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:

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.

3 Mindfulness Tips for a Restful Nights’ Sleep

Struggling to sleep? Waking up feeling anything but refreshed? Take a look at a recent article I wrote for TES, including mindfulness-based strategies for getting some shut eye. These techniques work for adults and children alike!


Thanks to a growing wealth of sleep-related research, we now know that good-quality sleep is essential to healthy brain and body function. And yet achieving a solid eight hours of sleep can seem near impossible when you have assessment objectives and mark schemes buzzing around your brain. Even when the miraculous happens and we make it to bed at a reasonable hour, how frustrating can it be to lie there, wrestling your own thoughts in the early hours.

Luckily, help is at hand…

How to fall asleep

Firstly, you can create a daily routine and lifestyle that promotes good quality sleep, long before your head hits the pillow. Leading sleep expert, Professor Matthew Walker, tells us that regularity is key – create a night-time routine and stick to it.

At the same time, when you do go to bed, ensure that your room is cool and dark. This includes having a “no-screen” policy for the last one to two hours before bed, no matter what emails may or may not be coming in.

Lastly, watch your caffeine intake over the day and swap the boozy night-cap for a camomile tea – while alcohol might appear to help you drift off, its sedative effects are extremely detrimental to both the patterns and quality of your sleep.

Now, let’s say for argument’s sake that you’ve already done all of this, but here you are at 3am, wide awake, fretting over the upcoming book scrutiny. If counting sheep just isn’t working for you, here are three mindfulness strategies that just might help instead:

1. Focus on your breath

Just begin to notice what your breathing is like; the feel of it going into your nostrils; the length; the temperature.

You can experiment with changing your breath, inhaling through your nose and exhaling through your mouth. Maybe try inhaling to the count of four, holding for one and exhaling for six. Can you feel the breath as it reaches your chest…your sides…your stomach? Can you feel your stomach rise as you inhale and lower as you exhale?

If thoughts come back in, which they most certainly will, acknowledge this without any judgement and return to exploring your breath.

2. The body scan

This one is great to do both when trying to fall asleep and then again if insomnia strikes. Simply bring your attention up from your toes to your head, exploring all the different places and parts in your body, noticing any sensations of tightness/discomfort and allowing them to relax. You might find that tensing the muscles one by one, or imagining that your body is very heavy and slowly sinking will help you relax.

I’ve had great feedback from adults, parents and children themselves who have used a mix of mindful breathing and body scans to get to sleep. Click the link below for a child-friendly 6 minute body scan from ‘GoZen’ to get you started with your children.

3. Explore difficult sensations

When you’re kept awake because of fears, anxieties and other difficult emotions, become curious about the sensations in your body. Ask yourself questions like: is the feeling smooth or sharp? Is it pulsing or aching? Is it flowing or throbbing? What colour/shape would I give this feeling?

As counter-intuitive as this may feel, exploring how negative emotions feel within the body can be an empowering alternative to listening to your inner-monologue of thoughts and worries.

‘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 10 Family-Friendly Mindfulness Activities: Summer Memories Ahead!

As Summer holidays kick off throughout the UK, I’m aware that not everyone is as giddy as teachers for this time off. For many parents and grandparents, as delightful as it is to spend time with their youngsters, keeping them constantly entertained (without completely giving in to their Fortnite addiction) can be problematic to say the least.

Yet, Summer can be an incredible time for all concerned, with memories made that last a lifetime.

Create a Summer to remember with these easy and entertaining mindfulness-based activities:

