Central Bedfordshire Council news and press releases

Council initiative aims to boost children’s emotional wellbeing

15 April 2019

We are training schools in the use of innovative play techniques to help support children with social, emotional or mental health difficulties.

Last year, our Schools’ Forum allocated £70,000 of funding to provide group Theraplay to children in reception classes.

At a time when NHS data has highlighted that that one in eight children aged between five and 19 have a diagnosable mental health condition in the UK, this is an approach that focuses on natural patterns of playful and healthy interactions to build and enhance attachment, engagement, self-esteem and trust in others.

Our programme, which began in November and runs until December, will initially see 23 schools take part, with staff learning these principles and the skills involved in running adult-led, structured play groups called Sunshine Circles.

Playful techniques, such as blowing feathers or cotton wool balls to each other, popping bubbles, playing clapping games and many more are based on the interaction that happens between a parent and their child in the early years. They have been proven to make children feel more secure and valued by enhancing their emotional wellbeing and social skills, helping them get along with each other better and to feel more part of the community.

A 2015 research study carried out in Central Bedfordshire schools showed a huge difference in relationships following an intervention by adults using activities informed and based on Theraplay.

A paper on the study – written by Sue Salisbury, who is now leading the programme to train staff and implement Sunshine Circles in schools training – reflected the views on one adult participant, who said: ‘I feel the activities have brought us a bit closer together’. A child who also took part said: ‘I think that [adult] Mrs X and I should spend more time together and I like her a little bit more now’.

Sue, who is the Head of Outreach at The Jigsaw Centre in Houghton Regis, said: “I have used Theraplay myself in classrooms and I know it works. These groups help create close, trusting relationships between children and their teachers that result in warm, supportive classroom communities. When classrooms are nurtured with play in this way children quickly become more successful social beings, more resilient, and ready to learn.”

Director of Children’s Services, Sue Harrison, said: “We want happy children living in Central Bedfordshire. Recognising the benefits of Theraplay is an example of the innovative ways in which we’re aiming to make a real difference to young people’s lives, particularly for those with social, emotional or mental health difficulties.

“We also want every child to have the best possible start in life and to do well in education, and these techniques have been shown to help young people make friends, feel happier, more secure, while improving their general behaviour, confidence and self-esteem, in order to give them every chance of being successful.”

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