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.

Starting April 20th, 2020: 100 Days of Child-Friendly Mindfulness (YouTube)

I’m currently approaching my fifth week of quarantine. Urghhh!

And I’ve been so inspired by the efforts that educators/public figures/everyday folk have gone to throughout this period, supporting children digitally to learn, move and grow at home.

Day-by-day, I’ve been piecing together my own plan – as a children’s wellbeing teacher – to support children’s mental health via an online approach.

Having spent the last fortnight learning the essentials of filming, video editing and the like – a process which made me feel like I had NO BUSINESS teaching anyone about mindfulness – I’m finally ready to unveil my project:

100 Days of Child-Friendly Mindfulness!

Starting Monday 20th April and concluding on September 4th, I will be uploading short, child-friendly mindfulness sessions daily on weekdays. Sessions will be roughly 5 minutes long, offer a little knowledge and one practical strategy, and leave students with a challenge that they can attempt during the day.

Sessions are aimed at children between 7 and 13 but may work well for younger and older children/teens and honestly, this stuff generally works for me as a 36-year old adult.

Videos will be uploaded to my new YouTube – Mindfulness with Miss Steer – by 9a.m. each weekday morning. In the clip below, I introduce the key aspects of the course and hopefully answer any questions you might have:

The purpose of this course overall is to give children strategies that will help them manage their thoughts, feelings, moods and emotions, throughout these unusual circumstances. Children who take part will finish with a toolkit of knowledge, skills and strategies that support emotional intelligence and resilience – a toolkit that will serve them long after this global crisis.

Let me add that I’m deeply reluctant about sharing content online; that the prospect of having my face out there and up for public scrutiny makes me feel vulnerable and afraid. This fear is outweighed however, by the knowledge that there are children around the country, currently missing out on pastoral care and PSHE lessons, at a time when they need it the most.

So I’m determined to step up and do my bit.

Plus, by the time I’ve uploaded 100 clips – I should be pretty great at video editing right?! Either that or single.


Help me to help others by sharing this with your own children, relatives, friends, colleagues and anyone looking to support the mental health of children right now.

Use the hashtag #mindful100 on Twitter and Instagram – I’ll try and reply to as many questions as I can.

 

 

 

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.

Why it’s Important to Teach Children about Habits

With the dawning of 2020 and the promise and potential of a bright, better decade, many of us now turn our attentions inwards, looking to make changes – to creating a brighter, better version of ourselves.

“New Year. New Me!” I used to declare every January.

Until I got wise to the fact that it wasn’t me that needed to change; just my habits.

“Same Me. Different Habits!”

It took me thirty plus years to learn this lesson – thirty plus years of telling myself that I didn’t measure up; that I wasn’t enough.

I wish I’d learned this sooner. Maybe even, at school?!

That’s why I’m currently champing at the bit to start my new KS2/3 unit based on habits, with a TON of mindfulness mixed in. (Obvs!) 

Over the course of six 45 minute sessions, each class will get to grips with what healthy and unhealthy habits are, where they come from, and of course, how they can go about rewiring the behaviours that aren’t all that helpful into ones that are.

It’s all good stuff in terms of key life-skills. Exercise, diet, sleep and screen-use make quite a few appearances too.

From my perspective though, what really matters is that children learn to separate their habits from their identities. i.e. So you’ve just developed a habit of reacting angrily when things don’t go your way? That doesn’t mean you’re a bad/angry person. It means we need to work on rewiring this habit and replacing it with a calmer, more empowering response.

This message is what Growth Mindset is all about. And it’s pretty vital in terms of self-esteem, confidence, resilience and just plain old coping.


If you’re a teacher/school/trust leader, interested in seeing Jo deliver Wellbeing workshops in your school, call 07719330358 or email jo@skillswithfrills.com to discuss options and availability.

What 6 Sessions of KS3 Mindfulness Looks Like

Recently, I set a task for students in KS3 to complete a Mindfulness Mind-Map, showing the what, where, when, why and how of Mindfulness.

We were in our final of 6 weekly sessions, in which we’d tried out different mindfulness-based strategies, considered some of the basic Neuroscience and Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT) – the Negativity bias, Unhelpful thinking patterns, Gratitude and of course, the power of Growth Mindset.

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The picture above shows my own mind map, which details the basics covered during the 6 sessions. 

It isn’t easy to teach a topic as deep and far-reaching as this over the course of 6 hours, and in reality I don’t think that’s what I’ve done.

What I hope I have done is to give students some little pieces of knowledge about how their mind, thoughts and bodies work, along with some practical strategies that will help them to manage uncomfortable feelings as well as increasing their daily happiness overall.

The thing about mind maps is that they’re unique to the person writing them. Mine, for instance, is focused towards using mindfulness primarily to ease anxiety. Because in reality, that’s what I use it for more than anything else!

Much like in any lesson, just because we hear the same information, doesn’t mean that we listen to this in the same way. Students take from these workshops what they need; what will make a difference to their own lives; what they will actually use and apply independently – which is all one could ask for really.


If you’re a teacher/school leader, interested in seeing Jo deliver mindfulness workshops in your school, or a parent looking to try out one-to-one coaching over the Summer months, call 07719330358 or email jo@skillswithfrills.com to discuss options and availability.

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:

Tidy up your Mind with some Thoughts Decluttering

In my latest TES article, I shared child-friendly strategies that could be just as effective for adults as for children.

Below is an excerpt from the article – with extras! – which breaks down one of my favourite CBT-based strategies for dealing with unhelpful thoughts. I’ve included screenshots so that you can see how easy it is to put this into practice as a teacher, parent or individual.


Ask yourself: “Am I hoarding thoughts?”

From What to Do When Your Brain Gets Stuck: A Kids’ Guide to Overcoming OCD by Dawn Huebner (2007).

Huebner’s book offers up an analogy that I’ve used countless times when teaching mindfulness to children: she invites children to think of all the dustbins that are positioned throughout their homes and to imagine what would happen if nothing was ever thrown out –  if empty crisp packets, yogurt cartons and toilet roll tubes were all valued and saved.

Of course, this paints an unpleasant image of a house in a state of chaos, in which every simple journey is hindered by the sheer amount of “stuff” we are clinging on to.

Huebner suggests that our brains are like our homes: when thoughts come in, we have to decide which ones are worth saving and which ones are fit for the bin.

When I introduce this in class, I ask children to write down six thoughts that have popped into their head that day and we often spend a couple of minutes in silence, allowing the thoughts to come in to our minds. Then, we go through them, deciding what we need and what we don’t, practising with my example as a class beforehand.

The picture above demonstrates just how simple yet effective an activity like this can be. We look over the thoughts in pairs and decide if they’re useful, reliable, helpful or necessary, moving them into the save or bin pile appropriately. Please note that in other examples, we might also use a third bucket, for thoughts we wish to ‘shelve’ for later i.e. I need to remember that I’m going to Grandma’s tonight and we’re having Fish ‘n’ Chips… but not in the middle of my literacy lesson.

I really don’t think that I can emphasize enough how powerful, meaningful and potentially life-changing having a conversation about thoughts can be.

Negative thoughts feed and grow in secrecy and isolation. Therefore, simply in having a conversation about the way we think – including those occasional negative, useless and really unpleasant thoughts – immediately takes some of the power away. Revealing too that thoughts are not all true or useful, and so needn’t always be acted upon or kept hold of, is an incredibly empowering piece of knowledge.

This is a great exercise for adults too. Don’t believe me? Try it! Take a few minutes now to write down your thoughts as a list, then go through and decide what’s worth keeping and what just isn’t.

If you have problems with negative brain-chatter, developing a habit like this could really change your outlook on life and the roles you play within it.

We can’t control the thoughts that come into our heads, but we can control what we keep hold of. Learn to notice your thoughts and discriminate between what’s useful and useless. Do this and you’ll become the master of your thoughts, rather than their servant.

2 CBT Techniques for getting out of a Stress-Cycle

Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT) is a powerful form of therapy, in which patients learn to analyse their thoughts and behaviours, considering where they may be adding to their own negativity and unhappiness, rather than diffusing it.

CBT is often used to treat people with Anxiety, Depression and a range of other mental health problems; problems that are sadly rife amongst educators. To note one study from this year alone, researchers at Leeds Becket University found that 54% of teachers surveyed described themselves as having poor mental health, and 52% of those people had been referred to a GP because of it.

Let me just say here that the onus should always be on schools and employers overall, to look after the mental health and wellbeing of their staff.

The problem is… this just isn’t happening quickly enough. And in some cases, it isn’t happening at all. When this is the case, people begin to feel powerless, and hopeless; feeling that there is nothing that they can do in the face of all this stress and misery.

CBT Techniques such as the ones below aren’t a ‘cure-all’ for the countless problems faced by the modern teacher… but they can really help, if only because they allow you to regain some control over a bad situation.

**If you are struggling with stress or anxiety, the Samaritans offer help 24 hours a day, seven days a week**


The following tips are from my latest TES article:

1. Getting out of the negative cycle

In certain pressurised situations, when our buttons have been pushed one too many times, even the most calm and measured of professionals can feel that they have little control over their own thoughts, feelings or even actions.

Let’s say, for example, that you are the unwilling victim of an irate parent first thing this morning – and it’s completely OK to be bothered by that. But if you’re still “carrying” this misery, along with gut-churning stomach cramps into the late evening, then it’s likely you’re unconsciously adding fuel to the fire.

  • Are you continuously replaying the scene in vivid Technicolor? Try to change up the image by adding a pink wig and banana suit into the mix. Flip the negative emotion into something silly and laughable.

  • Do you loop around negative thoughts, based on how you should have handled things differently, even resorting to insults and name-calling? Consider what you’d say to a friend in this situation and instead, kindly tell it to your inner self.

  • Have you checked-in on your own verbal and body language? If you’re walking around with slumped shoulders and your eyes down, only looking up to tell anyone who’ll hear about this outrageous encounter, you’re actively turning a small albeit unpleasant moment into a day-long mood.

2. Check your facts

For me, one of the most powerful messages a patient gains through cognitive behaviour therapy is that your thoughts are not facts. Just because something pops into your head, doesn’t mean it’s reliable or true or even helpful. So we need to interrogate our thoughts.

Perhaps your mind is repeatedly telling you that you can’t cope with a looming situation – maybe a second encounter with the irate parent – and as such you’re a “pathetic waste of space”.

Not only is this a long way off from being constructive criticism, is it even accurate? Is there any hard evidence that you can’t cope, other than your thoughts and resulting sensations?

Maybe there’s even more evidence to the contrary, to show that you have coped with this and much worse.

With this in mind, it might be wise to come up with a more realistic, less emotive statement, such as: “It’s okay not to look forward to this – no one would. Whatever happens though, I’ll handle it as best as I can.”

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.