‘Active recovery’ needs to be much more than just a short-term fix

The children’s charity Youth Sport Trust is calling for the government to make the remainder of the current school year an ‘active recovery term’ for young people, with a renewed focus on sport, physical activity and physical education, and time outdoors. We wholeheartedly agree — but this is actually a good idea for the long term, not just for the next few weeks and months.

Youth Sport Trust’s latest research shows the continuing effects of lockdown on children’s activity levels. Children are less physically active now than they were before the Covid pandemic. The charity said that its findings show “the urgent need for a renewed focus on sport and physical education” following the easing of lockdown.

A recent post on this website discussed how members of the local community might support schools by working with children as part of post-Covid catch-up. We made the point that ideas and initiatives developed as short-term fixes to address an emergency situation may well be good in themselves. ‘Active recovery’ — a focus on sport and physical activity to deal with the drop-off in children’s activity levels — is one such idea. It needs to be an essential element of the curriculum, not just a bolt-on for a few weeks and months.

In addition to addressing immediate concerns, Ali Oliver, the chief executive of Youth Sport Trust, has also been focusing on the longer term:

…we continue to call on the government to make a bold and courageous commitment to a national ambition for our young people to be the happiest and most active in the world. This should be underpinned by a renewed national strategy to tackle inactivity and recover young people’s wellbeing.

Ali Oliver, chief executive of Youth Sport Trust

In 2018 Youth Sport Trust launched a four-year strategy to promote sport, play and physical activity as a means of enhancing young people’s wellbeing. One of its six objectives was: ‘Transform PE’s place in the curriculum, putting it at the centre of wellbeing and achievement in education.’

Life-based learning also recognises the importance of sport, physical activity and outdoor play in helping children to grow up physically and mentally healthy. The Body is one of nine learning themes that make up life-based learning. Its approach to health and wellbeing combines a focus on children learning how to look after themselves with a coordinated, whole-school focus on physical activity.

More About Physical Health

Unlocking the benefits for children of play and outdoor learning

Unlocking the benefits for children of play and outdoor learning

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Urgent letter to PM highlights the need for outdoor education

Urgent letter to PM highlights the need for outdoor education

Adventurers, explorers and people involved in sport, including figures such as Clive Woodward, have joined with leaders of outdoor centres, ...

Image at the head of this article by manseok Kim from Pixabay.

Watch our new video to find out about emotions learning

Please take a minute to watch our presentation on why we urgently need a focus in schools on learning about emotions and what an emotions learning programme would involve for children aged 5 to 11.

More About Emotions and Mental Health

‘Active recovery’ needs to be much more than just a short-term fix

‘Active recovery’ needs to be much more than just a short-term fix

The children’s charity Youth Sport Trust is calling for the government to make the remainder of the current school year ...
Millions feel the mental and physical benefits of regular exercise

Millions feel the mental and physical benefits of regular exercise

More evidence has been published highlighting the benefits of running and jogging not just for physical health but also for ...
Birdwatching is a great way for children to learn more about nature

Birdwatching is a great way for children to learn more about nature

Birdwatching is an activity for all ages and interest in ‘twitching’ is on the increase. The Forum for Life-Based Learning ...

Millions feel the mental and physical benefits of regular exercise

More evidence has been published highlighting the benefits of running and jogging not just for physical health but also for mental wellbeing too. The Forum for Life-Based Learning advocates daily physical activity for all children and a curriculum that enables them to learn healthy habits for life.

The Macmillan Cancer Support charity sponsors the London Marathon, and today is when applicants learn whether they have been successful in the ballot for places in the 2021 event. The charity has published research into people’s physical activity since the first lockdown was introduced in March 2020.

According to the Guardian, the charity’s research indicates that:

  • around 7 million people in Britain have taken part in running or jogging during the Covid pandemic to boost their mental health
  • around one third said running made them feel calmer and more positive
  • one in five said that running made them feel mentally stronger

We highlighted in January a Sport England survey on young people and physical activity during lockdown, which shows “a strong link between children who are physically active and individual development, good mental health, and rates of volunteering and wider community development. It also suggests that young people who engage in sport and physical activity are less likely to feel lonely.”

