Wellbeing Connected

We are pleased to announce our new resource, Wellbeing Connected – Promoting Mental Health and Well Being support in Primary Schools. This open access resource has been designed to bring the key information in both video and text format with a quick and accessible interface for schools.

An NHS Survey in 2017 found that 12.8 percent of five to 19-year-olds had at least one mental disorder when assessed, with emotional disorders being the most common disorder among school-age children, affecting 8.1 per cent.

The Teacher wellbeing Index 2018 found that more than three-quarters of teachers surveyed experienced work-related behavioural, psychological or physical symptoms and more than half were considering leaving the profession due to poor health.

Schools are in a unique position when it comes to the mental health of the children in their care, to shape and influence the mental health and wellbeing of their pupils and prepare them for the challenges and opportunities ahead. As school staff juggle a multitude of demands, it is essential that everyone within a school community is given the right support so that they in turn can support the pupils in their care. In addition to having a positive impact on colleagues and children, staff wellbeing can improve performance and job satisfaction, which can lead to reduced staff turnover. It can also help to reduce absence (both short and long term), increase productivity and promote staff engagement resulting in a flourishing school environment.

The Wellbeing Connected for Primary Schools resource has been designed to bring the key information featuring experienced practitioners through video and text format with a quick and accessible interface. The resource is grouped into the following areas:

The portal is designed to be used by staff within schools to plan their whole school approach to Mental Health and Wellbeing and how all parts of the school community can be supported. The expert video clips, information packs and carefully curated external links are provided for staff to deliver comprehensive support.

The video below is just one from many featured on the resource and looks at the importance of Mental Health in schools.

Alongside videos, there are also template policies, wellbeing questionnaires and guidance for schools to use and adapt as well as thinking points that can be used as part of staff development looking at the importance of wellbeing for staff, the community and for the video below the importance of Mental Health and Wellbeing for pupils.

Alongside the videos and guidance are top tips from school leaders who have been recognised for their work in promoting Mental Health and Wellbeing. There are also book lists for EYFS/KS1/KS2 and staff that include a range of books that can be used in the classroom as well as to further support all staff in school. An app list is also included featuring a range of free apps for use by students and staff.

“This important resource for all primary schools is the result of our insights working across schools in London and beyond, day in day out. LGfL is uniquely placed to work across a wide range of different contexts and the guidance provides captures the best approaches that we have seen and think others will benefit.  It features practical and replicable approaches that can be adapted to each school context for the benefit of the whole school community”. Bob Usher Content Manager LGfL

We hope that this open access resource can be used by all schools to enable them to plan for and deliver effective wellbeing approaches in their schools. Please let us know on either our Twitter or Facebook pages if you use this resource in school.

Mindfulness in school – Part 3

Where can teachers find good resources to use when running mindfulness sessions with pupils?

Image by John Hain

First you may want to set the scene or create an atmosphere by preparing the environment and marking a change to usual lessons. Think in terms of all the senses: something special to look at, something nice to smell, touch or hear.

You may want to start by using some relaxing music or background sounds You tube (please see here for You tube access in schools) has plenty of choice, some of my favourites are:

This song is 6.5 mins long ‘Feel the rhythm of your heartbeat’ with memorable, slow, rhythmic, drum beat, very grounding and calming.

Here are a nice recording of rainfall that is relaxing.

For an object to focus on and to start a session this film of a burning candle is useful:

but obviously not quite as good as the real thing!

In addition the free App ‘Insight Timer’ has useful chimes/singing bowls sounding out in timed intervals that you can use for the beginning and end of a session.

For mindfulness activities there are many different places to go for gathering resources: books, Youtube, Ebay and of course your school’s music cupboard to name but a few. Audio Network from LGfL also has a range of tracks that can be used in schools

Young children can be asked to bring in their favourite soft toy to cuddle while doing slow breathing exercises as it helps them to focus on the physical changes of their tummy or chest going in and out as they breath. This expandable toy helps in a similar way. There are also a series of ideas of using the breathe ball here from The Mindful.org

Finding simple, attractive picture books that incorporate mindfulness practices or messages suitable for reading to primary aged children can be challenging but I have found parts of the following books great:

Sitting still like a frog’ by Eline Snel  Aimed at parents. It comes with a CD with recordings of mindfulness practises in an American, female voice which may suit Key Stage 2 children.

‘A Handful of Quiet’ By Thitch Nhat Hanh. This book certainly has some lovely drawings, useful scripts and a few nice practical ideas e.g how to use objects from nature such as pebbles to initiate discussion and introduce mindfulness concepts. It gave me ideas for props and analogies.

