Music can help children to learn about history and identity

In its online mental health A–Z the Children’s Society says that having an identity “can give you a sense of belonging, which is important to your wellbeing and confidence.” The theme of this year’s Black History Month is ‘Proud to be’, encouraging people, especially children, to share the things about which they are most proud, particularly in relation to their identity and heritage. Pinning down a meaning of ‘identity’ isn’t straightforward. As the Children’s Society also says, identity “can mean different things to different people.” Somewhere in that mix is almost certainly music, which is just one reason why an exploration of music is a great way to celebrate Black History Month.

Music is also an avenue for children to develop and deepen their knowledge and understanding of black history. As organisations like the Black Curriculum are at pains to point out, black history is much more than just slavery and the slave trade. But in the case of music it is perhaps a way in: the spirituals that originated among enslaved peoples, especially those working in the plantation fields of the southern states of the USA, ultimately evolved into gospel music. It indicates how the slaves reimagined and reinterpreted Christian practices, following their forced conversion, in ways that held meaning for them.

Music is an important part of black history, especially (but not only) in the long struggle for justice and equality. As well as gospel music, folk, reggae, the blues, jazz, rhythm and blues, soul, rock ‘n’ roll, hip-hop and rap — and no doubt others too — are all deeply rooted in the black experience. It is also a wonderful opportunity to explore the incredible contribution that black musicians have made to popular music — from Billie Holiday to Bo Diddley to Aretha Franklin to Jimi Hendrix to Bob Marley to Stevie Wonder to Tina Turner. So many extraordinary individuals. The list is endless.

It’s a vast world for children to explore. The good news is that background information, handy lists (‘The Top 10 This…’, ‘The 50 Most That…’) and curated playlists are available at the click of a button. Here’s a good place to start:

50 most important African American music artists of all time

And how about the contribution of black musicians to classical music:

19 black musicians who have shaped the classical music world

There are also lots of organisations offering resources for use to support the teaching of music during Black History Month and beyond. One of them in the UK is The Musical Me, an organisation that we have mentioned here before. One of its founders, Corrine Hope, is listed on our Changemakers page. The goal of The Musical Me, according to its website, is “changing the world’s approach to teaching the primary music curriculum.” Their Library page offers resources and lesson plans to help primary schools teach lessons through music, including resources to support Black History Month.

A key feature of Life-Based Learning is the belief that effective communication is much more than being able to read and write well, vitally important though those skills are. As well as being a way for children to learn about history and identity, music — along with the other creative and expressive arts such as art and design, dance and drama — increases the breadth of children’s communication skills and strengthens their connection to the cultural sphere.

in our blog Music education is far too valuable to be allowed to disappear we highlighted evidence of the ways that music can also support children’s wider learning, everything from “helping with behaviour and confidence to encouraging creativity and learning skills that can be used across many subjects.”

Latest Blogs on Similar Themes

Image at the head of this article by congerdesign from Pixabay.

Getting involved with nature is a great way to deal with eco-anxiety

An article in the British Medical Journal this week warns that levels of eco-anxiety are on the rise, particularly among children and young people, and “are likely to be significant and potentially damaging to individuals and society”. Meanwhile, another recent report warns of the intergenerational injustice at the heart of climate change — the fact that, over their lifetime, a child today will suffer its adverse consequences far more than their parents or grandparents will have done. Children and young people need to be learning about the environmental challenges we face, but at the same time they also need to be encouraged and empowered to take practical action to make a difference and bring about change. It is a crucial step to making things better, an acknowledgement that solutions cannot just be left to distant and abstract actors on the world stage like sovereign governments and the United Nations. It is also a way to tackle mental health conditions like eco-anxiety that thrive on feelings of helplessness and disempowerment.

The term ‘eco-anxiety’ was probably coined in 2017 and refers to “the chronic fear of environmental doom”. An exacerbating factor with the condition, it seems, is a feeling of utter exasperation at what eco-anxious people see as the failure of others, especially those in positions of power, to treat the threat to the planet with due seriousness. The BMJ article —The climate crisis and the rise of eco-anxiety — also refers to a 2020 survey of child psychiatrists in England which highlighted that more than half (57%) are seeing children and young people distressed about the climate crisis and the state of the environment.

The report follows on from a study highlighting the intergenerational injustice of climate change. In short, today’s children “will suffer many times more extreme heatwaves and other climate disasters over their lifetimes than their grandparents” — an average of 30 extreme heatwaves (seven times more heatwaves than someone born in 1960), twice as many droughts and wildfires, and three times more river floods and crop failures.

