A new social and emotional program with mindfulness techniques, called MindUp, has been shown to successfully help children become more caring and optimistic, improve their math scores and lower their stress levels. The program, founded by Oscar-winning actress Goldie Hawn, was recently analyzed by researchers at the University of British Columbia. During the program, children were given lessons on mindfulness techniques, in which they were instructed to intentionally focus on the present — while avoiding making judgments — through a series of breathing, tasting, and movement exercises. Experts from across multiple disciplines — a neuroscientist, developmental pediatrician, developmental psychologists, and education experts — came together to examine the program’s effectiveness. They discovered that the fourth and fifth graders who participated in MindUp became better at regulating stress, were more optimistic and helpful, and improved their math scores. They were even better liked by their peers than children in another program that taught caring for others but without a mindfulness component.
“Our findings suggest that children who are taught mindfulness — to pay attention to the present intentionally and without judgment — are better positioned to succeed both in school and in life,” said lead author Kimberly A. Schonert-Reichl, Ph.D., an education professor and interim director of the Human Early Learning Partnership, a collaborative interdisciplinary research network who helped conduct the study. Schonert-Reichl said that the study is one of the first to investigate the value of a social and emotional learning program that incorporates mindfulness techniques for children’s well-being using a variety of scientific measures, including both biological and neurological tests. Other studies have mostly focused on adults and have also shown positive results.
To measure the effects of the MindUP program on stress physiology, the researchers collected saliva samples from the children to analyze their cortisol levels, a stress hormone. They also relied on peer and self-reporting and measured the children’s cognitive skills by testing their memory, concentration and focus. Schonert-Reichl said there are several reasons why a mindfulness program would improve a child’s math scores. “One explanation is that learning occurs in social interaction, so if you are less stressed and more attentive, you will able to share and help others, and then be able to achieve more, including excelling in school,” she said. The study is published in the journal Developmental Psychology. The study was conducted with fourth and fifth graders in four elementary schools in Coquitlam, British Columbia. The other program, which taught caring for others but without a mindfulness component, was a social responsibility program developed by British Columbia’s Ministry of Education.
This article first appeared Psych Central, 29 January 2015.