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Nourishing children’s wellbeing

Supporting children through creatively exploring our connections with seasonal change

Schools for all Seasons: Nature noticing. Image Credit: Neal Megaw

This case study is about Schools for All Seasons, a project across schools in Cornwall, which explored how creativity and seasonal change can support children’s wellbeing in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. Written and led by Real Ideas.

This is one of 25 case studies highlighting the value of arts in schools and education settings, curated by arts education researcher Sarah B Davies. The suite of case studies illustrates the research The Arts In Schools: Foundations for the Future, by Pauline Tambling and Sally Bacon, due to be published in 2023.

About the project

It is widely accepted that the lockdowns during the COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent school closures had a profound impact on the wellbeing of children and young people.

In response to this, the Schools for all Seasons project took place between March 2022 and September 2022, delivered by Real Ideas, funded by The National Lottery on behalf of Headstart Kernow and Cornwall Council. 10 Primary schools and 2 SEN Units from across Cornwall worked with artists to explore new approaches to wellbeing and resilience. Using nature, observance of seasonal change, creativity, and trauma-informed approaches the children and teachers used music, cooking, writing and visual art to find moments within the school day to reflect and connect with their community. With a CPD programme delivered by artists for teachers, and trauma-informed training for artists delivering the programme, Cornwall Council invested in a creative workforce, building unique resources to be shared beyond the project with other schools.

What worked well

The project worked within the context of very rural schools, building experiences and resources that could be shared digitally and revisited seasonally.

Where the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic had eroded children’s confidence and communication skills, the project developed bite-sized ideas that could be returned to, working through limited capacity to concentrate now back in classrooms for many children. Artist involvement and experience in high quality delivery was key to the confidence of both children and staff, underpinned with training specifically to ensure schools and artists understood the complexity of a trauma-informed approach to creative learning and activity.

Every Schools for All Seasons lead staff member involved felt that the project highlighted and ‘gave permission’ for time to be spent outdoors, using creativity and the arts as a catalyst for wellbeing and mental health at a desperate point in time for children.

Artist involvement and experience in high quality delivery was key to building the confidence of both children and staff and was underpinned with training specifically to ensure schools and artists understood the complexity of a trauma-informed approach to creative learning and activity.

“We had our feast day today and I have to say, that it was the absolute best day of my entire teaching career, and I cannot wait to do the project next year all the way through the seasons. I loved every second of the day…Thank you so much for having us be part of your fabulous project! The Writers Block CPD we did inspired me so much, I’ve bought a notebook and have started poetry. That was also the best CPD I’ve ever done.” (Teacher, Trewirgie Junior School, Schools for All Seasons participant)

“It has been proven that a connection with nature can be hugely beneficial in releasing stress and anxiety and, combined with creativity, it can be a conduit for expression and reaching out post-trauma.” (Head of Psychological Wellbeing (Wave MAT))

Within the project, The Almanac Suite was commissioned as a tool for schools and teachers to be able to create moments of ‘listening’ to encourage stillness, reflection and imagination inspired by music reflecting the changing seasons in Cornwall. It will be a unique digital resource, available on open access platforms for schools and families to use downloaded through music platforms such as Spotify from late Autumn 2022.

Because of isolation, high screen use, limited access to the outdoors and wearing masks, children have found ways of communicating feelings extremely difficult. Through resources provided by The Writers Block – ‘The Curious Writer’ – supported by CPD for teachers and Roger Luxton and Emma Mansfield (Lovely Projects/Cornwall Music Education Hub), children were encouraged to create songs that followed each season. These were then performed as part of concerts at both Newquay Orchard (21st June 2022) and at The Eden Project (18th July 2022).

What was challenging?

There were continued pressures that schools needed to navigate. These included ongoing staff and pupil absence due to Covid, which meant that some schools could not participate as fully as anticipated in opportunities for CPD and led to a rescheduling of workshops and events.

We also found that rural isolated schools were hugely disadvantaged in being able to participate in activity due to a lack of transport. One school was unable to participate in the celebration at Eden Project as they could not find a coach available to take them on a 1½ hour journey between their school and the site, the train would have taken them 4 hours and then they were not able to get a bus from the train station as there were only two per day. By creating a model that also allowed for school-based feast celebrations they could still include their community in their work and share their learning.

What can others learn?

Schools For All Seasons has taken some of the better elements that came out of lockdown – reconnecting with nature, arts and crafts, slowing down to spend time noticing the landscapes around us and valuing the special relationships we have.

With the emphasis in the school curriculum to catch-up, children needed to break out of the classroom, even for a few moments, to reflect on the different seasons and what they each brought. By working with key partners across Cornwall, in collaboration with artists trained to work with children experiencing trauma, we have the foundations for an ongoing project, where mindfulness, arts and culture become an essential part of school experience.

Connecting schools with a curated toolbox that could be revisited seasonally works. It allows children to notice their own landscape changing and not having to book expensive coaches means locations that are rurally isolated can have activity that can be built upon in small ways, rather than equating cultural activity as something that requires a visit to a large cultural building or city.