Most of the world’s top achievers, in any discipline, demonstrate
a deliberate drive to improve, a practised resilience in the face of adversity and value their own self-care highly. Their recognition of
the importance of mental wellbeing is as distinct as their need to be physically healthy and fit. As teachers, we are striving for the best
for our pupils, desperately juggling the need for them to achieve in all curriculum areas, but also to feel excited by learning, and the journey of life they have just begun. Mental and emotional wellbeing stands out as the driving force behind attainment and achievement: learners cannot achieve their best without feeling their best. In our busy, stressful world, we should be teaching our pupils to find enjoyment in drive and ambition, joy in success, and resilience in challenge. If they can develop strategies to plan an exciting future, work towards it by learning new skills, learn from their mistakes and any barriers they
are faced with, success will seem much sweeter when it’s achieved. Understanding how their body and mind works, and how they can utilise essential skills in mindset is the key to unlock this happiness. Our Healthy Thoughts unit focuses on how children think about themselves and others, physically and emotionally, with practical skills to aid attainment and achievement.
See all our Healthy Mindset lessons plans in the CHP Academy
How can teachers adopt a ‘Healthy Mindset’ as part of their mental health approach?
Teaching children about mental health is a new challenge, and teachers are finding they need to learn quickly. Our pillar of Healthy Thoughts looks at ten topics, which could sit in a school’s very broad approach to mental health. It’s important here to recognise a distinction between the positive term of mental ‘health’ and the negative struggles associated with the term, possibly better described as mental ill-health or mental health difficulties. This unit of work encourages children to explore positive mental health attributes, rather than tackle mental health issues. Children are taught to exercise the muscles of resilience, motivation and positivity, and approach difficult topics such as body image, managing stress and understanding emotions and feelings with practical lessons. We also use the tools of mindfulness, gratitude & reflection, friendship & teamwork to promote positive thoughts. Having a healthy role model is an outcome we encourage in our schools – for every child to be able to identify with someone who takes care of their physical health and mental wellbeing. The list of topics we could have included in our Healthy Thoughts topic is vast, but the ten topics below offer a broad and balanced definition to positive mental health promotion. Here are a few essential tips for classroom teachers who are promoting healthy thoughts in their classroom:
When difficult conversations arise in the classroom, and children are talking about their thoughts, feelings and emotions, acknowledge how they’re feeling. When a child opens up about their feelings, they may feel quite vulnerable. Acknowledging that their feelings are very real to them, are difficult and don’t feel very nice, offers respect and promotes trust. This is not to say their negative feelings should be accepted as a given, or they’re not to be helped, but your role can be to acknowledge those negative feelings, then to support them in moving towards more positive emotions.
Use of consistent vocabulary for emotions and feelings in the classroom supports a space for pupils to feel comfortable discussing their thoughts. Use of a wide vocabulary for feelings promotes mature conversation, and can allow children to understand their confusing feelings. Furthermore, use of this diverse vocabulary will complement reading and writing programmes in the classroom, across all subjects.
We know the curriculum offered in school needs to challenge children and really broaden their education, yet this should also uncover opportunity to challenge pupils with adventure, and resilience building activities. Broadening comfort zones gently and carefully can allow a student to blossom personally. This gradual stretching of what they know to be comfortable encourages them to think they can achieve more than previously thought. Outdoor adventure, linking healthy lifestyles to healthy thoughts is the perfect tool for their personal curriculum.
See other classroom resources and tips for health and wellbeing in the CHP Academy
The Relationships and Health curriculum forms an essential part of a Personal and Social curriculum for a child. Watching a child’s personality develop and grow is fascinating, and to nurture positive attributes really is an honour. So our Personal Curriculum teaching should foster the positives of self-development, care for others, fulfilment and resilience, all of which we can nurture in every moment of the day.
Children nowadays are facing challenges many of us would not have grown up with. Screen time and social media, affect all children, even if they are not the ones on the electronic devices. Parents collect children from school on their phones, instead of being greeted or chatting on the way home, they compete with a device for attention. Some children will be seeing the very grown up world of ‘influence’ on social media, and their opinions of themselves can be tainted by whichever product is advertised, or how someone else speaks about their body. They may witness a lot of violence or negative thought through gaming. All of these are very real situations for our pupils, and we need to evolve to understand them. Often our curriculum doesn’t keep up with such rapid change. You as a teacher can go beyond the curriculum though, and meet the real, modern needs of the pupils in your class. We hope some of our lessons plans help you with this.
Lesson plans in The Children’s Health Project Scheme of Work
Healthy Thoughts (also known as a Healthy Mindset) offers teachers a personal curriculum for their classrooms. This fits in well to the Relationships and Health Curriculum (as do the other three pillars), and seeks to develop confident, calm children with the topics we study. The topics themselves are all about positive approaches, and some address negative issues. A diverse pillar of health, we are only just scraping the surface of a worldwide challenge in the modern day. Helping children to feel good about themselves is a minute by minute task, and we hope these lessons plans for mental health and wellbeing support you to do that:
We introduce the body confident way of addressing young children’s issues with body image. We take on a ‘my clever body’ attitude, celebrating all the incredible things a body can do, rather than how it looks. This complements the rest of our lesson plans as knowledge about the functions of the body and mind develops. The children start to establish what makes them unique and identify what helps them ‘radiate’ – what brings warmth to their lives. They learn to be kind to themselves, and embrace a fulfilled life, rich in experience and learning.
