‏Wisconsin Study and the Push for Mindfulness Training in the Classroom

A groundbreaking study has proven that children who participate in a curriculum designed to promote social, emotional and academic skills promotes higher marks in academic performance measures.

But let's start at the beginning.

Over the course of 12 weeks, twice a week, a group of prekindergarten students learned about attention, breath and body, and a caring practice – mindfulness.

The study, conducted in Wisconsin, also included a control group that did not receive this curriculum.

The author of the study, Lisa Flook, described the study this way:

“This work started a number of years ago when we were looking at ways to possibly help children develop skills for school and academic success, as well as in their role as members of a global community. There was a strong interest in looking at cultivating qualities of compassion and kindness."

A Curriculum on Compassion Based on Years of Study

A team of scientists developed a curriculum to help children between the ages of four and six begin to learn self-awareness and become aware of others through the practice of mindfulness in the present moment.

The executive summary of the report notes that past studies indicated that when children learn to self-regulate in early childhood, they do better later life with health, educational attainment, and financial stability.

Incredible, right?

Mindfulness Training in the Classroom

Here's the scoop. During the study, teachers taught the curriculum in diverse classrooms throughout Madison, Wisconsin. Due to the kids' age, the teachers worked with students through hands-on activities involving movement, music, and books.

One of the kids' favorite activities is a practice they called "Belly Buddies." Cute name, isn't it?

While resting on their backs, the children placed a small stone on their stomachs. The children then focused on the sensation of the stone and how it felt as the stone rose and fell with their breath.

In addition to the mindfulness training, the children received alphabet bracelets to help them remember their kindness curriculum ABCs.

How did the researchers measure compassion? They did this by noting how frequently the children kept their stickers or shared them with others.

They also measured the children's ability to delay gratification.

Benefits of Delayed Gratification

The study of delaying gratification began at Stanford in the 1960s and 1970s. It's quite famous and known as the Stanford Marshmallow Experiment.

During that test, children could receive a marshmallow immediately. Or, if they waited 15 minutes while the researchers left the room and didn't eat the marshmallow, they could receive two marshmallows.

Studies have found that people who learn to delay gratification, often attain greater success in life because they are willing to work hard for the eventual prize – whatever that might be.

The Wisconsin researchers also assessed the student's ability to pay attention. They did this by measuring how well the children could identify arrows despite other distractions on the screen.

Finally, the study measured the children's academic performance.

Even Flook says that more study is needed to determine the true power of this particular curriculum. And that word of caution is wise.

However, the researchers did say that they would like to see mindfulness-based practices adapted more into school curriculums.

Do you think your school should have mindfulness training in the classroom?

Images Izzy for blog

Elizabeth B. Martin is the author and illustrator of six picture books for children. You can view her books here for free.