25 May 2021

Extra-curricular activities are back - harness the power of a mental health support intervention within them!

This is month 8 of working through the Innovating Minds EduPod Platform for Mental Health leads and their teams. One of the areas we must continuously focus on as we work through the mental health kite mark accreditation scheme is how are we evidencing support for the students.

It is the mandate for the DMHL and the team to help build a culture of mental wellbeing where the school is not only pre-emptive but is also able to look at interventions for mild to moderate mental health.

I recently received an internal email that our Head teacher was inviting staff to submit ideas for projects as part of our Covid Catch-Up plan. This got me thinking as the DMHL Advisor of what we can do as a school for Mental health support interventions for YP after the year of Covid and 3 lockdowns.

As Schools are slowly starting to get back to normal with after school activities starting again - this blog is about the power of After school Extra-curricular pop-up style interventions for mental health support. In one of the Heads Together campaigns: 10 tips for talking to young people about their worries they mention “share a task”; “focus on making something. This feels very relevant if the school is finding the young person does not want to sit and talk with their tutor, a peer mentor or trained MHFA (mental health first aider) or if the student is showing attendance concerns.

Over the years, I have trialled out extra-curricular pop-up styled interventions. On the outside, they looked like a ‘school pop-up club’ or a ‘school trip’ where they were hanging out with other teens completing creative, non-competitive, extra-curricular tasks. But the reality was these were structured, time bonded intervention sessions, with a group of students who were facing mental wellbeing challenges and on the verge of becoming disengaged with school.

Here are some examples of the projects.

Students cooked a different 2 course meal each week and then sat down to eat & chat celebrating each other’s efforts in cooking their evening dinner.

  • The Bicycle Challenge

Old bicycles were donated and under the guidance of 2 enthusiastic bike engineer teachers, students were being taught how to remove worn bits and reassemble with new parts, so they can cycle away with it.

  • The Bush Craft Challenge

Students got to explore Survival Bush craft skills: fire lighting, tracking, shelter building, Nature art, campfire cooking, outdoor trust games, 1 to1 sessions, personal development exercises and Mindfulness in nature. The benefits of learning outside the classroom in the natural environment has a very positive impact on improving mental wellbeing and has been superbly documented in the Natural Connections Demonstration Project delivered in South West England by Plymouth University.


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The list is endless – work to the strengths of the teachers and local community, it could be anything from gardening and biodiversity clubs to knitting, pottery, art, music, storytelling and being a scientific inventor.

The strength of the intervention is in the objectives for the students:

  • their input was expected and valued
  • finish what they started
  • develop a growth mindset and try something out of their comfort zone
  • build trust and re-engage their relationship with adults, teachers and peers
  • encourage open and sincere communication and sharing
  • build their resilience by recognising where their sources of help are and their assets

Note: The good thing about these extracurricular styled interventions is you can use a mixture of adult volunteers from teaching assistants, social workers, counsellors, IT support staff, classroom and middle and senior leadership teachers.

The key to its success was that the Staff who were used were ready to move out of their teaching roles and get on a level playing field with the YP and complete a creative task with them, engaging in discussions and listening with compassion and empathy.

The results:

The first few sessions were about building trust and getting involved in the activities but as the sessions progressed the young people started to relax and, whilst doing something, personal information was revealed about the home life, of themselves, their fears & struggles. This enabled the adults to build a detailed breakdown about their : physical health; attitude to school; friendships; personal confidence; family relationships; values and communication skills.

Some students were highlighted by the adults facilitating the intervention as ‘troubled’ and cause for real concern about their general emotional wellbeing. Some of the observations were either new or only served to further re-enforce what we as a school were already finding. For example: Personal safety, sexual identity, respect and relationships, family relationships and relationship with food. Referrals were then put in place for further intervention relevant to these needs.

Based on the self-reporting surveys from the 40 students who took part - all students reported a marked improvement in self-worth; feeling useful; feeling more relaxed; being able to make clearer decisions and a definite enjoyment of the sessions.

  • It wasn’t just the student who gave positive feedback. Staff were impressed too:

“This was the first time I have ever encountered (name) outside of dealing with behaviour issues (I've never taught him) and he seemed like a different person.”

  • “(name) began the programme by making it obvious that he did not want to be there. However, by week 2, I saw a very different young person. He became more involved and tried more things. He made more eye contact and began to engage in conversation with staff. He also integrated more into the group. He showed an ability to stay on task over a considerable length of time. He took instruction well applying it to his learning. He became generally easy to have around.”

The real value in this intervention pop-up club idea is to allow the students to have some real face to face support time with an empathetic adult whilst doing a creative activity.

Because I did not have to 'teach' or 'manage' a class I was able to take time out to really listen. walk and talk. sit and laugh. ask for help. Connections were made. The healing process had begun. It needs to be noted there is no quick fix. The mental wellbeing challenge does not go away nor does the adversity facing them in their personal lives but what does change is their trust & relationship with the adults and peers ; how they view themselves and a greater awareness of their strengths and resources available to them and therefore their resilience. 

Finally, encouraging young people to get involved in after school clubs and school schemes is a guaranteed way in helping the young people have a sense of connectedness which is a recognised protective factor for mental wellbeing. It gives them resources in terms of the relationships they develop with peers and adults – these may well be the relationships they turn to for support later in their lives.

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