Next fall, middle school students at Lausanne Collegiate School will have the option of taking their recess outside or choosing a "mental recess" one day each week.
In the 2012-2013 school year, the East Memphis private school will be the first local school to take part in a growing trend of schools offering meditation programs to students. Middle school kids in the fifth through eighth grades can opt out of recess one day per week for a guided meditation session.
"They'll have meditation, and there will be a talk about mindfulness and things of that nature," said Greg Graber, Lausanne's Head of Middle School.
Called "Unplugged Sessions," the program is designed to help kids de-stress from their digital culture.
"The term we use to describe these kids is 'digital natives.' They're plugged in all the time," Graber said. "When they're not in school, they're plugged in to their laptops or home computers, or they're texting on their iPhones."
Graber says research has shown that meditation at school helps students build their concentration skills, maintain focus in the classroom, combat their impulsivity, and curtail behavioral classroom issues.
"I've also had some discussions with the athletic director, and we think not only will this make kids more centered and focused on academics but also in athletics," Graber said.
The meditation classes will be 40 minutes long and held right after lunch. Kids will be divided by age group: Fifth- and sixth-graders will be offered meditation on Tuesdays, and seventh- and eighth-graders can opt to take the class on Thursdays.
Daniel LaMontagne, founder of the Peddler Bike Shop and the former LaMontagne restaurant, will lead the guided meditation. LaMontagne teaches one-on-one meditation classes and holds regular sessions for employees of local corporations. He's active in the Chee Chung/Chee Hau meditation community, which centers on the Taoist/Buddhist/Confucian tradition.
Graber says he doesn't have any concern that kids won't want to skip recess to meditate.
"We've had some informal conversations with the kids, and they seem really excited," Graber said. "We think calling it 'Unplugged Sessions' will appeal to them. We're also going to talk to the kids about real-life examples of people who meditate, like Tiger Woods or other famous athletes."
A marathon runner, Graber started meditating a few years ago after reading about the similarities between long-distance running and meditating.
"Even as an adult, it's hard to sit still for 15 minutes and not have your mind running all over the place," Graber said. "But it's really helped me focus and given me more patience. I try to meditate daily, and I feel recharged after even 15 to 20 minutes a day."
As for whether or not kids will be able to stay focused, Graber said this program will teach them another important life lesson: Practice makes perfect.
"We'll let them know that, like with anything else, it takes practice to get good at meditating," Graber said. "It's always going to be a struggle to stay focused. But if you do it enough, you can sustain it."