Mindfulness is not only a popular topic for researchers and academics; it’s also becoming quite the mainstream phenomenon.
One of the reasons for the popularity of mindfulness is its simplicity. It is easy (relatively, anyway), inexpensive, and can be practiced by anyone at any time.
Although it might sound like madness trying to teach mindfulness concepts to young children, it’s actually perfectly suited for educational settings—and those settings in which it is most difficult to implement mindfulness are generally the ones that need it the most!
Read on to learn more about mindfulness in education, why it’s a good thing, how it can be effectively incorporated into the curriculum, and what kinds of training and learning opportunities exist for you.
This article contains:
- What is Mindfulness Education?
- The Research on Teaching Mindfulness in Schools
- What Does a Mindfulness Curriculum Include?
- 31 Resources and Activities to Implement Mindfulness
- Mindfulness Education for Continuing and Higher Education
- Mindfulness Education in the UK and Ireland
- Mindfulness Education in Australia and NZ
- The Mindfulness in Education Network Conference
- Recommended Books and Handbooks
- Important TED Talks
- A Take Home Message
What is Mindfulness Education?
“Mindfulness means paying attention in a particular way; on purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally.” – Jon Kabat-Zinn (1994)
The goals of mindfulness education are to help students learn:
- Techniques to calm and focus the mind
- Mindful communication
- Applying mindfulness skills to everyday life (iBme, n.d.)
If you do a quick Google search on “mindfulness education” or “mindfulness in education”, our trusty search engine will turn up millions of results. Many of these results will take you to pages about specific training programs or curricula on incorporating mindfulness into education.
Some focus on teaching mindfulness to students. Some focus on teaching educators how to teach mindfulness to students. Others might focus on teaching the administrative staff, parents, or the community as a whole. While their targeted audience may differ, the end results are usually the same: positive outcomes.
The Research on Teaching Mindfulness in Schools
Mindfulness as a subject and guiding principle in school has been a popular topic of research in recent decades, which means we have a lot of information on how mindfulness is best applied in schools and how this benefits students, teachers, and the community at large.
How to Teach and Apply Mindfulness
Researcher Erica Baxter (n.d.) from Surya Chandra Healing Yoga has some helpful suggestions for those looking to implement mindfulness programs in their school:
- Ensure that support comes from the top down.
- Teachers and staff should have training to help them reinforce any lessons taught by professional mindfulness instructors.
- Teachers should show full support for the mindfulness program to encourage their students.
- Parents should be involved and incorporate some aspects of mindfulness practice at home; a separate course for parents may be a best practice.
Richard Burnett (2009) echoes some of Baxter’s sentiments but gets a bit more specific as well. According to him, it’s vital for teachers and instructors of mindfulness to:
- Strike a balance between variety and structure in mindful activity; there must be some repetition to allow students to build up their practice, but too much and you will find them disengaged.
- Offer a long-term, “drip feed” approach to mindfulness when possible; students may learn better with this method rather than the intense, all-at-once method that adults are subjected to.
- Be flexible! Some exercises and lessons simply won’t work with space and resources available to you in the classroom, and you need to be ready for that.
If you’ve decided to start incorporating mindfulness into your classroom, this evidence-based introductory lesson from the Mindful Schools organization can help you get started. It includes an exercise on mindful listening, a quick wrap-up, and a short journal entry to engage your students in mindfulness practice.
For more information and other ideas on how to get your students into mindfulness, check out the Activities and Teaching Resources page at the Mindful Teachers website—it’s got a bunch of good suggestions!
25 Benefits of Incorporating Mindfulness in the Classroom
The Mindful Schools organization lists ten major areas in which studies have shown mindfulness can have a positive impact, including:
- Attention and focus
- Better grades
- More effective emotion regulation
- Better behavior in school
- Greater empathy and perspective-taking
- Better social skills
- Reduced test anxiety
- Less stress
- Decreased frequency/severity of posttraumatic symptoms
- Lower rates/severity of depression
These findings are indeed backed up by research; a 2015 study on mindfulness education in schools found that:
- Mindfulness helps students and staff manage their stress more effectively and work through it more quickly.
- Frequent mindfulness practice—even micro-sessions of a few minutes or less—imparts health benefits.
- Research suggests that mindfulness programs can improve cognitive performance as well as resilience to stress.
