In a world where success means academic achievement and financial gain, are we letting our children miss out on something that could make them happy, and that could result in the kind of world we want them to grow up in? With bullying on the increase and the number of children and young people suffering from mental health issues on the rise, the need for a new approach in schools has become apparent.
Imagination is the source of every form of human achievement. And it’s the one thing that I believe we are systematically jeopardizing in the way we educate our children and ourselves. – Sir Ken Robinson, author on cultural and creative education.
Through ChangeX, a number of ideas that support and encourage compassion, empathy, kindness, imagination, self-esteem, respect and critical thinking are taking off throughout the country. We meet the people behind Mindfulness Matters, Playworks and Peace First and talk to teachers who are noticing exceptional results.
Teaching our Children to be Mindful
Mindfulness, a buzz word that started taking hold in mainstream media a few years ago, has stood its ground. Unsurprisingly, companies that invest in employee wellbeing, such as Google, Yahoo and Apple encourage mindfulness in the workplace. NUI Galway in 2015 introduced The Mindful Way initiative at its campus, incorporating mindfulness into its teaching, studying and researching practices.
Derval Dunford and Dr Ann Caulfield are the founders of Mindfulness Matters, the organisation that provides courses and resources to encourage awareness, calm and confidence in children. The dream of Mindfulness Matters is that every child in every school has a level of self-awareness; skills to manage personal thoughts and emotions; the ability to reduce stress and to find calm and resilience for day to day experiences, says Derval.
Just pausing to breathe has become part of our classroom culture
With research increasingly indicating that mindfulness has the capacity to promote such skills of personal development, reflection and resilience, more and more schools are taking the programme on board.
Bríd Grady of Killeen NS, Louisburgh, Co. Mayo introduced mindfulness techniques into the student’s daily routine through Mindfulness Matters, and says she has noticed “enormous” changes in school life since. Just pausing to breathe has become part of our classroom culture and simple, daily practices have been introduced, thanks to Ann and Derval (founders).
The result is a more productive, calm and harmonious environment. Friendships have improved, as there is a greater acceptance among the children. They laugh, they cry, and they are aware of their feelings and how these change moment to moment. It’s wonderful to watch children in a hectic, bustling classroom become equipped with the ability to just stop and become aware of the present moment. Our lives are busy, our minds are busy, so it’s more important than ever to protect and foster the well-being of both teachers and children in our schools.
Improving Confidence through Playworks
The yard can be one of the most challenging places for both teachers and students; more bullying is reported to happen in the yard than anywhere else during school hours (a quarter of all young Irish people aged nine to sixteen having experienced some form of bullying). Playworks is a school programme that has been reporting lower numbers of bullying cases and increased levels of wellbeing in children.
Believing in the power of play to bring out the best in every child, Playworks offers structured play at yard time to get the children moving, make sure everyone’s included, while encouraging respect for each other. A Stateside programme, Playworks is now firmly established in hundreds of schools across the US, and recently arrived in Ireland.
The very basis of the programme, according to Jill Vialet, Founder and CEO of Playworks, is that as individuals, children are getting the message that they matter. They’re getting the message that they can be drivers in their own education, and that there are grown-ups who believe in the best in them.
Practically speaking, they’re also learning the skills of self-regulation, how to negotiate and resolve conflicts, and to build confidence around taking risks, failing and handling uncertainty. On a group basis, students are learning to collaborate, function in teams, how to self-handicap and to wrestle with the joyful messiness of interdependence. Schools, in the end, are getting an environment that is healthy, inclusive and wildly conducive to teaching and learning.â€
Fighting Bullying in Ireland
With some critics suggesting that organised play is just another ‘progressive’ ideology, teachers who use the programme are quick to disagree. Paul Knox, a teacher in Castaheany Educate Together National School, sees yard time, which adds up to four hours a week, as a ‘huge opportunity’ to develop skills, promote health and wellbeing, and improve activity levels. “That’s not just going to happen for all children of its own accord, some children need support. There is less bullying to deal with, less rule breaking out of boredom and children are going back to class ready to concentrate and with less tales, which is any teacher’s wish, I think. It makes a huge difference for everyone,” he adds.
Fundamentally, it’s about better relationships formed through play
John Farrell, Principal of Galway Educate Together says that having a ‘Playworks Yard’ has been ‘transformational’ for the school. “Every day, everyone gets to play, have fun and be part of a game. Playworks has developed social and emotional skills such as empathy, teamwork and leadership in the children and taught them simple conflict resolution techniques that work for them. Fundamentally, it’s about better relationships formed through play.”
Educating the Next Generation in Peaceful Living
The Peace First programme is another school-based curriculum that teaches children to work well with each other, to resolve conflicts, solve community problems, communicate ideas effectively, and form positive social relationships. The idea is to instill empathy and compassion in children from an early age, giving them skills that they can use in their daily lives to live peacefully and compassionately. Developed in the US in 1992, it’s now used widely used throughout the States and was recently introduced to Ireland through ChangeX.
Teacher Aoife Bloomer of Galway Educate Together National School, found that the programme really strikes a chord with the children. “The lessons are excellent! The Peace First programme fits really well into our school ethos and each week we feel that giving extra time to the programme is time well spent.”
Lisheenkyle National School in Co Galway was one of the first to include Peace First in its classroom. Principal Anne Keary says Peace First and all similar programs have become an essential part of Primary Education. “They address the strategies needed to build and maintain healthy relationships.”
Slowing the pace down, being more mindful, learning to care for ourselves and others, and learning to live well with each other is at the core of these programmes. Ultimately, the aim is to build a more peaceful, inclusive – basically happy – environment for our kids and future generations.
You can sign up for your school or organisation to get involved in each of these programmes through ChangeX