by Alice Peel March 8, 2021
Oral storytelling is as universal as it is ancient. Most of us grew up listening to the soothing, mesmerising, entertaining words and sounds of the voices closest to us. We know how the voice can bring a more personal, informal and often engaging touch to what is being said and taught. And what if that voice was young, joyful, full of hope and funny? The voice of say an 11 or 12 year old who introduces an episode of a podcast like this: “This is a show where kids teach kids how to take care of their mental health and learn ways to be resilient.”
People often believe we made the Grow Your Mind podcast because of the pandemic. We did not. The release date, yes, was rather on point. Global pandemic, online learning was starting AND the world seemed to be collectively expressing their concern about the state of children’s mental health and wellbeing.
We knew that our initial 6 episodes, recorded the term before the pandemic struck, were full of the goods when it comes to positive mental health education. Out of the mouths of babes were episodes on gratitude, courage, stuff ups, friendships, benefit mindset and a playful introduction into what it means to be and feel and stay mentally healthy. We were locked and loaded ready to release the tools kids could start sharpening to prepare for what lay ahead.
So if we didn’t create a children’s mental health podcast due to a global pandemic, why on earth did we? Well, we have outlined here the 4 main reasons for its creation. We very much hope that this will also serve as 4 reasons for you to start using this educational wellbeing tool in your primary school setting today!
# 1 The fact is, kids listen to other kids
So we kept our grownup voices out of it! Kids bring an inimitable light and joy to episodes that often deal with serious and topical issues (for example climate change, grief and gender equality). We knew the resources kids were drawn to: they featured other kids. We’ve included over 100 students in our episodes from 4 different schools. And that’s why the podcast is so playful and engaging. Episodes are around 15 minutes and come with a matching colouring-in sheet so they’re the perfect breakaway activity in the classroom or at home.
Our podcast has strengthened our community and its power as a teaching tool continues to amaze us. It has created a feedback loop, with listeners (particularly educators) generating ideas and content. For example the episode on gender was created because teachers told us they wanted to address stereotypes occurring in schools and how boys and girls sometimes stop socialising with each other based on gendered beliefs as well as fears of not fitting in. This particular episode, ‘Rewrite the Rules’ aims to challenge the unsaid rules of gender and the notion that your gender shouldn’t and doesn’t define your interests, opinions and skill set. We’ve received incredible feedback from educators around the world sharing the impact this is having in their learning environments.
# 2 Podcasts are a powerful and effective teaching tool
Research has demonstrated that audio content has the educational ability to influence cognition through clarity of instructions, it also has the power to influence emotional aspects of learning by conveying immediacy and a connection with the teacher and community. (Hew 2009). Our podcast is part of our ongoing commitment to creating resources that deliver content in a variety of mediums so as to support the different ways kids like to learn. We got a bit fancy and wanted to cater to the multiple intelligences proposed by Harvard psychologist Howard Gardner. Gardner essentially theorises people don’t solely rely on their intellectual capacity, but instead have many kinds of intelligence including musical, interpersonal, spatial-visual and linguistic intelligences.
So that’s why you’ll find the Grow Your Mind content presented as; videos, reflection journals, drawing activities, stunning imagery with our posters, playdough portraits, case studies, comprehension tasks, group work and now – the podcast. It’s creation was part of our commitment to generate a more inclusive and accessible wellbeing resource. The podcast was also part of our ongoing vision that prevention is far easier than cure when it comes to poor mental health.
#3 This is the time to be doing resilience education
And it begins with kids learning what mental wellbeing is:
- It is not just the absence of ill health
- It’s something we all have and it can be fantastic, it can terrible or it can be somewhere in between
- Seeings as we all have it, we can all learn to look after it
- Good mental health means we can cope with the normal stresses of life, can contribute to our community and we’re able to achieve what’s within our abilities
This IS the time for kids to be working out the tools that work for them and ingraining them as habits now not later. We know that 50% of mental health issues begin before the age of 15. Even for students who will never experience a mental health issue, the benefits of this podcast, in terms of increasing capacity to deal with challenges, changes and stressors, are endless.
We researched, tried and tested our best lessons from the entire Grow Your Mind program. We could see what was landing for students, regardless of socioeconomic, cultural or religious backgrounds. We narrowed them down and started writing and recording. The result: 75 countries have listened to our podcast! You see, here’s the thing: mental health education involves universal themes that all kids relate to and benefit from learning more about.
#4 We wanted to smash down a barrier to delivering wellbeing education…..TIME!
We respectfully acknowledge that schools are busy places, curriculums may appear overcrowded and teachers are at high risk of toxic stress. And yet this is why podcasts are so popular. Only have 10 minutes to spare? You’ll find one of our episodes to listen to in that time frame. Need a topic that specifically applies or would benefit your students? You’ll find a breadth of topics including; anti-racism, respectful relationships, empathy, gratitude and more. And given the nature of the podcast, you can use it in the classroom, the car or at home. We wanted to continue to strengthen our wellbeing bridge between school and home.
Whole school wellbeing is all the rage these days and rightly so. We don’t just focus on students in our program, we have courses for school staff too and we offer online parent seminars too. And we know that the messaging of mental health education is more potent when it continues at home.
What do the episodes sound like?
Are you ready to be filled with joy? When you play an episode to your class or listen with your kids, it always begins with Boggle Your Brain – a factoid usually about animals, the brain or animals’ brains! This is followed by the Lesson, presented by the kids as an issue-focussed conversation. They then Take It To The Experts and roam around the school, asking peers their opinions on the given issue and then the episode wraps up with the Story, which illustrates the issue and includes the input of the Grow Your Mind Animals. There’s also music, sound effects and it’s generally 15 minutes of awesomeness.
What episode should I listen to first?
The animals on walkie talkies will make MORE sense if you listen to episode 1 of either season 1 or 2. They each represent a part of the brain and knowing what that is may help you feel a little less confused by their input. However, if you are after a feel good one straight off the bat you could begin with: You Can’t Grow it Alone. There is a rap at the end, it is super uplifting and it breaks down the steps needed to be and feel resilient in a very easy to understand way.
Or if you wanting to jump straight into hope, we suggest beginning with The Perfect Antidote. Around the corner from the school where we recorded season 1 lives an incredible human named Eddie Jaku. Eddie is a holocaust survivor who turned 100 last year and spends his time spreading messages of love, gratitude and wisdom. As we spoke about during the start of this blog, we had 6 episodes recorded prior to the pandemic. But as COVID inevitably started to find its way to our shores we decided we needed to record an episode specifically about the building blocks of hope and why it really is the perfect antidote to fear and helplessness. Dear Eddie Jaku inspired the 11 year old hosts and they wanted to share his wisdom with the rest of the planet.
“Eddie feels so thankful for his family and friends. His wish for young people is that they slow down and enjoy life a little more. He still terribly misses his mum, who he never got to say goodbye to, and he urges everyone, that if you have the opportunity today, make sure you go home and tell someone important in your life that you love them.” The Wise Owl, representing the prefrontal cortex.
As the animals say at the end of each episode: Over and Out.
Hew, K.F. Use of audio podcast in K-12 and higher education: a review of research topics and methodologies. Education Tech Research Dev 57, 2009, 333–357
Shearer, B. Multiple Intelligences in Teaching and Education: Lessons Learned from Neuroscience. J. Intell. 2018, 6, 38.
Oberle E, Kimberly, Schonert-Reichl A. Stress contagion in the classroom? The link between classroom teacher burnout and morning cortisol in elementary school students, Social Science & Medicine, Volume 159, 2016, Pages 30-37,