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3 Ideas for Teaching Mindfulness in the Classroom

How mindfulness supports humane education and helps build resilience

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Written by Sinclaire Dickinson, IHE Communications & Marketing Specialist, IHE graduate student, and yoga teacher

Building awareness is powerful, whether it’s awareness of a butterfly pollinating the flowers around us or of a major housing-inequality issue in our community. There is also power in being aware of what is inside of us—what we’re reacting to or how current events make us feel. Mindfulness is a practice that helps us cultivate awareness, and it can be very useful, especially in a fast-paced world.

Mindfulness can also be an important component of humane education and a complement to solutionary learning and work. It helps us connect and empathize with others, become more self-aware, communicate more compassionately, and collaborate more effectively. And mindfulness practices help us navigate the overwhelming feelings we may experience when tackling environmental, social justice, and animal issues.

Benefits of mindfulness in the classroom

There has been an increase in anxiety and depression among youth (PBR.org, 2022), and while mindfulness practices by themselves aren’t sufficient to address mental health problems among students, they can be beneficial. According to mindfulschools.org, research finds that mindfulness practice leads to:

  • Decreased stress and anxiety
  • Increased attention
  • Improved interpersonal relationships
  • Strengthened compassion

Educators have also reported that mindfulness helps their students build skills such as:

  • Conflict resolution
  • De-escalation
  • Confidence
  • Acceptance of self and others

When can students start benefiting from mindfulness? The earlier, the better! Caroline Kelley, IHE graduate student and founder of Peaceful Child Miami, says practicing mindfulness helps early her preschool students self-regulate and understand their feelings. She’s confident they will be able to use these skills as they learn and grow.

“We have noticed a decrease in challenging behaviors since we adopted daily meditation into our routine. When our children are faced with a difficult task, it is common to see them take a moment for some belly breathing before they continue.”

Caroline Kelley

Mindfulness for teachers

Bringing mindfulness practices into the classroom doesn’t just benefit students, it helps teachers balance the demands of their work, too. Preschool teacher Paige Carter, who received her M.Ed. in Mindfulness for Educators from IHE’s affiliate, Antioch University, says the biggest benefit mindfulness has offered her is the ability to stay calm in challenging situations.

Over half of K-12 teachers in the U.S. are reporting burnout amidst changing environments due to COVID-19 and debates over what belongs in curriculum (Gallup, 2022). Mindfulness training for teachers could go a long way in building resilience for educators who find themselves overworked, under-resourced, and in the middle of a political tug-of-war.

3 Mindfulness activities for your classroom

1. Start each day with a breathing exercise and a simple class “mantra.”

At Peaceful Child, they use deep belly breathing and the mantra, “We are going to have a peaceful day. We are going to have lots of fun, be kind to each other, and always remember that peace begins with me.” In Paige Carter’s class, they use “I am kind. I am smart. I am important. I am loved.”

Depending upon the age of your students and your class culture, you can write a mantra for them yourself or engage them in a collaborative process of creating their own class mantra.

2. Introduce pauses throughout the day.

This is a simple practice with big benefits for the mind and body. Between activities or subjects, introduce the concept of pausing. Pauses can be taken together as a class and encouraged for individuals—yourself included! Here is a simple script you can use:

Now let’s take a moment to pause. Close your eyes and soften the muscles in your face. Wiggle your toes and then feel the earth below you. Take a deep inhale and notice where in your body you feel it expand. On the exhale, release completely.

At the end of the pause, you can lead students into a simple yoga pose like extended mountain, in which you reach both arms up to the ceiling and lengthen through the sides of the body. This can be done while seated or standing.

3. Close the day with a Naikan practice.

Close each day—or select days—with Naikan, a Japanese practice of self-reflection. Have your students answer these three questions:

What have I received today?

What have I given today?

What troubles and difficulties have I caused today?

This practice helps students cultivate gratitude and a sense of perspective. Find more information on how to introduce Naikan to your students in our lesson plans and activities library.

Mindfulness as a foundation for humane education

Through teaching humane education, we hope to build a more just and peaceful world. On the road to creating that world, we’ll need awareness, empathy, and resilience. If we’re preparing the next generation to go out and find solutions to environmental, social, and animal issues, we better set them up with a solid foundation in themselves.

As Caroline Kelley sees it, “Mindfulness is intertwined with humane education. Giving children these valuable tools to maneuver the day-to-day struggles in a peaceful manner is setting them up to tackle larger societal issues later on…. Then maybe we can finally have a generation who chooses peace.”