Big Grey Sludge – ‘Express Yourself’ for Children’s Mental Health Week

3rd Feb 2021

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It’s Children’s Mental Health Week. Josh Gardner, who helps run our Love to Learn Homework Clubs, writes about the importance of building confidence and keeping young motivated during these difficult times.

“At our regular Homework Club before lockdown, painting was a frequent and popular activity. The children liked to mix all the paints together and completely cover the paper. We would always end up with one big grey sludge colour. It was horrible, but the result never really mattered. What was important was that the children could experiment and play together. That they laughed with their friends and just enjoyed the mess. If 2020, and the beginning of 2021, were a colour, it would most definitely be this sludgy grey. It is in no way desirable. And prolonged isolation has clearly affected the children’s mental health. I am pleased to say however that, as with their painting, there have been positives in the mess of it all. And we have managed to have some fun along the way.

To give some context, most of the children we work with live in small flats with no garden, many of their parents are struggling financially with precarious work and, not speaking English as a first language, or having no experience of the British education system, find it difficult to support with home schooling. It has been extremely tough. In order to alleviate some of this stress and maintain contact with the young people we have been running online homework and study support. We have set up two new Study Clubs, one for unaccompanied young people aged 15 – 21, as well as a new drop-in service for children who do not attend our regular homework sessions. With a number of new and extremely committed volunteers we now offer one-to-one support for nearly all of the children that attend our online services. That is over 100 young people who have access to private tuition once a week.

This capacity to deliver one-to-one support has been our key focus in responding to the current mental health crisis amongst young people. It has enabled us to concentrate on building confidence and motivate the young people to keep learning. Where the children are not engaging through schoolwork, they are drawing and talking through their frustrations. They are teaching adults how to dance. They are reading their favourite books and playing games in a safe and supportive environment with someone they don’t really know. It is an opportunity to connect with the outside world. A small and digitised response to the big grey sludge colour. Through these regular online sessions, the children have demonstrated time and time again how remarkably resilient they can be. Their enthusiasm and excitement is uplifting to myself and the volunteers I work with, so much so, that I often wonder if they are actually running Clubs for us.

We can’t wait to get back to painting. But in the meantime, we will try to enjoy the mess.”

Get Involved

Fancy volunteering with our Love to Learn Clubs? Please fill in the form here and we’ll be in touch.

To get involved with Children’s Mental Health Week (1-7 Feb) visit: www.childrensmentalhealthweek.org.uk

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