As we highlighted recently, the children’s commissioner for England, Dame Rachel de Souza, has published the results of the ‘Big Ask’, the biggest ever survey of children anywhere in the world, with over half a million responses. According to the survey, 39% of children (aged 9–17) said that the environment was one of their main worries about the future, making it the second most common answer.

The authors of the BMJ article say that fearfulness about the future cannot be fully tackled until there is a united global strategy. However, they also suggest more practical ways to alleviate the rising levels of climate anxiety.

The best chance of increasing optimism and hope in the eco-anxious young and old is to ensure they have access to the best and most reliable information on climate mitigation and adaptation. Especially important is information on how they could connect more strongly with nature, contribute to greener choices at an individual level, and join forces with like-minded communities and groups. Spending time in nature as a family is one of many actions suggested by the Royal College of Psychiatrists to manage eco-distress in children and young people. Helping individuals to build their emotional resilience and optimism is also of benefit.

from the BMJ article The climate crisis and the rise of eco-anxiety

This chimes with the thinking that underpins Life-Based Learning. In our blog Agency and empowerment will help counter fatalism and climate anxiety, we wrote about the positive impact on mental wellbeing of getting involved in helping to bring about change for the better. Our blogs regularly highlight activities, schemes and campaigns that individuals, families, schools and communities can take part in to help improve the environment and build a sustainable future. For example, we blogged recently about the campaign for people to plant a tree for the Queen’s jubilee celebrations in 2022.

Also increasingly popular is what is sometimes described as ‘green social prescribing’ — where individuals and, increasingly, health and community services use nature to boost mental wellbeing. In blogs like Immersing children in nature from a young age is a massive win-win we refer to the twin benefits — educational and health — of putting nature at the very heart of children’s lives, regardless of whether they live in the middle of the countryside or the middle of a city.

Also central to Life-Based Learning, as we argue here, is the idea that children need to be learning about the challenges that we face, but not to frighten them or to spread a fatalist mindset: “On the contrary, LBL is about agency and empowerment — giving young people the knowledge, knowhow and skills to lead healthy, sustainable and happy lives, able as individuals and collectively to tackle the many challenges that blight our world.”

More About Nature and the Environment

Image at the head of this article by Free-Photos from Pixabay.

Poetry is perfect for helping children to appreciate words and language

‘You campaign in poetry; you govern in prose’. So said the American politician Mario Cuomo. It is one of my favourite quotes — and not just about politics. Perhaps it is because I am someone who loves words and language (and politics) and yet has always found poetry a bit of a struggle. Cuomo’s observation reminds me of poetry’s power, magic and beauty. During the 2020 lockdown Gyles Brandreth, who gets several mentions in this blog, tweeted himself reading a poem every morning, most from memory. I didn’t hear them all, but each one I caught was a delight. Which brings us to the fact that today is National Poetry Day in the UK — the perfect day to make the case that every child deserves the chance to regularly hear and recite poetry, to learn about it and to have a go at writing it.

[National Poetry] Day starts conversations, it encourages love of language – and best of all, it’s open to absolutely everyone to join in, quietly or noisily in rewarding and enjoyable ways. As the artform’s most visible moment, it showcases the ways in which poetry adds value to society.

from the official National Poetry Day website

Here’s a great listen — a BBC Radio 4 programme in which Gyles explains the benefits of learning poetry by heart. In 2019 he published an anthology of memorable poems called Dancing by the Light of the Moon, the title a line from his favourite poem, The Owl and the Pussycat, which he learned by heart as a child. The book’s subtitle is ‘How poetry can transform your memory and change your life’. That’s quite the claim and one surely worth further investigation.

Most of us have probably tried to write a few lines of poetry. Like prayer it seems to be something that people turn to — is it too much to say ‘instinctively’? — when searching for a voice with which to express their innermost feelings. Think of the outpouring of verse that followed the death of Princess Diana in 1997.

I suspect that the entry point for many young people will be song lyrics. That’s how it was with me. My favourite lyricist is Neil Peart, the erudite drummer with the rock band Rush who tragically died of brain cancer in January 2020. His words were always crafted with style, wit and intelligence.

Take the song Closer to the Heart. What better commitment from loving adult to child than “You can be the captain / and I will draw the chart”? Or how about this, from the song Afterimage? What more fitting summation of the devastating impact of unexpected loss than “Suddenly you were gone / from all the lives you left your mark upon”?

My favourite is perhaps Losing It, Peart’s meditation on the effects of ageing on the creative process.

