Students from a Belle River elementary school say the new meditation club their principal started just over a month ago is helping them become calmer, nicer and more focused at school. 

When Nicole Larocque started the meditation club at Pavillon des Jeunes, she didn't expect more than 10 to 15 students to show up — to her surprise, the room was packed. 

"[For] the first time. I planned the meeting in a classroom and the students just kept coming and coming," Larocque said. "I couldn't believe how many there were. There was barely enough room for them to sit down on the floor."

The club has met five times so far, and Larocque said each time she's seen between 45 to 65 students. 

Dayne Bensette comes to the meetings, he says it helps him calm down. 

"Sometimes I have a lot of stuff that I do and everything is in my head and I can't think so the meditation club helps me just think of breathing," he explained. "I have so many things to do at school, sometimes I even get into fights with my friends and it really helps."

'It taught me how to think about my body instead of other stuff.'
- Maddie Beck, student

The club meets once a week during the first recess of the day. The students join the club for 15 minutes, and have recess for the other 15. 

"I was also surprised to see that many young children wanted to be part of this," Larocque said. "I think it gives them a sense of belonging to our school, because often times sports, committees and clubs are for the older students, and this is something that's open to everyone, and I think they really like being part of that."

Benefits for students 

Larocque started taking meditation classes herself about a year ago. After seeing the advantages it brought her, she thought it could be something students could also benefit from. 

"If this is good for me, it would probably be good for the students too," she said. "If it helps them to be happy, if it helps them to be kinder to one another, then I would be so pleased with that."

Mackenzie Day said meditation helps her interactions with her friends. 

"It calms me down when I'm excited," Day said. "Usually I get into fights with my friends and I come here all the time to calm me down." 

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Nicole Larocque said she only expected a few students when the club started, but it averages around 50 people each time. (Joana Draghici/CBC)

Larocque said while the school focuses on academic success, it also prioritizes student well being, and "not just physical well being, but mental health also." 

She hopes the meditation will help students develop their emotional intelligence, which will help them throughout their lives. 

"Everything is about relationships, at school being with peers, people with all different kinds of personalities," Larocque said. "It's not just about being smart, it's not just about having good grades, it's about being a good person, being kind to one another and knowing how to solve problems."

Larocque said the large turnout from students has resulted in a positive response from parents as well. 

"I've received a couple of emails, some parent comments telling me that they're happy that their child is going to the meditation club, they're happy that we've started this initiative," she said. 

Meditation exercises

Larocque focuses on something different every time she meets with the students. 

The kids first sit down in a circle, Larocque introduces the activity they will be doing that day, then they do an exercise that helps them practice being in the present moment. 

"One of the activities we did was take a minute and listen to all the noises that we can hear," she explained. "We took one minute, and they listened for everything that they could. Then we talked about it, and we tried it again, and they saw that by focusing on the present moment they could hear even more different noises."

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Students learn mindful breathing and how best to control their emotions in the meditation class. (Joana Draghici/CBC)

Another week Larocque gave each student one Smartie each, asked them to eat it as slowly as possible, and focus on everything they could taste while eating it. 

"The goal of that was for them to see that when they're focusing on the present moment they can enjoy something even more," she said. 

Larocque also wants to help students learn how they can listen to their own bodies. 

"Our body tells us when we're hungry, when we're sad, when we're angry and sometimes we don't take the time to listen to our body," she said. "So if we do listen then it can give us some important messages."

That was Maddie Beck's favourite exercises.

"I liked when we laid down and we thought about our body," Beck said. "It taught me how to think about my body instead of other stuff."