This Simple 5-Minute Exercise Can Give Reading Skills a Powerful Boost : ScienceAlert

Kids who spend five minutes practicing mindfulness before opening a book have a higher chance of improving their reading skills.

That’s according to a new US study, thought to be the first of its kind to look at the direct links between mindfulness and academic capabilities in young adults.

Researchers from Cornell University and Syracuse University studied the reading performance of 56 students aged 12-13, getting some of the groups to engage in mindfulness activities before reading.

Those activities included being more self-aware of breathing patterns, and cultivating positive thoughts – actions that assist in maintaining focus on the present and immediate, otherwise known as being mindful.

By the end of the school year, the students who tried the mindfulness techniques were reading 4.41 more words correctly during a timed reading exercise, on average.

Previous studies have shown links between mindfulness-based interventions and improved academic performance, but much of the research looks at grades rather than the skills required to get the grades.

“This is a measure of tapping into the actual skills that students are using to make sense of the text they’re reading, rather than simply a grade they would get for the semester,” says lead author Josh Felver, a psychologist from Cornell University.

As the study points out, reading comprehension is vital for so many other academic subjects. If kids can improve the way that they understand words and sentences, they should start to do better across the board.

And at the New York state school where the experiment was run, 70 percent of students are Black, and 88 percent of students live below the poverty level. The mindfulness approach could offer an affordable, easy way to help those from historically minoritized backgrounds, the researchers say.

“Given the large, persistent disparities in standardized measures of reading among students of color, it is exciting that we found evidence that a time-efficient mindfulness practice has a positive influence on educational outcomes,” says Felver.

The researchers want future studies to look at how effective mindfulness is when tested directly against other ways of boosting reading skills, and how different mindfulness strategies (and time spent preparing) might change the outcomes.

They also want to look more closely at why mindfulness helps with reading, and what positive effect it has on the brain to put us in the right frame of mind to read. For now though, the early signs are positive ones.

“There is a significant need for feasible, effective interventions like this one to help youth from historically minoritized backgrounds bolster their reading skills so that they may be successful in school,” says Felver.

The research has been published in School Psychology.