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Teaching life skills and wellbeing in school

location_on Espoo, Finland

How to teach wellbeing, life skills and positive education in school?

This innovation describes five different lessons for teaching life skills. The lesson plans include instructions for exercises as well as tools for teachers to further their knowledge on life skills and the lesson topics.

Finland 100

Overview

HundrED has selected this innovation to

Finland 100

2016

Established

-

Children/users

1

Countries
Updated
November 22nd, 2022
Teaching children wellbeing and life skills in schools is the best way to ensure that the future generations flourish!
Viivi Pentikäinen

About the innovation

What is it all about?

Life skills are the skill set that enable people to live happy and meaningful lives and reach their potential. People who have sufficient life skills flourish. In this context, a meaningful life is achieved through mental wellbeing, self-awareness, skills for appreciating humanity in others as well as working towards wellbeing in one's community.

Instilling life skills and wellbeing skills in school supports mental wellbeing in children and youth now and in the future. Our goal is also to decrease human suffering.

Life skill education is based on research and methodology for positive pedagogy and positive education developed alongside positive psychology. It is important to teach research based life skills such as happiness skills, strength skills, resolution skills, emotional skills, skills for being present, interaction skills, relationship skills, self-management skills as well as empathy skills at school. This way children grow up to be whole, mentally strong and resilient young adults.

The innovation describes five different life skill lessons. These steps detail the structure of the lessons, guide you through different exercises and provide further reading and materials on the topic.

Life skills can be implemented as a module or as individual exercises. The teachers and other school staff should familiarize themselves in and even receive training on teaching life skills. When life skills are taught consistently the results will become visible at the school-level and not only in individual student wellbeing.

Impact & scalability

Impact & Scalability

Innovativeness

Teaching children and young people wellbeing and life skills at school prepares them for life. Life skills are first and foremost preventative mental health skills that allow more young people to lead good, happy and meaningful lives.

Impact

Teaching life skills supports students' personal growth, by providing knowledge, skills and social capital.

Scalability

Life skills can and should be actively taught to children all throughout their time in school. This includes noticing the positive and fostering kindness. Wellbeing education also supports instruction in other subjects. This is why it should be included in all education – in the methodology and as an all-encompassing lens of positive reinforcement.

Steps

Lesson 1: Happiness as a Skill

The goal of the lesson: Notice the good and learn gratitude

The lesson in a nutshell:

  1. Introduction. Conversations about happiness, noticing the good and their benefits. An icebreaker.
  2. Discussing gratitude and its benefits. A gratitude game (suited also for older students.)
  3. Homework: Note three positive things every day.     

More on the topic: video on positive education

 

1. Introduction – Happiness, what is it and how can you practice it?

Happiness is important to everyone. Ask students what they think of when you say the word “happiness.” You can also share your thoughts on happiness and what makes you happy. You can also write a student's definition or musing on happiness on the blackboard. For example: “Happiness comes from doing what's important to us with the people who are important to us.”

An icebreaker on happiness:

  • Ask students to write five things that make them happy on sticky notes.

  • Ask students to write as many things as they can that make them happy on the blackboard.

  • Ask students to think of their definition of happiness or what creates happiness: “Happiness is…”

  • You can also think of things that are free and make you happy and write them on the blackboard.

  • What does happiness feel like? → Ask for different descriptions of the feeling.

2. Gratitude and showing it

Happiness is a skill you can practice. One of the most effective ways is to practice gratitude. Gratitude is like a motor in happiness that starts running when you think of things for which you are grateful. Thinking of small things you're grateful for daily your happiness motor stays running and helps us through tough times and to move on.

Gratitude is like a floating device keeping us afloat even during bad days. Gratitude also feels great and makes your life happy and better. Gratitude helps us to value all the small things that are good in our lives, and notice how much there actually are.

Ask students what are all the thing for which we can be grateful? They can think of things alone on paper or in pairs or small groups and gather the results to a large piece of construction paper. This helps the students to see how much we all have to be grateful for.

Game: “I'm grateful for bread”

“I'm grateful for bread” is a fun game for learners of all ages. It centers around gratitude and happiness. You can play it sitting in a circle on the floor or outside, for example.

The game starts with the first student giving a word to the next one, such as “bread.” The second person must think of why they're thankful for bread. For example: “I'm grateful for bread because I get quick energy from it for my soccer practice.”

Then the second student gives a word for the next one, such as “bus.” This student then gives a genuine reason why they're grateful for buses. For example: “I'm grateful for buses because they don't pollute as much as cars.”

The nouns can also be funny or difficult which makes the game joyous and funny. You can keep playing the game as long as you want and make it harder by having a specific theme, such as school, the woods, home, etc.

