World Book Day on 3rd March, was a brilliant occasion for me. Historically, this has not always been the case as panic tends to set in on the morning of this annual reading celebration, as we frantically dress our children in spare clothes, and search to match the ‘bespoke’ outfit with a book and character that they vaguely resemble.
But this year was different, as I had the opportunity for an author visit to a local school to talk about The Cheetah Cub Running Club books and encourage the enjoyment of exercise and expressing creativity to build self confidence, with 150 primary school children. The vibrant atmosphere would not be possible in a virtual setting and it laid out starkly to me the importance of structure and peer engagement for children’s well-being.
On 11th March, we passed the two year mark from when the World Heath Organisation declared COVID 19 a pandemic. For the seven and eight year olds I met on World Book Day this represents more than a quarter of their lives that has been populated with intermittent lockdowns and isolation.
The impact has affected some more than others, which the UK Government Department for Education summarises in their 2021 State of the Nation: children’s and young people’s wellbeing research report. “The data… indicated potential pandemic impacts on other measures of health and wellbeing, including increased loneliness and poorer physical health as measured by obesity rates. Evidence was also found for a link between family connectedness, problems with family functioning, and mental health problems in children and young people, suggesting that disruptions in one domain could lead to poorer outcomes in another.”
Thankfully, we are moving back to a normal school operating model, however children, and their parents, are faced with news of war in Europe for the first time in their lives and a huge increase in the price of living.
So, what can we do to try and support children during times of uncertainty?
Here are some ideas and resources that can contribute:
Help children with ‘return to school’ anxieties
The positive impact on mental health and well-being from the return of children to a school setting cannot be understated. In fact, “…downward trends in wellbeing may have mostly reversed following relaxation of restrictions.” according to the DfE. Where possible, we should look to keep pupil attendance on site at its peak and find ways to help support children who have struggled with the return to school.
The UK Children’s Charity, Barnardos, has some useful resources to help children struggling or feeling anxious.
As per the Government report “Pupils with higher happiness ratings and lower anxiousness ratings found it easier to concentrate in class, were less concerned about catching-up on their learning and were happier to be back at school than those with lower happiness and higher anxiousness scores (DfE, 2021a).”
Extra curricular clubs and community support
Extra curricular activities and community support networks play an increasingly important role in providing further means for structure or support and an environment where children can expend energy and explore new interests.
There are many fantastic extra curricular provisions provided by schools or third party organisations across the country so refer to your school website for club associated with your child’s school.
Access to age appropriate news sources
Providing children with information to help come to terms with changing circumstances, appropriate for their age, and the opportunity to ask questions they may have is important. BBC Newsround has set up a special page for children who are upset by the news and provides a good starting point.
Constructive activities and tools to be used at home or the park
While statistics are showing a return to close to pre-pandemic areas of ‘well-being’ there is still work to do, in particular with regards to physical health among children and young people which has declined in recent years.
“Obesity rates increased substantially between 2019/20 and 2020/21 among both reception and Y6 age children, accelerating a trend which has continued for at least the previous 15 years (NHS Digital, 2021b).”
In school physical education provision has a need to be supported by self sustained exercise, in order to meet the recommended 60 minutes or more of physical activity per day for 5-16 years olds. Currently less than half (44.6%) do this recommended amount.
With the inclusion of walking to school, activities during breaks at school, children can work up to the target of 60 minutes but building the habit of movement at a young age will pay dividends on their physical and mental well being.
I have found a child’s confidence can be built by simply being consistent in daily activities, tracking progress over time and encouraging their efforts. I share a three week challenge with the children and teachers I meet, and many have taken it up. Below is a link to this tracker and some other resources which may be helpful.
The simple habit tracker and fun challenge for your children can be found on The Cheetah Cub Running Club website
The infamous fitness trainer Joe Wicks has many home workouts for kids at home – here are some fun ones at the National History Museum
Parkrun offer a Junior 2KM walk, jog, run on Sundays across many locations, details can be found here.
We have plenty more work to do and I will look to share more resources and tools as I continue my engagement with educators, parents and children in the coming weeks. If you have any other resources you have found particularly useful for you and your children, please share them in the comments.