Anxiety is the new learning difficulty.
So says Jodi Piercey, Deputy Principal at Lake Gwelup Primary School, who in her 30 years of teaching has seen the number of anxious students rise sharply in recent years.
According to a nationwide survey in 2015, Young Minds Matter, anxiety disorders are experienced by one in seven adolescents. The survey, in collaboration with the University of Western Australia and Roy Morgan Research, showed anxiety can impact negatively on relationships, physical health, social inclusion and academic performance.
The science also points to prevention and early intervention.
Mindful Meditation Australia (MMA) piloted an intervention emotional wellbeing program during term 3 this year at Lake Gwelup Primary School. Called Mindful Me, the six-week program offers supportive small group sessions for students with mild anxiety.
The program aligns with the school’s business plan priorities to foster greater mental health and wellbeing in their students, as well as the Department of Education’s strategic focus areas.
If you think Mindful Me is just about breathing techniques and quiet contemplation; think again.
There is an intentional emphasis on textbook learning, as well as extra activities to foster a greater understanding of the brain and the development of self-regulation. Each 45 minute session touches upon the MMA curriculum and covers aspects such as:
- Identifying uncomfortable feelings
- Understanding the brain - the Amygdala, prefrontal cortex, hippocampus
- Naming feelings in order to ‘tame’ them
- How we can have power over the automatic responses our brains are prone to
Mindful Me teaches kids the basics of brain science and how parts of their brain links to their emotions. The program aims to educate them on why and how these feelings occur.
They can then apply this understanding to navigate their big emotions, fears and anxieties at school and at home. The kids are taught that, with practise, permanent structural changes will happen in the brain and sustain these benefits.
Jodi says they have intervention groups at the school for literacy and numeracy for those kids struggling, but it was time to put an intervention group in place for children with anxiety.
“For whatever reason, children are anxious little beings these days and it’s really impacting on their learning.
Once we joined forces with MMA, the opportunities for our school have been tremendous. It’s been an incredible partnership and the parents’ feedback has been amazing.”
Mindful Me has already brought enormous benefits to students that there are now plans to continue the program in 2022. “The skill of being present in the moment - and being able to calm yourself - is one of those skills that is in your toolkit for life,” says Jodi.
Lake Gwelup now has a dedicated mindfulness space for programs like Mindful Me. Classroom teachers identify students as those who would get the most out of early intervention and benefit from a tailored approach to brain education and techniques for mindfulness. Just as some students need extra support in mathematics or reading, there are students who require a little extra when it comes to teaching and learning around regulation, mental health, and emotions. Year 6 student Neve participated in the pilot program in term three, having experienced severe anxiety and panic attacks.
“The mindfulness - especially the [Dan Siegal hand-brain] model - really helped me with my anxiety. I feel like Mindful Me is a really good program for me and other kids like me.”
Katie Rose, Program Developer of Mindful Me and Senior Classroom Teacher at Lake Gwelup Primary School acknowledges that mental health is at a crisis point - with teens and adolescents in particular.
“We hope that by offering something now and helping these kids work through their feelings, we can minimise the possibility of bigger problems down the track.”
Katie is also the Mindfulness Curriculum Leader at the primary school, and in 2019 was appointed the whole school leader of Positive Behaviour Support after running mindfulness daily for her students for many years.
“I’ve had incredible feedback from the children and parents about how well they were understanding the content, and how they could independently apply those tools and strategies in different strategies.”
In her many years of studying the effects of mindfulness and meditation on children, Katie has observed a profound impact on students who tend to suffer from anxiety or chronic ‘over-thinking’.
“Through personal experience, I have found that the earlier we can identify and understand these feelings in our bodies, the better equipped we are to manage these before they become overwhelming.
As the saying goes; knowledge is power!
Katie has also been advancing her knowledge and skills by delivering training to schools, workplaces and families.
“I have a passion for education and the importance of imparting knowledge to young people on how and why their brains work in specific ways that may cause feelings of anxiety, worry or depression.”
MMA General Manager Bruce Moorman believes Mindful Me provides tools that kids can apply to everyday situations that might normally make them anxious.
“What excites us about these programs is that they allow us to work together with kids, parents and teachers. It’s an amazing thing to be a part of.”
Through programs like Mindful Education, Mindful Families and Mindful Me, MMA has made a difference to the lives of over 17,000 children, through 3,700 educators completing our training. Keen to chat more about bringing the Mindful Me program to your school? Get in touch with MMA here
The MMA team