As many young children – and their families – prepare to return to school following COVID-19 shutdowns, stress levels for students, teachers and parents will undoubtedly reach an all-time high.
So now, more than ever, it is crucially important to remember that the development of social and emotional skills in the classroom are not in competition with math and literacy – they are really the other side of the same coin.
“There is extensive research evidence that better social and emotional skills translate to better academic achievement. When you think about what kids need to be good at math – the ability to tolerate frustration, good stress coping skills, communication and relationship skills for group work – those are all social and emotional skills,” said Claire Crooks, director of Western University’s Centre for School Mental Health.
A new intervention study, led by Crooks, found that by providing educators with teachable tools and skills for their students to foster empathy and understanding for their peers, children who previously struggled in these areas showed greater kindness and improved self-regulation. These actions also allowed teachers to maintain a calm presence in their classrooms while managing stress in their own lives.
The mindfulness-based social and emotional learning program, called MindUP, was implemented in London District Catholic School Board (LDCSB) in targeted kindergarten classes. The children’s behaviour in these classes were compared to students in traditional kindergarten classes.
“There have been so many benefits of MindUP – children are able to describe their response to stress, and even the neurophysiology of it, and use calming strategies to settle themselves,” said Crooks.
Teachers see improvements in individual children’s behaviour, but also report the whole classroom climate being calmer and more settled.” Claire Crooks, director of Western University’s Centre for School Mental Health.
“Educators also report benefits for themselves, and how they approach challenging situations in the classroom. Parents were not included in this study, but anecdotally they report seeing children use the calming strategies and language at home.”
The rigorous study, in terms of the number of participating classrooms involved and a control comparison group, found significant differences in externalizing behaviour symptoms (such as acting out), internalizing symptoms (such as feeling sad or withdrawn), positive behaviour, and self-regulation.
“The implementation of the MindUP program at the London District Catholic School Board has resulted in positive impacts for both our students and educators,” said, Sandra Savage, LDCSB Mental Health Lead & Social Work Supervisor. “We have seen young children excited to understand how their brains work, become more aware of their feelings, and learn strategies to calm, focus and be ready to learn.”
The findings of this study were published in the journal, Mindfulness. Based on the success of the program with kindergarten students, the LDCSB is working to offer it for students in kindergarten to grade 3.