Pupils at Glencraig Integrated Primary School in Holywood are amongst the first children in Northern Ireland to experience the Little Sunflower project, a course designed to strengthen emotional and mental wellbeing.
Created by Newry-born Sarah Gilbert, Little Sunflower is an early intervention program for seven to 10-year-olds, which will be rolled out to schools across the UK and Ireland, with the specific aim of helping children with their emotional development and resilience.
From anxiety following the pandemic, to bullying, shyness, stresses at home and even lack of confidence, Little Sunflower will give teachers a range of tools to help educate and help children manage their emotions a fun and interactive way.
Using an animated teachers’ guide, video story-telling, picture books, soft toys, arts and crafts, an App, poetry, as well as ‘tapping’ Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT), the five-week course will help children manage their emotional state and give them coping mechanisms to overcome life challenges.
Recent studies show that in the 1960’s the average age for depression was 45 years, in 2018 the onset age was 14 years. Mental Health issues now average at 11 years of age and 75 per cent of them start before 18 years of age.
Former drama teacher and trained counsellor, Sarah recognised this trend, and was inspired to create the Little Sunflower as a result. This combined with her own crippling shyness as a child, and the first-hand experience she encountered teaching alongside the devastating effects that Covid-19 had on children and young people’s mental health, Sarah was inspired to put her ideas into action.
Over the last two years, she has worked closely with Enterprise Ireland and literacy, education, and mental health experts to build the innovative, interactive course.
“Through personal experience, I know how emotional difficulties in early childhood can have a profound effect on personality and even life chances. I was able to take control of my anxieties through drama training, but knew that underneath, I was still that shy person, with no early-intervention teaching in how to overcome it.
“Throughout my career I could see the problem was still there for children, and that very little, if anything was being done to help support this age group.
“I knew with the right support young children can be helped to learn practical mental wellbeing skills, that can translate across so many of life experiences.” Sarah said.
“The period spent in lockdown reinforced the need for positive and proactive intervention for not only my own son, but for all children.
“When I researched what was currently available, I found there was a real gap in terms of practical emotional health tools for children.
“So, I carried out extensive research, spoke to some of the leading children’s mental health experts across the UK and Ireland, teachers and parents, and created this fun and memorable bespoke educational course with proven benefits for positive mental health, emotional resilience and personal empowerment.
“By combining all the tools in Little Sunflower course, we give children a unique, innovative, fundamentally sound, uplifting and fun means of dealing with and regulating their own emotional wellbeing.
“We use Tapping which is the Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT) which uses a combination of ancient Chinese acupressure and modern psychology and has been trialed in the USA and approved by Harvard Medical School as a mental health tool.
“It is a very effective and interactive way for children to express and manage their feelings.
“Children are like tender little seedlings, and every aspect of their development needs to be nurtured for strong and positive growth.
“Teachers now more than ever need the tools to help the children.
“Studies show early intervention delivers lifelong positive results. This course teaches a range of life skills from a young age so that children can grow, just like little sunflowers, with confidence as they learn how to control and process their emotions.”
The course includes five storybooks featuring colourful characters that face challenging scenarios to teach children how to deal with anxiety-inducing situations.
The Little Sunflowers kit then uses these characters to Introduce the concept of EFT, a holistic and easy method for emotional regulation.
Principle of Glencraig Integrated Primary School, Mr Mawhinney, said: “The long months of lockdown and stress of the pandemic has proved challenging for everyone, especially young children.
“More than ever, children need emotional support because of the unusual times we are experiencing through COVID. So, we are delighted to be partnering with Sarah to launch this exciting and fun new program which will benefit our pupils and give them lifelong skills for coping with stress and anxiety”.
Visit www.littlesunflower.co.uk for further information in how to get the course for your school.