Educational Psychology Review

, Volume 27, Issue 1, pp 1–30 | Cite as

Contemplation in the Classroom: a New Direction for Improving Childhood Education

  • Shauna L. ShapiroEmail author
  • Kristen E. Lyons
  • Richard C. Miller
  • Britta Butler
  • Cassandra Vieten
  • Philip David ZelazoEmail author


Research with adults suggests that contemplative practices such as meditation and yoga impart a variety of benefits, from improved attention to reduced stress. Increasingly, these practices are being adapted for use with children and introduced into childhood education in order to foster the development of key self-regulation skills required for academic achievement and emotional well-being. This article reviews empirical evidence that supports the introduction of contemplative practices into childhood education. Directions for future research are discussed.


Self-regulation Attention training Mindfulness Yoga Learning 



The authors would like to thank the Baumann Institute for providing funding for the preparation of this article.


  1. Ashby, F. G., Isen, A. M., & Turken, A. U. (1999). A neuropsychological theory of positive affect and its influence on cognition. Psychological Review, 106, 529–550.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Baer, R. A. (2003). Mindfulness training as a clinical intervention: a conceptual and empirical review. Clinical Psychology: Science and Practice, 10, 125–143.Google Scholar
  3. Barkley, R. A. (1997). Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, self-regulation, and time: toward a more comprehensive theory. Journal of Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics, 18(4), 271–279.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Biegel, G. M., Brown, K. W., Shapiro, S. L., & Schubert, C. M. (2009). Mindfulness-based stress reduction for the treatment of adolescent psychiatric outpatients: a randomized clinical trial. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 77, 855–866.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Bierman, K. L., & Welsh, J. A. (1997). Social relationship deficits. In E. J. Mash & G. Lief (Eds.), Assessment of childhood disorders (3rd edition) (pp. 328–365). New York: Guilford Press.Google Scholar
  6. Bierman, K. L., Domitrovich, C. E., Nix, R. L., Gest, S. D., Welsh, J. A., Greenberg, M. T., Blair, C., Nelson, K. E., & Gill, S. (2008). Promoting academic and social–emotional school readiness: the head start REDI program. Child Development, 79, 1802–1817.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Blair, C., & Razza, R. P. (2007). Relating effortful control, executive function, and false belief understanding to emerging math and literacy ability in kindergarten. Child Development, 78, 647–663.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Blair, K. A., Denham, S. A., Kochanoff, A., & Whipple, B. (2004). Playing it cool: temperament, emotion regulation, and social behavior in preschoolers. Journal of School Psychology, 42, 419–443.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Boegels, S., Hoogstad, B., van Dun, L., de Schutter, S., & Restifo, K. (2008). Mindfulness training for adolescents with externalizing disorders and their parents. Behavioural and Cognitive Psychotherapy, 36(2), 193–209.Google Scholar
  10. Bryck, R. L., & Fisher, P. A. (2012). Training the brain: practical applications of neural plasticity from the intersection of cognitive neuroscience, developmental psychology, and prevention science. American Psychologist, 67, 87–100.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Burke, C. A. (2010). Mindfulness-based approaches with children and adolescents: a preliminary review of current research in an emergent field. Journal of Child and Family Studies, 19, 133–144.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Chambers, R., Lo, B. C. Y., & Allen, N. B. (2008). The impact of intensive mindfulness training on attentional control, cognitive style, and affect. Cognitive Therapy and Research, 32, 303–322.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Cole, P. M., Martin, S. E., & Dennis, T. A. (2004). Emotion regulation as a scientific construct: methodological challenges and directions for child development research. Child Development, 75, 317–333.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Coulumbe, S., Davies, B., Howe, K., Potts, A., Ryan, C. & Day, D.S. (2011). Desired and perceived outcomes related to an elementary school classroom-based yoga program as a basis for quantitative research studies. Abstract presented at the International Association of Yoga Therapists, September, 2011, Kripalu Center.Google Scholar
  15. Cowger, E. L., & Torrance, E. P. (1982). Further examination of the qualifying of changes in creative functioning resulting from meditation (Zazen) training. Creative Child & Adult Quarterly, 7, 211–217.Google Scholar