The Forum for Life-Based Learning believes that we need to reform the school curriculum for young children to meet urgent life challenges. The Body is one of nine learning themes through which we believe the individual subjects of the UK National Curriculum should be taught, in order to equip children with the knowledge, skills and values to tackle the challenges they will meet as adults.

The Body learning theme focuses on children learning healthy habits for life. It includes a whole-school activity programme, building on the success of the Daily Mile initiative, the website for which claims that more than 3 million children now take part. It also combines learning about the body with learning how to look after the body. Body care for life is the key message.

The Body

Find out more about the life-based learning Body theme

Sport England Survey

Read the full January 2021 survey produced by Sport England

An Urgent Priority

Why we need a long-term strategy to improve activity levels

Image at the head of this article by Allan Mehik from Pixabay.

Birdwatching is a great way for children to learn more about nature

Birdwatching is an activity for all ages and interest in ‘twitching’ is on the increase. The Forum for Life-Based Learning is in favour of schools teaching about birds and promoting birdwatching as a way of increasing children’s appreciation of nature and promoting mental wellbeing.

Twitchers, a name often used for keen birdwatchers, have long described its mental health benefits, so it is perhaps no surprise that a recent survey carried out for the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB), ahead of its Big Garden Watch, reported that two-thirds of the public had “found solace in watching birds and hearing their song” during lockdown. In December we highlighted the fact that taking an active interest in nature improves children’s mental health.

Meanwhile, just this week a Treasury review into the economics of biodiversity recommended reform of the school curriculum so that children learn about and develop an appreciation of nature and the natural world.

Anyone can get involved in birdwatching. It is easy to start, requires little or no money and is good for you. As this Guardian article about young birdwatchers shows, it can also capture the imagination: “More and more young people are feeling the thrill of fresh air, flashing wings and the sound of birdsong.”

You can birdwatch alone or in small friendship groups. It can be done as a family. And there is, of course, huge scope for schools to incorporate birdwatching into the curriculum — from learning about birds in science to art and photography activities, from school-wide birdwatch events to organised field trips and other outdoor work. The possibilities are endless.

The Forum for Life-Based Learning believes that we need to reform the school curriculum for young children to meet urgent life challenges. Two of our proposed nine curriculum themes are Animal Life and The Emotions, prioritising an appreciation of the natural world and mental wellbeing.

The Emotions

Find out more about the life-based learning Emotions theme

Animal Life

Find out more about the life-based learning Animal Life theme

RSPB

The RSPB website is packed with resources for families and schools

Image at the head of this article by Rajesh Balouria from Pixabay.

Act early on children’s mental health, says new report

Children's mental health

A new report on children and young people’s mental health recommends that any strategy to improve the mental wellbeing of the population as a whole should prioritise interventions at a young age.

The report, Young People’s Mental and Emotional Health: Trajectories and Drivers in Childhood and Adolescence, is published by the Education Policy Institute and the Prince’s Trust.

According to David Laws, executive chairman of the Education Policy Institute, the study aims to “track the prevalence of mental health issues through childhood and to seek to identify the underlying drivers of emotional and mental health problems.”

Although some of its focus relates to the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic over the last ten months, the study was conducted over two years using data from the Millennium Cohort Study.

It charts changes in young people’s mental health between childhood and adolescence and examines the main factors that adversely affect young people’s mental health. These include poverty, heavy use of social media, family arguments, bullying and lack of physical exercise.

In its section on policy recommendations, the report says the following:

As most lifelong mental health issues are seeded in adolescence and early adulthood, it is clear that any strategy to reduce the burden of mental ill-health for the population as a whole should prioritise interventions in this early period of life.

Young People’s Mental and Emotional Health: Trajectories and Drivers in Childhood and Adolescence, published by the Education Policy Institute and the Prince’s Trust

A curriculum strategy that addresses children’s mental health

The Forum for Life-Based Learning advocates a new approach to the curriculum for children aged 5 to 11. Life-based learning takes the issue of mental health seriously. A life-based curriculum will help children to grow up emotionally resilient. The Emotions is one of nine life themes, each with equal priority, that form of the framework of a life-based curriculum.