He offers us a dancer:

The dancer slows her frantic pace
In pain and desperation,
Her aching limbs and downcast face
Aglow with perspiration

And then a writer:

Thirty years ago, how the words would flow
With passion and precision,
But now his mind is dark and dulled
By sickness and indecision

Writing poetry is perhaps the most democratic of artforms. Anyone can write a few lines of verse. It can take seconds, minutes, hours, days, weeks — however long is entirely up to you. You can write about whatever you like. All you need is a pen and a piece of paper. In fact, you don’t even need those, because poetry has an oral tradition dating back to ancient times. Epic poems like Homer’s Iliad and Virgil’s Aeneid were almost certainly written to be read aloud. And who nowadays hasn’t at some point or other made up a silly limerick on the spur of the moment?

A young student Shakespeare-to-be
Had verse writing down to a T
“I punt on the Cam
I love an iamb
And I like the occasional spondee”

As a wonderful vehicle for creativity and for learning to work with language, poetry is perfect for children — playing about with words and phrases, experimenting with rhymes, learning the basics of rhythm and metre. That’s why it is so important that children have regular opportunities to experience poetry.

Here’s one exciting way — and it is a way that helps children to learn about building relationships and about the importance of community as well as developing their communication skills and love of language. In addition to his many other talents Gyles Brandreth is the founder of Poetry Together, which he describes as his ‘passion project’. Poetry Together encourages schools to link with care homes so that young and old can learn and recite poems together. And it’s all completely free. The website is below.

National Poetry Day Website

Poetry Together Website

Rush: A Fan’s Appreciation Blog

We need to teach black history properly, and not just in October

The theme of this year’s Black History Month, which began last Friday, is ‘Proud to be’. The aim is to encourage all black and brown people, especially children, to share the things about which they are most proud, particularly in relation to their identity and heritage. A 2018 article, asking rhetorically whether a black history month was still required, argued that it needed to evolve, particularly in terms of looking at what children are taught: “What is needed,” wrote Joy White, “is a detailed understanding throughout the year and throughout the curriculum that black history is British history and vice versa.” We have argued on this website that “the study of history should give children a sense of what makes British society what it is today and their place in it.” It is through history that children develop an increased sense of belonging, an understanding that they are part of something that is bigger than their close circle of family and immediate neighbours. History is key to building the strong, vibrant and closely knit communities that benefit us all.

Having originated in the USA, Black History Month was first celebrated in the UK in 1987. This 2020 BBC article provides some useful background.

Catherine Ross, editor at Black History Month UK, explained the thinking behind this year’s campaign:

It’s been a challenging time for many black and brown people, with so much in the media about racism, inequality and injustice. We wanted the theme of Black History Month 2021 to focus on celebrating being black or brown, and to inspire and share the pride people have in their heritage and culture – in their own way, in their own words.

By asking people to share what they are Proud To Be we can share both individual stories and the vast richness of diversity that black and brown people bring to the UK.

Black Lives Matter means people being able to live life to the fullest without having to compromise who they are. Everyone deserves the right to be Proud To Be everything they are and want to be in life.

from the article PROUD TO BE: Black History Month UK launches theme for Black History Month 2021

Lavinya Stennett founded and is head of the Black Curriculum campaign. Central to its critique is that ignorance and a lack of education are often at the root of racist attitudes and behaviour in the UK, a consequence ultimately of a ‘whitewashed’ curriculum that fails to properly reflect the contributions of black people throughout British history. Black British history teaching rarely goes beyond teaching about the slave trade: only a fully diversified curriculum will properly present positive black role models to young people.

The aims of the Black Curriculum campaign, as stated on its website, are to promote black history teaching all year round and:

  • provide a sense of belonging and identity to young people across the UK.
  • teach an accessible educational black British history curriculum that raises attainment for young people
  • improve social cohesion between young people in the UK

We have also discussed the question of the right age to start teaching children about race and diversity. Wa’qaar A Mirza argues that it should be as soon as possible.

As soon as children start to become aware of cultural differences (and before they are exposed to negative stereotypes) we should be appropriately educating them on the importance of cultural diversity.

This will give them a well-rounded and balanced view on ethnicities, cultures, skin colours and more, meaning they’ll have counter-arguments against racism from the get-go.

Wa’qaar A Mirza, from Cultural diversity: Why primary schools need to be teaching diversity and tolerance as early as possible

He points out that, for one reason or another, many children will simply not have the opportunity to learn about cultural diversity at home; some, sadly, we know will grow up in an environment poisoned by racist language, stereotypes and attitudes.

