Teaching Gratitude

As a teacher of Wellbeing strategies, there’s not many topics I don’t enjoy teaching… but admittedly, I do have my favourites… and Gratitude has to be one of them.

Gratitude? Seriously? I know.

My inner Year 6 teacher, for whom ‘real’ learning and real results are the only concern, inwardly cringes even when I say it now.

But it’s okay. And I know it’s okay. Because according to the Science, the benefits of Gratitude practice are just as, if not more valuable than good grades in Maths, English and Science. A growing body of research and studies show that people who practice gratitude live happier lives in general, as well as being more emotionally and mentally resilient to lifes’ ups and downs.

So what does this look like in school? 

When teaching the skill of Gratitude, I approach this in the same way that I would introduce a new concept in Maths or a text/theme in English. In fact, this is a really important step if you want the kids to take it seriously; something that may be a problem particularly in upper school.

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We’ll look firstly at the the science behind the brains’ natural negativity bias and the Hedonic treadmill that we so often find ourselves on, resulting in an endless chase for happiness.

Then, we might consider how spending more time in the present moment (i.e. Mindfulness), with a focus on what we have rather than what we don’t have (Gratitude) might result in us becoming happier people overall.

Bearing in mind that some children find it incredibly difficult on first attempt to think of what they have to be thankful for, I like to pre-empt our thanks-giving by looking at stories of inspiration people who have powered through adversity with courage and determination. For children who can’t really understand the concept of being fortunate to have even the basics of food, warmth and shelter, this is a good reminder that not everyone in the world has these things. And it doesn’t hurt that these people are great role models to look up to, despite their less-than fortunate circumstances.

Then, at last, it’s time to talk about write about what we’re grateful for; those things that we’d really miss if we didn’t have; the people, places, things and experiences that make our lives better and easier. I seem to teach this differently each time I approach it, but here’s a weekly review sheet that I’ve used recently with KS2 students and young adults, to great success.

And that’s that. At least for that one session.

Like anything, if you want it to actually stick, it needs repeating and reinforcing, until students reach a point whereby spotting things to be grateful for comes more naturally than the opposite.

‘Emotional Athletes’: Emotional Intelligence & Resilience in the Classroom

‘Emotional Athletes’ is the latest wellbeing-based Learning Experience, geared towards developing emotional intelligence and practical strategies for resilience in students.

Of course, I’m completely biased, because these days are like babies to me – but it’s an awesome day.

Information and activities throughout the day are routed in Cognitive Behaviour Therapy, Mindfulness, child-friendly Neuroscience, Growth Mindset and Positive Psychology. There’s even a bit of Yoga thrown in!

Here’s what we’ll cover:

We begin the day by considering what it means to be ’emotionally athletic’, considering how and why it might be useful to understand where our thoughts and feelings come from. Using Dr. Dan Seigel’s child-friendly ‘Hand Model’ of the brain, we learn about how different parts of the brain work together, as well as what happens scientifically when we ‘flip our lid’ and become overwhelmed with emotion.

Morning activities involve engaging clips, quizzes, speaking and listening tasks and role play. There’s a small amount of writing as children are asked to think back to their own positive and negative feelings, considering how these emotions presented themselves in their bodies and thoughts.

As a class, we look at the 5 Part Model (CBT) of thoughts, feelings, behaviour and reactions, in any given situation, as well as considering the things in life that we can and cannot control.

Children are taught to take control of what they can in emotional situations; their breath, relationship with their thoughts and their attention overall. Mindfulness-based activities and meditations, sprinkled through the day, give them a chance to put this into practice.

In the afternoon, we focus on building our emotional resilience. Children move from table to table, trying out a variety of tasks in groups, aimed at either maintaining daily happiness or bouncing back from negative thoughts or emotions.

At the end of this action-packed day, children create their own origami fortune tellers, labelled with their favourite techniques from the day. This becomes a self-supporting tool that they can use independently the next time negative thoughts and emotions creep in.

Like I said, it’s an awesome day!


Jo Steer is an experienced teacher in primary, secondary, SEND and life skills-based education. She is also trained in Mindfulness and Yoga for children, and CBT (APT level 2).

If you’d like her to deliver this particular package or something similar in your school, call 07719330358 or email jo@skillswithfrills.com to discuss ways forward.

Swap your Supply Cover for a Team-tastic day instead!