- Mindfulness programs are easily developed and adapted for specific ages and contexts.
- It is relatively easy to incorporate mindfulness into schools, provided there is sensitivity to the developmental stages and needs of the students (Bostic, Nevarez, Potter, Prince, Benningfield, & Aguirre, 2015).
Further, a review by Erica Baxter (n.d.) found that mindfulness has proven to help children and adolescents with:
- Reducing their anxiety.
- Helping them reduce and/or manage their stress.
- Improving their attention and ability to focus.
- Managing their emotion reactivity.
- Increasing their self-awareness and self-regulation.
- Helping them find peace.
- Encouraging their ability to calm themselves and regulate their emotions.
- Improving their executive function and higher-order abilities (i.e., planning, strategic thinking).
- Decreasing their test anxiety through enhancing memory and concentration, and reducing mind-wandering/daydreaming.
- Mitigating or reducing ADHD symptoms.
What Does a Mindfulness Curriculum Include?
A mindfulness curriculum generally includes mindfulness content delivered in short weekly (or more frequent) sessions that involves both the principles of mindfulness and the practice of mindfulness.
Depending on the specific school and the program they choose, the curriculum may include information on important concepts and definitions (e.g., awareness, acceptance, mindfulness, meditation), exercises (e.g., the body scan, mindful breathing, mindful awareness of the senses), and other mindfulness content that can be used by students in class or at home (e.g., guided meditations, relaxation imagery, written instructions, videos).
For specific ideas on what to include in a mindfulness curriculum, check out the resources and activities listed below.
31 Resources and Activities to Implement Mindfulness
We’ll start with the youngest group and work our way to adults. So first up—teaching mindfulness to toddlers and preschoolers!
Using Mindfulness in Early Childhood Education and Preschool
This great piece from Cassie Nguyen (2017) at TeachStarter describes 18 quick mindfulness activities you can use to promote mindfulness in your classroom.
You could implement the quick Mindful Breathing exercise:
- Students can stand or sit for this activity.
- sk students to put both hands on their belly.
- Students should close their eyes, or look down to their hands.
- Guide students in taking three slow deep breaths in and out to see if they can feel their hands being moved.
- You may like to count “1, 2, 3” for each breath in and “1, 2, 3” for each breath out, pausing slightly at the end of each exhale.
- Encourage students to think about how the breath feels, answering the following questions silently, in their mind.
o What is moving your hands? Is it the air filling your lungs?
o Can you feel the air moving in through your nose?
o Can you feel it moving out through your nose?
o Does the air feel a little colder on the way in and warmer on the way out?
o Can you hear your breath?
o What does it sound like?
Or, you might want to try the Body Scan exercise for children:
- Students lay on the floor, with their eyes closed if they are comfortable (or they may prefer to look at the ceiling).
- Encourage students to pay attention to their feet for 5 or 10 seconds.
- Questions to ask during a body scan:
o How does this body part feel?
o Is it cold or warm?
o Does it feel tight or relaxed?
o Is all or part of that body part touching the floor?
o Or clothing?
o What does that feel like?
- Move on to their toes, then ankles, then calves and knees. Continue body part by body part until you reach the head.
- Question how each part of the body feels to bring students’ awareness to their body in the moment.
- If there is tightness or stress, imagine breathing the stress out of that part of the body with each exhale.
You could also try the Mindful Steps exercise:
- This activity is best completed outdoors and if suitable, students may like to walk barefoot.
- Give students a clear boundary for where they can walk during this activity.
- Each student selects a small area where they can walk in a line for about 5 or 6 steps and back then back to where they started without getting into another person’s way.
- Begin this practice with three deep breaths, or the Shark Fin activity (#4 above).
- Take 5 or 6 steps in one direction, turn slowly and then take 5 or 6 steps back to where you started.
- While walking, students bring their awareness to their breath and their body.
o What does the ground feel like under your feet?
o Which part of your foot touches the ground first when you take a step?
o Does your body feel heavy or light today?
o Are you slouching when you walk?
o Or, is your back up quite straight?
o Try not to change the way you walk, but instead just notice how your body naturally moves.
If none of these catch your attention, perhaps you would like students to find the rhythm of their Heartbeat:
- You might like to begin this practice with three deep breaths, or the Shark Fin activity (#4 above).
