Actress Goldie Hawn spoke at the TEDMED conference about her "very big, very broad dream" of bringing happiness to children. "I thought, let's do something drastic," she said. "Lets hope and pray for all kids to experience happiness."
She turned this big dream into an innovative program called "MindUP" -- a curriculum that goes beyond academics, teaching children how to be in touch with their emotions and manage stress through focused breathing, focused attention, relaxation and awareness.
Saddened by the problems affecting today's youth -- depression, suicide, drop out rates and a growing lack of empathy -- she assembled a team of neuroscientists, doctors, researchers, educators and psychologists to create the program. The children are also taught neuroscience; the idea being that if they know how their minds work, they will be better able to understand and control their behavior.
It's crucial to take the stress away in order to open the mind up for learning, Hawn said. Cortisol (a stress hormone) tests showed that children in the MindUP classrooms were indeed able to manage their stress levels. "Think of the implications it has in the future, for health care," said Hawn.
Hawn was accompanied at TEDMED by researcher Dan Siegal, author of The Mindful Brain: Reflection and Attunement in the Cultivation of Well-Being. He explained the neurological science behind the MindUP program.
In addition to reading, writing and arithmetic, he said, children also need to learn reflection, relationships and resilience. "Because now what's happening is that we have a damaged brain that's growing. And it's getting more and more handicapped as kids get more focused on the external world, rather than being able to look at the internal world."
Early on in life children have the capability of developing "mind sight," he said, the ability to see their own internal world and the internal world of others around them. This helps foster empathy and caring. "The ability to look at the mind is something we can't ignore anymore."