For the last six weeks I’ve been teaching a class at the University of New Hampshire’s Upward Bound program. The class is called “Success Studies” and it’s a combination of study skills and personal development, aimed at teens from impoverished backgrounds. The aim is to prepare them from college in order to break the cycle of poverty that affects poor communities.
We’ve done some meditation in every class; not much, just five or six minutes at a time during which we’ve explored the breath, learned different ways of paying attention that can help calm us or make us more alert, and cultivated lovingkindness. Most of the students seemed to really enjoy it. One always complained because he always turned up in class in a state of exhaustion and found it hard to close his eyes. The most common was complaint was that it was hard to sit up; some of these kids seem to have a goal of spending as much of their life horizontal as they possibly can, and they strive at all times to sink into their chairs.
These were kids aged 14 to 16. I’m sure meditation is beneficial for them, even in such small doses. Heck, even I felt better after our short sits. And there is a body of research and anecdotal evidence suggesting that meditating helps kids’ attention and emotional regulation in school. There’s a lot of interest in teaching meditation to younger people, as evidenced by this story of teenagers learning meditation in school, or an entire school in San Diego focused on “inner being,” or the meditation sessions in a high school in Staten Island.
I have a three-year-old (actually, she’s going on four) and I’m starting to wonder about how to introduce her to meditation. My wife and I have already encouraged her to talk deep slow breaths to calm herself (although I’ve discovered this does not work during a full-blown tantrum!), but we haven’t done anything more formal. I find myself wondering what kind of meditation would be most appropriate, how long to do it for, and what kind of language to use. My own style of teaching meditation tends to be rather adult. I can modify my language to talk meditation to teens, but I don’t think I yet know how to introduce basic principles of meditation to a little girl who still needs diapers at night!
There are some leads I’ll be following up. Amy Saltzman has a nice CD for kids called Still Quiet Place: Mindfulness for Young Children. I need to check that out again.
I also have a rare copy of a book called Baby Buddhas, by Lisa Desmond. It’s sadly out of print, but when I reviewed it I was impressed at the way she found appropriate ways to introduce spiritual principles to children.
I think teaching my daughter to meditate is going to be much more challenging, although she’s less likely than my Upward Bound teens to complain about sitting upright!