Mindfulness Resulting in Higher Academic Success
Written by Valerie York-Zimmerman
An article in the Journal of Applied School Psychology features a study from Arizona State University of 1st, 2nd, and 3rd graders in two elementary schools (Napoli, Krech, and Holley, 2005) in which it found that mindfulness improved attention skills and social skills and decreased test anxiety.
Evidence shows that our children and teens are experiencing much higher levels of stress today resulting in anger and violent behavior, conduct disorders, and various types of anxiety, including competition and test anxiety, in ways like never before (Feindler, 1995); Ommundsen & Vaglum, 1991; Prins & Hanewald, 1999). The literature indicates that anxiety can negatively impact students’ school performance, disrupt their thinking, and interfere with their learning (Ialongo, Edelshon, Werthamer-Larson, Crockett, & Kellam, 1994; Shapiro, Schwartz, & Bonner, 1998).
Without strategies for decreasing anxiety, less attention is available for learning. For example, a child panicked by a pop quiz will actually imprint that reaction rather than recall information. Distress kills learning! Freeing the mind from impulsivity and distress puts a child’s mind in the best state for learning. Resilience science attests to the importance of having inner mechanisms which reduce the body’s stress reaction (D. Goleman, Introduction,Building Emotional Intelligence: Techniques to Cultivate Inner Strength in Children, Lantieri, L. (2008).
When children experience ongoing stress, their brains begin to function differently: neurological processes called “executive function” are impaired and interfere with the ability to learn and process information. These functions include:
- goal-directed behavior o planning
- decision making
- organized search
- impulse control
An article in Greater Good Magazine featured Steve Reidman a fourth grade teacher at Toluca Lake Elementary School in Los Angeles, one of a growing number of schools that are using “mindfulness trainings” in an effort to combat increasing levels of anxiety, social conflict , and attention disorder among children.
Reidman had been experiencing problems with classroom management, a first for him after many years of teaching. Conflicts on the playground were escalating and affecting his students’ ability to settle down and concentrate in class. When he confided his problems to Susan Kaiser-Greenland, a friend and author of The Mindful Child, she offered to help him teach mindfulness.
“I noticed a difference right away,” says Reidman. “There was less conflict on the playground, less test anxiety, just the way the kids walked into the classroom was different. Our state test scores also went up that year, which I’d like to attribute to my teaching – but I think had more to do with the mindful breathing they did right before the test!”
Recent research has demonstrated the potential of mindfulness practices to support the goals of education such as improved attention, concentration, creativity, and emotional intelligence.