School is about more than learning your ABCs and multiplication tables. It’s where most kids learn the social skills they’ll use their whole lives. Yet few school teach social and emotional skills directly. They’re learned on the playground and in the hallways, not in the classroom.
Schools in British Columbia are changing that with the MindUP program, which teaches kids specific lessons on mindfulness, social skills and emotional self-control. Programs like this are sprouting up all over, using techniques from meditation sessions to classroom visits from babies. The goal is to help kids build empathy.
They learn to do things like walk away from an argument until their feelings cool down, think through problems together, and avoid bullying behaviors.
The programs are a response to the rising problems with bullying. Research shows that empathy has been falling among schoolkids, possibly because of the rise in technology and media use among young kids. Mindfulness programs are working to fill that gap, giving kids some instruction in the basics of being nice to each other.
There’s plenty to say about whether or not schools should need to do this. Didn’t this kind of social and moral instruction used to be province of families and churches? It could be a sad state of affairs that schools need to step into a gap being left by overworked, distracted parents. Or it could simply be a long-overdue recognition by our school systems that kids are more than tiny brains waiting to be filled up with knowledge. They need help developing all areas of their minds and bodies, not just their intellects.
Either way, the programs seem to be working. They’re lowering the incidence of bullying and increasing empathy scores among students who participate.
Does your child’s school use some kind of mindfulness curriculum? My daughter’s does, and it’s wonderful. As a first grader, she’s learning the basics of optimism, self-esteem and problem-solving as part of her regular lessons.