The mental health of our children is rightly front and centre at the moment: education establishments are being tasked with finding ways to support children in learning how to develop the necessary strategies to cope with the many issues that poor mental health presents. These can include depression, anxiety and low self esteem amongst other things.
A plethora of different approaches is being introduced in English primary schools; from the daily mile, to yoga, to mindfulness sessions. It is absolutely right that time should be taken to help our children become confident and secure individuals. It is also right that it should start in primary school, to prepare them for all that is to come (including the current stringent testing structures). What concerns me however, is that this becomes yet another tick-list approach along the lines of ‘we do mindfulness’ for ten minutes at the beginning of the afternoon.
I see two fundamental problems with this: firstly, if schools are ‘doing’ mindfulness, then it needs to be done properly and effectively supported by appropriate training; secondly, that these sessions don’t replace time spent with individual children needing support.
Agencies (such as Think Children) that have supported children in primary schools have had their funding slashed in recent years with several disappearing completely as they could no longer break even. This has meant that even more onus is put on staff in schools as part of their duty of care. This is, as always, easier said than done. Anecdotally, I know of one instance where a teacher was rebuked for spending ten minutes with a 5 year old child who had come into school distressed. They were admonished on the grounds that this meant ten minutes less learning time. An essential principle of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs is that children cannot learn if their basic needs are not met. The one supports the other.
Time in primary schools is at a premium as more and more elements are added to the curriculum and none are removed. Work-life balance has been cited as a key reason for teachers leaving the profession. Given these pressures, How can these teachers then have time to plan their mindfulness sessions appropriately? I have seen sessions which consisted of children colouring in pictures which have been hastily selected from the internet and carrying on playground conversations while doing so. This, they are told, is ‘mindfulness’.
So yes, let’s devote time and energy and resources to the mental health of our children. This can only be done with appropriate support from the government (resources and CPD)–and by truly embracing what we are doing and why we are doing it, not reducing it to a tick box exercise.