Schools in Thames Valley launch daily mindfulness toolkit

Daily contemplation and mindfulness to be part of school week to help tackle growing mental health crisis

The Church of England in the Thames Valley has launched its first interactive contemplation and meditation toolkit for school pupils and teachers. The Space Makers Contemplative Toolkit was developed in response to the growing mental health crisis among young people as a way of encouraging a time of daily reflection away from the pressures of school and society.

An increase in digital screen, technology and social media use is placing young people in danger of becoming less connected with their families and communities as well as leading to increased mental health issues as self-worth is continually measured against the popularity of online profiles. The Children’s Society recently reported children are becoming more unhappy with 12% of children described as having low wellbeing and a quarter of a million struggling with their mental health as a result of the pandemic.[i]

Pilots of the toolkit at several schools in the Diocese have demonstrated that including a short 5 to 10-minute period of contemplation and self-reflection into daily school life has a decidedly beneficial effect on the wellbeing, flourishing and mental health of pupils and staff.

The Right Reverend Dr Steven Croft, Bishop of Oxford, said:

“I am pleased that we have created a practical and easy to use toolkit that will enable young people in our schools to explore self-reflection and contemplation and to understand the importance of looking after their mental health.

“All children and young people should flourish mutually as God intended, know that they are deeply loved, and have the opportunity to learn spiritual practice in a familiar and comfortable environment.

“It is our hope that schools across the Diocese will adopt regular contemplation practice and encourage young people to develop these healthy habits for the future to help them find peace, hope and fulfilment in life.”

The Reverend Charlie Kerr, School Chaplaincy Adviser, Diocese of Oxford:

“I am excited to see the transformation Space Makers can create for pupils and staff in our schools. The growing pressures on young people and the impact of the pandemic on the mental health of the nation demonstrate a need for better understanding of and support for mental health.

“Teaching pupils to understand and share their thoughts and feelings from a young age is vitally important. Valuing and caring for children and young people is at the heart of Jesus’ teaching. Providing space and time for contemplation and self-reflection is just one of the many ways we can nurture the next generation.”

Ailsa Tooling, Year 6 Teacher at Goring CE Primary School, shares how Space Makers helps her pupils navigate the world around them:

“When the whole of education sometimes seems to be about targets and results and pressure, Space Makers gives students the chance just to be, rather than do.

“I feel that the children leaving Goring CE Primary school, through this experience, are more whole. We’ve given them techniques they can use for life. These children are better prepared for what’s coming next.”

The toolkit is founded on pathways that have resourced and benefitted Christians for generations. It focuses on five key practices, one for each day of the school week: Stilling, Noticing, Dwelling, Mending and Blessing. These practices include the use of a simplified form of Ignatian and Examen spiritual practices and explore:

  • becoming aware of one’s surroundings and oneself,
  • recognising the absence and presence of faith, hope and love in different moments of life,
  • listening and finding meaning in the words of the Bible,
  • seeking the forgiving and healing of oneself and others,
  • discerning how oneself can be a blessing to others

The toolkit is designed in an easily accessible way so that pupils can run the sessions themselves and share reflections with their peers. Each pack contains a teacher’s booklet, A4 classroom cards with detailed practice exercises, a classroom poster and sticker sheets.