- Students place their fingers or hands over the part of their body where they can best feel their pulse:
o On the side of their neck, under their jaw,
o Inside their wrist, or
o Over their heart.
- Ask students to close their eyes and notice how quickly or slowly their heart is beating.
- Encourage them to think about their current state of emotion and consider if this might be connected to how quickly or slowly their heart is beating.
- Direct students to stand and jump up and down on the spot ten times.
- Students return to sitting and feel their heartbeat again, noticing any changes.
- Students may like to close their eyes and focus on their heartbeat until it slows back down.
Mindfulness Education for Elementary and Primary School
While many of the exercises above will work for older children as well, there are some exercises and activities specifically designed for children in elementary/primary school.
Kaia Roman (2015) from Mind Body Green offers 7 fun ways to teach mindfulness to children of this age, including the Bell Listening Exercise:
- Ring a bell and ask the kids to listen closely to the vibration of the ringing sound.
- Tell them to remain silent and raise their hands when they no longer hear the sound of the bell.
- Then tell them to remain silent for one minute and pay close attention to the other sounds they hear once the ringing has stopped.
- After, go around in a circle and ask the kids to tell you every sound they noticed during that minute. This exercise is not only fun and gets the kids excited about sharing their experiences with others, but really helps them connect to the present moment and the sensitivity of their perceptions.
You could also try Roman’s Breathing Buddies exercise:
- Hand out a stuffed animal to each child (or another small object). If room allows, have the children lie down on the floor and place the stuffed animals on their bellies.
- Tell them to breathe in silence for one minute and notice how their Breathing Buddy moves up and down, and any other sensations that they notice. Tell them to imagine that the thoughts that come into their minds turn into bubbles and float away.
- The presence of the Breathing Buddy makes the meditation a little friendlier and allows the kids to see how a playful activity doesn’t necessarily have to be rowdy.
If you really want to engage the students’ senses in their mindfulness practice, try the Smell & Tell exercise:
- Pass something fragrant out to each child, such as a piece of fresh orange peel, a sprig of lavender or a jasmine flower.
- Ask them to close their eyes and breathe in the scent, focusing all of their attention only on the smell of that object. Scent can really be a powerful tool for anxiety-relief (among other things!).
Another sense-focused exercise is called The Art of Touch:
- Give each child an object to touch, such as a ball, a feather, a soft toy, a stone, etc.
- Ask them to close their eyes and describe what the object feels like to a partner.
- Then, have the partners trade places. Both this exercise and the previous one are simple, but compelling, ways to teach the kids the practice of isolating their senses from one another, and tuning into distinct experiences.
Click here to see the other mindfulness exercises for young students.
The Mindful Jar
This exercise by Karen Young (2015) at Hey Sigmund is a great tool you can use as an educator or a parent to introduce your charges to mindfulness.
Follow Young’s instructions to create a mindful jar:
- Start with a jar and fill it almost to the top with water. Into the water, add a few big dollops of glitter glue (or school glue and dry glitter). Pop on the lid and give the jar a shake.
- Here are some words:
‘Imagine that the glitter is like your thoughts when you’re stressed, mad or upset. See how they whirl around and make it really hard to see clearly? That’s why it’s so easy to make silly decisions when you’re upset – because you’re not thinking clearly. Don’t worry this is normal and it happens in all of us (yep, grownups too). [Now put the jar down in front of them.] Now watch what happens when you’re still for a couple of moments. Keep watching. See how the glitter starts to settle and the water clears? Your mind works the same way. When you’re calm for a little while, your thoughts start to settle and you start to see things much clearer.’
- The beautiful part of this exercise is that while they are learning about their emotional selves, they are also engaging in an act of mindfulness as they watch the glitter fall to the bottom of the jar.
The Mindful Snack
If it’s around snack time, you might find this activity from Young (2015) to be even more engaging.
Here’s how you do it.
Next time you have a bite to eat together, try mindful eating for a few minutes. Use a script like this to guide your children through the exercise:
‘Let’s try something called mindful eating. It’s where you slow things down when you eat so you can notice things you don’t usually notice. What does your food feel like to touch? What about the smell? What if you squish it a little – what does that feel like? Now take a bite but chew very slowly. Really notice your mouth moving up and down. Can you feel the food against your tongue and between your teeth. What does it taste like? What does it feel like? Keep chewing for a little while (20 to 30 seconds). When you’re ready, notice what the food feels like as it moves down your throat and towards your belly.’
