A Glimpse at a Mindfulness Class for Children

How students (and teachers) are improving focus and finding calm through weekly meditation classes.

Photographs by Blake Farrington

“By finding time to really tune in and focus, and feel their breath and use their breath, schoolchildren can discover their innate ability to self-regulate—their ability to tune things out and to pay attention to what’s happening with themselves, and from there it just expands outwards.”

That’s what Marian Matthews says about her students at Baker Butler Elementary school in Albemarle, Virginia, where she teaches Mindfulness and Movement: a class in meditation, mindful yoga, and breathing practices initiated by the University of Virginia’s Contemplative Sciences Center.

Marian visits Baker Butler classes once a week for 30 minutes to teach students of different grades how to integrate mindfulness into their daily lives. As I watched, a fifth-grade class began with a deep breathing exercise designed to allow students to focus on their thoughts. Before too long Matthews took out the “mind jar” and showed it to the kids as a visual representation of what happens in their minds as the students relax.

“The mind jar is just a jar with water and glitter in it, but the idea is that we can shake it up and let it get really disturbed. So, first we notice that there are a lot of thoughts swirling around in our minds,” Matthews says. “Then we start taking deep breaths, and as we breathe we can feel our thoughts start to settle, just like the glitter in the jar starts to settle.”

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Lauren Jamerson is a student at Baker-Butler. She and her fellow classmates use techniques from Marian’s class in all areas of their lives: school, sports, performances, home life, etc.
Student Kaylee Weber practices her tree pose. Marian encourages students to "stand tall like a mountain" and to feel their bodies rest like mountains. The movement practice encourages students to connect their minds to their bodies.
Student Kaylee Weber practices her tree pose. Marian encourages students to “stand tall like a mountain” and to feel their bodies rest like mountains. The movement practice encourages students to connect their minds to their bodies.
Marian leads the students into child's pose where she touches their backs as a means of reassurance and encouragement during the practice. "We talk about the breath being an anchor, an anchor to their stillness and their steadiness," Marian said. "When they're in child's pose I think that's a really nice place for them to have the anchor of listening to their breath, and I go around and touch students backs and just have kind of a connection to them."
Marian leads the students into child’s pose where she touches their backs as a means of reassurance and encouragement during the practice. “We talk about the breath being an anchor, an anchor to their stillness and their steadiness,” Marian said. “When they’re in child’s pose I think that’s a really nice place for them to have the anchor of listening to their breath, and I go around and touch students backs and just have kind of a connection to them.”