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Calm minds equal happy, healthy kids ready to learn

Issue: Volume 97, Number 18

Posted:
Reference #: 1H9mUM

Many schools are turning to programmes such as mindfulness and yoga to help their students build resilience, and it’s not only transforming student wellbeing but is creating a change in the classroom too.

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Two schools that have been using mindfulness and self-reflection practices are Riversdale School in Southland and Avalon Intermediate School in Lower Hutt.

Sara Warnock, the owner of Seedling Yoga, is also a qualified primary school teacher and has been teaching yoga to students at Avalon Intermediate. The classes, which have been sponsored by Hutt City Council, have been a hit with students, teachers and Principal Ian Hastie.

“The kids seem to really love it,” says Ian. “[In last year’s end-of-year reports] there were lots of mentions of yoga from kids who were saying how helpful it’s been.”

“Teachers tell me they notice a difference in the classes. From what I can see, it seems to be giving our students some tools to cope when things get tough, and ‘tough’ could be a whole lot of things. It could be learning; it might simply be that a student is having a tough day at the office; it might be that their behaviour is letting them down. 

“I’ve noticed that they are able to think a bit more carefully about what they do and why they do it. From a long-term perspective, we see this as something that our kids will take with them to college and adulthood, and [they will] know that’s a good thing for them.”

Riversdale School Principal Kay Stevens has been equally pleased with her school’s adoption of the Pause, Breathe, Smile (PBS) programme.

Long-term approach

Kay says that the mindfulness programme appealed to her community as a way of introducing a long-term health and wellbeing approach. 

“The research base [around PBS] demonstrates improvements in wellbeing. I believe that in our modern world, with the amount of screen time that students are getting, there is the danger that relational connections are suffering. We see mindfulness as helping to address this.” 

Kay points to a report from the World Health Organization projecting that by 2030 mental health issues will be the biggest burden on our health system. 

“To give our students strategies that would enable them to help themselves and deal with anxiety and stress and develop connections and kindness – that was why we looked into this.”

Kay feels that young students are far more accepting and aware of the self-reflection that mindfulness encourages than people might expect.

“I believe children are very aware of unpleasant feelings that arise. We talk about how the breathing, for example, helps us to calm down and helps us to take a moment before we act, if we’re dealing with unpleasant feelings. If we’re feeling sad, the breathing helps us to think about the thoughts that we’re having. 

“Also, a component of what we’re doing is to help children understand that every feeling passes. Even if we’re really excited about Christmas, that feeling will pass. If we’re happy because it’s our birthday, that feeling will pass. If we’re angry because someone has said something mean to us, that feeling will also pass. 

“One of the lessons that we teach, for example, is all about ‘inside happiness versus treat happiness’. We’re introducing the idea that ‘treat happiness’ passes quickly. But if we’re developing ‘inside happiness’, that’s something that will stick around. 

“Another thing to consider is that there are lots of children who don’t sleep well. These children know that. They do understand that, by breathing and thinking about being in the present moment, you can teach your body to relax, and that means you can fall asleep.”

Pause, Breathe, Smile(external link) is now delivered in more than 200 schools nationwide.

Teachers may also be interested in Sparklers(external link) – free activities that include mindfulness techniques.

BY Education Gazette editors
Education Gazette | Tukutuku Kōrero, reporter@edgazette.govt.nz

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