  16. Davidson, R. J. (2010). Empirical explorations of mindfulness: conceptual and methodological issues. Emotion, 10, 8–11.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Diamond, A., & Lee, K. (2011). Interventions shown to aid executive function development in children 4 to 12 years old. Science, 333, 959–964.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Duckworth, A. L., Grant, H., Loew, B., Oettingen, G., & Peter, M. G. (2011). Self-regulation strategies improve self-discipline in adolescents: benefits of mental contrasting and implementation intentions. Educational Psychology, 31(1), 17.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Eigsti, I., Zayas, V., Mischel, W., Shoda, Y., Ayduk, O., Dadlani, M. B., & Casey, B. J. (2006). Predicting cognitive control from preschool to late adolescence and young adulthood. Psychological Science, 17(6), 478–484.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Eisenberg, N., Fabes, R. A., Guthrie, I. K., & Reiser, M. (2002). The role of emotionality and regulation in children’s social competence and adjustment. In L. Pulkkinen & A. Caspi (Eds.), Paths to successful development: personality in the life course (pp. 46–70). New York: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Flavell, J. H., Green, F. L., & Flavell, E. R. (1995). Young children’s knowledge about thinking. Monographs of the Society for Research in Child Development, 60, 1–96.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Flavell, J. H., Green, F. L., & Flavell, E. R. (2000). Development of children’s awareness of their own thoughts. Journal of Cognition and Development, 1, 97–112.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. 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, 70–95.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Goldin, P. R., & Gross, J. J. (2010). Effects of mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) on emotion regulation in social anxiety disorder. Emotion, 10, 83–91.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Gross, J. J. (2002). Emotion regulation: affective, cognitive, and social consequences. Psychophysiology, 39, 281–291.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Harper, J. C. (2010). Yoga therapy in practice: teaching Yoga in urban elementary schools. International Journal of Yoga Therapy, 20, 100–110.Google Scholar
  27. Hart, T. (2004). Opening the contemplative mind in the classroom. Journal of Transformative Education, 2, 28–46.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Heeren, A., Van Broeck, N., & Philippot, P. (2009). The effects of mindfulness on executive processes and autobiographical memory specificity. Behaviour Research and Therapy, 47, 403–409.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Hughes, C., & Ensor, R. (2011). Individual differences in growth in executive function across the transition to school predict externalizing and internalizing behaviors and self-perceived academic success at 6 years of age. Journal of Experimental Child Psychology, 108(3), 663–676.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Huppert, F. A., & Johnson, D. M. (2010). A controlled trial of mindfulness training in schools: the importance of practice for an impact on well-being. Journal of Positive Psychology, 5, 264–274. doi: 10.1080/17439761003794148.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Huttenlocher, P. R. (2002). Neural plasticity: The effects of environment on the development of the cerebral cortex. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  32. Jaeggi, S. M., Buschkuehl, M., Jonides, J., & Shah, P. (2011). Short- and long-term benefits of cognitive training. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 108(25), 10081.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Jha, A. J., Krompinger, J., & Baime, M. J. (2007). Mindfulness training modifies subsystems of attention. Cognitive, Affective, & Behavioral Neuroscience, 7, 109–119.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Johnson, A. E., Forston, J. L., Gunnar, M. R., & Zelazo, P. D. (2012). A randomized controlled trial of mindfulness meditation training in preschool children. Submitted.Google Scholar
  35. Kabat-Zinn, J. (2003). Mindfulness-based interventions in context: past, present, and future. Clinical Psychology: Science and Practice, 10, 144–156.Google Scholar
  36. Kaiser-Greenland, S. (2010). The mindful child. New York: Free Press.Google Scholar
  37. Kapur, S., Craik, F. I. M., Tulving, E., Wilson, A. A., Houle, S., & Brown, G. M. (1994). Neuroanatomical correlates of encoding in episodic memory: levels of processing effect. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 91, 2008–2111.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Lantieri, L. (2008). Building emotional intelligence: techniques to cultivate inner strength in children. Boulder, CO: Sounds True.Google Scholar