Having always been a firm advocate of structured teamwork and social skills in the classroom, I’ve been eager for a while now to throw some teamwork into the Skills with Frills mix.

So here it is… a ‘Team-Tastic’ day!

This super-engaging day is suitable for KS2 students, though as always, it’s easily adapted for children lower down school or further up. Throughout the day, students take on a series of team-based games and challenges, geared towards refining the collaborative social skills they already have. We look at examples of effective and ineffective teamwork, with the aid of video clips and music, picking apart the basics of what good collaboration actually looks like. We also explore specific team problem scenarios, discussing and developing strategies based on conflict resolution.

Self and team-reflection is woven into the fabric of the lesson to ensure that students really consider their own strengths and areas for improvement, whilst having a great time.

Activities in this day incorporate a range of cross-curricular skills like persuasive writing, speaking and listening, art and design. There’s a great mix of speaking, listening, writing, drawing and practical tasks – and of course, some friendly competition between teams.

Alongside this, students have plenty of opportunities to gain confidence when speaking in pairs, groups and as teams, in front of the whole class. We take a ‘mindful approach’ to teamwork, structuring and scaffolding activities in a way which allows for all students to safely contribute and participate in group tasks.

Whilst this may just look like fun and games, by digging further into what teamwork really is (and why we need it), it’s my hope that students come to reflect on their own team attitude and social interactions in the future.


To read more about Jo’s inclusive approach to teamwork, see this 2018 article from Optimus ‘Special Children’ magazine.

Looking to book? Still have questions? Call 07719330358 or email jo@skillswithfrills.com

Top 5 Benefits of Yoga for Children, from a newly qualified Yogakidz teacher!

News Flash: I’ve just received my certificate through the post meaning that I can now officially say that I’m a fully-qualified Yogakidz teacher. Yay!

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Now the hard work of training is complete, the fun (and learning) can begin! I’ll be incorporating yoga into options that I already offer, such as the Mind Masters day, as well as offering yoga and mindfulness workshops lasting on average 1.5 hours, delivered to a single class at a time.

Wondering what a typical children’s yoga and mindfulness session looks like? 

Lessons typically begin with a basic breathing exercise and a gentle warm up, followed by a quick routine of Sun Salutations to warm up the muscles further. Then comes the main part of the activity, which might take the form of alphabet/partner yoga; yoga games; and/or my favourite, a yoga story, whereby they follow along to a story practising poses at key points. Classes finish with a little more breathing and a mediation/relaxation activity, guaranteed to calm the mind and body into a state of rest and ‘wakefulness.’

I’m so excited about yoga and the plethora of benefits it can bring into children’s’ lives. As much as it’s just a fascinating subject for children to learn and enjoy, the crowning glory as far as I’m concerned is the way that it supports children’s physical, mental, emotional and even spiritual health.

Whether you’re a parent, educator or just an interested party, let me explain some of the numerous benefits of practising yoga to children: 

  1. Yoga can be a highly engaging activity for children of any and all ages, including those with special educational needs. As a form of active, hands-on learning, it can be particularly engaging for children who don’t seem particularly well-suited to learning within the traditional classroom environment. To many children, yoga represents a breath of fresh air in an overwhelmingly academic, writing-based curriculum.Thanks to activities such as stories, the yoga itself becomes a vehicle through which you can teach cross-curricular skills and knowledge. Yoga stories with links to Science, Nature or History, for example, offer children a fun game-like way of learning that often proves more memorable to children than lessons learned in class.
  2. Perhaps the most obvious benefits are in that it gets children up and moving. As we’re told that the UK is facing unprecedented numbers of severely obese children, the importance of this can’t be understated. Yoga lessons encourage children to move, stretch and strengthen their bodies in a safe way. And while certain postures can be challenging, the lesson is structured in a way that it doesn’t feel like exercise but more like fun and games! Children can see and feel for themselves how exercise and stretching have the potential to make you feel better, stronger and happier.
  3. As much as it supports physical health, yoga can be incredibly useful in the way it promotes overall emotional and mental health. As children focus on their breath and the movements, there is little other space in the mind for negative thoughts and emotions. In this way, yoga acts as an ‘active meditation’, which children often find a little easier than straight-forward meditation, where you’re asked to focus on one thing only. Of course, it doesn’t hurt to mix in breathing, mindfulness, meditation and relaxation activities, which complement the yoga itself and only add to the good feelings and relaxation.
  4. The life lessons, messages and techniques, which naturally flow into yoga lessons with children, can be a key part of developing a ‘growth mindset’ and emotional resilience. Maybe it’s in the way they’re taught to notice how other children can stretch further than they can, and be completely okay with that.  Perhaps it’s the way they might listen to their body, learning to hear the difference between pain and discomfort (which we feel when we’re challenging ourselves.) One child may simply notice that when they exhale, they can move far deeper into a stretch than they believed they could initially, shifting their mindset from “I can’t” to “I can’t yet.” Students can’t help but soak up the ethos that oozes out of yoga classes; the self-acceptance and awareness, lack of judgement and open-mindedness, love and gratitude, willingness to try and make mistakes. Who knows… this might just make all the difference in the kind of adult a child becomes.little-girl-yoga.jpg
  5. As well as soaking up the yogic philosophy, children learn practical techniques that they can repeat independently when they need them, off the mats. I’ve heard countless anecdotes now from children who rely on different breathing and mindfulness techniques in order to sleep, calm negative thoughts, inspire confidence or just because they like the way they feel when they do them. Even a child that attends just one lesson, can take away the idea of tuning into their breath, sensations or emotions, increasing inner-awareness along with inner-strength.