  1. Mindful Cooking, Baking and Eating: Making something with your child has the potential to be mindful and enjoyable for you both. As well as paying attention to the recipe, you can look curiously at all the different ingredients you’re using, exploring their colours and textures; noticing how they change as you pour, sieve and mix. You’re caring for the recipe and growing into something else – hopefully something else that’s delicious. Whatever you make, follow up with Mindful Eating (click here for my Mindful Eating script). With any luck, whatever you eat will taste even better because you made it together, with love and attention.watermelon-summer-little-girl-eating-watermelon-food.jpg
  2. Blind Taste-Test: This is a great follow-on from Mindful Eating, which children usually delight at! One person wears a blindfold and has to use their senses in order to determine what a range of everyday foods are. They’re forced to smell and taste foods with their full attention. You can extend this further by asking them to describe smells; textures; tastes; sweetness or bitterness; how taste changes as they eat and so on. For the truly adventurous, include some foods that you know your child doesn’t like. It’s good practice in accepting discomfort and it often produces some surprising results i.e. maybe we don’t hate sprouts carrots as much as we thought!
  3. Mindful Colouring: You can’t swing a cat these days without hitting a Mindfulness Colouring book. Whilst I’m certainly not an advocate of swinging animals, I do think that there’s a lot to be said for good old fashioned ‘colouring-in’. The key here is to really tune into the experience. Encourage your child to feel the pencil as it presses into different parts of the fingers; to listen to the sounds of the pencil strokes on the page, noticing how the sounds change; to pay attention to what they’re actually colouring, attempting to stay in between the lines. Depending on the age of the child, you could set a timer and try a minute to silent colouring for one minute out of every five.
  4. Mindful Listening ‘Sound Map’: Ask your child to close their eyes and try some Mindful Listening, preferably outside. They’ll naturally want to label what the sounds are in their minds – and this is fine – but ask them to follow this up with further curiosity. Ask them to notice whether the sound is near or far; long or short; smooth or sharp; loud or quiet; flowing or jumpy. After a few minutes of this listening, ask them to draw symbols on their blank page which reflect the sounds that they heard. You’ll see my own example below, resulting from a few minutes of Mindful Listening at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park. The symbols don’t need to make sense of anyone but you, but it’s useful to ask your child to explain why they’ve chosen particular symbols to accompany certain sounds. You can also extend this by adding colour or texture, perhaps categorising sounds in some way e.g. nature sounds/man-made sounds.20180720_140118-1543816872377096586.jpg
  5. Yoga: Yoga is a great way of trying some ‘Active Mindfulness.’ Often, children find this easier than meditation, because they focus on two things (breath and postures) rather than just one. As well as being a great relaxation tool, Yoga will also help children to build strong minds and bodies. If you’re interested, get to a local class over Summer and try it out together. If you’d rather try it at home, Cosmic Kids Yoga is always a big hit with the younger children. For older children, maybe try adult Yoga, but keep it short and basic. Tara Stiles’ Yoga channel has lots of good 5-15 minute beginner’s routines, suitable for older children. Just bear in mind that children’s bodies and muscles aren’t as developed as adults’ bodies, so make sure they know to challenge themselves safely, without causing injury.kid yoga.jpeg
  6. Make and use a Relaxation Glitter Jar: These are a lovely sparkly way to introduce formal meditation to younger children, the idea being that children simply shake the jar and watch closely as the glitter settles. Here’s just one of many useful instructional videos to help you actually make one – please take note to ensure the lid is glued on to avoid disaster. If you’re willing to experiment, you might like to create a few trial jars, adding different amounts of glue to different bottles – extra glue makes the glitter float for longer. The key is to start with short times, perhaps one minute per day. This can also be used as a ‘Calm Down Jar’ for children who struggle to control emotions like anger and anxiety.
  7. Get Outside: Mindfulness and the outdoors go hand-in-hand, basically because it allows us to explore different environments and senses. Here’s a link to the National Trusts’ ’50 Things to do before you’re 11 and 3/4,’ a checklist of activities that encourage an organised approach to Summer outdoors fun. Check out the advice and guidance to ensure you explore safely.girl outside flowers.jpeg
  8. Creative Gratitude: Gratitude is a key aspect of Mindfulness. Why not get creative with it?! If you’re not burnt out from making Glitter Jars, you might like to make a ‘Gratitude Jar,’ decorating as you wish. Every day, put a note in this jar, expressing what you’re thankful for. By Christmas, you’ll have 150 things that you’re grateful to have in your life! If you’ve had enough of jars, you might like to roll and stick your notes together, forming an appreciation chain. Too much? Try a Gratitude calendar or a diary for a more subtle approach. Whilst a one-off project is lovely, if you create something that’s appealing, visible and requires daily input, children will be more likely to maintain a daily gratitude practice, with good vibes that last a lot longer than Summer.
  9. Take up a new hobby: Trying something new naturally requires extra attention. Whether it’s taking up a new instrument, learning to sew or attempting to master a headstand, encourage children to fully invest in the moments they spend in this pursuit. Ultimately, this is just about bringing curiosity into whatever you do.
    What does this sound, smell, taste, look and feel like? How do my body and breath feel as I do this? What thoughts pass by my mind’s sky as I learn this new skill?
  10. Guided Meditations: Listening to a Guided Meditation is a great way of getting that holiday experience, without leaving your house. The New Horizons channel on YouTube has some fantastic clips, including adventures through Ancient Egypt and mystical gardens, generally ranging from 15 to 30 minutes long. If you’re looking for shorter clips, GoZen has a great range of stories and meditation practices with different aims in mind. For technology-savvy older children, teens and young adults, the Insight app offers a huge range of free meditations.

