Learning Emotional Intelligence, Meditation, and Yoga in Schools

How mindful curricula can make a huge impact on children’s lives.

Kaila Winkler practices her breathing. Photograph by Mark Mahaney.

Children can seem young and carefree, but often, childhood can be filled with stress and confusion. To help children deal with this, meditation and yoga programs are taking place all over the country. These curriculums are designed to help children build stronger relationships, do better in school, and manage their emotions.

One curriculum in Harlem has kids lead each other in meditation and sit for about 10 minutes a day. The teachers have been trained in the RULER program, designed at Yale University, with the goal of helping children develop emotional intelligence.

The results of this program reflects the research on emotional intelligence: “They’re doing better in school. They have more positive relationships and on top of that, they have better physical and psychological well-being,” says child development expert Denise Daniels in an article from the Time Warner Cable News.

Another program similar to the one in Harlem is the program in Baltimore created by the Holistic Life Foundation that aims to help kids living in some of the toughest parts of the city. The average dropout rate for high school students in Baltimore is 50%, yet 19 of the first 20 boys who participated in the program graduated, and the other got his GED.

The program has now grown to include girls and boys of different grades and backgrounds.The students learn breathing techniques and yoga, play team sports, and get help with their homework. The program is super successful and the kids love it, proven by the fact that the program has at least an 85% attendance rate. In a piece from the April 2013 issue of Mindful, past participants of the program gave their stories about how HLF helped them:

“I guess I could say I was one of the ones with the behavior problems,” says Darrius Douglas, 22, who was in the first program and now teaches as a volunteer. “But once I got into it, I understood how the breath controls the body. I wasn’t getting into arguments so much. I definitely thought more before I reacted.” Later, when he failed out of school, HLF founders Ali and Atman Smith and Andy Gonzalez helped him write the letter to get him accepted back. “These guys helped me more than anyone else in my life.”
Most of HLF’s work takes place in West Baltimore where Ali, Atman, and Andy teach yoga and meditation to kids in after-school programs and other settings. If you want to learn more, read Mindful’s feature on HLF, “Raising Baltimore—One Child at a Time.”