This November saw our Junior School girls take part in the School's first 'Well-being Week'. It proved to be a most interesting, invigorating and insightful week as we have all explored what well-being means and what we can do to enable both our own and other people’s. There have been numerous workshops, events, talks and activities – from daily Wake-Up and Shake-Up to Little Meerkat’s Big Panic to visiting the Three Cooks Kitchen charity. In the Junior School we structure our approach to well-being around the five principles of: Connect, Be Active, Take notice, Keep Learning, Give – this week was very much a focus, rather than a new ‘initiative’ for the School.
The World Health Organisation defines well-being as when: ‘every individual realises his or her own potential, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to her or his community’. So, it does not mean living a life without stress in which we are always happy and everything and everyone is in tune with us. Rather, it is the capacity to choose how we respond to and engage with a world which is endlessly rich but unpredictable.
We were delighted to welcome Dr Mary Welford from Compassionate Education in to School on Tuesday. Having already worked with staff earlier in the year, Mary spent time with Lower I-Lower III exploring how they can manage worries and anxieties, and then gave a talk to parents in the evening.
On first communication with the School, Dr Welford observed that The Abbey was already well on its journey towards looking after well-being and hopes that through continuing engagement she will, in tandem with the efforts of the School, be able to enhance this. An INSET day with the staff marked the foundation of the well-being framework, due to the oft-neglected point highlighted by Dr Welford that staff well-being and student well-being are inextricably linked. She emphasised that this well-being framework is not necessarily psychology led, but in many ways teacher led and thus can be embedded into day-to-day learning. Genuine mindfulness cultivates a non-judgemental attitude both to oneself and to others, that leads to compassion. It is not a ‘one size fits all’ scenario and therefore it is important for Dr Welford to work alongside the School to discover the approach that is right for The Abbey. Working with her will allow us to develop a conceptual, theoretical and practical overview of education at The Abbey through the prism of compassion.
Throughout her afternoon with the girls, Dr Welford sought to improve the girls’ confidence. She focused on their imagination, posture, self-support and support of others as a way of achieving goals and overcoming any situation which they may find cause them to become unsettled or anxious.
Wake Up and Shake Up
In a week focused on well-being, what better way to start the day than to ‘wake up and shake up’. A group of early rising Sixth Formers turned up the music and led the Junior School girls in some energetic dance choreography. With music such as ‘Waka Waka (This Time for Africa)’ by Shakira on full volume, everyone gathered outside ready to get moving in preparation for the day ahead. Smiles and laughter were observed all round, with many staff members refusing to miss out on the opportunity to showcase their dance moves.
On Monday, Transition girls participated in a Story Massage session. Story Massage involves the use of ten simple movements associated with words that help to build up an engaging and interactive story. The girls were taught each of these ten movements and used them to accompany well known nursery rhymes and fairy tales. The benefits of positive touch for children are backed by extensive research with findings including:
Improved calmness and concentration, increased self-confidence, self-awareness and self-esteem, improved social skills, increased engagement in activities and better communication. The girls thoroughly enjoyed their new experience and have asked to share in this practise again, something which their form teachers are eager to do, considering the calm they experienced in the classroom post massage!
We shared the book 'Only One You' by Linda Kranz in the whole school assembly on Monday. It is about the deep love between two parent fish and their young son just about to swim off into the big wide ocean. They are sharing their wisdom and offering advice to him for the future... including amongst others 'always be on the lookout for a new friend', 'blend in when you need to and stand out when you have the chance', 'set aside some quiet time to relax and reflect every day'.... and their last and most important message... 'there is only one you in this great big world, make it a better place'. With such poignant messages and beautiful illustrations, the book was the perfect inspiration for a whole school art project. Each girl designed and painted their own pebble fish which will be displayed in the grounds of the school as a reminder of the role they each play in our world.
On Wednesday afternoon, the girls took part in yoga sessions, centralising on relaxation and serenity. Yoga has proven to have many health benefits, both physical and mental, thus making it a perfect inclusion for well-being week. A focus on breathing initially relaxed the girls, before being taken through some popular yoga poses – child’s pose, downward-facing dog and tree pose were among their favourites. Each pose involved stillness and an awareness of posture, performed splendidly by all the girls, especially when considering that for the majority of girls, this was their first experience with yoga.
On the Thursday of well-being week, the girls received a visit from some friendly jungle animals in an interactive production: ‘Little Meerkat’s Big Panic’. The production is based on a book by anxiety and parenting expert, Jane Evans, exploring the neuroscience of anxiety and calm.
The girls were seated on a large tapestry rug and a semi-circle of floor cushions, a relaxed atmosphere was created, ready to be transported to Kalahari Desert and the story of the meerkat family and their friends. To begin, a puff of smoke entered the room, swiftly followed by the sweet smell of vanilla and we were introduced, through music and song, to the members of the meerkat family.
‘Little Meerkat’s first day on Lookout Duty arrives, however once she climbs the Lookout Tree, she finds it a bit overwhelming and falls asleep. Waking to find her meerkat family and friends gone, she begins to panic. Kind Elephant and Wise Monkey are on hand to help Little Meerkat learn to feel calmer and help her find the missing meerkats.’
The performance was followed by a sensory play session demonstrating how easily accessible resources can help everyone to regulate their nervous systems. The aim of the multi-sensory show is to support healthy brain development, attachment and good health for all. This combination of original songs, focussed interaction and multi-sensory experiences, created a beautiful experience - the girls were utterly engaged throughout.
All in all, Well-being Week has been both an enjoyable and knowledgeable experience for all, with everyone exploring the many aspects and approaches to maximising living a happy and purposeful life.
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