Goldie Hawn promotes the benefits of meditation, which is part of the MindUP™ curriculum. Meditation is an integral and fundamental part of this program, a program whose core philosophy seeks to transform and help children transform their lives by creating opportunities to develop the necessary social and emotional skills.
The MindUP™ consists of fifteen lessons for three developmental levels, including Pre-K through second grade; third through fifth grade; and, sixth through eighth grade.
The program is organized into four units, in which mindfulness meditation plays a fundamental role. “Let’s Focus,” the first unit, features “Understanding Mindfulness and Focusing Our Awareness.” The second unit, “Paying attention to our senses” includes; “Listen carefully; See conscious; conscious smell; Conscious tasting; Conscious Movement I; Conscious Movement II.” In unit three, “It’s About Attitude” includes the mindful practice of “perspective.” The last unit is all about mindfulness, “Act Mindfully,” which includes; “Act with Gratitude; perform acts of kindness; Taking conscious action in our community.”
It’s easy to see how Goldie Hawn’s vision of bringing mindfulness into the classroom has evolved. An article by Ingrid Wickelgren, on the Scientific American blog, reviewed Hawn’s speech at the Second Annual Aspen Brain Forum and speaks directly to the evolution of the programs. Here is Ingrid’s take on this…
“Hawn spoke without notes, claiming to be a born communicator, a claim she backed up with her performance. As she spoke, it occurred to me that liveliness and beauty weren’t the only things that propelled her to stardom. Unlike most people who improvise, Hawn stringed together rhythmic sentences that made sense. If the neuroscience community was going to get a champion, they could have done a lot worse.
She first answered the obvious question: Why is Goldie Hawn speaking at a conference about brains? She already knew part of the answer. Like any 7-year-old can do now, she had searched the web for it. Six years ago, Hawn established a nonprofit group called The Hawn Foundation “to promote children’s academic success in school and in life through social and emotional learning.” It is based on the notion that children’s intellects do not exist in isolation from their emotions, their connections to others, or the rest of their bodies. The MindUp program, the Foundation’s flagship education initiative, is designed to address these often-neglected components of learning. It was perfect for the forum, which this year addressed “The Cognitive Neuroscience of Learning: Implications for Education.” But more on this in a moment.
Hawn’s version was more personal. Decades ago (in 1972, she said) she, when she became famous, she felt anxious again and something difficult to imagine happened: she lost her characteristic smile. The change was strange to Hawn, and not a welcome one. “When I was 11 years old, I decided that what I wanted to be in life was happy,” she said. “I thought, ‘All I want to do is hold on to this joy, this tingle that I had when I was little.'” Having lost that tingle, Hawn went caving, into her own psyche. She saw psychologists and began to meditate, embarking on a nine-year psychological journey. Such an affair might drive lesser people mad or depressed, but Hawn became surprisingly analytical about it. It led, she said, to her brain’s first understanding of “what it can do, how it can change.” She was particularly interested in neuroscience and spirituality, imagining questions like “What is that God part of the brain?”
Hawn moved to rainy Vancouver because her son, Wyatt, wanted to play hockey. As she watched the rain outside her meditation room sometime in 2002, Hawn’s search turned outward, in particular, toward the children. “I was a happy girl,” she recalled. “I signed all my fourth grade papers, ‘Love, Goldie.’ But in the aftermath of 9/11, she perceived that American children were profoundly unhappy. “And I thought, why can’t we do something that makes children understand their potential? Why don’t we teach our children about the brain?
Hawn was not an expert on the brain, but she reasoned that teaching children about the brain might make them more aware of their own thoughts and emotions. It could help them develop the ability to think about thinking or metacognition. That awareness would give them better control over their own mind, directing their attention more appropriately or calming down, in ways that could enhance learning. Hawn seems to give the kids a lot of credit. She doubts that most adults would similarly trust children to skillfully control their minds if shown how. However, Hawn saw this mission as urgent. In particular, she wanted to prevent stress from shutting down executive function, the self-control of thought, action, and emotion that is essential for learning.
So Hawn asked a team of educators, neurologists, psychologists and social scientists to develop a new curriculum based, in part, around lessons on how the brain works. Currently, MindUp is used by teachers in some 65 schools in the US, nearly 150 in Canada, seven in the UK and one in Venezuela. Some of his young students now weave the anatomy of the brain into informal conversations. One six-year-old girl, Hawn says, explained that it was her aunt’s tonsil that saved her life when her aunt pulled her out of the path of an oncoming car. Another child reportedly said, “Oh that lights up my prefrontal cortex, I know how to do this.”
Not all scientists believe that explicit knowledge of brain anatomy is necessary to prepare children for study. But it’s kind of cool. And why not? “I don’t think kids need to know about the amygdala,” says Adele Diamond, a developmental cognitive neuroscientist at the University of British Columbia. “But children enjoy learning about the brain. I don’t think it hurts.
Another component of MindUp, apparently also targeting metacognition, is meditation. For three minutes, students focus on their breath. Activity not only promotes calm but also sharpens attention. “It’s really hard to stay focused on something for three minutes,” says Diamond. “This is training the mind.”
An equally important goal of MindUp is social and emotional development. Children are taught, for example, that random acts of kindness are important. They learn about mirror neurons, Hawn says, and they learn that you become happy when you give another person a lesson in line with the Dalai Lama’s teachings. Similarly, in “gratitude journals,” children regularly write what they are grateful for. I think this is also designed to make them feel good (Hawn invoked dopamine, the brain chemical for reward, in her talk) and to build better relationships. My kids are told to do this on Thanksgiving, and every November I have the passing thought that we really should count our blessings more often.
Preliminary data suggests that the program works. Kim Schonert-Riechl, an applied developmental psychologist at the University of British Columbia, and her colleagues tested the effectiveness of MindUp in 75 schools in her area. So far, the program appears to have had “unbelievably positive effects,” says Diamond, who helped analyze the data. Not only did it increase children’s feelings of happiness, liking for school, and sense of belonging, but it also moderated children’s cortisol levels, suggesting that it reduced stress in the classroom. Perhaps most surprisingly, it improved the children’s executive function.
The scientists I spoke with about MindUp were excited about its potential to benefit children, particularly those who are at risk of being unhappy and failing in school. A lot of it made scientific sense. After all, meditation exercises of the kind used in MindUp can help adults better focus their attention, according to work presented by psychologist Amishi P. Jha of the University of Miami. And stress can shut down your ability to think, so reducing it should do the opposite. There are also some studies on the effects of gratitude: Expressing your appreciation for a romantic partner, for example, seems to solidify those important bonds. (See “The Happy Couple: Secrets to a Long Marriage,” by Suzann Pileggi, Scientific American Mind, January/February 2010.) Reportedly, MindUp is also gaining support from teachers. “The teachers love it,” says Diamond. “That’s why it’s spreading.”
…Hawn’s show is unique, if for no other reason, because she’s behind it. I couldn’t help but admire this rookie scientist for doggedly following the instincts she had a decade ago, as far-fetched as they may seem, and molding them into something undeniably real and data-driven. Hawn’s determination obviously cuts across disparate fields.” Read the original article…
Meditation is a journey towards self-awareness and neuroscience allows us to explore the landscape of the mind itself. In today’s world, our children face so many challenges that have created unprecedented stress that compromises our children’s chances of academic success and well-being. Goldie Hawn’s show promotes the benefits of meditation, and as she said, “We’re going to change education as we know it,” I believe her!