Mindfulness for Kids: Summer 2020

This week marks the thirteenth of what will be twenty weeks of teaching mindfulness online. Because 2020.

It’s been an exhausting but fascinating journey. Somehow, I’ve learnt enough in the way of video editing skills that I can watch back earlier clips with a mixture of embarrassment (at putting out such low quality content) and pride (at now being able to spot low quality when I see it… and knowing that I can do better.) 

I have zero YouTube plans post-project and no real idea of how this might/might not play out down the line, but I do feel like there’s potential here in terms of teaching and reaching kids. In some ways, I feel like these videos speak their language; like certain techniques and information might make more sense to children in the way they play out on screen as opposed to an adult describing this at the front of the class.

For now though, we’re on summer holiday time in the UK so from Monday 20th July, sessions will be shorter, snappier and geared towards practical activities wherever possible. There’ll be much less of me (the onesie is calling!) and I’m switching from B.E.A.S.T mode sessions to weekly themes as follows:

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I think that in any summer holidays, there’s room for some children’s mood to slide into boredom, worry, insecurity and general negativity. This year, the risk of this seems higher than ever. Therefore, some activities based on kindness, gratitude, mindfulness and confidence-building might be just what the doctor ordered. Click the link below to learn more:

It’s been such a turbulent year. So unsettling. I can’t even wish you a happy summer without hearing at least some sarcasm.

I guess instead I’ll wish you happy, peaceful, mindful moments this summer.

Because that’s all we have, really. The moment right in front of us now.

I’m Now a Qualified Forest School Practitioner!

After a year-long course, which both inspired and challenged me to levels previously unknown, I heard this week that I passed my Level 3 Forest School instructor qualification. I’m incredibly proud of this because not only did it involve a gargantuan amount of work, but the practical element of the course i.e. sawing, carving, bill-hooking, setting fires etc. was worlds out of my skill-set and comfort zone.

You’d be forgiven for asking: why would I even sign up for such a course?

It all comes back to wellbeing, of course!

I’ll summarise in the following points:

  1. In the last few years, there’s been more and more research into the benefits of being outdoors in terms of our wellbeing. We’re talking changes in blood pressure, cortisol levels, blood sugar and more. I’m butchering the data here – if you’d like to read the fine-tuned details, click here.
  2. After numerous camping trips (and lots of arm twisting) I’d come to realise that active relaxation – whereby you’re focused on the essential actions of putting up a tent, cooking your dinner, building and lighting a fire – is actually an active form of meditation. I found myself ‘switching off’ and relaxing almost immediately, whereas usually, it takes me a while to stop thinking about my ‘to do’ list.
  3. Having forgotten most of what I’d learned as a former Girl Guide, I was curious – about trees, plants, animals, weather and the natural world in general. So too were the children I taught, curious and keen to know more. Curiosity causes us to look more closely, listen more intently; it lends itself perfectly to mindfulness.
  4. I noted myself that time spent outdoors, being curious and mindful, resulting in a natural increase in gratitude, appreciation and ease; not just for nature, but for everything.girl nature

With the course now completed and a shelter-building day already under my belt, I am more convinced than ever as to the benefits of Forest School practice (and just getting outside in general) in terms of improving mental health.

Now, I’m all about finding opportunities to take mindfulness outdoors, in order to increase curiosity, gratitude and mindfulness practice itself.

I’m equally keen to engage children in active meditation through tasks that require their attention to be in one place at a time (i.e. carving, making, crafting etc.)

But if all of this means very little to you right now, that’s the only advice I’m going to give you: to get outside, kids in tow if you have them.

And look, hear, touch, smell, feel the natural world around you.

That’s a better place than any to start.


Interested in some outdoorsy Mindfulness? Looking to book a Forest School Shelter-Building day? Call 07719330358 or email jo@skillswithfrills.com to check options and availability.

Owning My Story: Why I Do What I Do…

“When we deny our story, it defines us.
When we own the story, we can write a brave new ending.”
– Brené Brown. 

In recent months, I’ve been increasingly inspired to open up about my own personal struggle with anxiety – either through writing, teaching or speaking – as a means of both allowing myself to be imperfect and vulnerable, but also as a means of better connecting with my audience.

