A Guide for Educators: Five Impactful Mental Health Activities for Children and Adolescents

Why it matters: The number of children and teens seeking help for mental health issues is on the rise. Studies from 2020 show a 24% increase in emergency room visits for mental health issues among children aged 5-11, and a 31% increase among teens aged 12-17. As educators, we have a unique opportunity to promote and support mental health in our classrooms.

1. Encourage Exercise:

  • Why it’s important: Regular physical activity can significantly improve mental health and reduce symptoms of depression in children.
  • What to do: Incorporate physical activities into your daily schedule, from classroom exercises to after-school sports. Even brief breaks used during instruction to engage in brief physical activities such as “Simon Says” or stretching can have a positive influence. Use video games that encourage physical activity like Beat Saber or Just Dance for a more casual classroom setting.

2. Introduce Mindful Coloring:

  • Why it’s important: Coloring can increase focus and reduce anxiety. It’s a form of mindfulness that people of all ages can enjoy.
  • What to do: Encourage children to color during their leisure time or even include coloring as part of the curriculum. Complex coloring books might be a stress-reliever for older students. Exercising their imagination and adding to the enjoyment by coloring with a variety of mediums, such as scented crayons or glitter pens, can be a lot of fun.

3. Foster Animal Interaction:

  • Why it’s important: Research shows that interaction with animals can decrease anxiety in children.
  • What to do: Think about the idea of ‘desk pets’ as an alternative to having real pets at your school, in the event that this is not a possibility. Students can take care of and engage with desk pets, which can be inanimate things such as stress-relieving toys or sculptures. It might be helpful for kids to build a routine and foster sentiments of empathy and responsibility if they are given the task of caring for a desk pet. In addition, they can play the role of discussion starters and promote social contact among the students. If you want your children to have a more hands-on experience with animals, try holding a “show and tell” day at school when they are allowed to bring their pets. This has the potential to increase social connection while simultaneously lowering levels of stress. If pets aren’t an option, consider field trips to local animal shelters or farms for a similar therapeutic effect. Keep in mind that the purpose of this is to cultivate a sense of camaraderie and responsibility in children, both of which have the potential to make a substantial contribution to their mental health.

4. Promote Outdoor Activities:

  • Why it’s important: Outdoor activities can help students develop a variety of skills and reduce stress.
  • What to do: Time spent away from electronic devices and in natural settings, such as on a walk in the woods, in a class held outside, or participating in an outdoor sport, is beneficial to one’s mental health in a number of ways. It could be a good idea to organize outdoor clubs or events for older students, so that they can take pleasure in nature while also developing the ability to interact with others

5. Incorporate Music:

  • Why it’s important: Music is a powerful medium for expressing emotions, and regular music engagement has been shown to improve mental health.
  • What to do: Encourage students to listen to music as a kind of relaxation, or include activities that involve creating music as part of the school’s curriculum. This might include straightforward activities like singing songs with younger kids, or it could involve more involved responsibilities like creating and performing songs with older students.

The bottom line: As educators, we play a crucial role in promoting good mental health among our students. By incorporating these activities into our classrooms, we can help children develop resilience, manage their emotions, and establish good habits that can last into adulthood. Most importantly, we must remind our students that seeking professional help is okay and that mental health matters.


References:

Music therapy for adolescents with psychiatric disorders: An overview – PubMed. (2022, July 1). PubMed. https://doi.org/10.1177/13591045221079161

Gadomski, A. M., Scribani, M. B., Krupa, N., Jenkins, P., Nagykaldi, Z., & Olson, A. L. (2015, November 25). Peer Reviewed: Pet Dogs and Children’s Health: Opportunities for Chronic Disease Prevention? PubMed Central (PMC). https://doi.org/10.5888/pcd12.150204

G. W. (2019, May 27). The benefits of colouring in for children. Little Learners. https://littlelearnersuk.com/blog/the-benefits-of-colouring-in-for-children/

Leeb, R. T., & C. (2020, November 12). Mental Health–Related Emergency Department Visits Among . . . Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://doi.org/10.15585/mmwr.mm6945a3

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