Reading to Support Mental Health

We are all experiencing unprecedented and uncertain times. Schools have closed for the majority of children and we are all having to get used to a new way of living, for the time being. All of us need support to adapt to the situation and take care of our mental and physical health.

By Sarah Dean on 26 Mar 2020

The Blue Sky Never Leaves by Charlie Mackesy (2019)

We are all experiencing unprecedented and uncertain times. Schools have closed for the majority of children and we are all having to get used to a new way of living, for the time being. All of us need support to adapt to the situation and take care of our mental and physical health. Schools are doing everything possible to maintain a sense of normality for their pupils. It has been inspiring to witness the daily support provided by school staff and others who are volunteering their time or expertise. Not only setting online tasks or holding classes remotely, they are providing crucial support for parents and carers to teach and help their children emotionally and academically throughout these challenging times.

Before the current situation, it was already evident that children’s mental health needed to become more of a focus for society. An NHS report (2018) showed that one in eight children, aged 5-19, have been diagnosed with at least one mental disorder. This report also discussed children’s mental health in broader terms, commenting on the number of children who report feelings of anxiety during their daily lives. Mental health has had an increasing media focus in recent years, with many charities and health organisations developing amazing campaigns and services to support sufferers. Schools have already worked hard to improve pupil and staff wellbeing, however these support systems are now more important than ever.

So, during this time, how can teachers continue to support pupils in maintaining positive mental wellbeing?

How can we help them to relax, reduce anxiety and recognise and understand their emotions?

Research overwhelmingly shows that reading reduces stress and improves mental wellbeing. Research by Dr. David Lewis (2009) found that reading as little as six minutes a day can reduce stress levels by 68%, reducing heart rate, easing muscle tension and improving state of mind. Reading reduced stress more effectively than music, drinking a cup of tea, walking or playing video games. Reading is a simple, easy and beneficial activity for children at home either alone or with others. It can provide ‘alone time’ and a chance to escape the ‘real world’. Immersion in a favourite book helps us forget immediate worries and provides excitement and adventure, exploring fantasy worlds and meeting extraordinary characters.

If you are setting online work for children, why not let that task encourage them to read a favourite book? Or perhaps a new book?

At One Education, we have found a selection of enjoyable, interesting and exciting extracts for children to access easily online and read at their leisure. Why not download these extracts on our website and share them with your pupils and parents over social media or via your school website? Encourage them to spend time on their own or with a loved one to ‘escape into another world.’

Here are just a few examples of carefully selected new releases, award winning books and old-time classics to help children and families to sit and unwind during their time at home and enjoy a good story:

Also available on our website are discussion questions created for each to encourage families to talk about the books. These are free to download and can be provided as daily or weekly tasks for pupils to participate in at home. They are designed to facilitate a conversation based around characters, plots, themes, or simply their likes and dislikes within the books. We have also provided comprehension resources for extracts to support understanding. Our partners’ Peters have created lists of 100 books to read for every year group. You can find these on both our resources page and the Peters website.

Why not ask children to write and record a mini book review and ask parents to tweet any videos?

This could be a great way to encourage reading for pleasure, improve digital skills and develop confidence. It is also a lovely way for pupils to connect with their peers.

Further research demonstrates the positive impact of reading stories as children’s books address challenges that they may be dealing with in their day-to-day lives. There are many authors who have written books where characters may be dealing with similar emotions such as Malorie Blackman, Susan Verde and R.J. Palacio. Research demonstrates that children who read fiction have been shown to improve their levels of empathy and develop their understanding of someone else’s beliefs, feelings and thoughts. This in turn enables them to understand their own emotions and help them to relate to characters and empathise (The Reading Agency and BOP, 2015).

Empathy is now more important than ever. Our friends at Empathy Lab have created resources to support empathy building and encourage children to talk about their emotions. Our free to download resources focus on some of this year’s Empathy Day texts, including:

At One Education it is our upmost priority to support teachers and pupils through these challenging times. Please feel free to download the resources and share them with other schools. Watch our twitter feed for more resources being released for writing and vocabulary, plus free webinars for staff to engage in networking and CPD.

We are all in this together, and we will support you every step of the way.


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