5 Creative ways to teach your students about mental wellbeing

A range of resources to support teachers and students to explore and express their feelings

10 October 2022

When we talk about ‘wellbeing’ it can mean lots of different things. In this blog, when we refer to mental wellbeing, we use it to mean how you’re feeling and the emotional resilience that helps you cope with everyday life's ups and downs.

As expressed by the charity Mind: “Good mental wellbeing doesn't mean you're always happy or unaffected by your experiences. But poor mental wellbeing can make it more difficult to cope with daily life.” Mental wellbeing plays an important part in mental health (a basic human right).

Mental wellbeing and mental health will already form part of your school’s PSHE curriculum (in the updated guidance on Relationships Education/RSE and Health Education), however, with the current mental health crisis facing young people and an ever-increasingly stressful world to navigate, we know teachers are looking for more ways to support their students to explore and express their feelings. Creativity can play an important role not only in expressing and processing emotions but also serves as a rewarding tool to cope with difficult thoughts and feelings, helping us to relax and cope with stress.

1. Look after your own wellbeing first

You need to practice what you preach. As expressed by these blogs by Andria Zafirakou and Lisa-Lea Weston, teachers need to look after their own mental wellbeing first. Not only will this model to students how to cope with everyday stresses but will produce a more relaxed environment for students to learn in the first place!

Take a look at the Free Dreamachine Teacher Wellbeing INSET resources, developed by A New Direction with support from Chartered College of Teaching and Education Support. They aim to help teachers discuss the value of self-care, challenge the belief that it is self-indulgent, try out a range of creative wellbeing activities, and plan how to develop these as habits in their day-to-day lives. It includes recordings of webinars and a resource that can be followed as an individual or be used to deliver a staff INSET in your school setting.

You can also use the tools and tips provided for free by Education Support with information on a range of topics from handling stress to preventing burnout and self-care tips. Visit the Whole School Wellbeing hub on Tes for guides, webinars, articles and training courses and check out BBC Teach’s Teacher Support page for more tips.

2. Explore the value of connections

The Health and Wellbeing Dreamachine resources, developed by A New Direction in collaboration with artists promote discussion with your class using expressive art activities to help pupils understand their own and others’ emotions and perceptions. A collection of 10 lesson plans for children aged 5 – 13 years old that focus on Personal Development and Health & Wellbeing, providing opportunities for children to reflect on their connection to each other and the world; developing self-esteem and strategies for self-care.

Our Recovery Curriculum resources were specifically developed in response to the first Covid lockdown in 2020 to support schools and pupils returning, however the activities are still relevant now – particularly lessons exploring relationships through drama, community through poetry and exploring ownership over our spaces. These lessons are most suited to Primary pupils but could certainly be adapted for older students.

3. Tap into the power of music

Our Teaching for Creativity Lesson Plan The Wellbeing Playlist aimed at Key Stage 3, but easily adapted for Primary students too, taps into the power of music as a tool for mental wellbeing. This resource, created in collaboration with The Roundhouse, will help students explore their emotions, deepen their understanding of what wellbeing means to them, and use playful experimentation to grow in confidence when expressing emotional statements. There are CPD videos accompanying the resource, and you can read about why The Roundhouse focused on the topic in this blog.

Support young people to ‘tune in’ to their emotions with these wellbeing activities by Place2Be’s Art Room and the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. This project helps young people listen mindfully to how they feel and express themselves through music and art.

4. Use visual art to express feelings

Creative tasks help take the emphasis away from embarrassing or delicate subject areas, allowing space for pupils to feel safe and supported in exploring personal issues. Whilst hands are busy, a mental space is created for reflections to be made without participants feeling under pressure.

In our Teaching for Creativity Crafting Conversations learning sequences, pupils explore their own emotions and expand their vocabulary around discussing theirs and other people’s feelings while taking part in drawing and sculptural exercises. There are CPD videos to go with the resource, and you can read a blog about why the topic is important by artist and resource writer Abigail Hunt here.

Place2Be have some activities from their Art Room to support being calm to tackle anxiety and worry, and using colour to explore feelings.

5. Connect with nature

Encourage your students to connect with nature and do some outdoor learning – time spent outdoors and engaging with nature is beneficial for wellbeing and can have positive impacts on mental health. They could try growing some plants, playing games outdoors, or spending time in green spaces – using them as inspiration for art and literature.

Taking positive action to protect the world we live in can support our wellbeing. Transform Our World have a collection of teaching resources that explore the topics of values and wellbeing. They include curriculum-based resources for a range of subject areas with activity kits, lesson plans, and tailored PowerPoint presentations.