Students of Stillness
By teaching school kids to be “in the moment,” an Oakland educator helps them focus.
Illustration by Keiko Morimoto
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Kids have a new tool, beyond meds or a trip to the principal’s office, to deal with depression, stress, and lack of focus. It’s called mindfulness, and Laurie Grossman, community outreach coordinator at Oakland’s Park Day School, is one of its biggest advocates, having launched an effort in East Bay schools to help kids be mindful—to find an inner stillness.
Grossman has introduced a five-week program in 10 low-income Oakland public schools and three private schools around the Bay Area. It draws on the stress reduction techniques developed by medical researcher and best-selling author Jon Kabat-Zinn to help people deal with pain, anxiety, and depression. Grossman plans to expand the program to a dozen more Bay Area schools this year, possibly including one in Orinda, and to work on a study to document the benefits of mindfulness for children.
What is mindfulness?
Paying attention, on purpose, to the present moment, without judgment. We start by teaching children to listen to sound. The second lesson is focusing on breath. We teach them that if they start thinking, they should say, “Thinking, thinking.” Then mindful eating, mindful movement, and body scan. Can you feel your left foot? What does it feel like? Is it touching the ground? What sensations do you feel? That typically relaxes you. We have 15, 15-minute sessions. Several lessons are on kindness and caring. We say to them, “Imagine someone in your life. Imagine them really happy.” It opens their heart, makes them kinder.