  39. Liehr, P., & Diaz, N. (2010). A pilot study examining the effect of mindfulness on depression and anxiety for minority children. Archives of Psychiatric Nursing, 24, 69–71.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Lyons, K. E., & Ghetti, S. (2010). Metacognitive development in early childhood: new questions about old assumptions. In A. Efklides & P. Misailidi (Eds.), Trends and prospects in metacognition research (pp. 259–278). New York: Springer.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Marcovitch, S., Jacques, S., Boseovski, J. J., & Zelazo, P. D. (2008). Self-reflection and the cognitive control of behavior: implications for learning. Mind Brain and Education, 2, 136–141.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. McClelland, M. M., Cameron, C. E., Connor, C. M., Farris, C. L., Jewkes, A. M., & Morrison, F. J. (2007). Links between behavioral regulation and preschoolers’ literacy, vocabulary, and math skills. Developmental Psychology, 43, 947–959.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Mendelson, T., Greenberg, M. T., Dariotis, J. K., Gould, L. F., Rhoades, B. L., & Leaf, P. J. (2010). Feasibility and preliminary outcomes of a school-based mindfulness intervention for urban youth. Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology, 38(7), 985–994.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Metis Associates (2011). Building inner resilience in teachers and their students: results of the inner resilience pilot program. Retrieved on 12-3-2012 from documents/IRP_Pilot_Program_Results_AERA2011_updated_6.9.pdf.
  45. Miller, Richard C., Butler, Britta (2011). iRest For Kids. Integrative Restoration Institute, 900 5th Ave., Suite 203, San Rafael, CA 94901. See also:
  46. Moffitt, T. E., Arseneault, L., Belsky, D., Dickson, N., Hancox, R. J., Harrington, H., Houts, R., Poulton, R., Roberts, B. W., Ross, S., Sears, M. R., Thomson, W. M., & Caspi, A. (2011). A gradient of childhood self-control predicts health, wealth, and public safety. Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, 108(7), 2693–2698.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Napoli, M., Krech, P. R., & Holley, L. C. (2005). Mindfulness training for elementary school students: the attention academy. Journal of Applied School Psychology, 21, 99–125.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Neff, K. D. (2003). The development and validation of a scale to measure self-compassion. Self and Identity, 2, 223–250.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Nidich, S. I., Ryncarz, R. A., Abrams, A. I., Orme-Johnson, D. W., & Wallace, R. K. (1983). Kohlbergian cosmic perspective responses, EEG coherence, and the TM and TM-Sidhi program. Journal of Moral Education, 12, 166–173.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Nidich, S. M., Shujaa Nidich, R., Rainforth, M., Grant, J., Valosek, L., Chang, W., & Zigler, R. L. (2011). Academic achievement and transcendental meditation: a study with at-risk urban middle school students. Education, 131(3), 556–565.Google Scholar
  51. Ortner, C. N. M., Kilner, S. J., & Zelazo, P. D. (2007). Mindfulness meditation and reduced emotional interference on a cognitive task. Motivation and Emotion, 31, 271–283.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Orzech, K., Shapiro, S. L., & Brown, K. (2009). Intensive mindfulness training-related changes in cognitive and emotional experience. Journal of Positive Psychology, 4(3), 212–222.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. Ozonoff, S., Pennington, B. F., & Rogers, S. J. (1991). Executive function deficits in high-functioning autistic individuals: relationship to theory of mind. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 32(7), 1081–1105.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. Pechtel, P., & Pizzagalli, D. (2010). Effects of early life stress on cognitive and affective function: an intergrated review of human literature. Psychopharmacology, 214, 1–3.Google Scholar
  55. Ramani, G. B., Brownell, C. A., & Campbell, S. B. (2010). Positive and negative peer interaction in 3- and 4-year-olds in relation to regulation and dysregulation. The Journal of Genetic Psychology: Research and Theory on Human Development, 171, 218–250.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  56. Raver, C. C. (2004). Placing emotional self-regulation in sociocultural and socioeconomic contexts. Child Development, 75, 346–353.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  57. Rubin, K. H., Coplan, R. J., Fox, N. A., & Calkins, S. D. (1995). Emotionality, emotion regulation, and preschoolers’ social adaptation. Development and Psychopathology. Special Issues: Emotions in developmental psychopathology, 7, 49–62.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  58. Rueda, M. R., Rothbart, M. K., McCandliss, B. D., Saccomanno, L., & Posner, M. I. (2005). Training, maturation, and genetic influences on the development of executive attention. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 102, 14931–14936.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  59. Saltzman, A., & Goldin, P. (2008). Mindfulness based stress reduction for school-age children. In S. C. Hayes & L. A. Greco (Eds.), Acceptance and mindfulness interventions for children, adolescents and families (pp. 139–161). Oakland, CA: Context Press/New Harbinger.Google Scholar
