Imagine a brain manipulation which gives children greater mental focus, improves empathy, and increases optimism. And the cost is about $5 per child. If you think this is a fantasy, you would be wrong. The MindUP™ program, developed by actress Goldie Hawn and neurologist Judy Willis uses short bouts of mindfulness training to help elementary school children learn to regulate their own brains. Supported by the Hawn Foundation for Mindful Education, the MindUP™ program is reaping great rewards for schoolchildren in Vancouver and beyond. I had the pleasure of spending a couple of hours on an airplane yesterday speaking with UBC Associate Professor Kim Schonert-Reich, one of the lead researchers on the efficacy of the MindUP™ curriculum on schoolchildren. What she told me was nothing less than astonishing.
Three times a day, kids are given three minutes of a version of mindfulness training which, in aggregate, takes them through four 30 minute lessons: (1) Quieting the mind; (2) Our senses; (3) Practical Applications; (4) Mindfulness and ourselves in the world. Because each session of the program is brief, children are not only able to manage it but love it, telling their friends & families about their experiences on a regular basis.
Kim is in the process of carrying out a proper experiment on the MindUP™ program, with some classes receive no training, others receiving sham training, and other getting the full MindUP™ curriculum. The results are not yet published, but even the non-quantitative results are compelling. When teachers who are not using the program see what a powerful positive effect it is having on kids in other classes, they clamour for having the curriculum included in their daily lesson plans. High school teachers are starting to ask for a version of the program for their students. It has turned into a full-fledged meme, spreading like wildfire in the absence of marketing. As an added benefit, MindUP™ is also making kids budding neurobiologists – each lesson is accompanied by a description of what goes on in the brain when one practices mindfulness, and kids apparently go home to their families and tell them about their brains.
Some testimonials from the MindUP™ website.
From a student:
“MindUP™ really upgraded my mind. It really helped me basically with a lot of things, like sleeping through the night, eating, being happier at school, making new friends and blocking out my little sister’s nagging!”
– William, age 12
From a teacher:
“A kindergarten student who was being bullied in school was moved to another class. Recently this student had contact with his previous class and classmates. Apparently he spent some time thinking about what had happened. While in the car, he told his mom he knew why the other boy bullied him…he said the boy did not use his pre-frontal cortex to make good decisions and he often acted that way because of his amygdala. His mom was amazed… and told the teacher and many parents at school.”
-Janice, Kindergarten Teacher
From a parent:
“My child is always talking about his prefrontal cortex and amygdala – he is so happy and has been teaching all of us MindUP™ at home.”
-parent of a MindUP™ student
The MindUP™ program has obvious roots in Buddhist meditation techniques but is decidedly non-religious. What it does for kids is much like what mindfulness-based stress reduction does for adults: captures the advantages of ages-old meditation techniques and transposes so that it is applicable to the modern world.
A wonderful piece of brain technology indeed.
Link to the MindUP™ curriculum
Link to the Hawn Foundation
Image Credit: Calligraphy by Kanjuro Shibata