Melanie McDonagh

Teaching children mindfulness is a waste of time

  • From Spectator Life

A friend from Lewisham, south London, reports occasionally on her children’s state school, which has a reputation for being strife- and strike-prone. However, the children themselves – nursery and reception – are engaged in more calming activities. They are doing mindfulness. ‘My son loves it,’ she says. They sit down cross-legged at least once a week to take in the sounds around them (‘listen to the birds!’), concentrate on their breathing and focus on the present moment. My friend did ask the teachers whether it was possible to get five-year-olds to sit still for that long. ‘Yes,’ she was told. ‘In fact, some fall asleep.’

On the plus side, it helped deal with teacher burnout; on the downside, the participants were just bored

Another friend’s two children attended St James’s School, a private school in Kensington which teaches Sanskrit and where meditation is very much part of the school day; they did it for about ten years. ‘The school took it quite seriously,’ she says. ‘They did it in partnership with the School of Meditation in Holland Park. The experience wasn’t particularly positive or negative. When they were little, it got in the way of playtime. When they were sitting with their eyes shut at the start of each day, my daughter says they were generally thinking about lunch. She says she has now gone back to meditation, but using apps. That is better than anything she learned at school.’

Schools, then, aren’t immune from the mindfulness craze, which was very much in fashion about a decade ago. In 2019 the government helped sponsor a research project led by the Anna Freud Centre for Children and Families, in partnership with University College London, which works with children from 370 schools to see how various approaches work ‘to help them regulate their emotions’. Mindfulness is one, relaxation techniques another.

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