  60. Sapolsky, R. M. (1996). Why stress is bad for your brain. Science, 273, 749–750.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  61. Semple, R. J., Lee, J., Rosa, D., & Miller, L. F. (2010). A randomized trial of mindfulness-based cognitive therapy for children: promoting mindful attention to enhance social–emotional resiliency in children. Journal of Child and Family Studies, 19, 218–229.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  62. Shapiro, S. L., & Carlson, L. E. (2009). The art and science of mindfulness: integrating mindfulness into psychology and the helping professions. Washington, D.C.: American Psychology Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  63. Shapiro, S. L., Schwartz, G. E., & Bonner, G. (1998). Effects of mindfulness-based stress reduction on medical and premedical students. Journal of Behavioral Medicine, 21, 581–599.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  64. Shapiro, S. L., Astin, J. A., Bishop, S. R., & Cordova, M. (2005). Mindfulness based stress reduction for health care professionals: results from a randomized controlled trial. International Journal of Stress Management, 12, 164–176.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  65. Shapiro, S. L., Brown, K. W., & Beigel, G. M. (2006). Teaching self-care to caregivers: Effects of mindfulness-based stress reduction on the mental health of mental health therapists in training. Training and Education in Professional Psychology, 1, 105–115.Google Scholar
  66. Shapiro, S.L., Jazzeri, H., Golden, P. (2012). Effects of mindfulness training on ethics. Mindfulness, 2-12.Google Scholar
  67. Slagter, H. A., Lutz, A., Greisschar, L. L., Nieuwenhuis, S., & Davidson, R. J. (2009). Theta phase synchrony and conscious target perception: impact of intensive mental training. Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, 21, 1536–1549.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  68. Slagter, H. A., Davidson, R. J., & Lutz, A. (2011). Mental training as a tool in the neuroscientific study of brain and cognitive plasticity. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, 5, 1–12.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  69. So, K., & Orme-Johnson, D. W. (2001). Three randomized experiments on the longitudinal effects of the transcendental meditation technique on cognition. Intelligence, 29, 419–440.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  70. Stiles, J. (2008). The fundamentals of brain development: integrating nature and nurture. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  71. Teasdale, J. D., Moore, R. G., Hayhurst, H., Pope, M., Williams, S., & Segal, Z. V. (2002). Metacognitive awareness and prevention of relapse in depression: empirical evidence. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 70, 275–287.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  72. Van der Oord, S., Bögels, S. M., & Peijnenburg, D. (2012). The effectiveness of mindfulness training for children with ADHD and mindful parenting for their parents. Journal of Child and Family Studies, 21(1), 139–147.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  73. Walsh, R., & Shapiro, S. L. (2006). The meeting of meditative disciplines and western psychology: a mutually enriching dialogue. The American Psychologist, 61(3), 227–239.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  74. Wellman, H. M., & Liu, D. (2004). Scaling of theory-of-mind tasks. Child Development, 75, 523–541.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  75. Wisner, B., Jones, B., & Gwin, D. (2010). School-based meditation practices for adolescents: a resource for strengthening self-regulation, emotional coping, and self-esteem. Children & Schools, 32, 150–159.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  76. Zeidan, F., Johnson, S. K., Diamond, B. J., David, Z., & Goolkasian, P. (2010). Mindfulness meditation improves cognition: evidence of brief mental training. Consciousness and Cognition: An International Journal, 19, 597–605.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  77. Zelazo, P. D. (2004). The development of conscious control in childhood. Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 8, 12–17.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  78. Zelazo, P. D., & Lyons, K. E. (2012). The potential benefits of mindfulness training in early childhood: a developmental social cognitive neuroscience perspective. Child Development Perspectives, 6, 154–160.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  79. Zelazo, P. D., Muller, U., Frye, D., & Marcovitch, S. (2003). The development of executive function in early childhood. Monographs of the Society for Research in Child Development, 68(3), Serial No. 274. Google Scholar
  80. Zylowska, L., Ackerman, D. L., Yang, M. H., Futrell, J. L., Horton, N. L., Hale, T. S., Pataki, C., & Smalley, S. L. (2008). Mindfulness meditation training in adults and adolescents with ADHD: a feasibility study. Journal of Attention Disorders, 11, 737–746.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  • Shauna L. Shapiro
    • 1
    Email author
  • Kristen E. Lyons
    • 2
  • Richard C. Miller
    • 3
  • Britta Butler
    • 3
  • Cassandra Vieten
    • 4
  • Philip David Zelazo
    • 2
    Email author
  1. 1.Santa Clara UniversitySanta ClaraUSA
  2. 2.Institute of Child DevelopmentUniversity of MinnesotaMinneapolisUSA
  3. 3.Integrative Restoration InstituteSan RafaelUSA
  4. 4.Institute of Noetic Sciences and California Pacific Medical Center Research InstituteSan FranciscoUSA

Personalised recommendations