 

Now… go make some memories! 🙂

 

 

 

 

5 Awesome Resources to support Children’s Mental Health

Recently, a few people have asked me about different resources that might help their students or children with anxiety and mental health. In past blogs, I’ve shared links to some brilliant free NHS resource packs for children, relating to a whole host of mental health problems. Click here if you want to go back to this.

If you’re willing to splash a little cash however, there are some really creative, beautifully-made and effective resources to use with your students or children.

This post contains no affiliate links – just good old fashioned sharing of what I’ve had success with; so that others might enjoy the same with their classes/groups/children.

These resources aren’t a substitute for medical help where it’s needed – where there are genuine concerns about your child’s mental health then please consult a health care professional. Sadly, I know that there are a lot of deeply concerned and frustrated parents (and children), whose child has been on a waiting list  for the last year and a half to speak to such a professional. When you’re forced to wait, but desperate to support your child in the meantime, these resources will provide much-needed guidance and support. Similarly, educators who build resources like these into their teaching, will certainly support students’ already suffering with mental health problems, and hopefully arm all students with a little more emotional resilience, needed for a healthy response when they inevitably hit one of life’s ‘bumps in the road.’

Here are 5 Awesome resources that won’t break the bank:

  1. Andrea’s Harms’ The Mood CardsPresently, these are under £12.00 on Amazon.co.uk and they’re worth every penny. As well as being appealing to the eye, these cards offer a mix of CBT, Mindfulness and Positive Psychology. The idea is children are invited to choose a card which relates to how they feel at the time (or they can choose at random but I’ve not found this nearly as effective.) They then turn the card over and answer questions relating to their mood overleaf, or read out a positive affirmation, or both. This stays on just the right level of cheesy and it allows for child-led emotional intervention. Effectively, they’re coaching themselves. Side-note: The cards work for adults too! I’ve successfully coached myself out of frustration or anxiety a few times, using these fabulous cards.
  2. Lily Murray and Katie Abey’s, No Worries! activity book: Labelled as an interactive self-care work-book for children aged 7+, this lovely resource allows children to colour and doodle their way to happiness. There’s a real mix of activities, encouraging children to focus on feelings like gratitude and awareness of the moment, whilst also reflecting on their own emotions and feelings. Plus, there’s actually some factual information and practical activities thrown in. The best bit? Though directed at supporting children with anxiety, it’s still just a fun activity book, which should reduce resistance from children where there is any. Did I mention that it’s currently under £7 on Amazon? I loved this book so much, I couldn’t resist the sequel, Hello Happy! no worries hello happy.jpg
  3. Enchanted Meditations for kids CD by Christiane Kerr: This audio CD is a big hit, particularly with younger children. Yoga teacher and owner of a soft, soothing voice, Christiane Kerr, takes children on a guided mediation journey. Travel with your class on an underwater dolphin ride; chase butterflies around a secret garden; fly away on a hot air balloon ride. Yes – this one is significantly more cheesy; hence why it’s more effective with children 11 and under. It’s a brilliant tool for parents wanting to support their children in relaxing/falling asleep or teachers wanting to introduce formal relaxation. Currently, this audio CD in under £9 and seriously, it’s worth it’s weight in gold. When I’ve used this consistently with classes, I’ve found children to be calmer and more relaxed (even after lunch!), and quicker to concentrate. It doesn’t hurt too, that they soon look forward to this as ‘down time’ for their minds.enchanted meditations.jpg
  4. Mindful Kids’ 50 Activity-card set by Whitney Stewart and Mina Braun: There are some incredible Mindfulness-related products currently on the market, and this card-set is one of the best. It’s beautifully designed, currently available for less than £8, and is a super effective tool for teaching mindfulness and emotional resilience to children. The cards are divided into 5 categories, which I’ll summarise here to be confidence building; handling challenging emotions; sharpening awareness muscles; acceptance of yourself/the world; rest and relaxation. Activities are accessible and enjoyable for all, most solely relying on imagination. A few activities require two or more people and a few resources, but they’ll still fairly easy to put into action. For any parent or primary teacher wanting to establish a regular mindfulness routine with their students (with a few yoga poses thrown in) these card sets provide creative and varied opportunities to do so.
  5. Starving the Anxiety Gremlin by Kate Collins-Donnelly: When I look through these books, I can’t help but wonder how different my life might be today, had I worked through these as a child or angst-ridden teen. There’s a book for children aged 5-9, currently under £12, or for a similar price, one for children aged 10+ which would probably would with children up to 13/14. Effectively, this book takes children through the stepping stones of a cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT) course. The book is packed full of really useful linformation about anxiety and its effects on the body and mind, along with really useful and structured activities aimed at ‘starving the anxiety gremlin.’ For parents or adults in school, working with anxious children, this book is a must!anxiety gremlin.jpg

