Over the past year I’ve been exploring Connect, which is a Personal, Social & Health Education (PSHE) curriculum. In doing so, I’ve pulled apart the programme from three different perspectives: Mum, researcher, primary school teacher.
I’ll start with my perspective as a Mum. As the unfamiliar Covid landscape unfolded I tried to navigate my children (and myself!) through it the best that I could. I found, on the whole, both of my girls adapted well to the lockdown situation and the subsequent changes to their routine. However, my youngest (who I strongly believe was sent to planet earth as a test of human patience) did struggle at times. Karate chops and air kicks are currently her principal form of communication and I often joke that she’s the equivalent of three children.
Throughout lockdown, on many more occasions than I’d like to honestly admit, it felt like I was failing to hook and retain the girls’ attention (which was all the more painful as a teacher mum!) So, I was quite keen to ensure that I, at least, made time during home schooling to focus on their mental wellbeing. We implemented weekly ‘focus on my head and body’ lessons (suitably named by my eldest child) and perfectly prescribed by the Connect curriculum in the form of ready-made lessons and supplementary script aids. We worked through each lesson week by week, using the accompanying Powerpoint presentations, Youtube video links and guided exercises. The girls looked forward to the Connect lessons and I learned a huge amount about them both. I didn’t measure it, but my gut says that the lessons positively impacted their wellbeing.
As a researcher, Connect really excites me because it’s a wellbeing curriculum that’s fully informed by the psychological research framework of an evidence based behaviour therapy. Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) focuses on values-driven positive behaviour change and is embedded within the Connect curriculum to help children to manage their thoughts, feelings and behaviours – helping them to become more resilient in this ever-changing world. Within my role as a researcher, I’m currently thinking about how Connect can be used in school as a targeted intervention for individual pupils who are struggling with their mental wellbeing, in addition to evaluating its use in the whole class setting for which it was designed. These are interesting avenues of research, but the structure of Connect, the resources that it comes with, and the research based from which it was built, make this a feasible and promising journey.
As a primary school teacher, and as an avid user and a follower of ACT for just over ten years, I was keen to apply ACT tools to the classroom. When I trained to become a teacher in 2016, I tried to adapt many of the adult ACT exercises, changing the complex language and adapting the exercises. Metaphors are a core component of ACT and adapting them for children was hard, sometimes I felt that I had completely missed the key message that the adult versions communicated so easily. I was asking the children to think hypothetically about abstract constructs. I knew that I was often losing the kids in the process of being overly descriptive and using lots of language, which actually misses the point of metaphor use. However, when I became aware of the Connect curriculum, I soon realised that it had already adapted many of the core ACT metaphors and exercises to be used with children.
As I pawed through Connect, I uncovered page after page of appropriate and powerful lesson plans (provided for children between the ages of 4 to 11 years). Most importantly for me, as a values-based curriculum, Connect guided me through how to discuss the things that are meaningful and important to the children that I was working with. I found that if I could tap into what was truly meaningful for each child, then they could anchor their behaviours to the things that were important to them, Karate-chop-air-kicks and all.