HUNTER schools and preschools are employing specialist mindfulness educators to teach children as young as two how to pay attention to the present moment in the hope of improving mental health and wellbeing.
Former Bolwarra Public teacher Kylie Humphreys went on leave at the end of 2017 to train as a specialist mindfulness educator and resigned from the school in mid 2018 to focus on her business Head and Heart Mindfulness.
She now employs another five educators - four are university-trained former primary or early childhood teachers and one is a yoga teacher - that visit 30 preschools and primary schools from Wangi Wangi to Karuah and across to Branxton.
Ms Humphreys said they taught preschoolers as young as two through to year six students how to recognise and manage feelings of being stressed, anxious, or overwhelmed.
"Mindfulness is not just a buzzword," Ms Humphreys said.
"It used to be thought about as hippy dippy stuff but because of research and neuroscience in the last 15 years it has really taken off in the medical and education systems.
"There's much greater awareness now of mental health and how it affects all areas of life.
"People really want to help their kids navigate through life with greater ease than what we do as adults now."
Ms Humphreys said a counsellor recommended mindfulness to her when she was experiencing anxiety as a teenager.
"Mindfulness is when we pay attention to what is happening right now in the present moment in an open and non judgemental way," she said.
"By paying attention to our senses and being grounded in that moment it takes us out of thoughts on the past and future, which are what can cause unpleasant feelings.
"Kids deal with big emotions and need to learn how to regulate those emotions so they can calm down, focus on things that make them happy and enjoy life more."
Ms Humphreys said it was necessary to start with preschoolers because life was so "fast paced".
"The world is so busy and parents, without knowing it, put stress on these kids by rushing.
"Little kids can be affected by big people problems too - a lot of these kids have difficult home lives and big things going on.
"We can help them learn skills to notice how they're feeling and to do things that may be able to help them."
The World Health Organisation said half of all mental illnesses begin by 14.
"We focus on early childhood so when they go off to their teen years they've already started building these brain patterns," she said.
"If they're going to have mental health conditions they can deal with it better, or perhaps it can prevent kids from developing them."
Ms Humphreys visits Lochinvar Public every Monday and takes classes through 15 minutes of activities, which include adopting animal inspired yoga poses; a listening exercise; a breathing exercise; and visualising a trip to the supermarket and how picking fresh produce, bumping into a friend and being able to pay for food made them feel; and discussing what people, objects and experiences they were grateful for.
"We need to be looking after emotional and social wellbeing and everything else going on in life so they can succeed in academic areas," she said.
"The research shows mindfulness in kids improves attention and concentration, self regulation and an overall sense of wellbeing."
Assistant principal Eleisha Jackson said Ms Humphreys started making weekly visits about a year ago, but her class practised mindfulness after every recess and lunch.
"They're normally more settled and engaged in the lesson that follows [the visits] but the kids are also using strategies in the playground," she said.
"If they're in a social situation where they're feeling frustrated or anxious about something they actually use it in their everyday life.
"When we come in after recess or lunch we do mindful listening or breathing and they calm themselves down. It's easier for them to refocus, ready for learning."