Over the past few years, the idea of introducing meditation to public schools and getting all the kids to practice it has been received by various organizations and individuals with mixed reactions.
Some people feel it would enhance the lives of the children mentally, emotionally, and physically. Others feel like it would be robbing the children of the freedom of choosing their religion and would also make them passive students.
Here we take a closer look at this debate and investigate how fruitful meditation in public schools is versus its downsides.
The Ongoing Debate on Bringing Meditation to Public Schools
Slowly by slowly, meditation is creeping into public schools as more educational institutions are considering it a good practice to improve the overall well-being of the students.
Meditation organizations are also taking up the role of coming up with easy to work with and reliable curriculum that can be used by teachers to introduce the practice to their students and help them benefit from it as much as possible.
Organizations like Mindful schools have created various meditation-based courses that aim to hike the level of mindfulness of the children. They teach the instructors how to get kids to understand and work with these practices in a fun way that will ensure they benefit as well enjoy the whole experience.
Some organizations are taking it a step further by appealing to a much bigger audience through Zoom classes which students from all around the world can take advantage of.
While this seems like a good idea to get the future generations ready to handle the stress that comes with the ever-changing world, various individuals such as concerned parents and different heads as well as employees of organizations feel like this is in a way robbing the children the freedom to choose their religion.
They feel by imposing these practices, which have roots in Buddhist or Hindu traditions, to children is leaning them towards embracing these religions without choice.
People from different religious beliefs such as Christianity, Islam, and others feel uncomfortable with this approach even though most of the aspects of these practices that carry religious beliefs and effects have been taken away.
There are many benefits that children may take from these meditative practices. These benefits include improving emotional health, focus and attention, working memory, promoting creativity, reducing stress and anxiety, improving attributes such as compassion, and improving quality of sleep (2)(3)(4)(5)(6).
However, despite all these benefits, some people still feel that meditation and other related practices will make the students dormant and passive rather than elevate their lives and academic performance.
What Research Shows On Meditation and Mindfulness in Schools
The research that has been made thus far in meditation for kids seems quite promising as a technique to help improve the lives and experiences of the children.
Let’s take a look at a couple of studies and what they found.
A study was done with the help of 100 students from the 6th grade, some of whom were taken through mindfulness meditation that was guided by their teachers in a classroom set up and the others acted as the control group. The results showed that those who went through the meditation sessions were less likely to encourage thoughts of self-harm or suicide within themselves compared to the control group (7).
A 2014 meta-analysis that reviewed 15 studies focused on meditation in schools that used various meditation programs such as mindfulness and transcendental meditation found that they helped improve the well-being of the students for the most part. However, based on the different factors that are considered when measuring well-being, the overall outcome was not that big. (8)
Another study that aimed to determine the impact of mindfulness-based programs on children ranging from 7 years of age to 9 years in a school environment found that these programs help to raise their level of awareness and understanding of the children’s thought processes and also promoted high order thinking. They also help to improve how students interact in classes within themselves and with other school-based activities (9).
A 2017 meta-analysis was done that looked through 72 studies on mindfulness on the younger generation in classrooms as well as outside of the classrooms. The results found showed that there were small improvements in the participants in areas including introspection, regulating emotions, focus, and attention (10).
Yet another study that was done on children in 4th and 5th grade who used mindfulness programs concluded that the children highly benefited from the program as indicators of attributes such as emotional stability, optimism, higher cognitive performance, empathy, and overall control were strong (11).
Overall, these studies and study reviews show that meditation and other meditation-based practices have some level of positive impact on the students if they are done consistently. These improvements, though small in some cases, can go a long way for the students and better their lives.
However, more careful research in the future that is well planned and executed, objective and accurate is needed to help researchers understand how well to apply and optimize the programs so that the students can be hugely uplifted by them.
Rewarding Approaches to Bringing Meditation and Mindfulness in Classrooms
While meditation in school is still under its initial stages of research, some practical ways that have been adopted by some schools which are seeing positive results with the practice can be used to help put in place a good program that will have less resistance and more rewards. Some of these practical ways include:
1. Learning, understanding, and keeping track of the science and research – It is advisable to read the current research studies that have been carried out in this area and understand their findings as well as their limitations to get a good grasp of the situation. Also, keeping track of these studies to discover the progress and the new findings is critical in keeping the programs we use up to date. More to that, as we apply these programs and curriculum in our schools, we should also make an effort of tracking the progress of the students to see how beneficial they are and how we can optimize for better results in the near future.
2. Training the teachers – Teachers are an important aspect and factor of the success of self-improvement programs in public schools. We should aim to get teachers trained on meditation so that they are part of the program. We can also find teachers who have already been trained in this area so that they come well-equipped to take on the programs and help the children get better at them.
3. Engaging every stakeholder of the school in it – We should have consistent discussions with everyone involved in the learning process of the children. Beginning from the parents to the teachers, the students themselves, the school management, the supportive staff, and everyone else based on various school structures set in place. In these conversations, we can share ideas on how to better these programs, dismiss any myths and misunderstandings through explanation and providing evidence and proof as well as bring experts to participate in these discussions. On top of that, we can also encourage everyone to be involved in these programs in different capacities so that we can take benefit from them.
4. Getting properly structured programs that fit your school as a single entity – Schools are organized and run differently and we should appreciate the diversity. And on the same breath, we should come up with curricula and programs that fit the needs and desires of our schools individually. We should first understand the children in the schools we are in, and figure out an approach plan that we know has a higher chance of sitting well with them. And since everyone has different experiences with meditation, we can provide alternative practices such as yoga and mindfulness, among others, for the students to accommodate everyone.
5. Creating a conducive environment for it to thrive – As we implement our plans and programs in schools, we should also ensure that we provide a suitable environment for them to succeed. This means considering the cost and making it fair and affordable for everyone to work with them, providing enough space and sweet spots for the practice that don’t interfere with the normal learning process, and fully secularizing the practices through consultation from experts and pioneers of meditation practices so that no one feels uncomfortable about them. Considering and accommodating every aspect that plays a role towards the success of the programs will contribute to higher chances of success.
In essence, meditation is a life-improving practice that may help the children better manage the stress that comes with school life as well as their personal lives.
Research has also shown that it brings more benefits to the children as they go, although the results have not been consistent with every study.
As more research is done in the future, we believe that we will get to understand which meditative practices have a more rewarding experience for children, how meditation affects children at different stages of development, and how to work with that to ensure that the children are having a better experience with the practice, are growing and developing better than the average kid and have improved overall well-being.