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Time out: Could your kids get a brain boost from meditation?

Meditation could seriously boost your child’s concentration but teachers say it’s unlikely it will ever happen

Eve Dugdale

Published: Updated:

Meditation could seriously boost your child’s concentration, but teachers say it’s unlikely it will ever happen

You pay for extra tuition to help your son improve his maths, spend evenings helping with his chemistry homework and, even when he’s really sick, convince him to go into school – after all you want him to get the highest grades he’s able to.

So how does it make you feel that the best thing you could do to boost his success is, erm, just give him a break?

Teachers and academics met last month at a Mindfulness in Education Conference in America. Apparently teaching youngsters the psychological technique, which draws on Buddhist thinking, can increase not only attention but executive function too which involves working memory, planning, organisation and impulse control.

It’s something that Psychologist Devika Singh from the Dubai Herbal and Treatment Centre understands.

As a specialist in psycho-educational consulting and childhood development, Devika says she and her peers have long-understood the benefits of giving children a break from non-stop activity in their day.

She explains: “Research has shown that meditation or 'silent sitting' has profound effects on psychological, physical and neurological health. The research is not new, but it is finally receiving the attention it deserves.”

While some parents may not approve of a section of their child’s day being taken up with meditation, Devika, who is a mum of one, says time out should be seen as just as vital as an hour spent studying trigonometry.

“It’s critical that children get some time out in their school day,” she adds.

“It allows them to process the information they have just learnt and without it they would be over stimulated and not learn very much at all. This is why recess was designed into the school day. It also allows opportunities for play and building friendships.

“Children learn self-control and self-regulation through a variety of everyday experiences but meditation accelerates this process by developing the frontal cortex.”

Recalling how getting any of her former pupils to sit still and quiet with no stimulus was difficult, retired primary school teacher Val Piorowski says she can’t fathom how a period of mindfulness in school could work.

She says: “When is it going to happen? It would have to be a whole school effort as noise from other rooms would distract. And who would deliver the sessions? Teachers are already being expected to be a master of all trades. If meditation is going to be done and done well it needs someone to take responsibility for its delivery.”

A timetable struggle

While it’s a nice idea for children to have time out in the day, Val - who taught for 38 years - says it would be a struggle to factor a mindfulness session in to a school day.

She says children’s days are so strictly timetabled that they would struggle to squeeze anything else into it.

She explains: “In the good old days, teachers were allowed to give children any extra time they might require to grasp a certain concept but today so many subjects have to be tackled that there is great pressure to move on, so the basics are being rushed and good foundations not being built.

“There is so much pressure on children to succeed that there is no time out in the day to be just children. Even breaks are being shortened and extra classes at lunchtime and at the end of the day are being run to improve the schools’ success rates - not for enjoyment.”

British high school teacher Annie Fewtrell echoes Val’s sentiments. Admitting she doesn’t ‘buy into meditation’ herself, Annie says it’s plain to see that children concentrate better with breaks.

She says: “I find it hard at my school even as an adult as the day is very intense - six hour-long lessons with just one 15 minute break and 30 minute lunch. I think it would be useful to have some time built in to switch off and focus on de-stressing in some way but the pressure on time and results rarely allows for it.”

Sadly, Annie says, rather than making down time more available, schools are going the other way.

She adds: ”Very often we are bringing kids in for extra lessons at the end of the day which really is counter-productive when they're exhausted and stressed already. Unfortunately it is a major issue in education and I imagine the argument against any kind of down time would be that there just isn't time in the school day.”

With the benefits of mindfulness extending outside of the classroom with increased quality of sleep, self-esteem and improved social skills all linked to it, if schools won’t permit for a period of calm in the day, Devika says families could always embrace it at home.

She says: “I always recommend it as a family activity. Parents have to model the behaviour they expect from their children. You'd be surprised how many don't. Start with a few minutes of visualization then move into sitting silently.

“Mindfulness in the family and at school is the missing link ‎when it comes to stress in children. Children need parents and teachers who can manage their own stress so they can help children. It's all connected, grades, stress, friends, body image, all of it.”