Today, I figured, was as good a time as any to share a little more about myself here, as a means of explaining my reasons behind doing the work that I’m doing in and out of schools. 


I went to school in the nineties, daughter to lovely parents, student to lovely teachers. I worked really hard and as such, managed to achieve a solid set of GCSE results. To the abstract observer, I was a success story. Inside, though, I was miserable. 

My shyness was exacerbated in the high-school environment, over time morphing into something much bigger; anxiety, self-loathing, fear, panic and dread. Every day.

My method of coping was avoidance of anything that made me uncomfortable, especially socially, leading to a hardwired habit of avoidance that amplified all that I was afraid of. When I was forced into a situation where I had to ‘step up’, I hated every moment and got through it as quickly as possible, seemingly unable to cope with the eruption of physical sensations that ran through my body. I didn’t know it then, but I’d developed a fear of the sensations of fear, rather than the actual situation that triggered it.

See…mental health just wasn’t spoken about back then, not at home or school; not by me, or anyone else. 

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So nobody explained to me that I’d simply become stuck in a cycle of listening to unhelpful thoughts, beliefs and visualisations, that fuelled what I felt, said and did (or didn’t do.) Nor did anyone point out that the physical sensations I experienced, when I was asked to participate in class discussion, didn’t mean that I was insane; that it was simply my body going into fight, flight or freeze as a means of protecting me; something that I could manage with my breathing, body language and focus. 

Had I learnt these things, maybe my experience of high school would have been a happier one; maybe I’d have chosen university courses I liked, rather than the ones that didn’t involve a speaking element; maybe I wouldn’t have wasted years in an IT job that I had zero talent for or interest in; maybe my PGCE year wouldn’t have been the worst year of my life; maybe I wouldn’t have needed Cognitive Behaviour Therapy, years of mindfulness and an obsession with self-help, to get me to a point where I can even begin to imagine myself capable of what I hope to achieve.

I’m not complaining here. Without my experiences – without my struggle – I would never have found my way to the path that I’m on today; a path more fulfilling than I could ever have imagined. 

teacher profile picWhen I walk into schools today, ready to talk wellbeing and emotional intelligence, I take my struggle with me. After all, it’s this that gives me the empathy, knowledge, skills and understanding to do this kind of work. It’s what allows me to break down barriers with the children and adults I work with. It’s absolutely what gives me the courage to walk forward, despite feelings of fear, self-doubt and discomfort.

I do what I do, because I don’t want my story to become the story of others.

I want kids today to know that they can challenge limiting thoughts, beliefs, reactions and habits; that they can achieve what they set out to; that they’re enough, even when they don’t look or act like their favourite social media star. More than anything, I want them to learn these things now, in school, rather than hearing them from a therapist years down the line.

The following slides from staff training demonstrate what we’re working towards, in school:

We can’t ‘cure’ mental illness just as we can’t foresee the direction that our students’ lives will take. But if we arm them with knowledge, skills, strategies and self-awareness, chances are that they’ll have an easier time finding their way towards purpose, potential and happiness.

There’s just one last point I need to make. In today’s climate, overworked teachers are increasingly stressed, anxious, depressed and resigning. Expecting them to pull together a lesson on mental health without any warning/training/experience, feels ineffective if not slightly unethical. We need our schools to acknowledge that our teachers often need as much support in this respect as our students do – and there’s an increasing number of organisations around the UK that offer this.

Put upon, as teachers so often are, it’s so easy to roll our eyes and view mental health as just another thing to do – another box to tick. Hopefully, in sharing my story, I’ve shown you that it’s so much more.

 

 

 

 

Knowledge Hacks for Happy Kids (and Adults!)

When it comes to developing emotional intelligence and resilience in children, I’m a big fan of repeated, consistent practice of strategies.

Skills are crucial… but the knowledge that accompanies it is no less so.

In fact, the written techniques that we use in the classroom, the meditation activities and the mindfulness-based activities, are only effective when interlaced with key pieces of knowledge.