3. Homework: Notice three positive things

As homework, ask the students to think of three things they are grateful for during the next few days. These three things can be small or big and they can occur whenever during the day. The students can think of things from the day for which they are grateful at night, for example.

Ask the students to write down three things they are grateful for daily in their notebooks or phones. You can go through everyone's answers during the next lesson. You can also ask for their observations from the week and how they felt noticing positive things and what it felt like to be grateful.

A permanent gratitude exercise – the class gratitude jar:

  • Collect both small and large things you are grateful for in a class gratitude jar.
  • You can start the collection by everyone writing 1–3 things they are grateful for on that day on a note. The notes are anonymous and you can collect more     notes daily or weekly.
  • At the end of the month, you can see together for what things you have been grateful. You can make a collage on the classroom wall with the notes.
  • Everyone can write notes spontaneously about the moments that have been especially good or if someone notices something to be grateful for during school.
Lesson 2: Character Strengths as a Skill

The goal of the lesson: Learning about strengths, recognizing and utilizing your strengths.

The lesson in a nutshell:

  1. Learning about different strengths and that we all have natural strengths and     things we excel in. The importance of recognizing and utilizing strengths.
  2. Icebreakers on how to recognize and utilize your strengths.
  3. Homework: Consciously use three of your strengths during a week and journal these moments.

More on the topic:

1. Introduction: Strengths, what are they and why are they useful?

We all have plenty of different strengths. Strengths are all the good in us. They are like a beautiful garden with different trees, plants and flowers – when you water the plants they grow and flourish.

It is the same with people – when we use our strengths we get stronger and flourish. (You can draw a picture of this strength garden on the blackboard. You can write strengths on the flowers and plants, such as gratitude, love, kindness, forgiveness, courage, etc.)

You can show this video about character strengths and ask them to pick 1–2 strengths from the video they feel are important.

 

2. Icebreakers on character strengths

Strength cards

Teaching character strengths is easy if you get character strength cards or make them yourself. They facilitate different discussions on strengths.

Cards in English

Ask the students to look at the strength cards or strengths on the blackboard and pick a strength they have used that week. Ask every student to share the strength with the class or their partner or small group and how they used it.

Tell the students that the strengths always have a golden mean between two extremes: too little or too much. Give them an example, such as courage and ask what is too much courage? Or too little?

Then give students the strength cards and ask them to think of the extremes of every strength, that is, what would be an example of too little or too much of that strength. You have three options for the exercise: every student describes a strength individually; a pair describes one together or a small group works on multiple strengths.

You can teach the students how to utilize their strengths with questions that stimulate them. They should allow students to think about, say, how strengths can help through a difficult situation or a school project. Good questions for situations where students need help:

  1. What strength would help you to move forward?
  2. What strength would help you right now?
  3. If you could pick any strength to help you right in this moment, what would it be?
  4. What strengths would a person that is really good at this use?
  5. What strengths have you used in situations where you've succeeded?

Game of strengths – borrow a friend's strength

Ask everyone to pick a strength that they think they possess. You don't have to use the cards. The teacher can also assist, if necessary. Everyone should have a card or a piece of paper with the strength written down before the game begins.

Get in a circle and ask everyone to borrow a strength to reach a goal or whatever they choose. The game proceeds with everyone borrowing a strength and explaining what they would do with it.

For example:

Lisa borrows patience from John to use at home with her little sister.
Or Anna borrows tenacity from Mary to finish her math homework.
Or Mike borrows a sense of humor from Dean to tell more jokes to his friends during recess.

The game ends when everyone's strength gets borrowed and used. The teacher can assist by suggesting situations that could benefit from using different strengths.

3. Homework

Tell the students that they have a week to practice recognizing and utilizing different strengths. Everyone should pick three core strengths with the VIA character strength test (for students over the age of 10) or help from the teacher or their friend. When everyone has three core strengths to recognize and utilize, the students write them down to their notebook or phone.

Ask students to write down moments when they use their strengths during the week. They should use at least one strength per day and write down the moment and situation where they used it and how.

For example:

During breakfast I was grateful that I got to eat chocolate cereal.
Or, I was tenacious in my hobby and didn't give up even when I didn't learn on the first try.

At the end of the week go through moments where students recognize and use their strengths. Ask if they used any new strengths that they could use in next week's exercise.

Permanent strength exercise for the whole class – tree of strengths on the classroom wall (Tree of strengths):

  • Use a technique of     your choice (e.g. tape or paper) to make a tree on the classroom wall. Every branch or leaf should be a strength. 
  • Tell the students that they get to put a sticker or mark on a strength every time they notice someone using it in the     classroom.
  • The students can let the teacher know every time they notice a classmate using a strength, such as kindness, a sense of humor or tenaciousness.
  • Agree on how you note strengths, how you express them and how to mark them in the tree.     
  • You can also     consciously practice the strengths that have few markings or make a theme day using different strengths.
Lesson 3: Mindfulness as a Skill

The goal of the lesson: Learning about being present and relaxation.

