Western-style meditation isn’t just a new-age fad for spiritual adults, it’s been taught in schools for thousands of years. In some communities, meditation has been the entire foundation of school for children. While it can also be used as a positive coping skill, meditation for middle schoolers can aid in social-emotional learning. Meditation teaches life lessons about how to be present in the moment, pay attention to your emotions, and connect with others.
Bringing Meditation to the Classroom
David Lynch is the founder of the Quiet Time school program, which provides students with two 15-minute periods of Transcendental Meditation a day to help students reduce stress and improve their executive functioning abilities.
A recent controlled study over a four-month period compared 51 sixth-grade students who took part in a Quiet Time program to 50 students from a matched control school within the same West Coast urban public school district found significant differences between the students’ mental health at the end of the program. He has consistently found that meditation in classrooms “dramatically improve academic performance, student wellness and the school environment,” particularly in younger children whose brains are developing quickly.
The effects of meditation are particularly noticeable in at-risk youth who have experienced a significant increase in their social-emotional competency and a significant decrease in negative emotional symptoms since the meditation program began. Fifteen minute sessions are designed to teach kids the basics of meditation without losing their concentration, making them too restless, or disrupting learning time.
Meditation Increases Social Awareness
Educators have realized their role is to teach kids skills they can apply outside the classroom as well as standard curriculum. Social-Emotional Learning refers to the process through which we understand our emotions, empathize with others, and learn to make responsible decisions that strengthen our relationships. Meditation is closely linked with these five features of SEL:
Self-awareness: Meditation prioritizes becoming aware of your breath and your sensory experience through grounding techniques. This can cultivate a sense of confidence, optimism, and a growth mindset.
Self-management: Controlling the breath parallels controlling emotions that affect the pace of your breath. Meditation helps reduce physiological stress, control impulses, and increase motivation to achieve goals.
Social awareness: Meditation encourages students to consider their peer’s experiences and alternative perspectives in a situation. Recognizing shared experiences and feelings helps teens to empathize with others.
Relationship skills: Meditative practices focus on how to intentionally show up in relationships using nonviolent communication, active listening, and equanimity. Students learn how to ask for help and how to offer support to others.
Responsible decision-making: Students learn how to establish personal values and how that affects their choices.
Asheville Academy for Girls is a therapeutic boarding school for middle school girls ages 10-14. Our students commonly struggle with anxiety, depression, ADHD, learning differences, and attachment issues. We incorporate meditation and mindfulness practices into our students’ daily routines to help them improve their social-emotional learning skills and well-being. We are a relationship-based program that focuses on building meaningful connections through teamwork, group therapy, experiential activities, and small classrooms.