Ideas for a more focussed learning environment

07 August 2019 By Hester Binge - Education consultant and trainer, specialising wellbeing and science

happy children in uniform learning

As someone who supports wellbeing and mental health in schools, as well as science, the below statistics are just the tip off the iceberg. So, I was pleased that in 2020 it will be statutory for primary pupils to learn about the importance of their mental health and how this impacts on their everyday lives.

Of course, this subject isn’t new, and many schools already teach a weekly PSHE lesson. But is this enough? In the National Curriculum we spend time teaching about digestion and circulation but why don’t we include how the brain works and the powerful connection between our feelings and how they affect our bodies and actions?

OFSTED are now looking at how schools are widening their curriculum to encompass all areas of the
curriculum. In their draft proposal or the Inspection Framework, there is a focus on PSHE being part of a balanced curriculum in order to provide high quality outcomes personal, social and health, as well as
for academic learning.

From experience of working in primary schools, it’s essential that first and foremost we focus on a child’s (and teacher’s) wellbeing before trying to teach. If a child is struggling with feelings or anxious then there is no space for learning to settle in their brains.

Creating a whole school ethos to promote wellbeing in staff and pupils needs some thinking, and everyone including office staff and the site manager need to be included and
on board. But this doesn’t have to be out facing and the rewards will be felt and have a ripple effect throughout.

Spending just 15 minutes focused time a day on meditation and breathing exercises makes all the difference. 15 minutes you cry –where are we going to find a spare 15 minutes? Well…once children have been guided in how to meditate, they can utilise that skill themselves whenever it’s needed to help them focus or calm down. These 15 minutes will allow you to have a calmer more focussed classroom, dinner time and playtime. Times that you normally spend on getting children back on task or sorting out disputes radically reduce when wellbeing activities are introduced throughout the school. Time can be split into 5-minute breathing exercises which children can be doing during register, lining up for assembly or walking to dinner. 10 minute meditation sessions are a great way to calm down after lunchtime and get ready for the afternoon’s learning. Walking through a school at the start of an afternoon session when everyone is meditating produces a very powerful atmosphere, children are really switched on, ready to start the next lesson. The time ‘lost off’ the lesson is more than made up for when children are focussed and calm. More learning occurs in that shortened session than there would have been without the meditation. Research proves how meditation and mindful breathing enhances children’s learning.

Using tranquil music during the meditation session and an electric essential oil burner helps all senses to
focus. Once the children have learned how to relax then these hooks can be used during other lessons to help the brain focus. During SATs just the scent of lavender can help reduce anxiety if previously associated with the calming feeling produced during meditation. Playing music during an extended writing session can help the children focus on their work.

Feedback from those who have tried this for half a term is very promising with children self–regulating when needed – perhaps before a test to help them relax and focus or after an incident on the playground. Semichildren use it at home when facing a difficult time or show parents or siblings how to do it when they have been upset.

Having a chill space where children can go to when everything just gets on top of them is a must in any
classroom. This space has different textures for the children to touch, mindful colouring, affirmation cards and listening stations with calming sounds of nature. And yes, these may be abused at first as a ‘get out of lesson card’ but the child will benefit and be ready to focus, as the work still needs to be finished when they return to their seat. Sometimes children are just not in the right place to learn and if pushed will end up being disruptive to everyone else’s
learning as well as their own.

How about trying mindful eating in the dining room? Just a minute at the start of lunch to really taste the
food you’re eating. Children who can focus on the present moment will absorb more of their lesson. Finally, not all children enjoy team sports so why not have a tai chi or yoga after school club as an alternative?

As schools start to look at their PSHE provision, there are many great resources out there to support them. Sites like Mentally Healthy Schools and Anna Freud. YPO have courses to help support this area and you could become a champion for mental health in your school which gives you the skills to support mental health issues. My website has lots of ideas and free activities to download such as ‘the treasure box of feelings’.

Perhaps this all seems a little bit hippish but why not give it a go and see how your classroom becomes a calmer more focussed learning environment.

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Categories: Education

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