Gratitude and Reflection
Making time for reflection is becoming essential in order to appreciate the positives in our lives. Being grateful fosters optimism and a sense of calm and inner peace. Being grateful to someone allows us to develop compassion, in turn supporting healthy relationships. It’s easier to make new friends if we are grateful to the ones we already have. There is a diverse range of topics to be grateful for, and children have the chance to choose what they’re most appreciative of, and how they can express thanks.
Dealing with Stress
Selecting just four ways to deal with worry, anxious feelings, or nerves, develops a progressive curriculum for dealing with ‘stress’. Use of our senses, expressing our worries, harnessing the power of breath and muscle work to relax the body, and relaxing by tapping traditional acupressure points, gives children very practical methods to deal with their negative thoughts, that can be used whenever they need them.
See a sample lesson plan from our Dealing with Stress topic
Instead of studying to be a mindfulness practitioner, when we look closely, we actually see several mindfulness activities scattered throughout our traditional school activities. These lessons encourage a mindful approach to eating with the senses, exercising the memory, being observant and concentrating on a single activity.
Research has found that using positive affirmations can improve a child’s self esteem, when combined with a program of personal growth. Positive affirmations do not change negative thinking, but they can improve the balance between positive and negative thoughts. We do not ask children simply to feel positive all the time, but to recognise the benefits of a positive mental attitude and a positive physical posture, and to address the balance with very practical activities like our ‘Bad Bins and Great Galleries’ lesson.
As described in a healthy lifestyle, every child having a healthy role model is one of our key outcomes for schools. Some teachers themselves struggle to identify a positive health role model in their own lives, so this topics offers children the chance to learn about healthy role models, and to identify them. It also supports the teacher to realise who the children are looking up to as their role models in life. Children consider what they see role models doing, what they hear them saying, and their behaviours. They have time in this unit to recognise who has a good influence on them, both close to home and in the wider, global community.
Many schools use the concept of a ‘Growth Mindset’ when helping children learn about themselves, and these lessons help children to practise their growth mindset with specific activities. Linked to our other pillars of health – movement, nutrition and lifestyle, children embark on a progressive set of lessons to develop goals, practise to improve and reward themselves by celebrating their success. They do this while learning that ‘to achieve big hopes and dreams requires good health’, and are reminded this is why we try to make healthy choices.
Emotions and Feelings
Navigating their own emotions and feelings supports pupils in their healthy relationships with others, and allows them to feel empathy as well as caring for others. As previously mentioned, the vocabulary for emotions and feelings is vast, so trying to use new words with the children will gradually help them to map their own experiences with clearer thoughts. These lessons develop not only their cognitive processes but also their mindful communications with other children. They’re taught to listen before sharing their opinion; why they ‘fight, flee or freeze’, and to comprehend what effect others’ emotions can have on them.
Friendship & Teamwork
The youngest children learn that to have a happy class, they are partly responsible for boosting their classmates’ happiness where possible. Acts of friendship, showing compassion, and promoting equality teach the children about positive friendships. Challenging physical activities test their teamwork skills, and large broader issues in society are approached with friendship in ‘Action Learning Sets’ within the classroom.
Resilience & Tolerance
Continuing the focus of teamwork and friendships, this topic teaches children about differences and similarities, and respect for others, with practical tasks that promote discussion. Sometimes resilience is not loud and brash, but a quiet whisper to deal with worry. Comparisons in nature help children to begin their understanding of resilience, and problem-solving tasks aid their understanding that you can’t complete a journey by skipping to the end – that there will be stumbles, hiccups and lots of learning along the way. The power of YET is also taught in this topic, promoting patience and resilience.
See all health and wellbeing lesson plans in the CHP Academy
Mindset Warrior© promotes strong resilience yet peaceful thought as a mindset role model to the children.
Mindset Warrior© is at peace with herself. She sets goals, works towards them, picks herself up when she falls, and considers other people in her actions.She values herself – not for her appearance, but for her zest for life and the enjoyment she finds in interactions with people and the world around her. She strives to achieve, but not necessarily for perfection. She senses the good in others and works on self-development in order to feel a sense of fulfilment. A warrior instead of a worrier, she demonstrates resilience and kindness, both to herself and others.
Please note: You need a license to use Mindset Warrior© in your school, which comes with membership to the CHP Academy
Regardless of whether you use The Children’s Health Project resources, Health Champions© or the Healthy Thoughts lesson plans from the Scheme of Work in your school, you can encourage a healthy mindset, full of positivity, motivation and understanding of relationships. A personal curriculum forms just part of a mental health program in schools, and does not require teachers to be mental health experts. Taught through the curriculum, but also promoted in discussion assemblies, break times and in the wider community, a personal curriculum like this one encourages growth and good mental health.
We’d like to hear your thoughts on what a ‘healthy mindset’ or a ‘personal curriculum’ is to you, and how you develop this in school. Please comment below, or on our social media posts.