Now Or Never

'Just take a deep breath': Why this class is learning mental health lessons

Each student in this Grade 5 and 6 class has a kit full of mental health and mindfulness tools.

Each student in this Winnipeg classroom has a kit full of mental health and mindfulness tools

Research by the Canadian government shows that 70 per cent of mental health problems begin in childhood or adolescence. (Tom Wang/Shutterstock)

In a middle-years classroom at Champlain School in Winnipeg, a group of students are sitting quietly on yoga mats. They're ready for their next assignment.

At the front of the class their teacher, Catherine Siller, tells them what to do:

Anything that might be bothering us from the morning or the weekend or even from recess, I want you to focus on that energy right now. Take a deep breath in, and push that negative energy right out.- Catherine Siller

Siller is leading her Grade 5 and 6 class in a mindfulness meditation. All year long, this group of young students has been learning about the importance of caring for their mental well-being.

"What do we say?," Siller asks as they finish the meditation.

"Namaste," the class responds. 

Building mental health toolkits

The students have been getting help throughout the school year from a cardboard box. Each student has a "Thrival Kit", which is filled with tools to help young people work on their mental health. 

The project  was developed by the Canadian Mental Health Association and the Manitoba Advocate for Children and Youth. Research by the Canadian government shows that 70 per cent of mental health problems begin in childhood or adolescence. 

Ethan says that drawing in his mindfulness journal helps calm his mind. (CBC)

Today, Ms. Siller's class is writing in their journals. 

"It's like my safe spot," said Caily, "my negative thoughts go in here and it's like they're gone out of my mind. It makes me in a better mindset." 

Ethan often draws in his journal, which he says relaxes his mind. He said the kit has taught him some important mindfulness lessons:

"If you're in a bad mood, stay calm. If you're sad, stay calm. You don't want to hurt anybody else's feelings. Just take a deep breath in and out and you should be good to go." 

Another classmate pulls a small item from the box — a simple rock.

"We have a mindful rock," he said, "when we're doing meditations we can take it out, hold it and squeeze it in our hands."

Each Thrival Kit comes equipped with mindfulness journals for the students to write in, as well as other mental health tools. (CBC)

Strategies to fight stress

Siller says that teaching children about mental health early helps them grow into successful adults.

"We fill their brains with strategies for math and for science and how they're going to be successful," said Siller, "but we forget that in order to be successful in anything — our minds have to be in the right space."

This is the second year that students have had their Thrival Kits, and they're encouraged to add objects that they find effective to combat stress in their lives.

We forget that in order to be successful in anything our minds have to be in the right space.- Catherine Siller

Siller said that she's seen her class change because of the kits.

Not only are the kids taking mental health seriously, she said, the kits are making them better students.

"Once we have those tools and have integrated them into our day — it makes the impact of learning even more."