If you’re a teacher or school leader looking to arrange some yoga/mindfulness workshops for your students, contact us to discuss options!

** Look out for more yoga-themed blogs and projects coming soon! **

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Head full of worries? Try this for instant calm!

A super quick read today, combined with a super quick, easy and effective trick to help you, or your child, feel immediately better when you’re stuck in a ‘worry loop.’

Take a look at this awesome freebie, the ‘Circle of Control’or even better, just grab a pen and a note pad and create your own! No need for it to be fancy!

Feeling overwhelmed and anxious can be incredibly exhausting emotionally. And it’s often completely pointless, because so much of what we worry about isn’t even in the realms of our control. We just need reminding of this sometimes.

Complete the sheet – again by yourself of with your child if you’re trying to support them – and decide what things you can control, and what you can’t. Take a look at this example of what a child might fill in here:

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See? Super quick but very powerful.

If the worries you’re having have elements that you can control, then take whatever small or big action you can to make that inner-worrier quieten down a little.

More often that not though, we give ourselves anxiety headaches about things that we are completely powerless to change; mostly always things that never even happen! When this happens and your mind is repeatedly drawn back to this useless worry, look at this sheet again, remembering that you cannot control this. And maybe switch your attention to something that you can control, like the breath.

The more you practise this, the less you’ll worry! 🙂


Are you a teacher, school leader or parent in Yorkshire, looking to get ‘healthy mind’ strategies like the one above in your school? See skillswithfrills.com to learn more about the Mindfulness/Wellbeing workshops/days that we offer. Alternatively, contact Jo on 07719330358, skillswithfrills@gmail.com or through our Facebook page to find out more!  

Freebie Meditation Script, for children and adults: Cloud-Thoughts

As I adventure further and further into Mindfulness for children, teens and young adults, I only become increasingly convinced as to how effective it can be for everyone. In my work with parents, school children and individuals through Mindful coaching, the following meditation has proven itself to be one of the most difficult, but also the most rewarding.

This meditation is aimed at children from 5+, but it has the potential to give comfort to absolutely anyone. If you’re trying this with a young child, try this for just a minute each day. Depending on age and concentration span, you can attempt this for longer. For an adult who is new to mindfulness, I’d recommend 4 or 5 minutes to begin with. If you wish, you might like to record your thoughts in this handy log.

You can learn a lot about the recurring weather patterns in your mind, after only a week of recording thoughts in logs like this…

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You might also start to notice just how these recurring weather patterns effect your daily habits, behaviours, social interactions and core beliefs. You may realise, as you take a step back from the inner-chatter, that things that you never even questioned to be untrue, suddenly seem like fake news.

Once you’ve put in a little time here, you’ll hopefully find yourself pulling back from your thoughts automatically. This detachment from your thoughts and the realisation that you are you, not whatever is passing through your head at any moment, is just invaluable. It feeds into everything that you are and everything that you do.

