Not knowing the answer to a question when you’re called on in front of the entire class. Forgetting your homework. The kid behind you pulling your hair. School poses a lot of stressful moments, but how children (and teachers) react to them can make all the difference.
A new study suggests that mindfulness education — lessons on techniques to calm the mind and body — can reduce the negative effects of stress and increase students’ ability to stay engaged, helping them stay on track academically and avoid behavior problems.
While small, the study of sixth-graders at a Boston charter school adds to a still-growing body of research about a role for mindfulness in the classroom. In recent years, the topic has excited researchers and educators alike as a possible tool to help students face both behavioral and academic challenges by reducing anxiety and giving them a new way to handle their feelings and emotions.
After finding that students who self-reported mindful habits performed better on tests and had higher grades, researchers with the Boston Charter Research Collaborative — a partnership between the Center for Education Policy Research at Harvard University (CEPR), MIT, and Transforming Education — wanted to know if school-based mindfulness training could help more students reap similar benefits.
They designed a study focusing on sixth-graders in another Boston-area school. The study, published in a white paper by a team including Martin West of the Harvard Graduate School of Education, showed that sixth-graders who participated in an eight-week mindfulness were less stressed out than their classmates who hadn’t. Practicing mindfulness had helped hone the ability to focus in the moment, expanding students' capacity to learn and regulate their emotions.