82 days and counting

Is it nearly Christmas? I am currently considering how early on in the new term this favourite question will be asked. Whilst the start of term is a signal to prepare our minds for the mental challenge ahead there is also an element whereby we are counting down to our next holiday.

Different people have different holiday targets so they can look ahead in months, some look for that elusive Friday feeling and some just need to get to 5pm each day. So why do we do this, why do we almost wish our time away? I consider that a key element is that during holidays we can do things of our choosing, we are able to slow down and somewhat relax in our own chosen environment. A chance outside of the working day to breathe, to think and to be mindful, a topic which is currently being discussed and highlighted in educational circles, as it is having a significant impact on the younger generation.

The Cambridge Dictionary states that mindful is “being deliberately aware of your body, mind and feelings in the present moment in order to create a feeling of calm”. Now some people can achieve this level of mindfulness whilst being on a packed commuter train squashed between strangers, and then there are others who need to travel to a mountain retreat and meditate for hours on end in solitary confinement. For a lot of people we live in an incredibly complex and mentally taxing world therefore the need to escape to a place of peace and calm, even if it is within our own minds, is becoming more and more sought after. All of this can also be said of children.

For some there is very much the view of the “innocence of childhood” and that children are free from the stresses and strains of real life. However, alarmingly, for growing numbers of children this is not the case and they are being exposed to highly emotive situations and absorbing issues which were previously thought of as adult worries. In extreme cases this is resulting in depression and other mental health issues, one statistic suggests that over 8,000 children aged under 10 years old suffer from severe depression. Earlier this year there was the news story that “infant pupils having panic attacks’” whereby a poll of 2,000 NASWAT teachers responded to a survey saying that they had come into contact with pupils who were suffering from mental health problems such as panic attacks, anxiety and depression.

The education system is very aware of this problem and the Government are said to be investing £1.4bn in helping children get the mental support and care they need. There are also schemes and activities to promote mental wellbeing amongst all pupils which are now being incorporated at a quickening pace into the curriculum. To the surprise of some meditation, yoga, philosophy and breathing exercises are just a few which are appearing in the timetable. School counselling services are becoming more prevalent and the importance of sharing is essential. All of which we hold in high esteem here at Truro High School and we recognise the need to develop and support the mental well being of our girls. Our Buddy system, Habits of Mind, and peer mentoring work alongside some of the above activities and are invaluable, Prep One even had a chance to experience Cosmic Yoga last term and loved it!

So what else can we do to help? The creation of a happy, secure and calm environment is essential, providing a place where children feel they can share their thoughts and emotions. Talking and listening to children is important and sharing the times they feel varying emotions. Encouraging self awareness is another area to focus on so asking the girls what was good about their day, how did it make them feel and what would you like to do again. This also promotes a positive growth mind set rather than just focusing on the negative elements of the day.  

A school’s curriculum, selection of extra-curricular subjects and sports can also encourage balance and give opportunities for calm and relaxing times. When I questioned the Pre-Prep pupils as to which activities they felt happy and peaceful during, they replied with various answers but the favourites were that of Art, Forest School and Swimming. Encouraging the girls to recognise the subjects and environments which challenge and test them is important but also the ones which they find relaxing and peaceful is invaluable, are they the London commuter or the spiritual traveller? We are here to guide the girls in creating that individual package and this starts in our Reception Class.

Another idea is for children to have “time outs” but this is meant as a positive thing! So the children are not involved in a set activity, there is no adult input and there is definitely no time limit. They get to choose what they like to do and it is open ended with no expectations. Their normal working day is filled with set times, routines and many people around them making noise and effecting each step that they make. This is perfectly normal but they need the opportunity to recharge their minds and re-couperate mentally, so give them a time out!

So although you may be thinking that “yes, this is easy in theory but harder in reality” together let us attempt to create calming moments for our girls in the working week, helping to bring balance but also mental strength. Whilst it is important we look forward and have events which we are aiming for let us try to ignore those Christmas cards popping up in the shops and the 82 countdown, let us enjoy and embrace this term, each day, and even each hour for another busy time at Truro High School.

Published by: Helen Mills

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