The Department of Education is spending upwards of $2.5 million to bring a mindfulness intervention to kindergarteners in Chicago, where kids can go to "calm spots" in the corner to watch nature videos.
The National Institutes of Health has spent over $100 million studying the New Age meditation technique, but it is not the only federal agency pouring federal funding into mindfulness. The Education Department has introduced a "Calm Classroom" program into 3,000 schools through its Investing in Innovation fund, costing taxpayers $2,513,093.
"Mindfulness is a secular, psychological mode involving non-judgmental focus on present-moment sensations, and has been shown to have a number of benefits to well-being," the grant abstract for the project states. "Our project offers an innovative approach not only because mindfulness is unique relative to traditional social-emotional learning (SEL) programs, but also because of added elements designed to replenish children’s focus directly back into the content of school, including always-available ways to take very brief ‘brain breaks.’"
The program involves classrooms doing mindfulness activities three times a day. The exercises include "guided breathing with eyes closed, stretching, yoga-inspired poses, ‘body scan’ visualizations, focus on external objects, and ‘social mindfulness’ exercises involving peer interaction."
The grant was awarded to the Erikson Institute, a graduate school that specializes in early childhood development.
Erikson invented the "Calm Spot," or a corner for kids to put on noise canceling headphones and watch "soft fascination" videos of nature scenes on tablets.
"In addition to traditional mindfulness exercises that involve inner focus and require practice, our intervention also includes components involving outer focus on items intended to automatically attract children’s soft fascination and promote attention replenishment, such as videos of animals or nature scenes," the institute wrote in its grant application. "These scenes, along with occasional, gently voiced reminders (e.g., ‘Are you still watching the spider spin that amazing web?’) will be displayed on tablets stationed in what we call ‘The Calm Spot.’"
"Our Calm Spot is not only for the reduction of ‘big feelings’ such as anger (Smith, 2013), but also for the reduction of internally disruptive experiences such as mental fatigue or lack of engagement," Erikson said.
Erikson also uses what it calls "At Your Desk Anytime" methods, where children can engage in mindfulness throughout the day.
"They may choose ‘Make a Wish Breath’ during which they close their eyes, make a wish, breathe in, breathe out three times, and then repeat the breathing sequence," according to the application.
Teachers in the program also have to participate in mindfulness and will be trained how to teach the meditation technique to children. An "impact booster" requires mindfulness exercises to "begin every teacher staff meeting."
"Teachers are trained on tone of voice, pacing, and on minimizing and addressing problems children may have engaging in the activities," the application stated. "Exercises are not limited to those that require stillness, silence, or closed eyes. Some involve vigorous motor activity (e.g., ‘Music Scribble,’ ‘Shake Like Spaghetti’), slow motor activity (e.g., ‘Seated Mountain,’ ‘Standing Half Moon"), vocalizing (e.g., "Twist and Count,’ ‘Bee’s Buzz’)."
Other activities include "Looking at One Thing" and "Smile Time."
Erikson said called the project "invaluable."
"This is an invaluable project because social-emotional learning in children is just as important as academic learning," said Geoffrey Nagle, president and CEO of Erikson. "At Erikson, we concentrate on the development of the whole child, and this project will help ensure that disadvantaged children have the tools they need to focus and succeed in school."