Mindfulness Education for High School Students
The tack you’ll want to take with older students (those in junior high and high school) is a bit different—rather than focusing on being silly and having fun, they may appreciate a simple break from the grind and some good information on how mindfulness can help them.
A Mindful Moment
Start with a quick exercise that’s simple yet effective, like beginning class with a mindful moment.
Here are the instructions from Sarah Beach at Left Brain Buddha (n.d.):
- For middle and high school students, the school day is pretty busy! Science to math to history to PE to English to Spanish, punctuated by the crazy state-fair midway chaos known as “passing time.” Even in elementary school, kids spend a lot of their day taking in information, responding to the environment, interacting with others, and otherwise just being “ON.” We rarely give them a moment to pause, settle their nervous system, and refocus their attention and energy on a new task.
- At the beginning of class, or after a transition, you can take a mindful moment: invite kids to close their eyes (if they’re comfortable doing so), and take a few deep breaths. They can pay attention to breathing — what does it feel like when they breathe in and out? Or they can notice their thoughts — is their mind really busy or quiet right now?
A Mindful Break
This clever exercise comes from a middle school teacher at the 2015 Education Minnesota conference and can be a fun and engaging way for older students to practice mindfulness (and get a sense of autonomy and responsibility to boot!).
This is how to do it:
- At the beginning of each class, assign a bell to one student. Pick a different student each class. During that day’s lesson, the student is instructed to ring the bell when he or she feels the class needed a break (you may want to set some limits here, such as no more than two breaks during a 50-minute class).
- When the student rings the bell, even if the teacher is mid-sentence, the class will stop. In silence, everyone will stand up and stretch, and then sit down for 30 seconds or so of mindful breathing. Then, the student who rang the bell will prompt students to silently think of something they are grateful for.
- After this brief interruption (it should only take a minute or two), the class will resume where it stopped.
- This is a quick practice that gives both students and teachers a well-deserved and often much-needed break. Giving students ownership over the break and mindfulness exercise enhances their engagement in the practice, and it can also give the teacher valuable information about when students’ attention is waning.
Check in With Your Attention
If giving a student free reign with a bell doesn’t sound like it will work in your classroom, try the attention check exercise instead.
In this exercise, you (the teacher) will keep control of the schedule and you can introduce it when you see fit. You can have students practice this exercise at any point in the class, even during the middle of a lesson if you think students really need it.
To implement it, all you need to do is stop whatever the class is doing and tell the students to hit pause and check in with their attention. Ask them:
- Is your attention here, in class?
- Was your mind wandering?
- If so, where did your attention go?
At this point, you should be sure to tell them that a little mind-wandering is totally normal and healthy, but emphasize that they ultimately have control over their mind; they can catch their wandering brain in the act and gently guide it back to the present if they so desire!
Encourage them to take a moment to notice what their mind is doing and remind them that they have a choice about where to direct their attention.
End with a Mindful Moment
To bookend your mindfulness lesson (or your class in general), try this exercise. It’s a good way to give “closure” to the lesson in a way that is likely more mindful, calm, and peaceful way than usual!
Here’s what you do:
- At the end of class, give students around 3 to 5 minutes to focus on their breathing. Instruct them to close their eyes if that feels comfortable, and simply focus on their breath—coming in, and going out.
- Tell the students to think about what they have learned and accomplished in class today.
- Give them a few quiet minutes to settle and bring themselves back into balance.
- End with a positive statement; this can be about how much you care about them, how much you believe in them, or how hard they worked today.
This simple activity can act as an excellent closing activity for your lesson.
To see these exercises from Sarah Rudell Beach in more detail, read about them here.
Mindfulness Education for Continuing and Higher Education
If you work with college students, graduate students, or continuing professionals (or if you belong to one of those groups yourself), never fear—there are mindfulness opportunities and resources for you too! Not only can most of the activities and exercises above be adapted for use with young adults, and not only do most of the mindfulness-based stress reduction and mindfulness-based cognitive therapy exercises also apply for college students, there are many organizations that specifically target this audience in both mindfulness research and application.
