Mindfulness Training for Children—A Key Missing Ingredient in Our Schools

In the summer of 1993, I had the great good fortune of participating in a 5-day professional training workshop with Drs. Jon Kabat-Zinn and Saki Santorelli in Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) at Omega Institute in New York State.  This watershed experience occurred after I had personally been practicing mindfulness meditation for about 16 years.  Among its many other benefits, it provided the necessary impetus for me to pioneer  the first MBSR program in a Minnesota hospital, which I directed  from 1994 until I retired in 1999.  

One of the many high points of the training for me occurred near the end when Jon described how a very courageous teacher in Utah (Mrs. H) had successfully implemented a version of the MBSR program in her fourth-grade classroom.  He reported that he had sent flowers to her and her class at the end of the school year to honor this remarkable pioneering achievement.

He culminated his description of this project by reading a very touching personal letter that he had received from Doug, one of the students in the class.  Doug had been diagnosed with ADHD and–due to his many behavioral problems–had barely been promoted into the fourth grade.   Mrs. H reported that the consensus of his former teachers was that he had made remarkably positive gains in the fourth grade.  I was so impressed with his letter  that I subsequently took the time to transcribe it from an audio recording of the training program and have saved it in my files to the present time.  Here it is:

Dear Dr. Kabat-Zinn,

Hi, Dr. Kabat-Zinn.  I would like to thank you for doing so much for me and my class.  I have never been given as much as one flower in my life before and I really appreciate the ones you gave me and my class.  Mr. D [the school principal] has not shown his support about us doing stress reduction.  Finally, about two weeks ago, we got Mr. D to come in our classroom and do stress reduction and yoga with us.  I am glad that you and Mrs. H  have taught me this neat way to focus and relax.  It has taken me all year to learn this method called stress reduction, and I can still only manage it for five minutes without a movement.  It is nice to know that someone cares about our stress reduction practice.  Thank you for being so generous to me and my class, and I hope that I can meet you some day.

Love, Doug

Upon learning of this early experiment in teaching mindfulness to children and hearing Doug’s letter, I began to dream of a day when mindfulness training would gain the same integral importance in schools as teaching the “three R’s.”  I’m delighted to see rapidly growing evidence that this long-held dream is now starting to come true.

In the last two decades–due in large part to the great success of the MBSR program–mindfulness has been applied increasingly in many different settings of mainstream American society–including psychology, psychotherapy, medicine, neuroscience, business, corrections, the military, and sports.   Although I strongly believe that its ultimate application is in our schools, this “open secret” is just now beginning to gain the widespread recognition that it rightfully deserves.

Thanks to the outstanding work of Goldie Hawn, Dr. Daniel Siegel, and Representative Tim Ryan, among many others, I’m very hopeful that parents, teachers, and school administrators will soon recognize how incorporating this basic mind training program into schools–starting in kindergarten or pre-school and continuing through high school–can help markedly in overcoming the common deficits in attention and empathy that have become so prevalent in children.  There is also abundant evidence that such a program  can significantly enhance academic performance.

The following videos provide an excellent introduction to what is happening in this exciting new educational arena  (Click on each embedded link to see video):

Goldie Hawn and Dan Siegel at TEDMED 2009

Hawn Foundation Video with Dr. Dan Siege

Dan Siegel:  The Neurological Basis of Behavior, the Mind, the Brain and Human Relationships

Representative Tim Ryan on Mindfulness in Schools

Transform Your Mind, Change Your Brain

For those who have doubts about the willingness of children to participate in a meditation program, this report published in Wildmind offers some impressive evidence.

Also, here’s a very important recent talk by Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn to a Mindful Schools group:

Jon Kabat-Zinn speaking to a Mindful Schools group in Berkely, California on April 12, 2012



By clicking on the following link, you can  get a FREE self-guided program in Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction, including 6 audios in mp3 format.


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I feel exceedingly fortunate to have recently discovered an absolutely amazing, highly personal multimedia exposition of what it’s like to be subject to Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD), along with Tourette Syndrome (TS). I’m so impressed with this presentation, in fact, that I feel strongly compelled to promote it in every way I possibly can, beginning by posting it here on my blog. If you want to skip the following

In his seminal book, “Sacred Economics,” Charles Eisenstein describes the present era as “The Age of Separation.”  Very cogently, he shows how our current form of capitalism/consumerism has alienated us from each other and from the biosphere .  As an antidote, he prescribes the healing alternative of a new “gifting economy.”

According to the teachings of The Buddha, the greatest happiness is attained through awakening fully through meditation to our timeless essence, the Unborn, which is completely unstained and uncorrupted by the “burden of existence.”

In the following short video, Andrew Cohen presents this  as also being the ultimate form of psychotherapy.  I strongly recommend that you watch

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2 Responses to “Mindfulness Training for Children—A Key Missing Ingredient in Our Schools”

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