We all want our children to succeed academically. But did you know that promoting their mental health is just as crucial, especially post-covid? According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one in six children aged 2 to 8 years has a mental, behavioural, or developmental disorder. If you've been living with mental illness you'll understand how often mental illness is triggered in childhood, whether that be from a single traumatic event or a series of events built up over time. By incorporating mental health activities into the classroom, students can build resilience and improve their well-being, hopefully preventing mental illness later on in life or helping them better prepare and manage their stress in later years. In this article, we will explore the benefits of mental health activities, share ideas for incorporating them into the classroom, and provide tips for creating a safe space for your students to open up.
The Reality of Post-Covid Mental Health in Schools
It's important to start by having a wider understanding of the impact that the covid lockdowns and lack of NHS resources have had on the mental health of students and staff in the UK.
By learning these scary statistics, the rest of this article and its importance will become clearer.
140,000 students missed 50% of classes (am or pm) in 2022 with anxiety being stated as the primary cause.
50% of faculty noted an increase in needing to provide support to their colleagues due to mental health.
25% of faculty are working 4-6 hours extra per week due to increased workloads, job-related stress/anxiety and providing extra support to students.
Faculty noted a 62% increase in students' difficult behaviour.
62% of teachers stated they are having to provide more support to students' well-being and mental health post-pandemic.
and that's just to name a few statistics which have been released post-covid.
The Benefits of Mental Health Activities
Mental health activities can:
Help students manage their stress levels
Regulate their emotions
Develop a positive self-image
Build coping mechanisms for mental illness
Learn effective ways to reduce anxiety and panic
By promoting social-emotional learning, mental health activities can:
Positive communication skills
Build trust among peers and educators
Furthermore, creating a safe space for mental health discussions in the classroom can help reduce stigma and increase awareness about the importance of seeking help when needed. With these benefits in mind, let's explore some ideas for incorporating mental health activities that could be adopted in the classroom.
Ideas for Mental Health Activities in the Classroom
Mental health activities can be incorporated into the classroom in various ways. One idea is to encourage journaling, where students can write about their thoughts and feelings, and reflect on their experiences.
Benefits of journaling:
Encourages you to become your own therapist.
Physical way to release emotion, pent-up anger and dispose of negative thoughts.
Forces you to take time away from screens and for yourself.
Incites a routine of long-term self-care.
Increases use of emotive language and communication skills with others.
Another activity that can be useful is having students participate in role-playing exercises where they can practice problem-solving skills and learn how to communicate effectively with their peers.
Role-play can help by:
Defining the problem
Exploring alternative responses and solutions
Acknowledging bad or negative emotions
Mindfulness activities such as meditation and deep breathing exercises can also help students regulate their emotions and stress levels. Mindfulness can help students become aware of their thoughts and feelings, and learn how to focus on the present moment. This can help improve their attention and concentration, reduce stress levels, and increase overall well-being. One way to incorporate mindfulness into the classroom is through guided meditation exercises, where students can focus on their breath and scan their bodies for tension. Another activity is to have students practice mindful listening, where they can learn how to listen actively and respectfully to others. Mindful colouring or drawing exercises can also be useful in promoting relaxation and reducing stress levels. By incorporating mindfulness practices in the classroom, educators can help students develop important life skills that can benefit them in the long run.
There are times during the academic year when it can be expected for students to feel particularly nervous or stressed, the beginning of a new year and the start of exam season to name just a couple. During these times it may be helpful to encourage meditation learning, colouring or reading to reduce their anxieties.
Additionally, promoting physical activities like yoga or dancing can improve mental health by increasing serotonin levels that improve mood and reduce anxiety.
We are all used to the standard P.E classes but I for one found them more nerve-wracking than relaxing (especially if you weren't particularly athletic!) Introducing less competitive activities such as dance or martial arts, could allow students to find a sport they can continue outside of school, that feels less like exercise and more like learning a skill or having fun!
Finally, creating a safe space in the classroom where students can share their experiences and seek help can help reduce stigma and create a supportive environment.
Safe spaces will:
Allow the child a way to "escape" a difficult or anxious situation
Have them within the school boundaries and discourage "running away"
Provide time and freedom to calm down in moments of panic
Helps focus on good emotions and re-charging
Encouraging Positive Self-Talk
Another useful approach to promoting mental health in the classroom is by encouraging positive self-talk. It's easy for students to be critical of themselves, creating feelings of anxiety and self-doubt. However, by shifting their self-talk to be more positive, students can boost their confidence and self-esteem. Encouraging positive self-talk can be as simple as reminding students to focus on their strengths and accomplish small goals. By incorporating these activities into their classroom, educators can help their students develop positive self-talk habits that will benefit them in the long run.,
It's no secret that the way we talk to ourselves can have a profound impact on our mental well-being. Negative self-talk can easily become a habit that carries over into other areas of our lives, usually starting in adolescence negative-talk can be a dangerous habit to get into and carry on into our adult lives. To counteract this, educators can encourage positive self-talk in the classroom. This can involve reminding students to focus on their strengths, set achievable goals, and celebrate their successes; positive reinforcement by means of rewards can be a strong motivator. By developing these habits, students can boost their confidence and self-esteem, ultimately improving their mental health.
Positive affirmations and quotes can be reassuring and comforting in times of negative thoughts.
Promoting Physical Activity
A key aspect of mental health is physical activity. Research has shown that exercise can have a positive impact on both our physical and mental well-being. For students, incorporating physical activities into their daily routines can help them manage stress and anxiety, improve their mood, and enhance their cognitive function. Educators can promote physical activity in the classroom by incorporating short exercise breaks throughout the day. These breaks can range from a quick yoga session to a few minutes of jumping jacks.
Aside from exercise breaks, educators can also incorporate movement into lessons. For example, a history lesson could involve a role-playing activity where students act out a famous battle. A science lesson could involve a scavenger hunt where students search for different types of rocks. These activities not only promote physical activity but also enhance learning by making it more engaging and interactive.
Energy creates energy, a short walk or movement of any kind can refresh the brain and inspire more physical exercise throughout the day.
Incorporating mental health activities into the classroom is an effective way to support student well-being and academic success. By encouraging mindfulness, creating a safe space, promoting positive self-talk, and physical activity, teachers can help their students build resilience and improve their mental health. Remember, small changes can have a big impact on student well-being. As the saying goes, "A healthy mind is a wealthy mind."