The Emotions

Find out more about the life-based learning Emotions theme

Urgent Priority

Read about why we urgently need to tackle this issue

EPI Report

Click to read and/or download the EPI’s report on mental health in full

Image at the head of this article by Jess Foami from Pixabay.

Our schools can help us to tackle the loneliness epidemic

The loneliness epidemic is emphasised by the hands of an old person. Many old people live alone and isolated.

As my website article ‘Fragmented Communities’ makes clear, our communities are in trouble. Fixing them is an urgent priority. Too many lives are blighted by prejudice, discrimination, intolerance, violence and anti-social behaviour. Perhaps receiving less media attention but no less socially destructive is the impact of loneliness, isolation and separation. We have a loneliness epidemic.

Social isolation is a reality in every neighbourhood. It affects the young and the old alike, as well as everyone in between. The Jo Cox Commission claimed that loneliness “is as harmful to health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day and affects nine million UK people.”

The demographics don’t help. As the number of older people increases, so does the number of people living alone following the death of a partner. More than two million people in England over the age of 75 now live alone.

Being alone does not necessarily mean loneliness, of course. However, as the Jo Cox Commission makes clear, loneliness is an urgent problem for many, one amplified by the Covid pandemic. In November the BBC reported that more than four million people were “always or often lonely”.

The solution is neither quick nor easy, but — as I argued in a recent post — any long-term strategy to build stronger communities must involve looking at what we are teaching children in school. Today, more than ever, we need to raise the profile of community education, contributing to the work of repairing what is broken and building stronger communities in the longer term.

There is much good practice already taking place. In many areas, schools are the beating heart of the local community. We need to go further, using the curriculum to educate children in how to contribute positively to their community, as well as promoting community values of trust, respect and interdependence.

For example, we could adopt a more systematic approach to developing links between schools and those who are at greatest risk of isolation and loneliness, something that is surely more practicable that ever in this age of digital interconnectedness.

The Forum for Life-Based Learning advocates the introduction of a life-based curriculum for primary-school children, with ‘Community’ as one of nine equal themes through which all subject learning can be delivered.

Community

Find out more about the Community learning theme

Life-Based Learning

Learn more about what life-based learning involves

An Urgent Priority

Why we need a long-term strategy to tackle community breakdown

Image at the head of this article by Sabine van Erp from Pixabay

‘Build Back Better’ must include tackling children’s mental health

Prince's Trust promotes mental health

Children’s mental health at a premium in these Covid times.

Another report — this one released in the last couple of days by the Prince’s Trust — supplies yet more evidence of the damaging effects of the Covid-19 pandemic on young people’s mental health.

Sadly, current problems merely add to an already existing crisis. We need an approach to looking after our children and young people that not only addresses acute and immediate problems but also puts in place a bold strategy to promote future wellbeing.

The report, The Prince’s Trust Tesco Youth Index 2021, contains worrying and sometimes shocking statistics. It says that “more young people are feeling down or depressed than at any other time in the history of the Youth Index.” Click on the link below to read and/or download the report.

This observation aligns with evidence from mental health charities and others. For example, in December we highlighted the work of the young people’s mental health charity Young Minds, who said that demand for the charity’s services has been “higher than ever”. In October we posted about a report in the British Journal of Psychiatry which stated that anxiety among young people has trebled in the last 20 years.

However, the Prince’s Trust report also offers hope:

The research indicates that while the pandemic has taken its toll on young people’s mental health and wellbeing, many are also more motivated than ever to make a positive change for their future.

Prince’s Trust Tesco Youth Index 2021, Executive Summary

Life-based learning is all about looking to the future. It aims to empower children by giving them the knowledge and skills to look after themselves, to create positive, long-lasting relationships in vibrant communities, and to live in an environmentally-friendly, sustainable way.

Life-based learning also takes the issue of mental health seriously. A life-based curriculum will help children to grow up emotionally resilient. The Emotions is one of nine life themes, each with equal priority, that form of the framework of a life-based curriculum.

The Emotions

Find out more about the life-based learning Emotions theme

Urgent Priority

Read about why we urgently need to tackle this issue

Prince’s Trust Report

Click to read and/or download the Prince’s Trust report

The UK Primary School National Curriculum needs an urgent reboot

National Curriculum reform: The gap between what is known and what is delivered to children in the National Curriculum is every widening. 

