In most schools across the country, you are likely to find students practicing mindfulness – whether that means taking some collective deep breaths, practicing yoga together or participating in a gratitude exercise.
Thousands of teachers across the country have adopted these mindfulness-based interventions to help their students avoid anxiety and depression, and improve their focus. There is some evidence that these programs do help students. For example, this study of 400 low-income students found that teachers reported students were more focused and caring after practicing mindfulness sessions for five weeks.
But what does the body of evidence say on mindfulness in schools?
A new systematic review by the Campbell Collaboration looked at how well mindfulness programs improved academic achievement, behavior and social-emotional functioning of both elementary and high school students. The authors of the review found 61 high-quality studies of mindfulness programs in classrooms and those included a total of 6,207 student participants.
The reviews found a mixed bag of results: Students who participated in mindfulness programs showed small but significant improvements in cognitive skills and social and emotional behaviors. This makes sense, the authors explain, because those are the skills that mindfulness interventions focus on. But the data did not show that students improved their classroom behaviors or academic achievement as a result of the interventions.
The review authors concluded that, while mindfulness in schools is popular at the moment, youth may not benefit in the same way that adults do because they may not be developmentally ready for the complex focus and level of awareness these interventions require.
There’s also the question of how mindfulness programs affect children who suffer from mental health disorders. (The students included in the review were all part of regular classroom populations.) While these interventions yield greater improvements for students experiencing anxiety or depression, there is some evidence that mindfulness practices can sometimes worsen symptoms for some people who suffer from mental illnesses.
All of this to say: The review authors don’t rule out mindfulness practices in schools, but they do urge teachers and administrators to use caution in implementing these programs, and to find reliable ways to measure the effectiveness of these programs in the classroom.
Maynard BR, Solis MR, Miller VL, Brendel KE. Mindfulness-based interventions for improving cognition, academic achievement, behavior, and socioemotional functioning of primary and secondary school students. Campbell Systematic Reviews 2017: