Let me ask you a question… (and be honest!) How many of you have said to a student “You JUST need to calm down?!” or “Why can’t you just follow directions?!” Me too! We ALL have! Just being able to calm down, or simply being able to hear directions and carry out a task are actually skills that can, and should, be taught in schools. It wasn’t until I began teaching these skills that I had any luck with my most behaviorally challenged little friends while working as a behavior interventionist at an inner-city charter school. Just as we teach children to add, subtract, read and write, we must equip them with skills of self-regulation, focused attention and metacognition if we expect them to learn.
Skills of self-regulation (being able to calm down once emotions take over) and executive function (being able to listen to directions, absorb and comprehend the information, then carry out the task) require a part of the brain called the prefrontal cortex. But, unfortunately, this part of the brain isn’t fully developed until early adulthood. And, what’s worse, it doesn’t just develop in positive ways on its own, but is almost completely dependent on a child being raised in a nurturing home environment. Therefore, children growing up in stressful homes due to the busyness of everyday life, overscheduling, constant stimulation and especially poverty, often see a negative development of this part of the brain, which means these students lack the ability to control their impulses, carry out tasks and, most importantly, absorb information.
Fortunately, the same type of cognitive research shows us there's a way to build this part of the brain through mindfulness meditation. Mindfulness is the focus and clarity that develops through intentional moment to moment awareness. It is exercise for the mind. It’s like doing a bicep curl for the brain, specifically for the prefrontal cortex. Practicing mindfulness helps increase skills like self-regulation, executive function and focused attention while decreasing disruptive behaviors by equipping students with the skills of mental awareness and emotional control.
It is with this research in mind that I had our entire staff trained in mindfulness by Dr. Lindsay Bira, a local Clinical Health Psychologist here in San Antonio, TX who specializes in mindfulness with military soldiers suffering from PTSD. Although we understood the science of mindfulness after the training, and realized the importance of practicing it with our students, our staff lacked the tools we needed to practice mindfulness exercises consistently, and had a hard time helping students understand the importance of mindfulness to their academic and social & emotional well-being. And, with that, Calma was born in order to provide educators the tools they need to practice mindfulness with their students in the classroom not only to foster calmer, happier schools where more effective learning will occur, but so that students also understand the importance of mindfulness to their brain development, academic success and social & emotional well-being.
Together with student centered focus groups, teacher feedback and the scientific oversight of Dr. Bira, we wrote three (K-2nd, 3rd-5th and 6-12th) five lesson research-based mindfulness curricula complete with step-by-step instructions for classroom implementation and guided mindfulness audio. The 5 modules include: a body scan for present awareness, mindful breathing for emotional and behavioral regulation, mindful listening for focused attention, gratitude toward opportunity and others, and empathy: perspective-taking. We also offer a two-hour staff training, mindfulness audio for parents and supplemental resources for curricula implementation such as our Calma Mindfulness Journal.
Lastly, the question I hear all the time from those who observe our program is, “So what’s up with the sunglasses?” I have two answers for that. First, wearing sunglasses during the mindfulness activity helps students avoid eye-contact and privately focus while being in a public setting. Secondly, it’s just fun. When I started doing mindfulness I noticed elementary aged kids thought it was silly, and middle schoolers thought it was weird, but when I walked in with a bag of sunglasses, the little kids really began to focus and the teenagers were more inclined to fully and willingly participate.
Please check out our 5 week curricula complete with step-by-step instructions for classroom implementation & guided mindfulness audio, and our free audio available for parents. Read our blog that covers topics ranging from “mindfulness in schools” to “how to use Psychology language in the classroom” and “parenting tips and tricks”. Also enjoy our library page full of books and some articles covering the work of the best psychologists, doctors, economists, and educators of our time who are currently developing research-based approaches that enable kids to learn and flourish, academically, socially and emotionally. And, of course, contact us if you have any questions, comments or feedback - it’s the only way we can ensure our program is working most effectively.
May Calm and Loving Minds Achieve in your Homes and Schools.