Written by Rachel Burnell, Our wonderful Primary School Worker
Since 1954 the United Nations has celebrated the importance of children in our world.
In the UK we mark this date on May 14th as it is felt that this is a perfect time for children to get out into their neighbourhoods and be in nature at the start of summer.
One of the key aims of the day is to think about what kind of world we want for children. It's also an opportunity for anyone involved with children to raise awareness and funds for the projects they are running or the things they care about.
At acet UK, we care deeply about the fact that children are growing up in an ever-changing world where technology has a bigger impact than it has ever had before.
Children are turning to the internet for much of their social interaction and learning, and with that comes a host of challenges around the content they see and suggested ideas of what they should look like or aspire to.
We know that many children and young people struggle with their body image as a result of what they see and often try to imitate the role models they follow on social media sites.
One survey of 11–16-year-olds in the UK by Be Real found that 79% said how they look is important to them, and over half (52%) often worry about how they look.
In another survey by the Mental Health Foundation, 40% of young people (26% of boys and 54% of girls) said that images on social media have caused them to worry about their body image, possibly explained by the fact that social media allows for negative comparisons with others based on appearance.
The rise in time spent online also plays a part in worsening mental and physical health outcomes as children are spending a huge number of hours online and not getting the levels of fresh air and exercise previous generations were exposed to.
Furthermore, with greater expectations on children from a very young age to perform well in exams, we realise there is a huge amount of pressure on this next generation.
Currently, 1 in 6 young people aged 5 to 16 (or 5 in every classroom) are now known to have a probable mental health disorder (Mind 2021) which is a huge increase from 1 in 9 a few years ago.
National Children’s Day is therefore the perfect opportunity to spend time creating opportunities for play, creativity, nature and being outdoors with friends or family.
As an adult, I know that I still need these things in order to feel emotionally and mentally healthy, so children surely need these even more so.
It can be hard to find the right balance between work and leisure for many of us, but it is proven that spending at least a total of 120 minutes every week in nature can lead to good health and higher psychological well-being.
The Wildlife Trust study of primary age children found that 79% of pupils reported feeling more confident in themselves after spending time in nature, 79% reported better relationships with classmates and 84% felt capable of doing new things afterwards!
So, what kinds of activities can parents, youth workers and RSE educators do on May 14th (or any day really) to help children build their self-esteem and feel happy in the world they live in?
This year the NCD falls on a Sunday, so it could be a good time for families to visit a farm, plant seeds, go on a nature trail or even just take a bike ride in the park. Spotting the beauty of natural surroundings and slowing down to breathe in the fresh spring air can be beneficial to the body and mind.
In the run up to the week, schools could engage in creative projects, allowing children to work together on building teamwork skills as well as works of art.
There is even maths in nature if this can’t be completely eluded! In my primary teaching days, I would often use the Fibonacci sequence as an excuse to get outside and count the petals on flowers! It is a perfect way of seeing God’s fingerprints stamped all over creation and even in the human body.
One group of children, I have recently had the joy of working with, is a school unit with pupils on the autistic spectrum. Working with them on emotional regulation and communication has taught me a lot about the importance of creative and sensory activities for calming down.
However, I believe that all children can benefit from sensory play, whether that is sand art, play-doh modelling or bubble blowing.
Using all the senses has an important role in development and in helping children regulate their feelings as well as managing all the stimuli that bombards them day to day. If we want children to grow into healthy, happy adults, this starts in childhood with the opportunities we provide and the relationships we form.
The National Children’s Day website has some excellent examples of how the occasion was celebrated last year, as well as suggested activities that individuals or groups could take part in to celebrate sports and physical activity, outdoors and nature, music, theatre and dance, creativity and imagination or science and our world. Here are some examples of sports and physical activity below that the NCD page suggests:
- A swimming gala or pool fun
- A special tennis/badminton/squash tournament
- Football/rugby/cricket games or skills sessions
- A fun rounders or table tennis competition
- An athletics day
- An obstacle race or silly sports like egg and spoon
- A tug of war
- A family hike or cycle ride plus a picnic
- A visit to an adventure playground or climbing wall
- An afternoon of silly games like welly-wanging
- A water fight
- Kite flying
- Go Ape!
- Go out on a canoe, kayak, pedalo
There are many more ideas for the other topics linked to positive emotional wellbeing which can be found on the site.
If anyone would like any further suggestions on mental wellbeing activities please do get in touch by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org. We currently have a number of activities being piloted in London primary schools and would be happy to deliver these FREE OF CHARGE this term.
Mental Health.org Body Image Report
Young Minds Mental Health Statistics
BBC report on spending time in nature