Inside a 'Calm Classroom,' Arlington Heights students use guided meditation for learning – Chicago Tribune

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When Olive-Mary Stitt Elementary School teacher Meghan Yarbrough’s third-graders returned from lunch on a recent afternoon, they entered a darkened classroom where they listened to a soothing recorded message.

“Take a deep breath in, hold and exhale slowly,” the recording stated. “Notice how you feel. Slowly, open your eyes.”

Welcome to Yarbrough’s version of a “Calm Classroom,” a mindfulness program that her students practice each afternoon to try and relax, and revitalize before they begin their daily math instruction.

The mindfulness and stress reduction techniques that her students use are based on the nonprofit Learning Luster Institute’s “Calm Classroom” program, which was launched in 2008 in the Chicago Public Schools.

Since then, the “Calm Classroom” program has found a home in thousands of schools across the world, including Yarbrough’s third-grade classroom at Arlington Heights School District 25.

After years of practicing yoga and experiencing its benefits – physically, mentally and emotionally – Yarbrough said she set out to deliver a mindfulness program to her 24 students in class for a variety of reasons.

“Having been a teacher for 17 years, I always strive to create a learning environment that is best for all of my students,” Yarbrough said. “For some students, that means having movement breaks, and for others, a time to calm down. But I’m finding that guided meditation is showing benefits for all of the kids.”

Yarbrough said she decided to hold the brief guided meditation, which typically lasts less than five minutes, to try and make it easier for the children, and herself, to transition back to lesson plans following recess and lunch.

“It helps all of us, including me, transition from a time to play and hang out with friends, to, ‘Now it’s time for math,’ which requires all of us to completely switch gears,” Yarbrough said.

Gaby Lischett, 8, said that practicing the “Calm Classroom” mindfulness exercises in Yarbrough’s classroom helps her prepare better for class in the afternoon hours.

“Once I come back into the classroom after running around at recess and lunch, it helps me calm down for math,” Gaby said, adding: “I”m not a math expert, so being able to relax during ‘Calm Classroom’ time has helped me from getting too stressed out.”

District 25 spokesman Adam Harris said that while students can choose to opt out of Yarbrough’s mindfulness sessions, both students and their parents have responded enthusiastically to the program.

“I had one student tell me they practice the ‘Calm Classroom’ techniques before bed because it helps them fall asleep more easily,” Harris said.

kcullotta@tribpub.com

Twitter @kcullotta

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