Below are four knowledge hacks that I find myself repeating, again and again, with children older and younger: 

Just because a thought comes into your head doesn’t mean it’s true: you might have a thought i.e. “I’m stupid/ugly/pathetic.” and because it’s so negative and cutting, we might listen and take in this thought, not stopping to question whether it’s trustworthy or reliable or helpful. As I tell the students, I might have a thought that I’ll tap-dance through the school canteen, wearing a onesie… but I’m probably not going to do that and this clearly isn’t a reliable, trustworthy or helpful thought. It’s useful to make comparisons like this, so that we can see that we do have some choice in terms of which thoughts we listen to, and which we ignore.

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Switching your ‘I’s’ to ‘there’s’ can disarm negative thoughts: when we practice mindfulness, we strive to watch our thoughts from a distance. Let’s say we’re trying a ‘3 Minute Breathing Space’, noticing the weather in our mind in the same way that one might turn on a TV and just notice what channel is playing. Language plays an important role here in reinforcing that distance. Let’s say, for example, a child is feeling very angry. Rather than saying, “I’m angry,” they instead simply notice the thoughts/feelings and say, “there’s worry”. This small change can really loosen the grip that uncomfortable feelings have on us – it’s the difference between being in a thunderstorm and watching one.  

It’s not the situation that’s to blame, it’s all about the Vicious Cycle: learning about how your thoughts/mindset feed into your feelings and behaviour is a real #gamechanger as far as I’m concerned. It’s incredibly empowering to know that even when things seem bleak and out of your control, you can still make a choice to see things from another angle; to alter the pictures in your mind; to adjust your body language; to just breathe. You can ride the waves, no matter how high or choppy.

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Happiness is something you can find in small moments, daily: trapped on the hedonic treadmill, always waiting to have more likes and followers, the latest device or game, and the backside of an ‘influencer,’ many kids in junior and secondary schools cultivate daily unhappiness. Teaching kids about this concept allows them to recognise where they’re chasing happiness in all the wrong places. Furthermore, giving them a basic knowledge of mindfulness and gratitude, allows them to take note of the small, ordinary and wonderful ways in which we can find and create happiness each and every day. 

Share these hacks with your students and/or children. If nothing else, it might help them to make a little more sense of their own mind.

3 Mini Mindful Meditations for all ages, at school or home

Currently, I’m lucky enough to be teaching mindfulness (with a good mix of CBT/Growth Mindset/various wellbeing strategies) in infants, juniors and high school. All I find are equally rewarding and all pose different challenges.

One of the main challenges, in the majority of younger children, and a handful of older ones, is their inability to sit still and not speak/move/whistle/poke the person next to them for anything longer than a couple of minutes. For children who are easily distracted, including those with special educational needs and disabilities, standard silent meditations are just too much – at least initially.

Through experience (and a good few failed attempts) I’ve learned which mindfulness activities are most effective in these situations, remembering of course, to start at about a minute in duration and build up over time.

Here’s three of my favourites:

  1. Thoughts Pop: Students take their focus to one place; their breath perhaps, or their feet on the floor. Whenever a thought or feeling comes in, they squeeze their hand and bring their attention back. This isn’t about pushing thoughts away or controlling them, it’s simply about noticing them and then returning your attention to where it was. 2 minutes of this a day, and children (and adults) are sure to grow those attention muscles, as well as being more resilient to negative thoughts and feelings.
  2.  Mindful Listening: I have the kids wear blindfolds and then I wander about the room opening drawers, turning taps on, treading loudly and quietly. Afterwards, we consider what the sounds were like (sharp or soft; long or short; flowing or jumpy, etc.), asking ourselves which direction they came from in relation to us, noting hidden sounds within sounds. The kids love it. Plus, there’s no need for silence (which can be hard to come by) – the noise of somebody walking in to interrupt, presents an opportunity to listen to the crescendo of an opening door.If you’d like to know more about conscious listening, here’s a link to my recent TES article on this very subject.
  3. Mindful Eating: I find that ‘eating in slow motion’ is always a big hit, even with kids who claim to despise grapes and indeed all fruit. It’s an opportunity to explore different senses – sight, smell, sound, touch, taste and aftertaste; to really look at something with that ‘beginners’ mind’ and savor the experience of eating. As well as being popular in class, I find that this is one that children will actually repeat on their own time.

Keen to get going? These activities will work with individual children and classes in school, and with your own children at home. Let me know how you get along in the comments below:

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.

