his book, The Way of Mindful Education: Cultivating Well-Being in Teachers and Students, Daniel Rechtschaffen advocates for using mindfulness in schools as a means to an end. He says,
“Students are told to pay attention a thousand times in school, but rarely are they taught to do so. We tell our kids to be nice to each other again and again, without ever teaching them incredibly accessible exercises that cultivate empathy and forgiveness. We tell students not to be so reactive and even put them in juvenile detention centers all because they can’t regulate the disturbances in their own bodies.”
Mindfulness training has been shown to increase focus and attention in children.
Some schools are starting to consider the power of bringing mindfulness into the classrooms. But it’s not enough. This generation of children is under a constant barrage of technology and sensory stimulation. Taking time to slow down and be present is not a perk—it is a necessity.
A Call to Action
Parents and community members have incredible influence over what happens in their local schools and many people do not realize it. Whether or not you have children in your local school, you are a part of the community that the school serves and your voice matters. Systemic change moves slowly in schools, but impacting even one classroom will have long-lasting reach.
Not sure where to start? Here are some simple things that you can do, whether you are a parent of a school-age child or not.
Meet with the Teacher or Principal
Meeting with your child’s teacher or the school principal is a good starting point to get to know their beliefs about mindfulness practices in the classroom. Elementary teachers are always looking for good read-aloud materials, so sharing titles like A Handful of Quiet: Happiness in Four Pebbles, by Thich Nhât Hańh or Peaceful Piggy Meditation by Kerry Lee MacLean might be a good start.
Email Board of Education Members
The Board of Education is actually the highest level of school governance, so speaking with them about what is happening (or not happening) in schools is a powerful tool. Sharing articles (like this one), videos like this TedTalk by Andy Puddicome, or the Rechtschaffen book will help board members understand your passion and hopefully take up the charge.
Use Social Media
Let’s face it, social media is the tool we all use to get the word out! If you want to build support for teaching mindfulness in schools, share links to articles, videos, blogs, and research on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. Adding other voices to your own will make your ask have more influence.
If your child’s school is not sold on the idea of taking 10 minutes out of the math lesson to teach mindfulness to kids, volunteer to help! Most teachers will really appreciate having an extra set of hands in the classroom and building a relationship with the teacher is a great way to start. Ask in the main office or look on your district’s website to find out about volunteering.
Talk to Community Agencies
If you can’t make any headway with your local school, reach out to the community to get support. Community agencies like the Boys and Girls Club or the YMCA often have relationships with schools and might even offer before school or after school programming in your local schools. If you are able to get mindfulness techniques incorporated into a club or after-school activity, you will be making a difference!
Schools have a unique opportunity to help our kids—but they have to realize it is equally as important as the curriculum.
Incorporating mindfulness into classrooms has incredible benefits such as reducing anxiety, improving thinking and focus, and reducing distractions. In the same amount of time it takes teachers to give instructions, they can teach kids to be more mindful and give them skills that will have lasting benefits.
Like anything that is introduced into a classroom, children of any age respond to clear expectations, consistency in routines, and positive reinforcement.
Planning for mindfulness breaks during the day will have incredible benefits over time for student focus, attention, and learning. Teaching children to be aware of their breathing, their feelings, and their thought bubbles will help them be more in control of their actions and reactions.
With everything that kids have to manage in their day, they need to take time to check in with their breathing and be present with themselves.
Think about it, if we can help kids grow up with less stress, less anxiety, and strategies to manage all that life has to throw at them, wouldn’t we be giving them more than we had ourselves?