For example: children learning about and looking after their bodies (1), their emotions (2) and their minds (3).

(1) Physiology scientists know more about the body, yet the National Curriculum focus is not on the knowledge and the skills children need to be genuinely supported in learning about and looking after the body. 

(2) Psychologists know more about how to develop emotional resilience (EQ if you like), but the knowledge is not applied to the learning set up in a consistent and intentional way so children are not getting the emotional development they could be getting.

(3) Cognitive neuroscientists know so much more about how the brain learns and therefore, how teachers can facilitate learning so that children can learn the way the brain works – it is not happening

Given the urgent challenges facing individuals in today’s fast moving and everchanging society, the sooner the National Curriculum gets its act together the better.

What is our response to the damaging effects of social networking?

Social media damage is highlighted in the image with the caption 'The Social Dilemma'.
soci

The Social Dilemma docu-drama, available on Netflix, is a must-watch for parents and teachers — and a wake-up call for us all.

The Social Dilemma is a 2020 American “documentary-drama hybrid” which explores the rise of social media and the phenomenon of social networking. In its own words it “explores the dangerous human impact of social networking, with tech experts sounding the alarm on their own creations.”

Parents and teachers know the hours children spend on devices of one sort or another and how much technology is capable of eating into family life and home learning. Many schools have banned mobile phones, worried about the impact on learning in school.

However, there is a much more sinister side to social media, according to the documentary-makers. The damage it is causing — including to our children — is alarming and perhaps not what we might expect.

If you have access to Netflix, I highly recommend this 94-minute programme. If not, follow the links below to see excerpts and to watch a discussion involving some of the people who made the programme.

Official Clip 1

Official Clip 2

Discussion

As parents and teachers, we share a common desire — as well as a responsibility — to safeguard our young people. We want young people to be confident and creative users of information and communication technology. At the same time, online safety — especially in relation to young people and social media — is one of the major public health issues of our time.

In addition to safeguarding implications, social media also impacts on the way we communicate with each other and the relationships we form as well as on our mental health and wellbeing.

Life-based learning addresses those challenges directly. It prioritises giving children the knowledge and skills to look after their mental wellbeing, to communicate effectively and to create positive, long-lasting relationships in vibrant communities.

Click here to read more about the Emotions, Communication and Relationships learning themes.

Taking an active interest in nature improves children’s mental health

Nature improves children's health. Image shows child holding garden bucket with pansies growing in it.

One of the undoubted positives to come out of a year of unprecedented difficulties, challenges and misery is the abundance of evidence that an active interest in nature improves mental wellbeing. This needs to be properly reflected in the school curriculum.

Millions of people, their everyday lives and routines suddenly on extended pause, found themselves with plenty of time on their hands — time to look around, go for walks, get stuck into gardening or just nurture some seedlings in a window box. Time, in other words, to interact with and appreciate nature.

In a post in May we highlighted a Royal Horticultural Society poll in Britain that found that 71% of respondents felt that gardens and outdoor spaces had helped them with their mental health during the first Covid lockdown.

In the same week The Guardian reported that people were discovering that “growing plants does wonders”. It referred to a 2018 study which found that gardening produced similar benefits to cognitive behaviour therapy.

The article also quoted Dr Alan Kellas, of the Royal College of Psychiatrists: “There is considerable evidence that 120 minutes’ exposure to nature a week is a key factor in maintaining positive mental health.”

This surely applies as much to children as it does to adults. Our children need to be learning about plants and about nature more generally, including the impact on mental wellbeing. We need to engage children’s interest in direct ways so that learning about the world around us is ‘hands-on’ and experiential.

This might include looking for locally grown produce in supermarkets, linking plants to diet, cookery classes and flower science. All children should also be given experience of growing vegetables in the school garden.

The Merged Action Curriculum, an example of a life-based curriculum, has Plant Life and The Emotions as two of its nine curriculum themes — prioritising an appreciation of nature and mental wellbeing.

Image at the head of this article by congerdesign from Pixabay