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PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — A Portland State University professor has won a $3.3 million federal grant to measure whether a mindfulness program backed by actress Goldie Hawn works to get preschoolers ready for kindergarten.

Hawn, an Academy Award winner who has embraced meditation, developed the mindfulness program called MindUp that she says promotes brain health and helped spread it to a dozen countries. It aims to help children lessen stress and manage their emotions, which in turn could help them learn.

Portland State psychology professor Andrew Mashburn specializes in testing programs to promote school readiness and has already looked into the MindUp program for the Gates Foundation. He won the big five-year grant from the U.S. Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences to run the program in 120 classrooms in Multnomah, Washington and Clackamas counties and measure if it works, university officials announced Tuesday.

“Kids’ developmental skills when they enter kindergarten are strongly predictive of later achievement,” said Mashburn said in a statement. “In addition to focusing on early literacy and math skills, there’s a growing recognition of the importance of these social and self-regulatory skills.”

Exercises covered in the MindUp curriculum, such as listening to a single sound or intensely smelling or tasting a particular food or flavor, may help young children learn to maintain focused attention. Other lessons are designed to help them respond thoughtfully to stressful situations instead of panic.

The research project, co-led by Pennsylvania State University psychology professor Robert Roeser, will be done in three waves: Multnomah County in 2019-20, Washington County in 2020-21 and Clackamas County in 2021-22. It will target children in public and private preschools that primarily serve low-income students. Mashburn expects to recruit the first set of classrooms next spring.

Half of classrooms chosen for the study will receive MindUp teacher training, curriculum and materials and networking to help them succeed. The other half will continue doing what they’ve always done for the year that they’re studied but will get the MindUp training and materials the next year.

“We’ll go in and observe the teachers, see how effective the different trainings are and how responsive the children are,” Mashburn said. “We really want to get a good glimpse into each participating classroom to see how well things are going and areas where implementation might be improved in the future.”

The research team will study whether the program helped children develop social, emotional and academic skills they need to succeed in kindergarten and beyond. They will test children before and after the program and also monitor their performance on Oregon’s kindergarten readiness test, given to all public school students during their first weeks of kindergarten.


Information from: The Oregonian/OregonLive,