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Enjoy this child-friendly ‘Thought-Cloud’ Meditation: 

  1. Sit down comfortably and allow your eyes to close gently. Your brain should know what your body is awake.
  2. Take a few moments to notice your breath and any sensations happening in your body. Notice how your body feels where it touches the chair or floor.
  3. Just continue to breathe and notice with curiosity – no need to control or fix anything. We’re just looking in at what’s happening today, and noticing.
  4. Have you ever laid on the grass and watched clouds go by? This is what we’re going to try now, but we’re going to watch thoughts go by today, instead of clouds. Take some time here to let thoughts come into your mind. Is there anything that you’re excited about? Worried about? Happy about? Unsure about? Let a thought float around in your head like a cloud, just letting it be there.
  5. As you watch these thoughts, as if they’re clouds, you might like to imagine that you are lying outside on grass, on a sunny day, watching these clouds. It might help you to notice the different shapes and colours of these clouds.
  6. As you watch these thoughts, realise that they’re just thoughts. Just like clouds in the sky, they come in different shapes, sizes and colours, but they all pass by. As you watch, notice how they pass by.
  7. If you notice that your mind has wandered, and feel that you’re inside of the cloud rather than watching it, congratulate yourself for realising this. This is brilliant for strengthening your attention muscles! Now go back to watching your thoughts from a distance, remembering that you are not your thoughts. They are just thoughts and float through your sky.
  8. After a few moments, return your attention to your breathe and notice the sensations in your body. Now gently open your eyes and bring your attention back to the room, stretching if you wish.

Enjoy the clouds! xx

 

Mindfulness Hack – Follow these steps for Instant Calm. Anywhere. Any time!

As it’s Mental Health Awareness Week, I thought I’d share some quick steps to clear the brain-fog and find some instant calm.

Just a refresher in what we mean when we talk about developing ‘Mindfulness Practice’: it’s about consciously paying attention to something; or as John Kabat-Zinn (the founder of Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) puts it, Mindfulness is:
“The awareness that comes from paying attention in a particular way; on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally.”

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As simple as it sounds, it’s easy to be put off by over-complicated explanations or misconceptions that you have to do yoga, eat vegan and have an hour spare each day in order to get anything out of Mindfulness.

Of course, none of this is true! Like anything, peace of mind is a simple or hard as you choose to make it. And you certainly don’t need an hour. It’s perfectly possible to fit Mindfulness into your daily, busy routine.


Follow these basic steps, and you can start practising Mindfulness right now:

  • Set an intention (decide what you’ll bring your attention to). For example, this could be your breath, surrounding, sensations in your body, thoughts, an unpleasant feeling in your belly, the food you’re eating etc.
  • Notice everything you can about the thing you’re looking at/listening to/watching in your mind with ‘the beginners’ mind,’ as if you’ve never seen, heard, smelt anything like it before.
  • Congratulate yourself if you notice that you’re becoming distracted and ‘drifting off’
  • Acknowledge this without judgement and let it go.
  • Return to your intention, exploring it with a curious mind.

Your concentration muscles grow stronger by noticing when you’ve ‘drifted off’ and by repeatedly pulling attention back to your intention. So don’t beat yourself up when you inevitably lose focus. When I teach this to children, we talk about how this action is like a weight lifting rep for your brain; this is the stuff that really counts. Knowing this helps us to be a little kinder to ourselves than we might be, had we tried to control this.


You can use these steps anywhere – any time!

Facing a moment of overwhelming stress at work or home? Set an intention to focus on your breath for a few minutes. Currently being shouted at by a horrible boss? Why not really pay attention to the tone of their voice, the expression, the volume? Take the focus away from how this is making you feel and instead really pay attention to them. Out for a morning run and listening to your brain scream at you to quit? Send your attention to the physical sensation of your feet on the floor.

running-573762_1920.jpgJust play around and experiment with your attention. See what works and what doesn’t; how you feel before and after. Then do more of things that make you feel good! 

These steps are also incredibly effective for children, who need shorter spans of concentration (especially younger children and/or children who are completely new to this.) Just by asking them to pay attention to their food when they eat; encouraging them to use their senses and describe tastes and smells and textures afterwards, you can develop some really beneficial habits at the dinner table. And this is just for starters! 

In an increasingly busy and ‘stressful’ world, it’s good to know that we each carry with us the ability to be mindful.

At any point in time, we can choose. 

Choose to breathe. Choose to watch. Choose to listen.

Choose to be. 

 

 

 

Would your students benefit from a Masterclass in Mindfulness? ‘Mind Masters’ is ready!

Having completing my Mindfulness teacher training with the British Mindfulness Institute, I’ve been increasingly impatient to get a mindfulness workshop under my belt.

