Meditation has become increasingly popular with Americans over the past decade. As we have put more value on our mental health, the practice has also become common in classrooms across the country. Popular meditation app Headspace has a program that give students and educators discounted access to a subset of their content. Another app, Calm, have a target of expanding their Calm Schools program to 100,000 additional classrooms in 2019.
But how can teachers introduce meditation into classrooms in a way that keeps their students engaged as they learn the techniques?
The Science of Meditation
The initial appeal of meditation for teachers may be the calm and focus it can bring to a classroom, but those aren’t the only benefits. As a National Institutes of Health report in 2015 found, meditation can improve children’s cognitive, social and emotional skills as well as their academic performance.
Another NIH study in 2017 found that meditation increases resting state functional connectivity between the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex. This is a region of the brain involved in regulating attention, decision making, short-term memory and cognitive control.
The Struggle to Stay Focused
As any educator knows, a class can find it a challenge to sit still and focus on something for several minutes. For kindergarten and first graders, even making it to a minute is an achievement to be celebrated. Sitting still for meditation is no exception. As more children have been introduced to meditation, either at home or in the classroom, the tools available have become more tailored to their needs.
Smiling Mind, an Australian organization with a mission to provide mental health tools to classrooms and workplaces, have released meditations with tie-ins to the movies Trolls and The Lego Movie 2. These meditations are led by some of the characters from the movies and focus on some of the challenges they faced.
“Kids need to be engaged and what better way than having the voice of some of their favorite characters help them focus on the meditation,” said Dr Addie Wootten, CEO of Smiling Mind.
Through identifying with familiar characters, blending the tools of meditation with the familiarity of play time, children become more easily engaged with the exercise and keep focused.
The Batman Effect
There is science that supports this approach. A 2016 study, also by the NIH, found that children were more able to focus on and complete boring tasks when dressed as and imagining themselves to be a determined character. Rather than asking, “Am I working hard?” they were encouraged to refer to themselves in the third person and ask themselves, depending on the character they chose, “Is Dora working hard?” or “Is Batman working hard?”
Those children who imagined themselves to be strong, capable characters did better at the tasks than those who didn’t. Researchers suspect this is most likely because they were able to separate themselves from their emotions by referring to themselves in this way and, through taking on the characteristics of that character, they found the confidence to keep going. The study dubbed this projected self-confidence ‘the Batman effect’.
Self-Confidence Through Superheroes
Alongside the major meditation apps, other tools are emerging to help children stay engaged with meditation. Helping kids take advantage of the Batman Effect is Imaginhero Superhero Training, a free meditation course available on Apple Podcasts.
Each session teaches a meditation technique presented as a superpower. Whether that’s using your breath to charge your power core, absorbing anger and transforming it into superhero energy, or raising a force field that blocks out negativity. Through using common superhero themes to teach meditation it encourages children stay engaged, in the moment, and enthusiastic for the next session.
These meditations have been developed alongside a therapy tool designed to engage kids. A deck of cards, Imaginhero uses techniques from cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), a form of psychotherapeutic treatment that focuses on identifying and modifying the dysfunctional emotions, behaviors and thoughts of an individual. The deck presents social and emotional problems children commonly face, then guides them into thinking of new ways to approach each problem as they imagine they are a superhero.
Engagement is Key
The more children are engaging with meditation the more tailored solutions are being developed for their specific needs. Through presenting meditation as an activity they can associate with play, children find it easier to become engaged, to focus, and to be present during meditation exercises. This, in turn, helps them become engaged, focused and present in the classroom and in many other aspects of their life.
Imaginhero is a therapy tool that teaches kids how to use visualization, creative thinking, and mindfulness to deal with anxiety, stress, and confrontation. It teaches them that imagination is their superpower.
Turn anger into super-strength, raise forcefields to block negativity, meet new people with the confidence of a superhero, stop negative thoughts with a freeze-ray, use your laser vision to laser focus on a task. Each superpower you imagine is something you can use to help you deal with challenges in your everyday life.