The lesson in a nutshell

  1. Discussing the benefits of calming down and mindfulness. Talking about the benefits to student wellbeing that come from calming and quieting down.
  2. Icebreakers for discussing the benefits of being calm and present together. Mindfulness exercises linked to awareness and being present.
  3. Homework: Being aware of your breathing by counting to ten with your fingers.

More on the topic

NOTE! Teaching mindfulness to children requires a teacher who has experience with mindfulness. This innovation provides you with plenty of exercises to fit your teaching style. These exercises for being present can be instructed using the recording or video – whatever feels easiest and natural to you. More on mindfulness for children.

Videos for your teaching:

Mindfulness exercises for young children (6–10-year-olds):

  1. Mindfulness Meditation for Kids 
  2. 😊 🌺 Breath Meditation for Kids 😊 ❤️‍ Mindfulness for Kids 
  3. Peace Out Guided Relaxation for Kids | 1. Balloon 

Mindfulness videos for older students (10–18-year-olds):

  1. The Scientific Power of Meditation 
  2. How to Meditate
  3. Benefits Of Meditation - TOP 6 BENEFITS

1. Introduction – When we're present and relaxed, we feel good

Explain the benefits of being present. When we're consciously present and calm, we feel good. When we're present, we notice more around us and can feel more positive emotions.

When we're relaxed and present, we hear, learn and see better. We also find it easier to be kind to others when we're relaxed and calm. You can and should practice calm and conscious presence.

2. Icebreakers on being present

Bodily sensations and feelings while relaxing

  • Ask the students when they feel calm and relaxed? How do they feel in those moments? What kind of situations are they and where do they occur?    
  • Discuss the students' best methods to calm themselves and relax. Collect students' tips about the best methods to calm themselves on the blackboard. Discuss these experiences.

Exercises for being present with the students

NOTE! Test the exercises yourself before you instruct one for the students.

Focusing on your breathing by counting

One of the easiest ways to practice conscious presence is to turn your attention to your body and breathing. One exercise is to consciously breathe and count the inhales and exhales by raising a finger after inhaling and exhaling until five or ten fingers are raised.

This exercise provides the students with a concrete method of calming themselves. Extending your exhale is especially effective for relaxation and calming down.

Focusing on your breathing with a video

Instructed breathing exercise

Sound – being present in the moment through hearing

You can practice being in the moment and consciously present with your senses by focusing on audio, for example. You can do this exercise with an instrument, such as a bell, triangle or guitar.

Play one or more chords and ask the students to listen as long as the sound is audible. When there is no more sound, they can raise their hand. You can do this short and easy exercise either with the students' eyes closed or open. You can use it to bring the students back to the calming present.

Chocolate – being present in the moment through all of your senses

Give the students chocolates (or raisins.) The goal is to eat them as slowly as possible using all of your senses and calming down in the process. First, they take the chocolate in their hand, look at it, feel it, smell it, touch it and listen to it before they put it in their mouth.

The students place the chocolate in their mouth slowly, let it melt, move, taste, etc. in their mouths. Slowly, they swallow the chocolate and taste the lingering aftertaste. At the end, you should discuss what you all felt and sensed, respecting everyone's experiences.

After the exercise

After you complete the exercise of your choice, ask the students how they felt during and after it. Gather everyone's experiences and discuss what students noticed during the exercise – was it easy or hard; what feeling did they have; what do their bodies feel like now?

3. Homework: Being aware of your breathing by counting to ten with your fingers

Homework is to breathe in and out ten times counting it with your fingers. They should do this once a day and you should practice it together beforehand using the exercise provided above.

Ask the students to choose a time to complete the daily exercise. They should write in their notebooks the answer to the question: “How do I feel after the breathing exercise?”

After a week, discuss the students' experiences. If you want, you can do the exercise together at the school before or after a lesson.

Lesson 4: Emotional Intelligence as a Skill
The goal of the lesson: Emotional intelligence and reinforcing positive emotions.

The lesson in a nutshell

  1. Discussing emotions: What do emotions indicate and what should we know about them? Exploring the purposes and benefits of negative and positive     emotions.
  2. Exercise on recognizing emotions. Learning to name emotions.
  3. Homework: Spot your feelings.

More on the topic

1. Introduction – What are emotions and why is emotional intelligence important?

Explain the benefits of emotions shortly. For example, that negative emotions help us stay safe and notice problems so that we can resolve them. On the other hand, positive emotions increase happiness and wellbeing as well as strengthen relationships.