Yesterday, I taught a full day of ‘Mind Masters’ for the second time and I’m thrilled with how it went.

This masterclass in mindfulness works fantastically, either as a follow-up to ‘Wellbeing Warriors’ or as a standalone day’s learning experience. ‘Mind Masters’ lasts the full teaching day, though a compressed version can be taught as a morning only, or as hour-long workshops to different groups/classes. It’s well suited to key stage 2 pupils of any age, and easily adapted below or beyond this age range.

The aim of the day is to introduce children to the different aspects of Mindfulness and the art of really paying attention. If you weren’t already aware, the countless benefits of consistent mindfulness practice in children include improvement of self-awareness, self-regulation skills, mental health and social connectedness.

According to the BMI, the advantages of regular practice for children can include:

  • Increased ability to orient attention
  • Increased working memory and planning and organization
  • Increased self esteem
  • Increased sense of calmness, relaxation, and self-acceptance
  • Increased quality of sleep
  • Decreased test anxiety
  • Decreased ADHD behaviours- hyperactivity and impulsivity
  • Decreased negative affect/emotions
  • Fewer conduct and anger management problems

There’s something for everyone! 

Here’s what we’ll cover throughout the day:

We begin with an introduction to Mindfulness and discuss the benefits, as well as covering rules and expectations for the day.

Throughout the morning, we take part in a range of activities which allow us to switch off our auto-pilot and really ‘step into the moment.’ Included are observational tests and sketching; a ‘What’s that Sound’ quiz and Sound Mapping; activities based on listening to our emotions and meditations; touching, smelling and tasting games, with the odd grape and blindfold thrown in. It’s endless fun! At the end of the day, we bring everything together with some Mindful artwork, before wrapping up to recap what we’ve covered and how we might use this.

The skills and content covered offer students a refreshing ‘day out’ from their regular curriculum, and they’ll enjoy the mindful games, activities, quizzes and artwork, whilst gaining valuable tools to support them mentally and emotionally both at school and at home. As we focus on strengthening those all-important concentration muscles, we’ll also boost our writing, speaking, listening, collaborative and artistic skills.


Interested? Call 07719330358 or email jo@skillswithfrills.com to find out more!

Help your students to find their inner ‘Wellbeing Warrior’

I am delighted to announce the creation of ‘Skills with Frills’ original and signature workshop day, ‘Wellbeing Warriors.’

Delivery of this Learning Experience typically lasts the full school day. It’s aimed at upper key stage 2, but is easily adapted for children lower down school or further up. The workshop focus is mental health and wellbeing, something that children (and staff) are frankly crying out for across the country. The workshop has been carefully designed to take children through a journey aimed at creating a positive, ‘Growth Mindset’, better relationships and a happier life.

We begin the day with rules and expectations, followed by a simple question: What does a warrior look like? After considering what it truly means to have the qualities of a warrior, we begin working through the warrior code as follows:

Work hard: understanding and training yourself to have a Growth Mindset.

Appreciate: being thankful for all you have, including yourself.

Risk-hunting: understanding the biology of Fight, Flight and Freeze, and using this knowledge to support you as you step out of your comfort zone.

Resilience: considering the ‘Iceberg Illusion’ of success and how failure only makes us stronger.

Invest in Kindness: practising kindness and reaping the benefits in how you feel.

Observe (B.E.S.T): Mindfully observing breath, emotions, surroundings and thoughts.

Responsibility: Owning your responsibilities and the choices that you make, no matter what life throws at you.

Activities are chunked and varied to keep students engaged; including a mix of discussion, practical activities, video clips, stories from real-life people and written/drawing activities completed in workbooks provided at the start of the session. Students are invited to take these workbooks home in the hope that they will use them as a self-made, self-help guide in times of need.

This workshop incorporates elements of Mindfulness teaching, Cognitive Behaviour Therapy, Growth Mindset, Neuroscience, Biology and theory/practice relating to Happiness teaching. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that we’re also building up writing, comprehension, speaking and listening skills along the way.


Want to see this taught in your school? Still have questions? Call Jo on 07719330358 or email jo@skillswithfrills.com and we’ll be happy to discuss this workshop further.

Just to whet your appetite, here’s some feedback from year 6 students at Walton Academy, following a day-long workshop. As part of their plenary, they were asked to write down one thing they’d learnt; one thing they’d do as a result of the day’s learning; and one thing they would say differently. The answers speak for themselves!