There is an excellent collection of (free) teacher materials on the BBC website as well as an outstanding range of resources in support of Black History Month.

The Black Curriculum website also has a section devoted to learning resources — some free, some not. There is also a comprehensive (for key stage 3 upwards) Black History Month resource pack on the Black History Month website, though at £49.50 plus postage it isn’t cheap.

BBC Black History Month Resources

Black History Month Website

The Black Curriculum Website

Researchers identify link between nutrition and mental health in children

Here’s what we know already: (i) there is a link between nutrition and physical health (ii) nutrition is particularly important for children’s growth and development (iii) many children do not have a good diet (iv) there is a growing crisis in children’s mental health. Here’s what new: researchers have now identified a link between children’s nutritional intake and mental health. In simple terms, children who eat five or more portions of fruit and vegetables a day have the best mental health. These research findings have important implications for any strategy to improve children’s mental health in both the immediate and the long term.

The research has been published in the journal BMJ Nutrition Prevention & Health. Its key findings were that:

  • nutritional intake was associated with mental wellbeing scores in both primary and secondary school children
  • higher fruit and vegetable consumption was significantly associated with better mental wellbeing in secondary pupils
  • the type of breakfast and lunch consumed, by both primary and secondary pupils, was significantly associated with wellbeing
  • the difference in mental wellbeing between children who consumed the most fruits and vegetables compared with the lowest was of a similar scale to those children experiencing daily, or almost daily, arguing or violence at home

Prof Ailsa Welch, the study’s lead researcher, is clear about the implications of the findings for public policy:

As a potentially modifiable factor at an individual and societal level, nutrition represents an important public health target for strategies to address childhood mental wellbeing.

Prof Ailsa Welch, University of East Anglia’s Norwich Medical School, quoted in The Guardian

The research team analysed data from almost 9,000 children in 50 primary and secondary schools across Norfolk taken from the Norfolk children and young people’s health and wellbeing survey. Some of their findings (as reported in the Guardian) make depressing reading:

  • Only around a quarter of secondary school children and 28% of primary school children reported eating the recommended five-a-day fruits and vegetables
  • Just under one in 10 children were not eating any fruits or vegetables
  • More than one in five secondary-school children and one in 10 primary children didn’t eat breakfast
  • More than one in 10 secondary-school children didn’t eat lunch

Children who ate a traditional breakfast experienced better wellbeing than those who only had a snack or drink. But secondary school children who drank energy drinks for breakfast had particularly low mental wellbeing scores, even lower than for those children consuming no breakfast at all.

Dr Richard Hayhoe, UEA’s Norwich Medical School, also quoted in The Guardian

We recently highlighted the stark conclusion of the National Food Strategy, an independent report commissioned in 2019 by the UK government: “Children’s diets are not good enough.” One of the strategy’s key objectives was to identify ways to escape what it called “the junk-food cycle”. Another was to transform our food culture. Henry Dimbleby, the strategy’s author, connected children’s diet with health in later life. This new report highlights the importance of good nutrition for children’s wellbeing in the here and now.

We also highlighted the findings of a recent Children’s Society report into young people’s mental health, which spoke of “an alarming state of decline” and warned of a trend that stretched back a decade and had been exacerbated by the impact of the Covid pandemic.

Life-Based Learning (LBL) is predicated on the idea that we must put children at the heart of long-term strategies that aim to tackle the immense challenges of the coming decades. Diet is one such challenge. Mental health is another. The Body is one of LBL’s learning themes, promoting the role of sport, regular physical activity and diet and nutrition in improving physical health. The Emotions, meanwhile, focuses on the issue of mental health and wellbeing. Children need to be learning from a young age about their emotions and how to manage them, helping them to grow up happy and emotionally resilient. What this important report makes clear is the importance of nutrition in helping children to manage their emotions.

Read More About Life-Based Learning




Image at the head of this article by stokpic from Pixabay.

The Wombles are mobilised to support the government’s green campaign ahead of COP26

The Wombles are back! The Wombles — environmental champions living on (well, under) Wimbledon Common — were a staple of 1970s popular culture, not just as a successful stop-motion animation series but also as a pop group, with several top-10 singles to their name. They introduced a generation of children (of which this writer was one) to ideas about litter, recycling and caring about the environment at a time when the eco-movement was very much on the fringes of public debate and awareness of what we would now call green issues was in its infancy. Now the Wombles have been mobilised ahead of the COP26 summit on the environment to promote the UK government’s Together for Our Planet campaign and to encourage all of us to go #OneStepGreener for the planet. It is a message that resonates with key elements of Life-Based Learning.

