Dr Addie Wootten, CEO, Smiling Mind
What is Smiling Mind?
Around 25% of young people in high income countries have an identifiable mental health problem. In our busy, often highly scheduled culture, children can be overstimulated, pressured and over exposed to media and technology. Just as students are taught to keep their bodies healthy, teaching them how to proactively care for their mind is also important. Yet schools can lack resources and funding in this area, and interventions are often limited to conditions that directly affect learning outcomes. This support is often compartmentalized, so that psychologists and school pastoral staff have the primary responsibility, rather than adopting a whole school approach to wellbeing. This can mean that opportunities for prevention of mental health issues, as well as promotion of wellness, are missed.
Smiling Mind was developed in Australia in 2012, with the goal of delivering the philosophy and technique of mindfulness meditation in a simple way, and to as many people as possible. The Smiling Mind Education Programme, developed with teachers, psychologists and health professionals, is a series of bitesize, simple meditation modules for children, teachers and parents. The app is provided to schools for free, aiming to build happier, healthier and more compassionate children and adults who can deal with the stress and challenges of daily life.
The app, available as a mobile or web app, contains mindfulness programmes and easily accessible resources. The programme is non prescriptive and flexible, allowing teachers to use their intuition to decide when and how to bring mindfulness into the classroom. Educators are provided with visual presentations to explain mindfulness, research and other resources to successfully implement the programme in the classroom or across the school. Schools are guided through a step by step introduction to meditation, enabling them to develop a toolkit of tailored practical exercises to make mindfulness a daily practice in their school. Professional development workshops are offered, where trained facilitators demonstrate the ease of using meditation in the classroom.
Lesson plans, tailored to different ages and developmental stages, are also included. The meditations for students aged 7-9 are aimed at developing social skills and independence, whilst ages 10-12 focus on the power of thoughts, treating each other with respect, and leadership. The programmes for older students support teens as they transition through high school and on to plan for the future.
The programmes are mapped to the Australian National curriculum and designed to support Social and Emotional Learning, as well as linking well into Positive Education, popular in Australia. Students report a sense of greater awareness of their emotional well-being and improved capacity to act on this, to manage how they feel and understand the impact they can have on others. This can also lead to an increased capacity for young people to connect with their peers, parents and teachers, which helps to build stronger relationship and support networks.