For a free online resource for young children nursery to Year 2 Cosmic Kids Yoga, Peace Out and Zen Den are very popular.

For older children this is a great 12 minute meditation with a female english voice

Making resources for a mindfulness session can give it more importance and links to other planning such as DT, Music or ART. For example you could make home made rain sticks or calming musical compositions with garageband or the like.

Calming a busy mind can be demonstrated and visualised by making a jumbled thoughts jar  (e.g. glitter in a jar of water) and can then later be used as a self-calming resource too.

Children are encouraged to shake it about and look through it and watch how if you stop and wait, your view of the world (or through your jar) becomes clearer. I have found children with complex needs autism, early years and Key Stage one classes love making their own to take home but don’t forget to explain their special purpose to parents otherwise they may get thrown out. There is a simple guide to how to make here.

Another winner to improve focus is using an egg timer to practice concentrating by keeping eyes utterly fixed on the falling sand until it runs out and then increasing the length of time and timer.

I have sometimes given out egg timer certificates for different lengths of time to incentivise those who need something a little more concrete to show how they are learning to pay attention to the present moment on purpose for increasing amounts of time.

Helping children to better know their own minds through these simple activities can have a profound effect on children’s ability to regulate their emotions and behaviour, socialisation, readiness to learn and resilience during exams if carried out with an open mind, sensitivity and regularity.

Many thanks to Marissa for sharing her expertise through these 3 blog posts, Marissa spoke at our Be Well conference this year and you can see her talk below:

Mindfulness in school – Part 2

How do the words we use make a difference in delivering a mindfulness session in class?

Image by Gordon Johnson

The tone of voice used by someone delivering a mindfulness activity can have a significant effect on people. So too can their choice of words. It is helpful to use words that are reassuring and encouraging to participants but they must also be words that you feel entirely comfortable to use. It can be useful to use phrases that are new and particular to just these sessions so that it all feels very different to what we normally do at school and a little bit special. If you are uncomfortable with them so will your pupils be!

Children and young people often fear the unknown and may come to a mindfulness session with preconceptions and expectations. So it is important to create an open, welcoming and relaxed environment that is different from their everyday school lesson experience. Dimming the lights, playing calming music and having a ‘bridging activity’ to enter the room like taking off shoes, can help the participants fully arrive as it were, in a different time and space separating them from some of the previous moments.

Our engagement and participation in an unfamiliar activity can be vastly increased if we don’t feel pressured to join in. So using phrases such as  ‘I invite you to …’ are often used. However, this might seem a step too far for some students or younger children so I tend to say ‘’You may want to try….’ Or ‘See if you can…’ instead. We want children and young people to actively choose to participate rather than feeling that they have to. Allowing them to make choices in how they take part helps enormously. Saying things like ‘some people like keeping their eyes open, some like to close them and that’s ok’ or ‘ some people choose to sit on a chair, some like to sit cross legged on the floor and that is all fine’.

Teaching self-compassion and kindness by saying such phrases as ‘……as best you can’ allows pupils to not feel that they have to be doing this new thing perfectly straight away. ‘I’m learning to …and I can’t yet…’ can be useful phrases. Analogies can work well to e.g. Be patient with yourself like you would to a puppy wandering off the lead or a baby learning to walk and falling many times before managing to walk. ‘Minds wander – that’s OK – that’s just what they do’. This helps people see that learning to be mindful takes time and practise with many hic-ups along the way. Like learning to ride a bike we fall often but keep trying.

Analogies reinforce by creating a picture in the mind.

For example:

  • thoughts are like clouds in the sky,
  • leaves floating down a river,
  • train carriages trundling past that you notice and then see pass.
  • We can name our thoughts ‘that’s worrying, that’s planning, that’s remembering’ and then ‘Let go of ….’ them and judgements.

To help bring attention to something we can use words such as

  • Concentrate on…
  • Pay attention to …
  • Notice without trying to change anything,
  • see what’s there however it is,
  • Focus on,
  • Move your attention to… s
  • See just how it is,
  • here, right now,
  • in the present moment’
  • ‘Bringing our attention to …’

This can be challenging and so participants need reassurance at regular intervals and affirming statements such as

  • ‘That’s right’.
  • That’s good’
  • ‘You might notice a feeling,
  • a thought, or you might not’
  • ‘You might feel…or … or nothing at all’

Careful use of questions is important keeping them as open and non-judgemental as possible to foster a comfortable atmosphere e.g.

  • ‘How was that?’
  • ‘does anyone want to share anything having tried that?’
  • ‘Tell me about that….and anything else?’

