The Atlantic

Does Mindfulness Actually Work in Schools?

Scholars want to know whether the practice helps young kids of color succeed academically.
Source: Courtesy of Kathy Richland Photography

A research team in Chicago has spent a year studying whether students who are taught to be in touch with their emotions do better academically. And they say the initial results are promising.

Perhaps counterintuitively, when kids take a break from a classroom lesson on the solar system to spend a quiet moment alone watching a three-minute nature video, or participate in a teacher-guided breathing exercise with their class after lunch, they seem to become better overall students. That’s likely because the children have a renewed sense of focus, they handle transitions from one lesson to the next better, and they need less time to regroup if they become upset about something, said Amanda Moreno, an assistant professor at the Erikson Institute, a child-development-focused graduate school in Chicago.

Moreno and her team received $3 million, most of it from the U.S. Education Department, to study what is known as “mindfulness” in more than 30 high-poverty Chicago public schools over the course of four years. They are watching approximately 2,000 kindergarten through second-grade students. My, but the basic idea is to allow kids, as Moreno told me, to “slow down and not be on automatic-pilot and not be overwhelmed by all the things they could be focusing on.” The idea has been popular in , but there’s been little in the way of evidence to back it up as an effective academic intervention, and where studies exist, they’ve tended to focus on older students. Erikson says its ongoing research is the largest mindfulness study of children funded by the federal government ever conducted and the only in the country to focus specifically on whether mindfulness exercises improve academic achievement for young kids of color from low-income families.

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