The greatest challenge is stating the problem in a way that will allow a solution.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Mindfulness in Schools

Many children today, particularly in economically-disadvantaged areas, are struggling in a variety of domains: academically, psychologically and cognitively. For example, 75% of 12th grade public school students in the United States are not doing math at grade level and 60% are not reading at grade level (Children’s Defense Fund, 2008).

On average in the United States, a public school student is suspended every second and every eleven seconds a high school student drops out of school (Children’s Defense Fund, 2008).

Mental health problems affect one in every five young people at any given time and only one-third of those that need mental health services are getting them (NIMH, 2009; Wu et al., 2001).

The Mindful Schools program aims to improve students’ school-readiness, aptitude, and mental health by teaching children the skill of mindfulness. Mindfulness has been defined as “the awareness that emerges through paying attention on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally to the unfolding of experience moment to moment” (Kabat-Zinn, 2003). Mindfulness can be used to increase the space between a stimulus and one’s response to it, enabling improved decision making ability and shifts in long-standing behaviors.

Research has demonstrated evidence-based mindfulness interventions to be effective for a variety of physical and mental health difficulties in adults (Greeson, 2009; Baer, 2003; Grossman, Niemann, Schmidt, & Walach, 2004). Over time, it has been adapted for adolescents and younger children to help them cope with the struggles they are currently encountering (Burke, 2010).

Given the aforementioned struggles of children today and the potential of mindfulness to reduce some of these problems,various mindfulness interventions for children have been developed.

One such intervention is the Mindful Schools program, which has gathered anecdotal evidence (available at, informal survey data (available at, and a pilot study, which is discussed in this whitepaper.

Purpose of Study
The pilot study described in this whitepaper sought to assess whether the Mindful Schools program, an in-class mindfulness training intervention, would be related to increased academicachievement, attention capacities, academic engagement, social relatedness, teacher self-efficacy, and decreased behavior problems among 79 school-age children in 2nd and 3rd grades.

Participants and Intervention
The Mindful Schools program was offered for 5 weeks—3 sessions a week for 15 minutes per session—at Berkley Maynard Academy (an elementary school in Oakland, California) for a total of 3 hours and 45 minutes of in-class training with students and teachers present. The students received training in the following mindfulness-based activities: listening, breathing, movement, walking, eating, seeing, emotions, test taking, activities of daily living, and lessons on the promotion of kindness and caring.

Inherent in all these activities is an emphasis on mindfulness and continually strengthening attention to, and awareness of, the present moment. All students in each participating classroom received the program intervention, but only those students who consented (self and parent/caregiver) completed study measures.

The efficacy of this program was measured by a variety of quantitative measures (e.g., child self-report, teacher report on each child, and a child attention task on the computer) at three time points (pre- and post-intervention, and at 3-months post-intervention). It took approximately 20 minutes for each student to complete the measures, and under 5 minutes per student for teachers to complete measures at each data collection point.

Baer, R. A. (2003). Mindfulness training as a clinical intervention: A conceptual and empirical review. Clinical Psychology: Science and Practice, 10, 125–143.
Burke, C. A. (2010). Mindfulness-based approaches with children and adolescents: A preliminary review of current research in an emergent field. Journal of Child and Family Studies 19, 133-144.
Children’s Defense Fund (CDF) (2008). State of America’s Children 2008 Report. Washington, D.C.
Fan, J., McCandliss, B. D., Sommer, T., Raz, A., & Posner, M. I. (2002). Testing the efficiency and independence of attentional networks. Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, 14, 340-347.
Furrur, C. & Skinner, E.A. (2003). Sense of relatedness as a factor in children’s academic engagement and performance. Journal of Educational Psychology, 95, 148–162.