Thursday, February 5, 2015


I was never that good at mathematics at school, nor for that matter were my wife and three children. Well, listen up, ye parents who have children at school who are struggling with math---the children that is, but most likely the parents as well. (Yes, genetics has more than a little to do with all this, as it does most other things as well.)

A social and emotional learning program started by actress and mindfulness ‘guru’ Goldie Hawn to help school children improve their learning abilities, be more caring, and become less stressed is now backed by new scientific evidence. Of course, that will not come as a surprise to anyone who is familiar with even a few of the more than 1,600 scholarly refereed medical and scientific journal articles attesting to the health and other benefits of the practice of mindfulness.

In a study from the University of British Columbia (UBC) researchers from across multiple disciplines---specifically, a neuroscientist, a developmental pediatrician, developmental psychologists, and education experts---examined the effectiveness of the program MindUP™ which teaches a number of mindfulness practices, including breathing, tasting and movement exercises.

They found fourth and fifth graders who participated in the program were better at regulating stress, were more optimistic and helpful. They were also better liked by their peers than children in a program that taught caring for others but without a mindfulness component. They also found the children in the mindfulness-based program performed better at math.

‘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 Dr Kimberly A Schonert-Reichl, who is a professor in UBC’s Department of Educational and Counselling Psychology, and Special Education, as well as interim director of the Human Early Learning Partnership, a collaborative interdisciplinary research network who helped conduct the study.

Dr Schonert-Reichl said this study is one of the first of its kind to investigate the value of a social and emotional learning program that incorporates mindfulness techniques for children’s wellbeing using a variety of scientific measures including both biological and neurological tests. Other studies have focused mostly on adults, showing positive results.

To measure the MindUP™ program’s effectiveness on stress physiology, the researchers collected saliva from the children to analyze their cortisol levels, a stress indicator. They also relied on peer and self-reporting and also measured the children’s cognitive abilities, testing skills like memory, concentration and focus.

Dr Schonert-Reichl said there are multiple explanations as to why a mindfulness program could 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.’

Study: Schonert-Reich K A, Oberle E, Lawlor M S; Abbott D, Thomson, K, Oberlander, T F, Diamond, A. ‘Enhancing cognitive and social–emotional development through a simple-to-administer mindfulness-based school program for elementary school children: A randomized controlled trial.’ Developmental Psychology, Vol 51(1), Jan 2015, 52-66. Special Section: Mindfulness and Compassion in Human Development.


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