By Betsy Everett
Children in a Dales primary school who may be under pressure from the demands and pressures of life and the school curriculum have been given a “safe space” to which they can retreat.
The Haven, a small room in Askrigg Primary School, has been decorated and equipped to create a calm environment for any child who feels stressed, anxious, or in need of quiet time away from the classroom.
Guided activities introducing young children to the concept of “mindfulness” – appreciating the present moment rather than worrying about the past or the future – and encouraging them to express their feelings, have been developed with the aid of a mental health professional.
Jo Cromarty, mindfulness team manager for the Tees Esk and Wear Valleys NHS Foundation Trust, officially opened The Haven which parents Charlotte Reilly, Julia Clark and Nicola McCreadie had designed and decorated.
“The room has been a long time in the planning because it was so important to get this right,” said Julia. “We want to stress that it is definitely not a room just for children with particular needs, but for all children. Every child’s mental health is important and it is something that has to be talked about more openly.”
Executive head, Charlotte Harper, said the room had developed slowly over time, and would continue to evolve.
She told parents and children: “This is a time when we all need to think about emotional wellbeing and mental health. The curriculum puts a lot of stress on young children and can at times make them unhappy and stressed. We can’t change the curriculum, but we can change how we deal with it. Julia, Charlotte and Nicola have made The Haven a calm and relaxing space.”
As well as Askrigg pupils, the room will also be available to federation children from Bainbridge and West Burton when they come together each Friday, and to staff if they need it.
Ms Cromarty told children at the opening ceremony: “Being mindful means not worrying about the past or the future, but living in the moment and noticing what is around you: the colours of the trees, the weather, the smells. Using all of our senses to be present. Many of us spend very little time in this present moment. We worry about the past or the future, concentrating on planning ahead. We need to plan, of course, but there are times when we do it too much and wear ourselves out. We need to focus more on what’s happening here and now, and enjoy what we are doing.”
Encouraging the children to talk about feelings, Ms Cromarty asked: “How do you think you might be feeling to want to visit the room?”
Sad, lonely, nervous, irritated, stressed, and anxious, were some of the words used in response. One small girl said simply: “Sometimes you might think everybody matters apart from you.”