If you’re interested in making mindfulness a central component of your education-related career, you should definitely get familiar with the Association for Contemplative Mind in Higher Education (ACMHE). This organization is described as:
“a multidisciplinary academic association with an international membership of educators, administrators, staff, students, researchers, and other professionals committed to the transformation of higher education through the recovery and development of the contemplative dimensions of teaching, learning, and knowing” (ACMHE).
You might also be interested in the Harvard Graduate School of Education’s Mindfulness for Educators program, a program designed to help educators teach, manage stress, and balance their work and life more effectively. Learn more by clicking here.
If you’re a college student or if you work directly with college students, you should know about Koru Mindfulness. Koru Mindfulness is:
“an evidence-based curriculum specifically designed for teaching mindfulness, meditation, and stress management to college students and other young adults.”
It consists of three core components:
- Koru Basic – an introduction to mindfulness and meditation, taught as a weekly, 75-minute class over four weeks by a trained and certified Koru Teacher.
- Koru 2.0 – an “advanced” class for students who have completed Koru Basic and are eager for more mindfulness; this course also consists of weekly, 75-minute classes taught over four weeks.
- Koru Retreat – a half-day silent mindfulness retreat for students wanting to try a more intense mindfulness experience.
Koru Mindfulness also offers training for teachers to deliver the mindfulness curriculum. Click here to learn more about all of Koru’s offerings.
Mindfulness Education in the UK and Ireland
If you’re based in the UK or Ireland and you’re interested in learning more about mindfulness education (as either a student/participant or as a teacher or administrator), you have several options available to you. Check out the organizations and links below to learn more.
- The Mindfulness Initiative Training for Kids (UK, link)
- Oxford Mindfulness Centre MBCT Teacher Training Pathway (UK, link)
- Professional Training in the Applied Use of Mindfulness for Children from the British Mindfulness Institute (UK, link)
- Mindfulness Centre Professional Training (Ireland, link)
- Irish Mindfulness Institute, Mindfulness Courses (Ireland, link)
- Irish Mindfulness Academy Courses for Individuals, Professionals, Diploma in Mindfulness and Positive Psychology, Mindfulness for Wellbeing in Schools (Ireland, link)
- Being Mindful Online Mindfulness Training (online, but based in Ireland, link)
The Mindfulness in Schools Project (Training)
The Mindfulness in Schools Project is perhaps the most well-known and influential mindfulness in education training program in the UK, and they offer tons of helpful resources, classes, and full-length trainings that you may find helpful.
Check out the links below to see for yourself:
- Mindfulness in Schools Project .b 4-Day Training
- Mindfulness in Schools Project .b Foundations 3-Day Training
- Mindfulness in Schools Project School Mindfulness Lead Residential Training
- Mindfulness in Schools Project Teach Paws b Training
- Mindful Schools (Some online courses)
For other resources and UK-based training programs on parent and teacher mindfulness, check out this link.
Mindfulness Education in Australia and NZ
There are also a few different options in Australia and New Zealand, including a couple that have really taken off. Check out the links and organizations in this list to learn more:
- Mindfulness for Primary School Classroom Teachers One-Day Training (Lismore Area, Northern NSW)
- Mindfulness Skills for Teacher Well-Being (Australia)
- Whole of School Mindfulness Programs (customized to the school; in Australia)
- Kids Matter AU Upcoming Sessions (Australia)
- Mindfulness Meditation Australia Courses (Australia)
- Pause, Breath, Smile Educator Training from the Mindfulness Education Group (New Zealand)
- Mindful Parenting and Teacher Training Programmes from Mindful Schools NZ (New Zealand)
The Mindfulness in Education Network Conference
The Mindfulness in Education Network (or MiEN) is an organization that was established by students, colleagues, and peers of Zen Master and peace activist Thich Nhat Hanh. This group came together in 2001 to affirm that mindfulness can act as a treatment and prevention measure to the increasing stress, conflict, and confusion in both educational settings and in the world overall (www.mindfuled.org).
Each year since 2008, the MiEN organizes a conference to host mindfulness researchers, educators, instructors, and anyone interested in the benefits of mindfulness in education. This year’s conference has come and gone, but you can learn more about past conferences on MiEN’s website. To see information on these conferences, click here (2018 conference) or here (2008 to 2017 conferences), and keep an eye out for the 2019 conference!
