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Home Ask A REL Are there any prior studies related to student mindfulness and behavior, especially in elementary schools?

Are there any prior studies related to student mindfulness and behavior, especially in elementary schools?

Mid-Atlantic | November 01, 2017

Thank you for the question you submitted to our REL Reference Desk regarding student mindfulness and behavior. We have prepared the following memo with research references to help answer your question. For each reference, we provide an abstract, excerpt, or summary written by the study's author or publisher. The references are selected from the most commonly used research resources and may not be comprehensive. Other relevant studies may exist. We have not evaluated the quality of these references, but provide them for your information only.

Research References

  1. Black, D.S. & Fernando, R. (2014). Mindfulness training and classroom behavior among lower-income and ethnic minority elementary school children. Journal of Child and Family Studies, 23(7), 1242-1246.
    From the abstract: “This field intervention trial evaluated the effect of a 5-week mindfulness-based curriculum on teacher-ratings of student classroom behavior at a Richmond, CA public elementary school, and examined if the addition of more sessions provided added benefit to student outcomes. Seventeen teachers reported on the classroom behaviors of 409 children (83 % enrolled in a California free lunch program and 95.7 % ethnic minority) in kindergarten through sixth grade at pre-intervention, immediate post-intervention, and 7 weeks post-intervention. Results showed that teachers reported improved classroom behavior of their students (i.e., paying attention, self-control, participation in activities, and caring/respect for others) that lasted up to 7 weeks post-intervention. Overall, improvements were not bolstered by the addition of extra sessions, with the exception of paying attention. The implications of this study are limited due to the lack of a mindfulness program-naïve control group, yet findings suggest that mindfulness training might benefit teacher-based perceptions of improved classroom behavior in a public elementary school, which has practice implications for improving the classroom learning environment for lower-income and ethnically-diverse children.”
  2. Burke, C.A. (2009). Mindfulness-based approaches with children and adolescents: A preliminary review of current research in an emergent field. Journal of Child and Family Studies, 19(3), 281-300.
    From the abstract: “Interest in applications of mindfulness-based approaches with adults has grown rapidly in recent times, and there is an expanding research base that suggests these are efficacious approaches to promoting psychological health and well-being. Interest has spread to applications of mindfulness-based approaches with children and adolescents, yet the research is still in its infancy. I aim to provide a preliminary review of the current research base of mindfulness-based approaches with children and adolescents, focusing on MBSR/MBCT models, which place the regular practice of mindfulness meditation at the core of the intervention. Overall, the current research base provides support for the feasibility of mindfulness-based interventions with children and adolescents, however there is no generalized empirical evidence of the efficacy of these interventions. For the field to advance, I suggest that research needs to shift away from feasibility studies towards large, well-designed studies with robust methodologies, and adopt standardized formats for interventions, allowing for replication and comparison studies, to develop a firm research evidence base.”
  3. Butzer, B., Day, D., Potts, A., Ryan, C., Coulombe, S., Davies, B., Weidknecht, K., Ebert, M., Flynn, L., & Khalsa, S.B.S. (2014). Effects of a classroom-based yoga intervention on cortisol and behavior in second- and third-grade students: A pilot study. Journal of Evidence-Based Complementary & Alternative Medicine, 20(1), 41-49.
    From the abstract: “This uncontrolled pilot study examined the effects of a classroombased yoga intervention on cortisol concentrations and perceived behavior in children. A 10-week Yoga 4 Classrooms intervention was implemented in one second-grade and one third-grade classroom. Students' salivary cortisol responses were assessed at 3 time points. Classroom teachers also documented their perceptions of the effects of the intervention on students' cognitive, social, and emotional skills. Second, but not third, graders showed a significant decrease in baseline cortisol from before to after the intervention. Second and third graders both showed significant decreases in cortisol from before to after a cognitive task, but neither grade showed additional decreases from before to after a single yoga class. The second-grade teacher perceived significant improvements in several aspects his/her students' behavior. The third-grade teacher perceived some, but fewer, improvements in his/her students' behavior. Results suggest that school-based yoga may be advantageous for stress management and behavior.”
  4. Felver, J.C., Frank, J.L., & McEachern, A.D. (2013). Effectiveness, acceptability, and feasibility of the Soles of the Feet mindfulness-based intervention with elementary school students. Mindfulness, 5(5), 589-597.
