A simple approach to mindfulness and meditation

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the inner kids program

The New ABCs – Attention, Balance & Compassion are taught through games, activities, instruction and sharing to develop: (1) Awareness of inner experience (awareness of thoughts, emotions and physical sensations); (2) Awareness of outer experience (awareness of other people, places and things); and (3) Awareness of both together without blending the two.  The program has been greatly influenced and shaped by the work of the following authors: Drs. Jon Kabat Zinn (Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction), Suzi Tortora (Dance Movement Therapy for Young Children); Jeffrey Schwartz (Mindfulness Based Training for OCD); Dan Siegel (Attachment/Attunement Theory) Alan Wallace (Cultivating Emotional Balance), as well as the Ojai Foundation Council Program.

An adult training program is also available the goal of which is to give parents and professionals the theory + practice they'll need to teach mindfulness and awareness in a way that is consistent with modern science, psychology, educational pedagogy and classical contemplative training. We do not offer techniques for every challenging situation but a process-oriented approach through which they’ll develop a way of being in the world that strengthens and supports how they communicate and work with youth. Parents and professionals learn age-appropriate activities for children, teens and families that can be easily integrated into their routines at home, in the classroom, after-school, or in clinical practice.


Pre-K through Twelfth grade


We begin with activities that develop breath awareness, move to activities that develop sensory awareness, and then to activities that develop awareness of thoughts, emotions and worldview. We also play games and activities that heighten awareness of other people’s bodies (and where our bodies are in space in relation to other people and things) and other people’s thoughts/emotions, and other people's world-views. In all classes we include activities that promote kindness to self and others as well as patience, generosity, and gratitude. The program is informed by an always present theme of community service and compassionate action.


The program length and frequency varies depending on the age of the students and the needs of the facility where it is being taught.   Generally though, young children (pre-k through 3rd) meet twice a week for ½ hour sessions for a period of 8 weeks. Older children meet once a week for a longer period of time – approximately 45 minutes for 10 – 12 weeks. The course is designed so that the length of time the students practice introspection increases as the course progresses.

Each class session is divided into three sections – a beginning, a middle and an end. The beginning and ending sections both contain introspective practice.  The beginning section of each class includes an introspective period usually a sitting practice; the middle section includes games and activities that teach the theme for that week’s class (breath awareness, for example, or awareness of where your body is in space, or awareness of interconnection); the ending section of each class includes a second introspective period usually lying down and a friendly wishes practice (our secular term for practices that promote kindness and compassion for self and others). Over the 8-12 week course the length of the beginning and ending sections increase which, as a practical matter, means that the students practice introspection for progressively longer periods of time over the duration of the course.

We use a general formula of play, followed by introspection, and then sharing to help children:  (1) better understand their introspective experience; (2) relate it their daily lives; and (3) understand the importance of helping within their families, community service, and community action.


During the development of the program it has been offered at various times including: during the school day; after the school day; and in a sleep-away camp.


The Inner Kids program was taught in one or more classrooms in LA schools, every year, between 2000 and 2009. In December 2009 it was adapted in Singapore and taught to children ages 8 – 12 in an Inner Kids sleep-away camp. It was also adapted for a mindful eating study at UC-SF in connection with an MB-EAT clinical intervention for overweight children and a caregiver.

challenges & solutions

Both the biggest challenges and the greatest opportunities in this work involve the development and refinement of best practices for bringing appropriate, secularized adaptations of well-established adult mindful awareness training into the public sector including but not limited to schools, communities and clinical settings.  This work is ongoing and continues in collaboration with children, teens, families, researchers, educators and clinicians. 


•    A school-based Inner Kids program was evaluated in a randomized control study of 64 second- and third-grade children ages 7–9 years. The program was delivered for 30 minutes, twice per week, for 8 weeks. Teachers and parents completed questionnaires assessing children’s executive function immediately before and following the 8-week period. Multivariate analysis of covariance on teacher and parent reports of executive function (EF) indicated an interaction effect baseline EF score and group status on posttest EF. That is, children in the group that received mindful awareness training who were less well regulated showed greater improvement in EF compared with controls. Specifically, those children starting out with poor EF who went through the mindful awareness training showed gains in behavioral regulation, metacognition, and overall global executive control. These results indicate a stronger effect of mindful awareness training on children with executive function difficulties. The finding that both teachers and parents reported changes suggests that improvements in children’s behavioral regulation generalized across settings. Future work is warranted using neurocognitive tasks of executive functions, behavioral observation, and multiple classroom samples to replicate and extend these preliminary findings.   Flook, Lisa, Smalley, Susan L., Kitil, M. Jennifer, Galla, Brian M., Kaiser-Greenland, Susan, Locke, Jill, Ishijima, Eric and Kasari, Connie(2010) 'Effects of Mindful Awareness Practices on Executive Functions in Elementary School Children', Journal of Applied School Psychology, 26: 1, 70 — 95. 

•    A study conducted by Drs. Michele Mietus-Snyder of the University of California San Francisco, Jean Kristeller of Indiana State University, and their colleagues looking into clinical interventions that mitigate the psychosocial stress and insulin resistance that plagues many overweight inner-city children. Mietus-Snyder and Kristeller’s study targets preadolescent children who are referred to inner-city weight management clinics. Those who are interested in a lifestyle counseling program for weight reduction are randomized and enrolled in one of two intensive eight-week guardian-child group programs: supervised exercise or mindfulness-based training. The study looked at forty obese children and their caregivers. Twenty children and their caregivers took a weekly exercise class, and the remaining twenty children and their caregivers took a weekly mindfulness-based course. They met once a week over a period of eight weeks, and each class lasted two and a half hours. Both the exercise and mindfulness classes included educational information about healthy lifestyles and weight loss. At the end of eight weeks, both groups (exercise and mindfulness) showed improvement over the general population of similarly situated kids. Participants showed improved weight loss and reported that their moods and self-concept improved. These benefits remained when participants were reevaluated two months after the program was completed, and again when they were reevaluated twelve months after the program was completed. Both groups—participants who took an exercise class and those who took a mindfulness class—showed significant improvement.  This study is ongoing.