Students find calm through mindfulness and guided meditation
Mindfulness meditation might be the new yoga, but does it have a place in the classroom?
Skipping recess to meditate might not be what most kids would choose to do. But in the lunchroom at Isaac Sheppard Elementary School in North Philadelphia, a loud bunch of 3rd and 4th graders are about to get quiet. They gather around teacher Jamie Roberts. She’s going to take them to her classroom for meditation club and gets their attention.
"Remember when you hear the bell, that’s to remind you to return your attention again and again to the way it feels to be walking."
Nearly 20 kids start following Roberts up several flights of stairs. At the front of the line, a child strikes a bell and the group is silent.
When they enter Roberts’ classroom, they congregate in a circle. Some finds spots on the floor, others wriggle into chairs. Roberts talks briefly, and then a designated student recites a series of phrases that the group repeats. They say things like, "May we be safe and protected."
During the guided meditation, the kids are doing different things. Some look around, squirm in their seats, make funny faces, or whisper to a friend. Others close their eyes and take deep breaths. By the end, the group appears calm.
The students then tell me about what it feels like to meditate. A 3rd grader named Andrew talks softly as he describes his experience.
"Meditation changed my life, because I was, like, stressed out. And when I found meditation, it kept me happy and calm."
Another club member named Serena explains that meditation has helped her calm down.
"I felt really, really mad. I just felt like I want to hurt people. But when I got here, I felt calm and I feel relaxed."
The club’s origins trace back to 2010 when Jamie Roberts was doing meditation on her lunch break to deal with her own stress. Some kids wanted to learn to do the same, and so they started a club. In the club’s first year, Roberts says, a shooting happened outside of the school and it left many of the kids shaken.
"That night, a lot of kids had trouble sleeping. When we had meditation, I asked if anyone wanted to talk about it," Roberts explains. "One girl raised her hand. Said she couldn’t sleep last night but then meditated, and could sleep. Two other kids nodded and had done the same thing."
Some kids have taken more to meditating than others. A 3rd grader named Nahyana describes what seems to be a mindfulness practice known as the Body Scan.
"If your shoulder or head hurts, you can just close your eyes and and take deep breaths and go to your shoulder or your head," she says. "You just feel how it’s feeling and maybe after you’ll feel better."