    From the abstract: “Children with high rates of disruptive behavior in elementary school are at risk for future psychosocial difficulties. Professionals who work in today's schools are in need of effective interventions to reduce rates of disruptive behaviors in schools in order to ensure optimal outcomes for students. We detail a pilot study of a brief mindfulness-based intervention, Soles of the Feet (SOF), for elementary school students. Three non-disabled students with high rates of off-task behavior during general education periods were selected and taught the SOF intervention. SOF took place over the course of five 20–30-min sessions in a public school setting. Using a multiplebaseline single-subject study design, results obtained via direct observation of student behavior during general education instructional time in the classroom suggest that SOF may be an effective intervention to reduce off-task behavior and increase academically engaged behavior for behaviorally challenging students. Questionnaires administered to these students and their teachers suggest that SOF is socially valid, feasible, and acceptable intervention for use in public schools. Conclusions extend the research of the effectiveness of SOF, and suggest that SOF is an effective short-term, resource nonintensive, and socially valid intervention for use with typically developing students with disruptive behavior in a public school setting.”
  5. Flook, L., Smalley, S.L., Kitil, M.J., Galla, B.M., Kaiser-Greenland, S., Locke, J., Ishijima, E., & Kasari, C. (2010). Effects of mindful awareness practices on executive functions in elementary school children. Journal of Applied School Psychology, 26(1), 70-95
    From the abstract: “A school-based program of mindful awareness practices (MAPs) was evaluated in a randomized control study of 64 second- and third-grade children ages 7–9 years. The program was delivered for 30 minutes, twice per week, for 8 weeks. Teachers and parents completed questionnaires assessing children's executive function immediately before and following the 8-week period. Multivariate analysis of covariance on teacher and parent reports of executive function (EF) indicated an interaction effect between baseline EF score and group status on posttest EF. That is, children in the MAPs group who were less well regulated showed greater improvement in EF compared with controls. Specifically, those children starting out with poor EF who went through the MAPs training showed gains in behavioral regulation, metacognition, and overall global executive control. These results indicate a stronger effect of MAPs on children with executive function difficulties. The finding that both teachers and parents reported changes suggests that improvements in children's behavioral regulation generalized across settings. Future work is warranted using neurocognitive tasks of executive functions, behavioral observation, and multiple classroom samples to replicate and extend these preliminary findings.”
  6. Harpin, S.B., Rossi, A., Kim, A.K., & Swanson, L.M. (2016). Behavioral impacts of a mindfulness pilot intervention for elementary school students. Education, 137(2), 149- 156.
    From the abstract: “Elementary school students in today's urban classrooms face many life circumstances at home and in their communities that contribute to stress and coping needs. These stressors are often brought into the classroom, which impact learning, behaviors, and overall academic performance. Mindfulness has been used in classroom settings, particularly with older children and adolescents to help with behavioral and academic outcomes in school. The purpose of this pilot study was to test a 10-week Mindfulness program that was integrated daily at the morning homeroom check-in with a classroom of 4th graders, and compared to a matched comparison classroom. Teachers provided pre-intervention and post-intervention data on student behavior and academic performance; students gave qualitative feedback about the program. While there were no significant differences on the Mindfulness measures, teachers reported significant differences in prosocial behaviors, emotional regulation, and academic performance within group and across comparison groups. Students also reported high satisfaction with the curriculum and gave examples of how they used Mindfulness for emotional regulation and in classroom. Findings support the use of Mindfulness in urban classroom settings as a feasible option for students to help with personal stress and coping, as well as emotional and behavior regulation in schools and at home.”
  7. Klingbeil, D.A., Fischer, A.J., Renshaw, T.L., Bloomfield, B.S., Polakoff, B., Willenbrink, J.B., Copek, R.A., & Chan, K.T. (2017). Effects of mindfulness-based interventions on disruptive behavior: A meta-analysis of single-case research. Psychology in the Schools, 54(1), 70-87.
    From the abstract: “The popularity of mindfulness-based interventions (MBIs) is growing rapidly in schools. Decisions regarding the use of these interventions must be based on empirical evidence. There is robust evidence for the use of MBIs with adults, but research on MBIs with youth is nascent. The purpose of this meta-analytic review was to add to the literature by synthesizing single-case research on MBIs with children and adolescents. Specifically, the effect of MBIs on youths' disruptive behavior was examined in 10 studies published between 2006 and 2014. Results indicated that, on average, MBIs had a medium effect on disruptive behavior during treatment, g = 1.04, 95% confidence interval (CI) [0.30-1.78]; TauU = 0.59, 95% CI [0.40-0.77]. The average effect of MBIs during maintenance phases was larger, g = 1.41, 95% CI [0.55- 2.28]; TauU = 0.71, 95% CI [0.59-0.83]. Potential moderators of intervention effects were also explored. Implications for future research and practice regarding MBIs with youth and in schools are discussed.”
  8. Leland, M. (2015). Mindfulness and student success. Journal of Adult Education, 44(1), 19-24.
