A primary school in Essex has become one of the first schools in Britain to install ‘meditation pods’ to help its pupils to relax.
Longwood Primary Academy in Harlow has brought in a wooden chamber as a place for both children and teachers to seek refuge if they’re feeling overwhelmed. It offers special ‘meditation breaks’, encouraging kids to spend up to half an hour on voluntary ‘time out’, according to the Evening Standard.
The pod, which is made of wooden slats to let in the light and reduce feelings of claustrophobia, is also equipped with headphones and an MP3 player. This will enable children to listen to soothing tracks during the dedicated ‘thinking time’.
“Making sure that all our pupils feel happy and secure in the school is a top priority,” headteacher James Hollinsley told the newspaper, adding that he hoped it would help staff too and “create an environment of calm and focus”.
It’s part of a growing focus on mindfulness in primary schools across the UK – with many reports of positive effects.
At Aldersbrook Primary School in East London, staff have installed a ‘serenity garden’ – which incorporates a ‘living wall’ of plants allowed to grow and spread around the structure of the school itself. Children are encouraged to visit the garden at break and lunch times to relax and sit peacefully if they feel overwhelmed or in need of space.
And in Merseyside, in an area affected by gangs and gun crime, the headteacher of a Catholic primary school that invested £2,500 to train one member of staff in giving mindfulness lessons says that it’s helped “bring quieter children to the surface”.
“We see a lot of pressure put on children’s shoulders due to family circumstances, parents losing their jobs, financial stress, anxiety about crime, fear about homelessness,” Lewis Dinsdale, headteacher at English Martyrs, told The Guardian.
“Children internalise things ... children who we’d never have known were going through such anxiety and stress at home,” he said. “They haven’t wanted to speak to their mum and dad about it but it’s coming out in these sessions.”
One of the techniques the school uses is “petal breathing” – where children open and close their fingers in time with their breathing. And the newspaper reports one nine-year-old-boy as saying it helped him to forget about “all the scary stuff”.
This new approach by schools appears to echo the installation of similar pods – for grown-ups. There are office-based meditation ‘sanctuaries’ in co-working spaces, and even drop-in ‘zen’ studios.
There are plenty of mindfulness and ‘head space’ apps available to download, and the benefits of a mental unwind are espoused by everyone from business leaders to fitness coaches and health experts.
A recent study by the University of Warwick and the Warwickshire Institute for the Study of Diabetes Endocrinology and Metabolism at University Hospitals Coventry and Warwickshire NHS Trust also showed the positive effects of mindfulness on health issues, such as obesity.
Researchers found that using mindfulness techniques, which helps individuals gain awareness of themselves and their immediate environment in a low-stress way, may improve the effectiveness of intensive weight management programmes.
People who used mindfulness training as part of an intensive programme lost more weight in six months than those who didn’t.