The Wombles was first shown on the BBC in 1973. The series was based on books written by Elizabeth Beresford about a secretive group of creatures who live beneath Wimbledon Common, collecting and recycling the litter “the everyday folk leave behind” (to quote The Wombling Song). According to the BBC’s own Wombles page, the series secured a large crossover audience as the programme was broadcast at the end of children’s programming and just before the main news.

We’re so incredibly utterly devious
Making the most of everything
Even bottles and tins
Pick up the pieces and make them into something new
Is what we do

from The Wombling Song, written by Mike Batt

I would probably prefer ‘ingenious’ to ‘devious’ but the basic idea contained in these lines — written in the ’70s — is more urgent than ever.

The Wombles will feature in a series of short animated films on social media explaining how we can all go #OneStepGreener by:

  • travelling smarter – walking, cycling or taking public transport
  • reusing and upcycling – to avoid waste going into landfill
  • growing and eating food in season
  • planting trees in our gardens
  • creating wildlife friendly gardens
  • reducing food waste – by creating meals from leftovers
  • reducing energy usage at home – by turning off the lights and plugs when not in use

The move to co-opt the Wombles to support the government’s campaign has not met with universal approval. Prof Julia Steinberger, who is a lead author for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, has said:

Reviving the beloved Wombles to deflect responsibility away from themselves and towards blaming individual citizens marks the UK government as deceptive and untrustworthy on this most important topic.

Prof Julia Steinberger, Professor of Social Ecology and Ecological Economics at the University of Leeds

Dr Sophie Dauvois, editor of an arts and science magazine for three- to seven-year-olds, approaches the question from the point of view of how best to engage young children with challenging and potentially frightening issues.

She says there is a difficult line to tread to inform young children without making them feel guilty or paralysed with fear. “We are not pointing the finger at anyone really. We try to give them [children] tools to do something and be positive.” Many children’s factual TV programmes cover environmental topics such as recycling and energy use. But Dauvois says exploring them with fictional characters is a useful way of playing out different scenarios safely. “Storytelling is a strong way of communicating science or other ideas, as well as through learning and play. They can question, they can laugh, they can make jokes about it.”

quoted from a Guardian article, Are the Wombles really the best children’s characters to tackle the climate crisis?

As we highlighted last week, the children’s commissioner for England, Dame Rachel de Souza, has just published the results of the ‘Big Ask’, the biggest ever survey of children anywhere in the world, with over half a million responses. According to the survey, 39% of children (aged 9–17) said that the environment was one of their main worries about the future, making it the second most common answer. In her foreword, Dame de Souza says:

[Children] think hard about regional inequality, about injustice, about prejudice, about British values, about the environment — they want to engage with these things and address them.

Dame Rachel de Souza, foreword to The Big Ask – The Big Answer

Dame de Souza’s words — and the #OneStepGreener message — resonate with the fundamental rationale behind Life-Based Learning. As we said in a recent blog, central to LBL is the idea that children need to be learning about the challenges that we face, now and in the decades to come.

But the aim is not to frighten or to spread a fatalist mindset. On the contrary, LBL is about agency and empowerment — giving young people the knowledge, knowhow and skills to lead healthy, sustainable and happy lives, able as individuals and collectively to tackle the many challenges that blight our world.

from Agency and empowerment will help counter fatalism and climate anxiety

Why we need to invest in our local swimming pools

The contrast could not be more jarring: just weeks after Team GB won a total of 25 swimming medals at the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics (nine of which were gold), a report from Swim England is warning that 2,000 swimming pools in England could be closed by 2030 – 40% of the current total – and that without investment of £1bn there will be a “huge decline” in the availability of pools. This would be a catastrophe for public health and for communities more generally. Thinking specifically of children for a moment, swimming plays a huge role in promoting not just their safety but also their overall physical and mental health and wellbeing. And yet, as we highlighted in May, despite swimming lessons being part of the national curriculum, it is likely that around one in three children are unable to swim by the age of 11.

Swim England’s report is called A Decade in Decline: The Future of Swimming Pools in England. In a section called The Value of Pools, the report says that every £1 spent on community sport and physical activity generates nearly £4 for the economy and society, and that weekly swimming saves the NHS and social care system more than £357m each year.

