A recent study demonstrated the potential of mindfulness-based curriculum in helping young students improve academic and social skills.
While mindfulness-based approaches for children have become popular in recent years, few are backed by rigorous scientific evidence. The research team — graduate research assistant Simon Goldberg; outreach specialist Laura Pinger; and CIHM founder Richard Davidson, the UW-Madison William James and Vilas Professor of Psychology and Psychiatry — set out to change that.
The team developed a curriculum to help children between the ages of 4 and 6 years learn how to be more aware of themselves and others through practices that encourage them to bring mindful attention to present moment experience. These practices, the researchers hypothesized, could enhance the children’s self-regulation skills – such as emotional control and the capacity to pay attention — and influence the positive development of traits like impulse control and kindness.
Past studies show the ability to self-regulate in early childhood predicts better results later in life with health, educational attainment and financial stability. Flook says early childhood is an opportune time to equip children with these skills since their brains are rapidly developing. The skills may also help them cope with future life stress.
“Knowing how critical these skills are at an early age, if there are ways to promote them, it could help set kids on a more positive life trajectory,” says Flook.
Mindfulness techniques are scaled down for preschoolers.
The curriculum itself is rooted in long-standing adult mindfulness-based practices but was adapted to the children’s developmental ability.
The results showed improvements in delayed gratification, attentiveness, and task switching. In addition to gains in academic performance, students demonstrated “less selfish behavior over time and greater mental flexibility”.
While these results are promising, “larger studies are needed to demonstrate the curriculum’s true power”.
Their labeling of this method as “kindness curriculum” is a turn-off to me, but perhaps it has broad appeal to most parents.