Mindfulness in Schools Conference

“I like it because I liked learning about the brain and now I know how to calm down when I’m stressed.” James, P5.

There is a growing body of rigorous research including randomised control trials and neuroscientific studies regarding the potential benefits of mindfulness for kids. With all the pressures of living in 2018, now more than ever, kids need to learn new ways to manage their emotions and learn coping strategies to deal with stress. We now know that 1 in 10 children experience a mental health difficultly by age 11 and 70% of children and adolescents who experience mental health problems have not had appropriate interventions at a sufficiently early age.  At AWARE, we have now launched our primary schools delivery of Paws B designed and licensed by the Mindfulness in Schools Project (MiSP). Professor Katherine Weare observed: schools who engage in mindfulness are likely to see “beneficial results on the emotional wellbeing, mental health, ability to learn and even the physical health of their students.”

As a Paws B facilitator, I delight to see the expression on the kids’ faces when they (and sometimes the teachers too) realise that we don’t have to ‘flip our lid’ as a reaction to stress, but rather, when our emotions settle we can choose our responses more wisely.  Paws B teaches us take a moment to pause; and simply be by learning how to notice the sensations in our body with curiosity and kindness, much like an adventurer or explorer. As the storytelling mind by default fills in the information gaps, we begin to understand that when attuned to our senses this can help us to respond in a more embodied way which doesn’t cause extra stress. Through this innovative brain training programme (Paws b) we can engage in being able to gently bring back the wandering mind through the practice of puppy training, which help us to concentrate, make good choices and ultimately be our best. The illustration of shaking a coke bottle seems to relate, as we too can feel fizzy when we get stressed out, in such circumstance we need to bring attention to our breath and the lower half of our body to steady ourselves. When we discuss the plasticity of our brains (through an illustration with plasticine), kids realise how we can grow happiness through shaping our brains to enjoy all the experiences and richness of the present moment. However, although the wandering mind is trained to not ‘miss out’ on the present moment, the richness of child-like imagination can be enhanced through mindfulness practice - creativity flourishes as fear settles and resilience is born. ~ Carolyn Blair

Listen as Carolyn Blair discusses the Paws b programme on U105 with Frank Mitchell - https://audioboom.com/posts/6687879-listen-depression-charity-launches-new-mindfulness-programme-for-primary-school-children 

Paws b, designed and licensed by the Mindfulness in Schools Project (MiSP), was the focus of the Mindfulness in Schools Conference: Free your Mind, which took place on Monday 26 February at Crumlin Road Gaol, Belfast.

Bernard McAnaney, Chair, AWARE Board of Trustees said, “Mindfulness is about giving your full attention to what is happening in the present moment – to what is happening in your body, your mind and your surroundings. Research has shown that mindfulness can have a significant positive effect on the emotional wellbeing of children.

“Paws b has been carefully crafted by teachers and mindfulness experts to engage young children. It is taught in primary schools and ideally to 7 to 11 year olds. The programme aims to help children feel happier and calmer, help them cope better with stress and anxiety, and help them concentrate and get on better with others. Paws b is usually taught over six weeks in one hour sessions, however AWARE can tailor this to suit the school.”

Claire Kelly, Director of Curricula & Training, MiSP and keynote speaker at the event added, “MiSP are really excited to be part of the AWARE event. It feels like this is an important time to be introducing young people and those who work and care for them to mindfulness. It's also great to see how much interest there is in bringing mindfulness into schools in Northern Ireland, and AWARE has a great deal to offer in terms of supporting this goal.”

The morning conference included an overview of a Paws b lesson, Our Amazing Brain and reflections from Principals Heather Watson, Phoenix Integrated Primary & Nursey School, Cookstown and Fiona Kennedy, St Columba’s Primary School, Straw, on the impact that Paws b has had in their schools.

With the mental health of children in focus during February, delegates also heard first-hand what Phoenix Integrated pupils learned from their Paws b sessions, and how they have benefited.

Find out more about Paws b.

AWARE is the depression charity for Northern Ireland and the only charity working exclusively for those with depression and bipolar disorder.

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