If you do have any success with the resources above, I’d love to hear your thoughts. Have I missed something unbelievably good? Tell me in the comments below!

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!

Teaching students with an ‘XBox imagination?’ Bring the game to them!

From the beginning of my teaching career, right up until present day, I’ve repeatedly encountered the same problem within the realms of creative writing. How do we teach children, mostly boys it has to be said, whose imagination seems limited only to story-lines relating to XBox or Playstation games?

Time and time again, I’ve excitedly climbed up story mountain with my pupils, only to be confused and disappointed when the main character suddenly pulls a sub-machine gun out of his pocket, murders everyone brutally before living happily ever after.

Sidenote: I realise that I am bypassing the issue that games like Call of Duty: Black Ops and GTA 5 are certificate 18 games, and no doubt shouldn’t be played by eight year old children who aren’t mentally prepared for the content of these games. Regardless of how I feel about this issue, the fact is that it’s happening. It’s happening in high school and it’s happening in primary school.  Like it or not: the kids are hooked.

So what can we do here? It’s pretty obvious really. Use the games’ characters, settings and storylines as creative writing stimulus.

Bring the game to them. 

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We’re told often that the more relevant topics are; the more our students can relate to the characters and themes; the more engaged they’ll be and the better outcomes we’ll get. It’s only natural then that a story based around Lara Croft will produce better writing than one based around Snow White.

Just to note: it’s not that these particular students have a lack of imagination. Writers write what they know about – they use their own life experience – so for kids who spend an hour a day in an alternate games reality, this is what they know.

With this in mind, I’ve attached a little writing stimulus, based on the game scenario from Ark: Survival Evolved. As it happens, the game (like many others) has a pretty good story line. The main character is stranded on an island, inhabited by dinosaur-like monsters, and has to find ways to survive and escape. This has the makings of a great action story!

The creators of Ark, like many other games’ developers, have successfully created an entire cyber world, providing even more scaffolding for children who struggle at coming up with their own ideas. Visit the website and see for yourself: there’s gameplay clips and pictures which make great stimulus for students who both have and haven’t played the game, and there’s a huge, detailed glossary of creatures that inhabit the island, like this description of the ‘Glowtail’ below. Providing students with ready-made creatures like this can be just the inspiration that some need to just start writing. Plus, they’ll develop reading comprehension skills along the way! 

As a teacher, it can be incredibly deflating to see your students struggle to come up with ideas, and even more so when they continuously repeat the same predictable action scenarios.

But remember: it’s pretty rubbish for them too. Many students are actually desperately excited to come up with a good story. It’s just that sometimes, it’s too big of an ‘ask’ to have them create characters, a setting, a story-line; all of this before they’ve even thought about how they’re going to write this, punctuate it, spell it and make it grammatically correct. Even when we do provide a ready-made world for our students to write in, it’s often a place that some students just can’t see in their heads. All things considered, it’s no wonder that some students liken ‘Big Writes’ to an exercise in torture.

If left uninspired and unsupported, your struggling writers will only worsen in confidence over time, developing that ‘can’t do’ attitude. Why not harness the good feelings that they have in relation to their game-play and fold this into their literacy work? Give them a ready-made canvas, on which they can comfortably and confidently paint their ideas. Bring what they know to them so that they might explore what they don’t in safety, unleashing some creativity (and even enjoyment) along the way.

Agree/disagree? Have you encountered XBox imaginations in your classrooms? Are you already an expert in game-based storylines? I’d love to hear your ideas: