The Early Childhood Team’s response to children’s mental health week – Maggie Crowley

Children’s Mental Health Week (set up by the children’s mental health charity, Place2Be), runs from 3-9th February 2020. In order to raise awareness of this, the Early Childhood Team have decided to collaborate to create a resource to be shared with students on their Early Childhood Programme, for them to also share with their colleagues, families and local communities.

This resource includes the team’s own particular avenues of interest relating to young children’s mental health, as well as suggestions for useful resources and activities to support students in exploring this highly valuable topic further.

Maggie Crowley explores mindful awareness in early childhood education

By choosing to be a patron for the charity behind Children’s Mental Health Week, (Place2Be, 2020), HRH The Duchess of Cambridge, a strong advocate of mindfulness, has firmly placed this contemporary issue at the very heart of improving outcomes for children’s play, learning and development, (DfE, 2018). The introduction of this bespoke week, whereby we can all promote positive mental health and well-being in our early year’s sector can only reap rewards in both the short and the long term.

It is never too early in a child’s life to introduce calming strategies. We are already aware of how swaddling, rocking, singing and motherease can reduce a baby’s cry, however they are all adult led responses. Babies, toddlers and preschool children can all benefit from learning to self-regulate their emotions when they feel overwhelmed or worried, according to Inness (2015). In the Early Years we can enable children with the right skills and abilities to later recognise in life when they need to step back from a busy world and create a calm, reflective place that is beneficial to their own mental health. Mindfulness provides that. It is about focusing on the present, being in the moment and taking a breath, both inside and outside of our bodies. Weare’s (2012) evidence has securely linked regular mindfulness techniques with young children to neuroscientific benefits, such as increased attention span in older children.

So here are some suggestions to help children develop ‘happy breathing’ (mindfulness).

First carry out a really energetic activity beforehand to tire them out…, hopefully!

  • Sensory/messy play in a quiet zone or with a tranquil melody on in the background.
  • Looking up at the clouds. No calling out, just lying down outside, looking up.
  • Lighting a candle at the start of a listening circle to talk about; What do they notice? What do they feel? Or a visualisation task… ‘Imagine you are lying down on grass’.
  • Yoga exercises. Provide a mat. Take them through a guided relaxation exercise that helps them count their breathing and sense each muscle that moves when they stretch.
  • Model mindfulness. Repeat with them each day but keep them short at first and at appropriate age level.

To conclude, at a time when the Government (SEND, 2015) has moved social, emotional and mental health difficulties into a S.E.N category and research shows that 56% of children say they worry ‘all the time’ about ‘something’ (Place2Be, 2020), this week is paramount. With current children’s mental health services fragmented and underfunded, (YoungMinds, 2020) spread the word and incorporate our ideas not just between the 4th and 10th February, but throughout your hybrid pedagogical approach, (Formosinho & Pascal. 2017).  

References

DfE. (2018) Early Years Foundation Stage. [Online] Available at: https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/669079/Early_years_foundation_stage_profile_2018_handbook.pdf [accessed 30th January 2020].

Formosinho, J & Pascal, C. (2017) Assessment and Evaluation for Transformation in Early Childhood. London. Routledge.

Inness, I. (2015) The role of the childcare professionals in supporting mental health and wellbeing in young people. [online] Available at https://www.pacey.org.uk/Pacey/media/Website-files/PACEY%20general/Emotional-wellbeing_literaturereview_Dec2015.pdf [accessed on 30th January 2020].

Place2Be. (2020) Children’s Mental Health Week. [online] Available at: https://www.childrensmentalhealthweek.org.uk/parents-and-carers/ [accessed 28th January 2020].

SEND. (2015) Special educational needs and disability code of practice: 0-25 years. [Online] Available at: https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/398815/SEND_Code_of_Practice_January_2015.pdf [accessed 30th January 2020].

Weare, K (2012) THE EVIDENCE FOR MINDFULNESS IN SCHOOLS FOR CHILDREN AND YOUNG PEOPLE. [online] Available at: https://mindfulnessinschools.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/04/Weare-Evidence-Review-Final.pdf [accessed 30th January 2020].

By Maggie Crowley.

You can read the rest of the team’s responses to Children’s Mental Health Week here:

Rachel’s Blog

Charlotte’ Blog

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