Many children attend after-school activities such as sport or art — but some take mindfulness classes.

Every Tuesday afternoon, a group of Waikato children gather at Cambridge Primary School to learn about their thoughts and emotions.

The weekly classes help children cope with stress, anxiety and anger in the classroom and at home.

One of the children's favourite activities is a 'body scan' - focusing attention on physical sensations by 'scanning' awareness throughout the body. Photo / Bethany Rolston
One of the children's favourite activities is a 'body scan' - focusing attention on physical sensations by 'scanning' awareness throughout the body. Photo / Bethany Rolston

The 45-minute classes are run by school teacher Rachel MacAllister, who guides the children through a range of activities.

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MacAllister designed the programme — Inspire Mindfulness — from her own mindfulness training, six years of mindfulness practise and nine years of classroom teacher practise.

One of the children's favourite activities is a 'body scan' — focusing attention on physical sensations by 'scanning' awareness throughout the body.

Also popular is 'mindful eating' — paying careful attention to eating using all senses.
During the classes children learn about different parts of their brain and the science behind mindfulness.

The 'Calming Glitter Jar' activity teaches children that their minds can be full of thoughts, swirling around like glitter, and how to let their thoughts settle. Photo / Bethany Rolston
The 'Calming Glitter Jar' activity teaches children that their minds can be full of thoughts, swirling around like glitter, and how to let their thoughts settle. Photo / Bethany Rolston

"I teach children how mindfulness helps to calm the brain — particularly their amygdala, which is the part of the brain which makes us fight, flight or freeze in stressful and anxiety-provoking situations," MacAllister says.

"We look at how mindfulness helps the prefrontal cortex, which is the part of the brain we use for concentration, decision making, having compassion, problem solving etc."

"I teach the children how neural pathways are created and how new pathways can be created, therefore creating healthier thought processes."

Every Tuesday afternoon, a group of Waikato children gather at Cambridge Primary School to learn about their thoughts and emotions. Photo / Bethany Rolston
Every Tuesday afternoon, a group of Waikato children gather at Cambridge Primary School to learn about their thoughts and emotions. Photo / Bethany Rolston

MacAllister says the children are fascinated by the science element of the programme.

"Often, this is the first time they've really been taught about their brain and some of its capabilities."

MacAllister wants to normalise the practise of mindfulness.

"Talking about emotions and mental health shouldn't be taboo.

"Mindfulness is not about emptying the mind — it's about noticing what's there, here and now."

For MacAllister, practising mindfulness has made her a more present parent with her seven-year-old daughter Isabelle.

"Slowing down and taking time out has a real positive impact. It opens up that communication between parent and child."

Psychology academic Dr Carrie Cornsweet Barber, of the University of Waikato, agrees that mindfulness can have many benefits.
Psychology academic Dr Carrie Cornsweet Barber, of the University of Waikato, agrees that mindfulness can have many benefits.

A psychology academic agrees mindfulness can have many benefits.

Dr Carrie Cornsweet Barber, of the University of Waikato, says benefits could include increased ability to focus, decreased anxiety, more perspective and decreased reactivity of the stress response system.

Barber says the benefits depend on the person and their particular needs and style.

"Nothing works for everyone — and nothing fixes everything. Mindfulness is one strategy that can be helpful — it might be really helpful to one person, or just a little helpful, or not at all, to someone else.

"How much and for whom it helps also depends on how it's presented, and how good a fit that has with the person's beliefs and way of thinking."

Barber says there is evidence that mindfulness practises can help reduce anxiety and depression in adults.

"There's less research on children and adolescents, but there is good reason to believe that it could help."

MacAllister, originally from the UK, has been practising mindfulness for six years and believes it should be included in the New Zealand curriculum.

Students pay $15 per class, but her dream is to see it funded and available to all children.

MacAllister's dream could become a reality, following the Government's mental health inquiry, which has received submissions about funded mindfulness in schools.

The inquiry is in the deliberation phase and is required to report to Government by Friday, November 30.

For more information about mindfulness, visit facebook.com/InspireMindfulness or contact inspiremindfulnessnz@gmail.com