    From the abstract: ““Mindfulness has long been practiced in Eastern spiritual traditions for personal improvement, and educators and educational institutions have recently begun to explore its usefulness in schools. Mindfulness training can be valuable for helping students be more successful learners and more connected members of an educational community. To determine if mindfulness instruction should be incorporated into curriculum at all levels of formal education to help students be more successful in their academic pursuits, a thorough review of research was conducted using primary and secondary sources of the possible applications and results of mindfulness in education. Mindfulness education was helpful in some specific ways: minimizing the impact of bullying, helping students with learning disabilities, benefiting students who are training in careers with high emotion and stress, and coaching. Based on the results, students who have mindfulness incorporated in their curriculum could potentially reap benefits academically and personally.”
  9. Malow, M.S. & Austin, V.L. (2016). Mindfulness for students classified with emotional/behavioral disorder. Insights into Learning Disabilities, 13(1), 81-93.
    From the abstract: “A six-week investigation utilizing a standard mindfulness for adolescents curriculum and norm-based standardized resiliency scale was implemented in a self-contained school for students with Emotional/Behavioral Disorders (E/BD). Informal integration of mindfulness activities into a classroom setting was examined for ecological appropriateness and improvement of student resiliency as conceptualized by pre and post-tests using a standardized measure. T-tests demonstrated that students perceived a significantly greater sense of personal mastery after six weeks of mindfulness activities, defined by the scale as optimism, self-efficacy, and adaptability. Additionally, students perceived a significant decrease in the level of emotional reactivity defined as sensitivity, recovery and impairment. Although a third scale, relatedness, did not reach significance, it was strongly supported and represented a trend in the significant direction. The results, both quantitatively and qualitatively, speak to the power of incorporating informal mindfulness activities into the daily educational curriculums of students.”
  10. Napoli, M., Krech, P.R., & Holley, L.C. (2005). Mindfulness training for elementary school students: The attention academy. Journal of Applied School Psychology, 21(1), 99-125.
    From the abstract: “Mindfulness is the cognitive propensity to be aware of what is happening in the moment without judgment or attachment to any particular outcome. This concept flies in the face of modern, Western philosophical outcomes-based thinking about events and activities. This article presents results of a formative evaluation of whether participation in a mindfulness training program affected first, second, and third grade students' outcomes on measures of attention. The training was designed and intended to help students learn to focus and pay attention. The 24-week training employed a series of exercises including breathwork, bodyscan, movement, and sensorimotor awareness activities. Results from three attentional measures administered to the students show significant differences between those who did and did not participate in mindfulness practice training. Results are discussed and recommendations are made for future work in this developing field of interest.”
  11. Rempel, K.D. (2012). Mindfulness for children and youth: A review of the literature with an argument for school-based implementation. Canadian Journal of Counselling and Psychotherapy, 46(3), 201-220.
    From the abstract: “Interest in the use of mindfulness-based activities with children and youth is growing. The article evaluates empirical evidence related to the use of mindfulness-based activities to facilitate enhanced student learning and to support students' psychological, physiological, and social development. It also provides an overview of interventions that include mindfulness. There is a need to provide children with a way to combat the stress and pressure of living in today's highly charged world: mindfulness may be one helpful alternative. The implications of a universal school-based mindfulness intervention are discussed, and directions for future research are offered.”
  12. Schonert-Reichl, K.A., Oberle, E., Lawlor, M.S., Abott, D., Thomson, K., Oberlander, T.F., & Diamond, A. (2015). Enhancing cognitive and social-emotional development through a simple-to-administer mindfulness-based school program for elementary school children: A randomized controlled trial. Developmental Psychology, 51(1), 52-66.
    From the abstract: “The authors hypothesized that a social and emotional learning (SEL) program involving mindfulness and caring for others, designed for elementary school students, would enhance cognitive control, reduce stress, promote well-being and prosociality, and produce positive school outcomes. To test this hypothesis, 4 classes of combined 4th and 5th graders (N = 99) were randomly assigned to receive the SEL with mindfulness program versus a regular social responsibility program. Measures assessed executive functions (EFs), stress physiology via salivary cortisol, well-being (selfreports), prosociality and peer acceptance (peer reports), and math grades. Relative to children in the social responsibility program, children who received the SEL program with mindfulness (a) improved more in their cognitive control and stress physiology; (b) reported greater empathy, perspective-taking, emotional control, optimism, school selfconcept, and mindfulness, (c) showed greater decreases in self-reported symptoms of depression and peer-rated aggression, (d) were rated by peers as more prosocial, and (e) increased in peer acceptance (or sociometric popularity). The results of this investigation suggest the promise of this SEL intervention and address a lacuna in the scientific literature—identifying strategies not only to ameliorate children's problems but also to cultivate their well-being and thriving. Directions for future research are discussed.”

