DePaul Education and Counseling Center teaches children to be mindful

Marissa Nelson
May 18, 2017

The hum of the air conditioner filled the room as six children sat quietly. Their eyes were closed, concentrating on the sounds surrounding them.

Martha Mason quietly rang a gold singing bowl sitting next to her on the ground. The children slowly opened their eyes, focusing their attention on Mason.

"What did you hear?" Mason asked the group. One student mentioned hearing someone moving around on their cushion, another heard talking outside of the room.

Mason, director of the Education and Counseling Center at DePaul, is facilitating a six week-long mindfulness meditation course, called "Learning to Breathe," for children. For 45 minutes every Thursday night, students ranging in age from 7 to 12 gather at the Center to practice mindfulness. The program slowly introduces children to the idea of meditation through activities encouraging attention and focus.

Learning to BREATHE

College of Education

Dylan Fulbright holds a fruit snack up to the light during a mindfulness exercise at the Education and Counseling Center at the College of Education. (DePaul University/Jamie Moncrief)

Mason developed the program from clinical psychologist, Patricia C. Broderick's work. Each class centers around a letter, spelling the word "breathe." The letter "b" which stands for body was the focus of the first class. Mason, with the help of DePaul graduate student Megan Cassidy, led the students through three activities, directing their attention to individual senses.

After listening closely to the sounds surrounding them, Mason passed around a plate of fruit snacks. She asked the children not to eat the treat yet. 

"Just hold it," Mason instructed the students. "Look at it like you have never seen a fruit snack before. Hold it to the light, does it change?"

Six students stretched their arms to the sky, gazing at their fruit snack. They noticed the bumpy shape and squishy nature of the snack. A student held the snack up to his ear, noticing how it squeaked when he squeezed it.

"Now that you have observed the fruit snack, go ahead and eat it, notice how it tastes and feels" Mason said.

The children began to chew, scrunching their eyebrows together as they concentrated on the texture, feeling and taste of the snack.

"Would you like another one?" Mason asked. The children grinned, motioning for another piece.

Learning to be mindful

Before the session, Mason talked about the juxtaposition of mindfulness and children. The students, from different elementary schools around the city, are participating in the program to work on various areas of concern such as test taking anxiety, low self-esteem or peer interaction.

Martha Mason

Martha Mason, director of DePaul's Education and Counseling Center at the College of Education, leads a meditation class Thursday, April 27, 2017, to introduce children to mindfulness practices such as breathing and observation. (DePaul University/Jamie Moncrief)

Studies have proven mindfulness can strengthen attention, emotion regulation and increase stress and anxiety management skills, especially when it comes to ADHD and anxiety.

 "Mindfulness promotes attention and concentration," Mason says. "The purpose is to pay attention to the present moment, being curious in the moment and open to the moment without judgement."

Mason is particularly interested in implementing mindfulness programs for children because they are so curious, open and malleable. She explains that by learning to practice mindfulness at a young age, children develop skills to help them deal with stress and anxiety throughout their lifetime. During the mindfulness course, Mason hopes students will begin to show positive changes in many life areas.  

"Parents should be able to see better sleeping and coping habits," Mason says. "They should notice their kids communicating more about their feelings."

This spring's course, which is offered through DePaul's Education and Counseling Center, known as the ECC, is the third time Mason has conducted the mindfulness group at the Center.

The EEC provides educational and counseling services such as general academic tutoring, literacy help and professional counseling services to Chicago community members. It also serves as a service learning opportunity and training program for DePaul students. Mason hopes to offer the class again in the fall. Mason will be running the "Learning to Breathe" group at least four times a year in the ECC.

For more information, please contact the Education and Counseling Center at [email protected]

View the image gallery to see more photos from the mindfulness class.