Students with visual impairment and complex needs are learning soothing techniques to help them deal with the stresses of everyday life.
The Royal Blind School, in Edinburgh, has been working on body awareness and relaxation techniques with their students for several years but after working with mindfulness trainer, Stan Godek, the school has created a more tailored and structured programme for their pupils.
Now the programme is the subject of a short film by visual impairment charity, Royal Blind, narrated by drama teacher, Aine Murphy, one of the minds behind the new programme.
Aine said mindfulness has had a ‘big impact’ on the lives of Royal Blind School students.
She said: “Our pupils have a lot of stresses throughout the day, whether it’s transitioning from one class to another, whether something unexpected happens or they are worrying about their exams, and sometimes these stresses get too much to manage, so mindfulness helps our young people to find strategies to be able to deal with that.
“Pupils are a lot more aware of breathing to calm down or using different strategies to calm down in moments of stress.
“It’s really nice to get feedback from parents, and students have talked about using mindfulness activities in performances, when they’re out at night if something stressful is happening and it’s really clear in and around the school that changes are happening. It’s a really good thing to see.”
Mindfulness is the act of paying more attention to the present moment, to your own thoughts and feelings and your environment in order to improve your mental wellbeing. The programme was introduced to help students cope with difficulties that can accompany visual impairment.
Mr Godek has authored a book on the topic, Mindfulness Techniques for Children and Young People – a Practical Guide, published by Children in Scotland, based his work with the Royal Blind School last year.
He said: “Changes in the children’s behaviour and learning were sometimes quite dramatic and in other cases occurred slowly, over a lengthy period of time.
“We saw improvements in the children’s understanding of themselves and why they behaved in certain ways; a lessening of anxiety levels; a better understanding of why they got angry about certain things and what to do to change this; improvements in self-esteem; increased understanding of how their behaviour affects other people; increased levels of empathy and compassion for others; an increase in concentration levels, in listening skills and in the ability to pay attention in the classroom.”
Mr Godek helped Aine and fellow teacher Caren Bryce to develop a mindfulness programme with an educational and psychological basis.
Staff introduced materials to the mindfulness exercises, bringing different textures, sounds and smells such as fur, feathers, water, sand, peppermint oil, leaves – even jelly, as an aid to story-telling and as ‘sensory stations’ for pupils to quietly explore.
The programme also involved Tai Chi, focussing on breathing and controlled movements, outside in the school grounds where possible.
Now Aine and fellow teacher Caren are developing the programme to develop the students’ sense of empathy and compassion.
Aine added: “Through working with Stan we’ve realised the importance of look at people’s moods, how they control their emotions, what their emotions are, having power over themselves and also awareness of other young people – empathy.”