Additional Organizations to Consult

  • American Mindfulness Research Association:
    From the website: “The American Mindfulness Research Association (AMRA) was founded in 2013. Our mission is to support empirical and conceptual efforts to: (1) establish an evidence base for the process, practice, and construct of mindfulness; (2) promote best evidence-based standards for the use of mindfulness research and its applications; and (3) facilitate discovery and professional development through grant giving. AMRA serves as a professional resource to the sciences and humanities, practice communities, and the broader public on mindfulness from the perspective of contemplative practice.”
  • Association for Mindfulness in Education:
    From the website: “The Association for Mindfulness in Education is a collaborative association of organizations and individuals working together to provide support for mindfulness training as a component of K-12 education. As such, mindfulness is a foundation for education; mindfulness provides the optimal conditions for learning and teaching and also supports all pedagogical approaches.”
  • Holistic Life Foundation:
    From the website: “The Holistic Life Foundation is a Baltimore-based 501(c) (3) nonprofit organization committed to nurturing the wellness of children and adults in underserved communities. Through a comprehensive approach which helps children develop their inner lives through yoga, mindfulness, and self-care HLF demonstrates deep commitment to learning, community, and stewardship of the environment. HLF is also committed to developing high-quality evidence based programs and curriculum to improve community well-being.”
  • Mindful Schools:
    From the website: “Mindful Schools transforms school communities from the inside out. In 2007, a small, passionate team assembled their collective experience in education, social justice, and mindfulness and founded Mindful Schools on the belief that mindfulness provides young people with a compass to navigate their lives. The program began in a classroom at Emerson Elementary School in Oakland, CA. Today, Mindful Schools is one of the key players in the movement to integrate mindfulness into the everyday learning environment of K-12 classrooms. The organization has trained over 25,000 educators, parents, and mental health professionals who work with youth. These graduates, spanning 100+ countries, have reached over 1.5 million children worldwide.”


Search Strings: Mindfulness behavior students OR mindfulness intervention schools OR mindfulness behavior change elementary students

Searched Databases and Resources.

  • ERIC
  • Academic Databases (e.g., EBSCO databases, JSTOR database, ProQuest, Google Scholar)

Reference Search and Selection Criteria. The following factors are considered when selecting references:

  • Date of Publication: Priority is given to references published in the past 10 years.
  • Search Priorities of Reference Sources: ERIC, other academic databases, Institute of Education Sciences Resources, and other resources including general internet searches
  • Methodology: Priority is given to the most rigorous study types, such as randomized controlled trials and quasi-experimental designs, as well as to surveys, descriptive analyses, and literature reviews. Other considerations include the target population and sample, including their relevance to the question, generalizability, and general quality.

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