Developing a mindfulness curriculum in the primary phase

mindfulnessWith almost half of secondary schools in England identifying a lack of self-esteem as the main reason for children not being at the expected level when they enter year 7, we investigate a mindfulness programme in a North Wales primary school that is now having impact around the world…

Ysgol Pen-Y-Bryn Foundation School, above the coastal resort of Colwyn Bay in Conwy, has 466 pupils on roll. Some 94% of pupils come from English-speaking homes, and 2% speak Welsh at home.

In a desire to develop thinking skills and metacognition, the school decided to introduce the children to mindfulness: how it can be helpful in their lives for improved concentration, mood regulation and appropriate choices.

The curriculum should offer the opportunity for children to experience mindfulness practices at a primary age, explore metacognition and how their brain works.

Mindfulness can be helpful in children’s lives for improved concentration, mood regulation and appropriate choices

Having made contact with the Bangor University Mindfulness Institute, Ysgol Pen Y Bryn has created a primary mindfulness curriculum. This has been a collaboration between experienced primary teachers at Ysgol Pen Y Bryn, an experienced mindfulness teacher (Sarah Silverton), a neuroscientist (Dusana Dorjee) and the Mindfulness in Schools Project (MISP).

The curriculum, called Paws b, is taught in PSE lessons and then allows mindfulness to be embedded in the school life. There are now 300 people trained in Paws b involved in the project and its extensions.

Six years ago the teachers were trained in mindfulness. They completed an intensive eight-week course and developed their own mindfulness practice. This inspired them to introduce mindfulness to the children, as they could see the many benefits mindfulness can provide.

A key stage 2 curriculum was created, trialled and developed – to a large degree, by the children themselves. Their overwhelmingly positive response has really shaped the curriculum.

A KS2 mindfulness curriculum was created, trialled and developed – to a large degree, by the children themselves

The children now report that they use mindfulness for self-regulation and concentration in and out of school, to settle into the next lesson so they are ready to learn, before tests and performances, to calm themselves during playground incidents and sibling rivalry. In addition to the lessons, the children can request practices and attend lunchtime sessions before their afternoon lessons.

Impact on teaching and learning

The school’s experience confirms that mindfulness promotes attitudes of kindness, patience, curiosity and enquiry. These attitudes have a positive impact on the children’s learning. For example, exploring the ‘amazing brain’ in lessons has improved their understanding of how they learn and provided a positive ‘growth mindset’ culture.

Impact on academic results

One teacher has carried out action research for a Masters dissertation comparing children that were receiving mindfulness lessons in the school with ones that didn’t. The results clearly showed that the children exposed to mindfulness had higher value-added test results by the end of the year and a more positive attitude to their learning.

Currently there is a PhD research project at Bangor University examining the impact of the school’s curriculum in local schools that have been trained by Ysgol Pen y Bryn. The research measures the children’s brain activity before and after the delivery of our curriculum. Although the results are not published yet, initial indications are extremely positive.

Impact on the community

The school has kept the whole school community informed during this development of the curriculum. After seeing a difference in their children’s behaviour and learning, several parents have started to learn mindfulness practices themselves. Other teachers have also asked to be trained in mindfulness.

Impact on other schools – at home…

Creating a high quality training package has enabled teachers to feel supported in delivering mindfulness in a purposeful and authentic way to primary children. The school has trained teachers in other local schools in the Paws b curriculum, and offered support as they begin to teach it.

The schools are also involved in the Bangor University research project. Ysgol Pen-Y-Bryn is to be involved in training at county level in the next academic year. Interested counties are Cornwall, Devon, Pembrokeshire and Cumbria.

… and abroad

The curriculum has now been published with the Mindfulness in Schools Project and the school has trained 230 people across the world in the curriculum (Australia, USA, South Korea, Singapore, Hong Kong, and a variety of European countries).

Our curriculum is being translated into Chinese and is due to be translated into German and Finnish. We are proud that our curriculum is now touching the lives of children across the world, as it has our own children.

The school has trained 230 people across the world in the mindfulness curriculum

All feedback has been exceptionally positive, with reports of the children having improved concentration levels and self-regulation across the many cultures that now teach this curriculum.

An All-Party Parliamentary group has been set up to look at introducing mindfulness in public policy. Representatives from Ysgol Pen-Y-Bryn have attended the two meetings that have taken place so far and our children spoke to 60 MPs and members of the Lords about why they think mindfulness should be in primary schools.

Our children spoke to 60 MPs and Lords about why they think mindfulness should be in primary schools

Next steps for us

A year 6 curriculum will be finalised to show how mindfulness can be helpful in this crucial year when so many changes take place for young people: transition, puberty and the impacts of social media. This will be then included in our training programme. A foundation phase curriculum will also be finalised, in the following year.

Check out children’s mental health charity Place2Be.

Check out MindEd.

Check out Mindful Music.

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