It also sets out the benefits of swimming, including for:

  • physical wellbeing – swimmers report feeling 12 years younger than non-swimmers
  • mental wellbeing – 1.4 million adults feel swimming has significantly reduced their anxiety or depression
  • individual development – women and girls report that swimming more than doubled their levels of self-confidence

Jane Nickerson, Swim England’s chief executive, said:

Pools are hubs of the local community, helping people of all ages to lead healthier, happier lives and saving the NHS hundreds of millions of pounds each year. They are also the places where millions learn a skill that could one day save their life – or someone else’s.

It’s particularly timely that we’re discussing this as today marks National Fitness Day, where we celebrate the vital role of leisure centres and gyms and the positive impact they have on so many lives. It reminds us that it’s more important than ever to ensure we have the facilities we need for people to continue to enjoy in the future.

Jane Nickerson, Swim England’s chief executive, quoted on their website

In our post All young children should be receiving free swimming lessons we noted that the national curriculum states that all schools must provide swimming lessons either in key stage 1 or key stage 2. Despite this, research published by the Amateur Swimming Association (ASA) in 2018 indicated that one in three children leave primary school unable to swim and that the proportion of children unable to swim is growing.

Swimming pools matter for another reason too: they help to provide a sense of community. Along with The Body (physical health) and The Emotions (mental health), two other LBL life themes are Relationships and Community, which sit within a broader category called Society: crucial to human life and living is the ability to relate to — and interact positively with — others, be it family, friends, neighbours, work colleagues or wider society.

At its most basic level, it means children learning and learning to value that they are part of something bigger than just their immediate network. Regular visits to the local swimming pool – whether with school or with family – help to reinforce that message. The Swim England report also quotes two other eye-catching facts about the benefits of swimming:

  • social and community development – swimmers have been found to be more socially connected and to have more friends than non-swimmers
  • volunteering – swimmers are 26.1% more likely to volunteer

We have argued elsewhere that vibrant communities nurture and enrich us as individual human beings whereas community breakdown damages us. How tragic if the dilapidated shell of a former community swimming pool or leisure centre were to become – like the closed-down post office and the boarded-up local pub – just another symbol of a community in decline.

The Swim England report appeals to the government’s so-called ‘levelling-up’ agenda:

Investing in new facilities that support community sport and physical activity can play an important role in boosting the economy and helping to level up inequalities within communities. Improving the health and wellbeing of local areas should be a key component of the government’s ‘levelling up’ agenda.

A Decade of Decline: The Future of Swimming Pools in England, page 8

More About Community

Image at the head of this article by tookapic from Pixabay.

Children’s commissioner’s stirring call for a new settlement for children

The children’s commissioner for England, Dame Rachel de Souza, has just published the results of the ‘Big Ask’, the biggest ever survey of children anywhere in the world, with over half a million responses. In her foreword she talks of a “heroic generation … determined to put the pandemic behind them, to recover well, to get back to school and make good lives for themselves.” One of the main focuses of the survey was wellbeing. The majority of children are, she says, happy, optimistic and outward-looking. They see mental and physical health as interlinked, and they regard good mental health as an important future aspiration for themselves, not just something for now. The children’s commissioner talks in grand, stirring terms of seizing the moment: “The report you are reading is a mandate for an intergenerational promise – a new settlement for England’s children – a grown‑up, cross‑party set of policy commitments that reward the nobility of their vision.”

The Big Ask survey was open to any child in England aged 4—17. It was conducted online, with participation anonymous and voluntary so that as many children could be reached as possible and they could feel comfortable speaking freely. Before taking part children were taught about the Big Ask in assemblies and in class.

Among the troubling findings in the area of mental health and wellbeing were the following:

  • 20% of children said they were unhappy with their mental health, making it the top issue they were concerned about
  • Girls were nearly twice as likely as boys to say that they were unhappy with their mental health
  • Older children and children in more deprived areas were also more likely to be unhappy with their mental health than those from less deprived areas
  • Children who said they were unhappy with their mental health were far more likely to say they were unhappy with their physical health than those who were happy with their mental health

Dame de Souza emphasises the importance of the NHS to children’s future wellbeing, as part of a comprehensive support package: “the NHS needs to be woven into the fabric of their lives, such that their care, education, and healthcare are working in partnership and striving for the same goals.” Her comments are carefully phrased but timely. As in many other sectors, children’s mental health services are under acute strain, partly due to the lockdown but also as a result of years of funding allocations that have failed to keep pace with the rapid increase in mental ill-health among young people.

