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Mindfulness in the Classroom: Meeting Children's Socioemotional Needs

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In recent years, mindfulness practices have expanded from healthcare to other fields, including business, education, and even military. Defined as the ability to focus non-judgmentally on the present moment, mindfulness has demonstrated positive effects on adults' self-regulation, relationship-building skills, and health outcomes. However, the effects of mindfulness training on children have not been as thoroughly explored, even though the personalities, behaviors, and competencies that begin developing during late childhood persist into adulthood.

In a new study, Kimberly A. Schonert-Reichl, Eva Oberle, Molly Stewart Lawlor, David Abbott, Kimberly Thomson, Tim F. Oberlander, and Adele Diamond shed new light on how mindfulness practices may have positive outcomes for children in late childhood.

The authors examine the effects of a social and emotional learning (SEL) program, MindUP, for 100 fourth and fifth grade students ranging in age from nine to 12 years. The MindUP program includes three-minute mindfulness practices, repeated three times per day, during which children focus on their breathing and listen to a single resonant sound. The program also provides lessons that promote cognitive control abilities (also called executive functions, or EFs), self-regulation, viewing problems from others' points of view ("perspective-taking"), empathy, positive mood, acts of kindness, and gratitude for others.

The study took place within four public elementary schools in a Canadian, suburban, middle-class community. The schools were similar in size, achievement level, socioeconomic status, and ethnic and racial diversity. The researchers compared a treatment group that received the MindUP program to a control group that received an alternate social responsibility program, "Business as Usual" (BAU). Participants in both programs had similar baseline demographic characteristics, such as gender, family composition, and first-language learned. This ensured successful random assignment between the MindUP and comparison BAU programming groups.

Children in the treatment group had statistically significant improvements in empathy, perspective-taking, sharing, trustworthiness,...