Teaching and practicing mindfulness using careful communication we intend not to block out thoughts or feelings but to develop a greater awareness and acceptance of them whether they are positive or negative.  We are all individuals who experience the world differently and ‘THAT’S OK!’.




Mindfulness in school – Part 1

Interested in using mindfulness in your class or school but not sure where to start

Image by John Hain

This is the first in a series of 3 blog posts that we will be publishing over the next three weeks on the topic of Mindfulness in school, huge thanks to Marissa Tighe a Specialist Teacher in Tower Hamlets Support For Learning Service (Language and Communication Team) and independent SEND Consultant offering training, supervision and parent support for her help and advice in putting these posts together

“Mindfulness is awareness that arises through paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment, non-judgementally,”  Kabat-Zinn creator of the research-backed stress-reduction program Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR).

There are three essential aspects to mindfulness practice:

  • Connection – training the mind to settle and focus, using the breath and body as an anchor
  • Curiosity – developing interest in experience and a willingness to investigate experience
  • Care – developing a spirit of non-judgemental ‘friendliness’ towards self and experience

Marissa recommends experiencing some mindfulness activities yourself before trying them in a classroom.

There are many books that guide you through a mindfulness program but I have to say there is nothing better than the first-hand experience and dialogue you get from attending a group mindfulness course over a period of time! But do your research and ask the teacher questions before signing up to a course. I have attended many courses and can assure you that receiving guidance from someone who has fully integrated mindfulness practises into their daily life over time, feels very different than from someone who has taken the short route to teaching mindfulness as a business

 There are many good free apps available and so much to explore on the internet. Many people start with downloading the app ‘Headspace’which often has special offers on subscriptions to the full package and there are many good Headspace you tube clips to watch too – the video below looks at getting started with headspace.

 The video guides have some great cartoons and is a good introduction to stress and anxiety reduction through mindfulness techniques, including one looking at Meditation for children:

You can check out all the videos on the Headspace Youtube channel

  A personal favourite App of mine is called Insight Timer. It has over 15,000 free meditations from 3,000 teachers worldwide to choose from. It also has talks and courses led by the world’s top experts in neuroscience, psychology and universities, featuring both male and female voices.

Choosing a meditation led by someone whose voice you like the sound of is very important as a voice may irritate one person and not another which is one distraction you can do without. The app called CALM has meditations too but is great for those who find sleep challenging and I love the sound of Stephen Fry’s voice on there that guides you through a slow, dreamy, sleep story using visualisation techniques which makes me nod off in minutes.

They have recently launched The Calm Schools Initiative. They are offering every teacher in the world free access to Calm, the mindfulness app that hundreds of thousands of people all over the world use everyday. Their aim is to empower teachers with mindfulness tools and resources they can use to help kids learn this new skill.

Under this initiative, any teacher with a K-12 classroom, anywhere in the world, can get free access to Calm’s paid subscription service (available on AndroidiOS and the web). Teachers will have unlimited access to our growing library of guided meditations and mindfulness exercises, including Calm Kids, their programs tailored for age groups from pre-K through high school. Over the coming year, they will be steadily adding to the Calm Kids library, equipping teachers with an ever-expanding supply of content crafted for the unique needs of their students. Their goal is to onboard 100,000 classrooms this year, improving the lives of over 1 million children.

If you’re a teacher, just take 30 seconds to fill out the simple form, and you’ll be approved for The Calm Schools Initiative within a few days. Once you’re approved, they’ll send you some on-boarding resources to help you get started. They will also  share tips, suggestions, and best practices to introduce mindfulness to your classroom and get your students excited about meditation.

There are a range of books on the topic but two that Marissa recommends are:

It is an easy-to-follow, evidence based 8 week mindfulness program training ourselves to respond differently to depression, stress and anxiety in a more skilful way using mindfulness based cognitive therapy (MBCT) techniques. It includes a CD rom with guided mindfulness practices.

This is an eight week guide to learn and practise on your own with links to online meditation tracks.

There are also a range of fun and light hearted mindfulness activities that you can try with young children to get started.

Cosmic Kids Zen Den is a good place to start. A fun series about mindfulness for kids aged 5+. Jaime makes mindfulness relevant for kids, helping them develop awareness of their emotions and sharing techniques for self-regulation. From the makers of Cosmic Kids Yoga, written and starring Jaime.

For introductory information and to find a local, introductory course (or one online) Marissa recommends either:

The next post will focus on how the words we use can make a difference to delivering a mindfulness session in class. If you have used mindfulness in school and have other resources/videos/books that would be useful in class then please let us know