When we experience positive emotions with others, such as joy and love, we feel good. That's why you should harbor and strengthen positive emotions. Positive emotions are also more fragile than negative emotions. The latter are stronger so that we notice them. To feel good, we should strengthen positive emotions more.

2. Icebreakers on recognizing different emotions

Exercise “How do you feel?”

Emotional intelligence means recognizing and naming emotions and understanding where they come from and what you can do with them. Recognizing and naming emotions is a fundamental emotional skill.

You can help students to practice this skill by encouraging them to recognize, name and accept emotions. This simple task helps them get through difficult emotions or lessen a strong emotional state and deal with the issue. First, you should practice recognizing and naming different emotions.

Students talk in a circle:

How do you feel right now – in one word. The feeling can be negative, neutral or positive. Recognizing emotions is positive: naming an emotion out loud eases negative emotions and strengthen positive emotions. It is always beneficial!

A moment of happiness – a memory exercise on positive emotions in a group discussion

Gather in a circle and ask students to reminisce a wonderful experience in their life that they can share with the group. Give examples from your own life and share a wonderful event and what you felt then.

Then, ask everyone to think of an experience and one-by-one to share them with the group. After every story, ask what positive emotions they experienced during their moment of happiness.

When everyone has shared their moment or story and their accompanying emotions, think of all the positive emotions you all felt hearing the stories and write them on the blackboard.

Watching Inside Out

The animation Inside Out is a wonderful movie about living with emotions for children aged seven and up. Watching the movie together is an excellent way to explore emotions and teach emotional intelligence.

You can even ask the students to write an essay or do homework on the themes of the film. They should think of the meaning of emotions and the feelings they had watching the movie. 

3. Homework: Spot your feelings – emotion journal

Ask students to keep an emotion journal for a week and write down different emotions every day. Ask them to pay special attention to positive emotions and different emotions.

Journaling their emotions allows students to become emotional detectives. Their assignment is to notice and catch ever-changing emotions.

Lesson 5: Relationships and Communication as a Skill
The goal of the lesson: Relationships and good communication skills.

The lesson in a nutshell:

  1. Discussing the significance of relationships and good relationships. Exploring good communication skills.     
  2. Learning and practicing the building blocks of good communication.
  3. Homework: Practicing communication skills in your relationships

More on the topic

1. Introduction – Relationships are the key to a happy life

Explain the meaning of good relationships in people's lives. There are many studies on happiness and good life and one of the most important aspects impacting happiness and life satisfaction is good relationships.

Friendships and other good and close relationships make life happy. This is why relationships are a meaningful part of human wellbeing and should be nurtured.

You can and should practice relationship skills. One effective way is to practice communication skills, that is, good communication. They are one of the most important relationship skills.

2. Icebreakers on good relationships

Exercise on good relationship skills

  • Ask the students to think of a person they love who is important to them and then write down five things about the person and their personality.
  • Ask students to share the attributes they wrote down. Collect these on the blackboard and at the end title them as “Good relationship skills.”
  • Ask the students what they think is the most important relationship skill. You can also vote on the words on the blackboard.
  • Ask every student to mark three of the most important skills.
  • At the end, see what skills got the most votes. You can make a list of these skills to hang on the classroom wall so you all remember to use these skills together.

Practicing good communication: Sharing a success story with a partner

Explain to the students that good communication is one of the most effective ways to nurture good relationships, get to know new people, make new friends and nurture friendships.

The building blocks of good communication are easy to remember by these three aspects of appreciative and actively positive communication:

  • Appreciative Listening
  • Appreciative Inquiry (asking questions)
  • Appreciative Encouraging

You can also think of their opposites and discuss negative communication to help students understand what good communication skills are.

  • What is disrespectful listening like?
  • What is negative inquiry like? 
  • What is discouraging feedback like when someone shares something wonderful?

Go through the steps for appreciative communication one more time using examples and move on to the pair exercise.

Divide the students into pairs or groups of three. The teams should share a success story with each other one-by-one. For example how they learnt a difficult thing or overcame a challenge.

The goal is to:

  1. Listen to the other person's story with appreciation (they can think what that means.)
  2. Ask a question about the story (with appreciation.)
  3. Provide positive feedback telling what they appreciated. 

At the end, the teacher can ask how the students experienced the exercise. How did it feel to listen with appreciation and be heard? How was it when the other person asked questions about the story? How did the team encourage and compliment each other's stories?

3. Homework: Practice appreciative communication at home

The homework is to practice appreciative listening, inquiry and encouraging with their family.

Ask students to observe how communication skills work and write them down in their notebooks or phones. Will their mom be happy when you ask how their day was? What will their dad say when you compliment the food? How will their friends react to them listening and asking questions about them?

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