3 ‘Quick-Wins’ to try with your Anxious Child (or Self) Today!

If there can be any positive side effects to the current mental health epidemic, it’s that the topic of wellbeing has finally moved up the agenda. With this, we’ve seen an explosion in campaigns, resources, books and guidance, all aimed at helping you to help yourself, or your child to become happier.

Brilliant? Yes. But overwhelming? Also yes. Especially when mental health problems like  anxiety add an element of desperation to your solution-seeking.

If you’re looking for quick, simple and effective ‘quick wins’, here’s three child and adult-friendly activities that you can put in place today: 

  1. Write down three things you’re grateful for each day: Developing a ‘Gratitude Attitude’ is a key step in overcoming the minds’ natural bias towards negativity. When you’re genuinely feeling thankful for all you have, it’s very difficult to feel negative emotions like bitterness, sadness, hatred, anxiety and so on.

    Writing down what you’re grateful for reinforces this positive focus. If you’re super keen, you can extend this, writing down three things you’re thankful for in the morning and three great things/moments you experienced before bed.

    If you’re trying this out with a child, be aware that they might find this tough at first and may need lots of prompts to consider things that they’re perhaps taking for granted. Like anything else, the more you practice, the easier it gets.

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  2. Develop a routine of Mindful Eating: Mindful eating is always a favourite, with both adults and kids. If you haven’t tried it before, here’s a Mindful Eating Script to start you off.

    Develop a routine of slow-motion eating at one meal or snack-time, working to your family routine. It doesn’t need to be something that lasts for a whole meal. In fact, it may only be something you try for the first bite or two of your evening meal. But the key is to explore your senses with curiosity. Get out of your head, or the TV, and smell, taste, touch, look and feel your food, in the present moment.

    That’s some delicious headspace right there!

  3. Create an Anchor: 

    An anchor is something that you or your child can use as a reminder to come back into the present moment and be mindful. It might be a chair you sit in daily, a picture hanging on the wall or even a sound that rings from your phone. Essentially, it doesn’t matter what it is, only that it’s something that you’ll encounter often enough for it to be meaningful.If you use a chair, for example, then whenever you sit on the chair… you should take a moment to explore how your body is feeling, from the tips of your toes to the top of your head; to notice your breathing patterns and where you feel them in your body; to consider any sensations and tension that lie in the body.

    There’s a lot of freedom here in terms of what you choose to be your anchor and how you use it. Just be aware that as with the other two activities, it’s about building up those neural connections through consistent practice.

Make mindfulness and gratitude part of your daily routine and you might just find that you automatically go into the present moment more often; fostering feelings of calm, comfortable, awareness and acceptance.

Five Ways to Stop Procrastinating

In the past, I thought of my procrastination habit as a rather annoying but slightly amusing personality quirk. But it’s really not. As much fun as it is to switch report-writing for rearranging furniture, the truth is that when you waste time consistently, you’re effectively lowering both the amount and quality of the free time that you have.

This week’s TES article gives you the tools needed to stop procrastinating once and for all. There’s nothing quite like the feeling of guilt-free relaxation after a day of mega productivity.


My name is Jo and I am a procrastinator (in recovery).

It is as an age-old problem, described as “hateful” by Roman statesman Cicero in 44BC.

For the modern-day procrastinator, with the myriad of distractions available to us at all times, it can be much harder to avoid procrastination, and much harder to beat it.

But speaking from the viewpoint of a casualty in recovery, it is doable. Here’s how:

1. Get real about the cost

While it may seem like a rather amusing personality quirk, procrastination is no laughing matter. Not only are you missing out on guilt-free leisure, which only comes after you’ve done the thing you’re dreading, you also risk shelving other important “life stuff” as you’re forced to sit typing long into the evening hours. When you feel the urge to pause the report-writing in favour of scrolling through Facebook, ask yourself if it’s worth missing that bubble bath, phone call or family dinner later.

2. Apply a policy of ‘Worst First’

When you’re hell-bent on avoiding a particular task or project, it’s easy to trick yourself into doing something else; often a “something” that’s less important, non-urgent and a whole lot more fun. Arrange your tasks into the Eisenhower Matrix of urgent-important tasks to ensure that you don’t find yourself haunted by pressing matters at the end of a seemingly productive day.

