Local Children take part in "Peace Education"
Children from a Lancaster primary school and a pupil referral unit experienced a greater sense of confidence and self-esteem after taking part in a unique 'Peace Education' project.
The project was the result of a collaborative effort involving Morecambe Bay PCT Health Promotion Service, the Richardson Institute at Lancaster University and the Peace Foundation.
It followed concerns raised by local head teachers about the mental well-being of children and the way mental states such as depression and anxiety were impacting on social relationships and behaviour in the classroom. Research* indicates that there are clear links between low self-esteem, under-achievement and social disadvantage.
The children were offered sessions on 'The Art of Living in Peace', a training process developed by the Peace Foundation. This involved teaching relaxation techniques and the use of affirmations in order to raise self-esteem and develop coping strategies.
Facilitator David Keith, from the Peace Foundation, worked with a class of year four children from Willow Lane Community Primary School and a group of pupils from the Lancaster Primary Pupil Referral Unit over five weeks.
The weekly sessions focused on a range of activities, such as stilling, relaxation and breathing techniques trust games and the use of affirmations. Each child was given a set of affirmation cards to keep for themselves. Sleeping was also discussed and the children were given strategies to help them to relax at bedtime. The sessions also provided an opportunity for group sharing, supporting and problem solving.
Researcher Tracey Absolom, who took observed sessions and conducted pre and post study questionnaires with the children and staff, said that the children showed increased confidence and self-esteem after the project.
Children from the primary school reported the project had made them 'feel confident, better and to have more friends', 'feel calmer' and 'feel happier'. Many of them said that they were practising the relaxation techniques at bedtime and as a result were able to sleep better.
Tracey noted that the pupils from the Pupil Referral Service appeared more confident and were more likely to use open body language and initiate conversation. The children reported improving in their work, having better relationships with carers and friends and generally feeling better in themselves.
One unexpected bonus of the project was that a group of year six children from Willow Lane School, on hearing about the sessions from the year four pupils, asked to be taught the basic relaxation techniques. They gave up their free time at break and after school to attend the extra sessions that David Keith agreed to run. The sessions became so popular that David was having to turn children away due to lack of space!
However, as Tracey notes, for a project like this to be sustained, it needs to be embedded within the organisational life of the school, as part of the 'Healthy School' and to have staff trained and committed to delivering the sessions within a supportive culture and ethos.
* Acheson, Sir D. (1998), Independent Inquiry Into Inequalities in Health report HMSO.