Seven young children sit quietly and listen carefully for the sound of the bell to stop. Only then can they open their eyes. The group is completely still and focused.
It is hard to believe that just moments before one of the youngsters, a six-year-old boy, was zigging and zagging around CareSouth’s Berkeley Community Hub at top speed.
Now he is like a Zen master, silent and still on his “magic carpet” mat while Relax Kids facilitator Di Riley takes the group through a series of mindfulness and relaxation activities.
The activities are divided into seven sections – Move, Play, Stretch, Feel, Breathe, Believe and Relax – and are designed to improve self-esteem, confidence and create positive thinking. This is Di’s first session and she is amazed at how well the students, aged between 6 and 11, respond to the activities, particularly given their earlier high energy levels.
“The beauty of this program is that it uses a range of tools like magic, storytelling and movement to engage kids and introduce them to relaxation, mindfulness and positive self-worth,” said Di. “We tell stories that they recognise and use simple words that they understand to remind them that they are loved and that they matter.”
Each section of the program gives children the tools required to build emotional resilience and better manage stress and anxiety. During Move, Play and Stretch the children learn that their bodies are healthy and strong. Feel and Breathe shows students the power of positive touch and calm breathing and teaches them about boundaries and personal space. Believe encourages children to use positive words to find the good in themselves and others. And Relax shows them how to switch off and be still and calm, an essential skill in this digital age. In between each section Di does a mindfulness exercise, using her bell, to teach students to focus on their immediate environment.
Disney films feature heavily in the program and the kids are quick to recognise familiar characters and link them to the skills and techniques Di teaches to promote resilience and manage emotional and mental health.
Play, Move and Stretch are popular. One of the group’s favourite activities is pretending to be Simba, from The Lion King, and attempting to outrun a wildebeest stampede (courtesy of two CareSouth caseworkers). This game teaches the youngsters that they are strong, resourceful and smart.
When it comes time to sit quietly on their magic carpet and practice their breathing and relaxation techniques they are equally engaged. The six-year-old, who was burning rubber running around the room at the start of the session, is a standout at relaxation.
When Di ends the session and asks the students to gently wiggle their fingers and toes before opening their eyes, the young boy is reluctant to move from his peaceful position. Eventually, he sits up and declares that relaxation was his favourite part of the day. “I liked relaxing and breathing and I feel happy,” he said.
Another child said she felt “safe and happy, really happy I loved this day”. While a 10-year-old said: “I felt very good. My favourite part was the Relax and Play.”