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Natural Awakenings Central New Jersey


Mindfulness in the Classroom: Meditative Training Helps Kids Thrive


by Ronica O’Hara

“When I feel like I really want to get angry and yell, I sometimes, like, take deep breaths. My brain slows down and I feel more calm and I’m ready to speak to that person.” Those self-aware words come from a 5-year-old Los Angeles girl in the film Just Breathe.

A 9-year-old boy in a tough British neighborhood forgets about “all the scary stuff” when he does “petal breathing”—opening and closing his fingers in time with his breath. “If I concentrate on my breathing, the worrying thoughts just go ‘pop’ and disappear,” he confided to The Guardian newspaper.

This is the effect that mindfulness training in the classroom often has on students, and it’s key to why it’s happening all over the world—not just in the U.S. and the UK, but in more than 100 countries, including Australia, Taiwan and India. What started a few decades ago as a small experiment in progressive schools is rapidly gathering speed as emerging research documents the strong positive effects of mindfulness on developing brains.

A 2015 meta-review from researchers at the University of Melbourne, in Australia, which evaluated 15 studies in six countries involving 1,800 students, showed three broad outcomes: higher well-being, better social skills and greater academic achievement. They were more optimistic, self-accepting and happier, more likely to help others, more able to focus on lessons and be creative, and less likely to be angry, anxious or disobedient.

“Mindfulness means paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally,” is how it’s described by Jon Kabat-Zinn, whose pioneering research at Harvard in the 1980s helped kick off mindfulness as a scientifically based, nonsectarian approach to a calmer, clearer mind. It has spread since then into business, health care and professional sports, as well as schools: Googling “mindfulness in education” brings up 116 million links.

“Mindfulness offers children the skills they need today to meet the age-old challenges of growing up within the new context of social media and often absurdly high expectations,” says holistic doctor Amy Saltzman, co-founder and director of the Association for Mindfulness in Education. Mindfulness is now being taught in urban, suburban and rural schools in 50 states. Such programs can be low- or no-cost, structured in many ways, taught any time and conducted without special equipment—important for cash- and time-strapped schools.

As a grassroots movement, mindfulness programs run the gamut. Hundreds of schools and districts nationwide have incorporated into curricula such evidence-proven mindfulness programs as those developed by Mindful Schools, Learning2Breathe and MindUP, which often involve teacher training and structured lessons.

Sometimes mindfulness is simply a grade school teacher ringing a bell signaling five minutes of silence, giving children something to focus on with closed eyes: a sound, a bite of fruit, a stuffed animal. A middle school teacher may use a five-minute guided app meditation from Calm or Headspace to settle down students after lunch. Some schools offer moments of silence during the day, a quiet room to go to or an optional class in mindfulness.

Others find that teaching mindfulness during “detention” has a soothing effect, offering oft-traumatized kids a rare feeling of peace. “Because everyone has distractions and strong emotions, learning to observe these inner experiences with curiosity and openness is an important part of all children’s education,” says psychologist Patricia Broderick, Ph.D., founder of Learning2Breathe, a mindfulness curriculum for junior and senior high school students.

Schools sometimes use parental consent forms to counter concerns about any potential religious implications. Often, a school’s program expands organically as one impassioned teacher draws in others. “The one single factor that determines a program’s effectiveness is the depth and consistency of personal practice of those teaching it,” says Saltzman. In fact, a University of Wisconsin 2013 study found that teachers that practiced a guided meditation 15 minutes a day for eight weeks had less anxiety, stress and burnout during the school year; those conditions worsened in the control group.

In Middleton, Wisconsin, high school counselor Gust Athanas has watched as mindfulness exercises have made students calmer, kinder, more focused and feel closer to each other and to teachers: “A number of students have told me it’s the part of the school day they look forward to the most!”

Ronica A. O’Hara is a Denver-based natural health writer. Connect at [email protected].




“Just Breathe”: Four-minute video, shown on Oprah, of 5-year-olds discussing mindfulness.

Calm, a meditation app, offers guided mindfulness exercises and is offered free to any K-12 teacher.

Headspace, another popular mindfulness app, is also offered free to teachers, and sometimes works directly with school districts.
Tick Talk

Spring officially sprung on March 21. We have turned our clocks ahead. We are looking forward to warm winds, sunny skies and the smell of fresh cut grass. The daffodils and tulips have recently bloomed and we are just starting with the yard work that comes with the warmer weather.  Sadly, another season has started ramping up.  Tick season.

•             The best form of protection is prevention. Educating oneself about tick activity and how our behaviors overlap with tick habitats is the first step.

•             According to the NJ DOH, in 2022 Hunterdon County led the state with a Lyme disease incidence rate of 426 cases per 100,000 people. The fact is ticks spend approximately 90% of their lives not on a host but aggressively searching for one, molting to their next stage or over-wintering. This is why a tick remediation program should be implemented on school grounds where NJ DOH deems high risk for tick exposure and subsequent attachment to human hosts.

•             Governor Murphy has signed a bill that mandates tick education in NJ public schools. See this for the details.  Tick education must now be incorporated into K-12 school curriculum. See link:

•             May is a great month to remind the public that tick activity is in full swing. In New Jersey, there are many tickborne diseases that affect residents, including Anaplasmosis, Babesiosis, Ehrlichiosis, Lyme disease, Powassan, and Spotted Fever Group Rickettsiosis.

•             For years, the focus has mainly been about protecting ourselves from Lyme disease. But other tick-borne diseases are on the rise in Central Jersey. An increase of incidence of Babesia and Anaplasma are sidelining people too. These two pathogens are scary because they effect our blood cells. Babesia affects the red blood cells and Anaplasma effects the white blood cells.

•             Ticks can be infected with more than one pathogen. When you contract Lyme it is possible to contract more than just that one disease. This is called a co-infection. It is super important to pay attention to your symptoms. See link.

A good resource from the State:


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