MonkeyMind and Me: A Mindfulness Course for Children
Children and youth are experiencing greater levels of stress and anxiety at younger and younger ages. Our children’s mental health is a crucial part of their overall well being. Meditation is an empowering practice that helps children and teens ﬁnd balance in life. All children can beneﬁt from meditation, including those with ADHD and autism spectrum disorders.
Meditation for children can:
- improve focus, concentration and memory
- reduce anxiety
- strengthen immune systems
- help children manage emotions
- increase self-esteem
- improve athletic performance
Currently Judy Reynolds and Meet the Self are partnered with the TDSB (Toronto District School Board) to run mindfulness classes for children in kindergarten to grade six.
This is an eight lesson course, usually taught once a week over eight weeks. Each class is approximately one hour in length, although the duration can be altered according to need (45 min for kindergarten students for example). Each class explores a speciﬁc mindfulness lesson and consists of these main components:
- Mindfulness Sensory Exercises,
- Breathing Exercises (belly, breath, alternate nostril)
- Emotional Regulation Lesson with MonkeyMind the puppet
- Physical Exercises including yoga, partner work and kinesthetics
- Meditation Session
In addition, some lessons will include a Science Fact, usually related to human physiology.
A hi-light of the course is MonkeyMind the puppet. MonkeyMind is a lovable, excitable puppet who has has trouble with self-regulation. He often interrupts with jokes, gets overly upset when he makes mistakes, and has difﬁculty getting along with his brother. Through their interactions with MonkeyMind, the students learn how to name their emotions, describe where they feel this emotion within their bodies, how to take a pause, and to reﬂect on their choices. These lessons, all aspects of self-regulation, are valuable skills for both the classroom and life.
In addition, students take part in a graduation ceremony where they create a mandala out of dry legumes and pasta. A mandala is a circular design, wherein the pattern begins in the centre and moves outward. Creating a mandala as a group allows the students to express themselves uniquely, yet still within a uniﬁed structure. (A great metaphor for the classroom!) Each class choses a different intention or theme for their mandala, such as love, honesty, family, friendship.
Frequently asked questions
Youʼve mentioned the term self-regulation a few times. What exactly does it mean?
If you are a parent you may have come across the term self-regulation in correspondence with your childʼs educators. (In Ontario, itʼs actually a key part of the kindergarten curriculum.) Self-regulation can be deﬁned as the ability to respond to experiences with a range of emotions in a manner that is socially acceptable, yet also ﬂexible enough to permit natural reactions. Self-regulation means feeling and being aware of our emotions in a given situation and then making a conscious choice on which action to take.
So you can see that self-regulation doesnʼt just apply to kids, but is a valuable life skill for all of us.
Why should children meditate?
I would not say children face more challenges than we did growing up, but I certainly believe they face different challenges. Itʼs a very different world from when I was a young child; some changes I embrace (diversity and acceptance), while others I greet with trepidation (such as food and environmental quality). Children today face a rapid ﬁre world, often logging in long days of schedule, with little time for free play and daydream. They are born into a high speed society where the clock rules almighty and wasting time is far worse than wasting food. Stress, which used to be a part of any heathy life, has become a moniker for life.
A lot of adults arenʼt handling the stress and pace of modern life too well (and weʼve had decades to learn), yet we expect our 6-year-olds to naturally cope. And unfortunately studies on childrenʼs mental heath are showing they are not coping. Ontarioʼs Ministry of Children and Youth Services states “that the mental health problems of Ontarioʼs children and youth are a signiﬁcant public health issue”. The ministry goes on to cite, “studies suggest 15 to 21 per cent of children and youth, approximately 467,000 to 654,000 children and youth in Ontario, have at least one mental health disorder”.
Read more about this.
So my ﬁrst answer to “Why teach our kids to meditate?” would be because it gives them the skills to function as healthy adults in our world, in short to survive. Check out the research page to see how meditation has been shown to decrease the stress response, depression and anxiety. But of course true health is not just about surviving, itʼs also about thriving. And that is another important reason for children to learn mindfulness and meditation. While scientiﬁc studies on children are limited, again check out the research page to see how meditation has been shown to increase compassion, creativity, and neuroplasticity. In my opinion, all hallmarks of a thriving society.
“If every 8 year old in the world is taught meditation, we will eliminate violence from the world within one generation.”