Northern Ireland

Pupils using breathing to dramatically improve learning and behaviour

Pupils at Sacred Heart PS in north Belfast participating in Take Five. Picture by Hugh Russell
Pupils at Sacred Heart PS in north Belfast participating in Take Five. Picture by Hugh Russell Pupils at Sacred Heart PS in north Belfast participating in Take Five. Picture by Hugh Russell

CHILDREN living in an area of high deprivation are using breathing practices to dramatically improve learning and behaviour in school.

Pupils at Sacred Heart PS in north Belfast reported feeling more relaxed, less stressed and better prepared for lessons.

The area served by the school is among the most deprived based on multiple deprivation measures.

These include poverty, social exclusion, suicide, mental health issues, addiction, anti-social behaviour and violence.

All have an impact on children and can lead to social, emotional and behavioural difficulties.

Three quarters of Sacred Heart pupils receive free school meals while about 40 per cent have some special educational need.

The school already operates nurture and sensory rooms to improve wellbeing.

Staff wanted to further boost boys' emotional intelligence, improve their learning abilities and help them succeed in school by eliminating some of the most distracting behaviours.

It has introduced a project called Take Five, which involves breathing techniques that help calm children and get them ready to learn while feeling safe and happy.

Take Five uses breathing, grounding and awareness techniques that can be used in short periods, from between 30 seconds and five minutes, typically after `trigger' times including break and lunch.

By taking part in short, quiet reflection upon their return to the classroom, children feel more confident, more resilient and better able to concentrate.

Additionally, it helps young people deal with anger and has since become an even more powerful tool as the children themselves now lead the practice.

Sixteen pupils from P3-6 have trained as Take Five ambassadors and teach the practices across the school.

The ambassadors have designed and created breathing cards which are used to guide classes through the process.

Vice principal Helena Kelly said Take Five helps bridge the gap between daily struggles and lasting mental wellbeing.

"As the project developed we began to experience notable changes in how the children's sense of personal capacity and wellbeing were improving. As the project was embedded, it was obvious that it was making a significant impact," she said.

"It was building resilience, reducing stress and ensuring that the children were ready to learn and helped them to become more focused during lessons.

"It provided an opportunity for reflection on their own behaviour and gave more opportunities for better choice making, whilst also encouraging confidence in their leadership of the practice and promoting peer to peer support.

"It enabled the children to recognise and facilitate emotional development and they developed a real understanding of their emotions which is leading to better self-management and regulation."