Recommended Books and Handbooks
As a hot topic in psychology and in pop culture lately, it’s no surprise that there are a ton of books on mindfulness out there. If you’re interested in learning more, check out our recommendations here:
- Mindfulness for Teachers: Simple Skills for Peace and Productivity in the Classroom by Patricia A. Jennings
- The Way of Mindful Education: Cultivating Well-Being in Teachers and Students by Daniel Rechtschaffen
- Happy Teachers Change the World: A Guide for Cultivating Mindfulness in Education by Thich Nhat Hanh
- Cultivating Mindfulness in the Classroom by Jeanie M. Iberlin and Mike Ruyle
- The Mindful Education Workbook: Lessons for Teaching Mindfulness to Students by Daniel Rechtschaffen
- Handbook of Mindfulness in Education: Integrating Theory and Research into Practice by Kimberly A. Schonert-Reichl and Robert W. Roeser
- Everybody Present: Mindfulness in Education by Nikolaj Rotne and Diddle Flor Rotne
Important TED Talks
If TED Talks are more your “style” than books, you’re in luck! There are five great TED Talks on mindfulness, specifically mindfulness in education, that you can watch whenever you find the time:
- Mindfulness in Schools by Richard Burnett
- Mindfulness in Education, Learning from the Inside Out by Amy Burke
- Why Aren’t We Teaching You Mindfulness? By AnneMarie Rossi
- All it Takes is 10 Mindful Minutes by Andy Puddicombe
- Mindfulness and Neural Integration by Daniel Siegel
A Take Home Message
I hope this piece has sparked your interest in learning more about incorporating mindfulness into education, or—better yet—sparked your interest in actually doing it!
The research behind mindfulness in education is not completely unanimous in its positive findings, and there may be some as-yet-unknown factors that impact outcomes, but it’s pretty clear that practicing mindfulness doesn’t do any harm!
If this piece captured your attention and you want to dive deeper into the possibilities presented by incorporating mindfulness into education, please refer to the links above and the references to learn more.
Do you have any experience incorporating mindfulness into the classroom? Have you encountered it as a student, as a teacher/instructor, or both? What are your thoughts? Let us know in the comments section!
Thanks for reading, and may you stay present and grateful for each moment!
- Baxter, E. (n.d.). Mindfulness in schools: Benefits for students, teachers, and parents. Surya Chandra Healing Yoga. Retrieved from http://www.suryachandrahealingyoga.com/images/mindfulnessInSchools_ericaBaxter.pdf
- Beach, S. R. (n.d.). 5 mindfulness practices to bring to your classroom. Left Brain Buddha. Retrieved from http://leftbrainbuddha.com/5-mindfulness-practices-bring-classroom/
- Bostic, J. Q., Nevarez, M. D., Potter, M. P., Prince, J. B., Benningfield, M. M., & Aguirre, B. A. (2015). Being present at school: Implementing mindfulness in schools. Child & Adolescent Psychiatric Clinics, 24, 245-259. doi:10.1016/j.chc.2014.11.010
- Burnett, R. (2009). Mindfulness in schools: Learning lessons from the adults – secular and Buddhist. Mindfulness in Schools. Retrieved from https://mindfulnessinschools.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/03/Mindfulness-in-schools-dissertation-Burnett.pdf
- Campbell, E. (2013). Research round-up: Mindfulness in schools.
- https://ibme.info/ (Inward Bound Mindfulness Education website)
- Kabat-Zinn, J. (1994). Wherever you go there you are. London, UK: Piatkus.
- Nguyen, C. (2017). 18 amazing mindfulness activities for the classroom. Teach Starter: The Chalkboard. Retrieved from https://www.teachstarter.com/blog/classroom-mindfulness-activities-for-children/
- Roman, K. (2015). 7 fun ways to teach your kids mindfulness. Mind Body Green Relationships. Retrieved from https://www.mindbodygreen.com/0-18136/7-fun-ways-to-teach-your-kids-mindfulness.html
- Young, K. (2015). Mindfulness for children: Fun, effective ways to strengthen mind, body, spirit. Hey Sigmund. Retrieved from https://www.heysigmund.com/mindfulness-for-children-fun-effective-ways-to-strengthen-mind-body-spirit/