A recent BBC investigation has found that children struggling with mental health problems during the pandemic are facing “agonisingly” long waits for treatment:

Data from half of England’s specialist child mental health services found one in five youngsters seen since Covid hit waited longer than 12 weeks for care. The numbers still waiting also appear to be rising sharply. Doctors said services were so stretched that under-18s were turning up at A&E because they could not get help.

from the BBC website, Children face ‘agonising’ waits for mental health care

We also posted recently about a report from the Children’s Society that provided additional evidence that young people’s mental health and wellbeing is in “an alarming state of decline”.

We agree with the children’s commissioner that, “in a truly English tradition of radical action”, it is time to offer children a new deal. We owe it to our children to equip them with the knowledge, skills and values to tackle the staggering challenges they will meet as adults. Life-Based Learning (LBL) is aimed at children aged 5 to 11 (or thereabouts) and offers a bold and imaginative vision for children’s learning.

We promote a life-based approach to learning to better prepare children — as they grow into adulthood — to manage the life-threatening challenges facing individuals, societies and environments across the planet. This is an urgent priority. Time is not on our side.

In the post referred to above, we said:

We need a curriculum strategy that properly addresses the issue of children’s mental health. Our blogs regularly highlight the benefits to children’s mental health and wellbeing of regular physical exercise, outdoor and nature-based experiences and participation in activities that involve them in positive change.

In addition, we need to empower children by giving them the knowledge and skills to understand and look after themselves. This is what Life-Based Learning aims to do. The Emotions is one of nine life themes, each with equal priority, that form the framework of an LBL curriculum. Children learn from a young age about their emotions and how to manage them, helping them to grow up happy and emotionally resilient, able to create and maintain long-lasting and fulfilling relationships with family, friends, work colleagues and others.

from our post “Alarming state of decline,” says new children’s wellbeing report

More About Mental Health and Wellbeing

Agency and empowerment will help counter fatalism and climate anxiety

The morning rush hour commute was even more stressful than normal for thousands of motorists on Monday when climate change campaigners blocked five junctions of the M25. “They’re doing this,” said a protest group member on BBC Radio 5 Live, “because they’re desperate for meaningful action from the government…” Opinions will of course differ on whether such direct action, disrupting the lives and livelihoods of potentially millions of people, is ever justified. The context, however, is certain: concern about climate change continues to grow. Now a major worldwide study has found that large numbers of children and young people are suffering from climate anxiety. Central to Life-Based Learning is the idea that children need to be learning about the challenges that we face. But the aim is not to frighten or to spread a fatalist mindset. On the contrary, LBL is about agency and empowerment — giving young people the knowledge, knowhow and skills to lead healthy, sustainable and happy lives, able as individuals and collectively to tackle the many challenges that blight our world.

The survey, involving 10,000 young people, aged 16-25, in 10 countries (and still subject to peer review), is called Young People’s Voices on Climate Anxiety, Government Betrayal and Moral Injury: A Global Phenomenon. It was conducted and analysed by seven academic institutions in the UK, Europe and the US, including the University of Bath, the University of East Anglia, and the Oxford Health NHS Foundation Trust.

Key findings include:

  • 59% of those surveyed were very or extremely worried by climate change and 84% were at least moderately worried
  • More than 50% felt sad, anxious, angry, powerless, helpless, and guilty
  • More than 45% said their feelings about climate change negatively affected their daily life and functioning

Climate change has significant implications for the health and futures of children and young people, yet they have little power to limit its harm, making them vulnerable to increased climate anxiety. Qualitative studies show climate anxiety is associated with perceptions of inadequate action by adults and governments, feelings of betrayal, abandonment and moral injury.

Quoted from the report’s abstract

Tom Burke from the think tank e3g told BBC News: “It’s rational for young people to be anxious. They’re not just reading about climate change in the media — they’re watching it unfold in front of their own eyes.”

One response to findings such as these goes roughly as follows: ‘It is no surprise that children and young people are frightened out of their wits because we go on and on about climate catastrophe and a future global meltdown. Who wouldn’t be terrified? If we didn’t go on about it so much, young people wouldn’t be so anxious.’

Many people would doubtless say that such an outlook is less than helpful. Ignoring a problem by choosing not to discuss it or downplaying its seriousness does not make it go away, still less solve it. Another mistake would be to just throw up our hands in despair. In our blog Practical ideas for families wanting to do their bit for the environment we highlighted an excellent article by the journalist Jonathan Freedland, warning against a fatalist mindset which says that individuals on their own can’t possibly make a difference and so there is no point doing anything.