3. Break large tasks into small steps

Many of us struggle to even start tasks simply because they appear overwhelming, but they don’t have to be. By setting smaller, achievable goals, tasks appear much more approachable. Let’s say you’re stuck with a huge set of assessments to mark – why not mark three per night? Or maybe you’ve got a unit of work to write – just focus on getting the first lesson done, or even the first starter task, perhaps with a lovely cup of coffee as your reward. Negotiate with your inner dilly-dallier until it’s at least willing to start. With any luck, momentum will do the rest!

4. Set clear, short time limits

As Cyril Northcote Parkinson wrote in 1955, “Work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.” Give yourself an hour or three to plan a lesson and either way, you’ll fill your time and get the same results. No deadline at all? Then it’s very likely you’ll fall into the abyss of teacher resources online, endlessly searching for the perfect one. Use whatever technology is nearby to set yourself regular time limits and brain-breaks to keep you recharged and efficient.

5. Set yourself up for success

Observe your habits over the next week, taking note of what your triggers are before beginning to make small adjustments. Maybe you always end up chatting to a colleague in the workroom – could you work elsewhere? Perhaps your attention is constantly being pulled away by the pinging of emails. Why not put your phone away, allowing yourself to read these emails at a later point in the day? As with any addict trying to quit a bad habit, determination and willpower will only get you so far. Get a solid plan in place to ensure you don’t slide back into your old ways.

3 Mindfulness Exercises to fit into the School or Work day

If, for whatever reason, you find that you’re interested in trying out this mindfulness lark… you may well enjoy this past article that I wrote for TES.

Included are three simple activities that are easily incorporated into your working day, whether you’re a teacher, a non-teacher or barely human (I spend at least two days a month in this latter state).


As teachers, we strive to go above and beyond to make our lessons enthralling and engaging for those we teach. We know that for pupils to develop skills and retain knowledge, they need to be “present” for more than answering their name on the register.

Yet, how present and engaged are we throughout the school day? When was the last night you heard and felt your fingers typing an email, or tuned into the sensations of your feet on the ground, as you stood in front of your class?

Research into the benefits of practising mindfulness is still in its infancy, but already looks promising. A 2007 study, conducted by Hölzel, Lazar et al, took FMRI brain scans of patients, before and after an eight-week programme of mindfulness training; the results displayed clear changes in the grey matter of brain regions involved in learning and memory processes, emotion regulation, information processing and perspective.

Still think it’s just a fad? You may be right, but why not try incorporating the following mindfulness activities into your daily routine before you make up your mind…

1. Mindful listening

This is something you can do anywhere, simply by exploring the sounds around you. While it’s natural to label the sounds at first – “that’s someone typing”, “that’s a passing car” – try to go further by considering the features of these sounds. Ask yourself: where is the sound coming from? Is it near or far? Is it smooth or sharp? Is it deep or shallow? Noticing everyday sounds with an attitude of curiosity can add an element of wonder and tranquillity to even the dullest of days.

2. Mindful eating

We all eat food, but how many of us pay attention to the taste of it? Awaken your senses by examining what you’re eating closely, noting the textures, colours and fine details, before drinking in the scents and bringing the food to your lips. Chew slowly, noting the tastes and textures of your food, and the ways in which this changes as you chew. Notice any sensations as you swallow, including any aftertaste that might be present.

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Whether it’s a bite of your breakfast or lunch, a breaktime snack or a single Malteser, learning to savour your food can add some much-needed pleasure to your day.

3. Mindful thoughts

We all have those days (or terms) when our minds jump chaotically from one thought to another – days when we’re endlessly busy, but achieve very little.

Clear out the mental fog by learning to notice thoughts from a distance, rather than being inside of them. You might like to imagine the thoughts are clouds passing through the sky, or different channels on a radio.

When your inner-monologue says “I’ve got X, Y and Z to do before 8am and I’m already stressed”, try changing this to “I notice that I’m thinking about what I have to do. I notice that I’m feeling a little overwhelmed.” It doesn’t sound like much, but separating yourself from these negative thoughts can really weaken their grip on your emotional and mental state.

‘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.