Interview with Helen Wilson about the Importance of Mindfulness in Schools
Can you tell us a little about what you do?
I think the best way to describe my work is 'emotional health coach' using mindfulness, positive psychology and the arts to support wellbeing. I’m trying to help children and young people experience calm and give them tools so they can find calm for themselves when life is tricky. I’m working with lots of six year-olds who are very stressed and anxious. Mainly because they’re not getting enough time with their parents, because parents are working longer hours to keep up with the rising cost of living. There’s also too much technology saturating their lives, not giving them calm time. Technology in parents’ lives is also reducing the communication in the family. And the school system itself is a problem. Next week it’s the Key Stage 1 SATS – with 6 and 7 year-olds taking exams. Last year many of them were crying because they couldn’t cope. Really the NSPCC should be informed! The changes the government have made to primary education - and the standards that are expected - are ridiculous. I sat in a maths class recently that I didn’t understand, it was so difficult. The question is why? Why are we doing this to our children? The system has a lot to answer for. Things keep changing and you have to be able to change with them.
What is the demand like for your work?
The schools who bring me in are absolutely taken with what I do. I get repeated contracts once they see the results. But I recently pitched to twelve schools and I only had one who booked. There’s a massive need for mindfulness in schools but there are funding problems. The need is enormous, because stress issues can be very harmful to children, and the intervention itself is very powerful. It’s not a talking intervention, it’s giving the mind a chance to rest, reprocess and reorganise information, which helps children feel more settled. We do breathing, and awareness through all the senses, focussing attention through touch, listening, smells. For example, I have a sand timer with oil in it, that they love to watch. I use colour-changing lights. It’s about giving children a situation where they’re happy to be quiet. A lot of them can’t find their off switch. So we help them to switch off and then they can reflect on what’s happening internally.
Do you work with many dyslexic children?
I work with children with ADHD, anxiety, anger issues. None of them come to me with a specific dyslexia label. But I know that many dyslexic children have related anxiety issues.
How does the education system need to change in order to be less stressful to young minds?
We should ditch the curriculum for a start. Schools are now only being assessed on English and Maths. So many schools are dropping the creative curriculum. Many are dropping music. There are so many children who struggle academically but fly in the arts – it’s so wonderful to see those kids suddenly fly. A little girl in year two who is not considered bright came up with all the ideas for stories and music recently. I could see that the rest of her class were surprised and impressed. So many young people are really struggling because they’re not getting what I call a ‘balanced diet’ of education. There’s also a lack of understanding with teaching. They don’t have adequate dyslexia and autism training. They often don’t know about emotional and behavioural needs. We’re very ignorant in the UK – compared to countries like Finland. Children need to be outside and free, they need to build mental resilience from the outset. In Finland they don’t start formal education until they’re 7 - they learn through play, through being outside, which is why they don’t have behavioural problems. You’ll find that children don’t often misbehave when they’re outside. Because they start formal education later, they’re fully formed individuals who know their strengths from the beginning.
What do you see as the future of learning and/or of schools?
The worse case scenario would be that teaching is delivered via whiteboards and technology only. Teachers are no longer needed, so we just have cheap behaviour police and a complete lack of social education – it’s a rather Orwellian vision.
Ideally and more positively – in the future, education becomes more rounded with more concern for the individual, with a fuller curriculum, more outdoor learning, a much bigger focus on personal social and health education right through the primary years. It’s sad that you don’t have to teach social education anymore. Teachers need better training to respond to the emotional needs of children in their class. There would be mindfulness for every child in every year group. We teach children how to look after their bodies, but not how to look after their minds. It doesn’t make sense. Mental health education really needs to be improved. Ideally, children should be practicing mindfulness every day.
For more information about Helen's work, please visit www.positive-world.co.uk.
Can you tell us a little about what you do?I think the best way to describe my work is 'emotional health coach' using mindfulness, positive psychology and the arts to support wellbeing. I’m...