Tag Archives: mental health awareness week

Nature and children’s wellbeing

This week it is children’s mental health week in the UK. I know many schools, nurseries and organisations are paying particular attention to the subject this week. I must admit mental health weeks leave me feeling slightly uneasy, our attention needs to be on mental health and wellbeing all the time, not just as an intense look at it over a week. We need to learn how to embed mental health conversations; creating a positive practice around wellbeing and mental health to underpin all of our work.

This term, in my daily nurture sessions with children, I am trying to use the outdoors and connecting with nature a lot more. I have been trying to make sure that all nurture activities when I am in school are outdoor-based and for the children at home, I have been creating packages that they can use at home, encouraging them to get outside. We know from the last lockdown that the outdoors was a crucial element to everyone’s mental health, children as well as adults. I know for many, myself included January has felt very challenging, it’s grey, it’s wet and it’s cold and we are in another lockdown and January has not felt an easy month to get outside. However, when we do get out it is so worth it. Some of the moments of joy this term has been using ice in our play, experimenting with freezing objects, adding colours, using coloured salt on the ice. Making bird feeders and bird spotting, the excitement, and delight from the children of seeing a bird, then finding it on the RSPB bird spotting sheet, children calling out to a blackbird that there is food for them, and calling a pigeon to come and eat. I and some of my team have also discovered how to get bubbles to freeze!. I think that brought us more delight than the children ( strong bubble mixture is the answer- recipe at the end ).

January has been hard, but being outside, being in nature has rescued me. I know it also has helped the children I work with, it has brought them joy and excitement, and discovery. One good thing which will come from this mental health week is a reminder of how important it is that we pay attention to what helps children’s mental health. At the top of my list is the outdoors, if we can help children and families to connect with the outdoors and nature, if we can enable them to engage in the awe and wonder around them, then we are offering them such an important underpinning tool for their wellbeing and mental health.

Strong bubble mixture recipe

1 cup of strong washing up liquid ( eco ones don’t work, I use Fairy)

6 cups of water

1 tablespoon glycerin

Give it a gentle stir and then play. This makes giant bubbles, but can also be used for small bubbles and freezing bubbles- To get them to freeze, let them land, and then after a few minutes, they start to freeze ( needs to below 0 for this to work).

For more information on children’s wellbeing, I have written

Promoting Young Children’s Emotional Health and Wellbeing

Promoting Emotional Wellbeing in Early Years Staff

Mental health awareness week and yr 6 SATS week

 

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This week is mental health awareness week, mental health is talked about a lot more now, which is no doubt a fantastic and vital thing. However, for me, there is also an irony with this week being mental health awareness week as it is also Sats week for year 6 children across England ( 10 and 11 year olds) and if there was evidence of a week when thousands of children, teachers, and parents will not have good mental health, it is during Sats week. The pressure around children passing these papers is huge, it has never been great, when my daughters were in school there was some pressure, but it appears to be increasing year on year. It is common now for children to take practice papers in schools from the September they start year 6, revision sessions being provided for children for months in advance, and parents being encouraged to buy revision material. The emphasis on the Sats in yr 6 has led to the  curriculum in year 6 becoming very narrow, with the focus on teaching to the Sats paper. There are a growing number of myths about Sats and the importance of them, a recent survey found that 1 in 4 children believed their Sats results would affect their job prospects- this is of course wrong. My major concern with the Sats testing is how this is causing huge pressure on our children and negatively impacting their mental health.
Over the last few months, I have heard an increasing number of parents reporting how stressed their children are about the Sats, how their children fear they will fail, that they are not good enough, worried that if they fail their Sats they will then fail in Yr 7 and will never get GCSEs. I am sure this is not the message that schools, teachers and head teachers want to pass onto children, however when we put a huge emphasis on children passing a test at the end of Yr 6, when we continue to get the children to take revision papers all year, this will inevitably cause some children to feel huge pressure and a fear of failing.

We repeatedly hear that in the UK we have a growing number of children suffering from mental illness. In the UK 10% of children aged 5-16 have a clinically diagnosable mental health problem (mental health UK website), these are the ones who have been diagnosed, there will be other children who have not been diagnosed. There needs to be change, we need to take this seriously and we need to act. We need to look at the wide range of causes that are impacting on children’s mental health. For me, one of the areas we need to look at is how we are testing children from a young age. With the issue of testing children, there are a growing number of head teachers, educators, and parents who are lobbying for change. The group of More than a score has lots of information about ways in which we can all lobby our MP’s, speak to our children’s school and to try and bring about some change. I would encourage you to have a look at their website.