The contrary is true. Positive action — getting involved in doing something, helping to bring about change, making a difference, however small that difference on its own might be in the grand scheme of things — is well worth the time and effort. And the more of us who take part, the better it will be, encouraging others to join in and pressurising governments to do more.

As a bonus, the feelings of agency and empowerment it brings will improve our mental health. Joining the campaign to plant a tree for the Queen’s Jubilee is just one of several schemes we have highlighted in recent months which provide opportunities for individuals, families, schools and communities to get involved in positive change.

The WWF website is also an outstanding resource for people interested in doing their bit to bring about change. There is an area of the site dedicated to “what you can do”, with separate sections for schools, youth groups, families and young people.

Today’s young people will be the stewards of our planet in the years to come. That’s why we’re putting young people at the centre of our work. We’re working with young people who care about our natural world, to help them explore the issues facing our planet, and equip them to take positive action to protect it.

Our youth engagement programme supports and empowers young people, helping them to inspire and motivate others to join in the fight for our world. There will be plenty of opportunities for young people to get involved and take action, from upcoming community events to accessing our dedicated youth engagement toolkit.

from the WWF website

The excellent booklet ’21 actions’ lists — yes — 21 actions, as suggested by WWF’s youth ambassadors, simple ways we can help make a difference. Use the link below to download a copy.

There are lots of ideas for younger families too:

By helping families to experience the wonders of nature together, we can inspire them to become informed and caring ambassadors who are well equipped to take action for our amazing planet. There are plenty of ways for young people and families to take action with WWF; from participating in simple craft activities at home to using the new new nature ID app — Seek — which is designed for young explorers and anyone curious about our world.

from WWF’s Families page. Helping families connect with nature

WWF website

’21 actions’ booklet from WWF youth ambassadors

Read more of our blogs

Image at the head of this article by Marc B from Pixabay.

Saluting Emma, Aleesha and the many other inspirational young people

The historic achievement of Emma Raducanu in winning the US Open having come through qualifying and without losing a single set has rightly been headline news in the last few days. She is one of Britain’s brightest sporting prospects for a generation and surely has a golden future ahead of her. Those involved in UK tennis will be hoping that Emma’s amazing feat will inspire thousands of children to pick up a racquet, perhaps for the very first time. It isn’t just awesome raw talent either. Emma is by all accounts dedicated and hardworking, and she also seems extraordinarily mentally balanced for her age. This isn’t the place to discuss the challenges that UK sport and other sectors face in seeking out and nurturing new talent. Suffice it to say that the family of a child following a similar pathway to Emma will incur costs running comfortably into the thousands. We can certainly salute Emma and all the other young people — many of whom don’t get the recognition they deserve — whose astonishing achievements serve as an example and an inspiration for us all, whatever stage of life we are at.

Here are just two more who popped up in the media recently.

Aleesha [pictured above], who is six years old, took part in a challenge over the summer to raise money for the deforestation charity Cool Earth. She rode her scooter 80km to help save the world’s rainforests, receiving support from Sir David Attenborough, the prime minister and the Queen, after she wrote to them explaining her challenge.

According to a local news website, she first became inspired to help the planet whilst taking part in a school project. She learned about trees being chopped down and animals losing their homes.

Her JustGiving page says:

I would like to do my part and try and save the rainforests. All the money raised will go towards making this a greener planet. I am raising as much awareness about climate change and the rainforests by writing to as many influential people as possible.

from Aleesha’s JustGiving page

According to the same page she has now raised £3,372.

Meanwhile, 15-year-old Harry Burr is the driving force behind a £20m scheme to build a railway station at Daventry in Northamptonshire.

Chris Heaton-Harris, the local MP, is full of praise for Harry’s work:

Harry took me through what he had done so far on his idea for a Daventry Parkway Station and we discussed the various stages every project needs to get past for it to secure funding and be delivered. Harry’s list of things he needs to achieve and people and organisations he needs to get onside was spot-on, and I look forward to seeing this project develop.

Chris Heaton-Harris MP

Phil Larratt, of West Northamptonshire Council, said: “We will be doing everything we can in the background working with partners to lobby central government and Network Rail to make this and other opportunities a reality and supporting Mr Burr’s vision.”

And, to finish, how about this list of 10 young people who “changed the world”, drawn up by the US educational organisation

We’ve put together a list of 10 modern-day heroes who have made a difference in their communities from a young age. If your students ever ask you, “Can young people change the world?” the stories of these children and young adults answer a resounding “Yes!”

from the website

The image of Aleesha at the head of this article can be found on the Nottingham Local News website here.

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