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Lessons for 11-16 year-olds added to the BrainWaves curriculum

Teachers can now access age-relevant lessons which introduce students to the principles of positive psychology, an approach developed by Martin Seligman and others.

Doors slam. Emotions erupt then descend into gloomy troughs. Anyone working with young people knows there’s a lot going on in the teenage world which can impact mental health. Whether it’s uncertainty about ‘fitting in’, shifting patterns inside friendship groups, fears about ‘not being good enough’, or problems at home, adolescence has its own unique obstacles.

To help young people explore and navigate these challenges, BrainWaves has developed a series of free whole-school resources: a curriculum of wellbeing lessons, support materials and webinars for teachers – all designed to help students develop the skills to manage their own mental health at such a critical time in their lives. Having launched the first lessons for the older 16-18 year-old age-group in 2023, the BrainWaves education team has just begun rolling out new lessons for younger students aged 11 to 16.

Teachers can now access age-relevant lessons which introduce students to the principles of positive psychology, an approach developed by Martin Seligman and others. The key ideas threaded through each lesson that positive emotions, resilience and optimism can be actively developed, with measurable impacts on happiness and wellbeing. Avoiding a focus on the classification and diagnosis of mental health disorders per se, the lessons are all about communicating positive strategies and helping students of every age to thrive.

The lessons are largely structured around Seligman’s PERMA framework and how to incorporate more of these elements into our lives for betting wellbeing: Positive emotions, Engagement, Relationships, Meaning and Accomplishments. Developed as a spiral curriculum, recurring themes (revisited as students progress through school), include the idea of having ‘grit’ or perseverance; of understanding how to deal with setbacks; as well as understanding emotional intelligence.

In the ‘Brain and body’ strand there is a focus on helping students explore the changes that happen to them as teenagers, in terms of brain development, hormone production and sleep patterns, all of which can affect their mental health. Because there is an almost limitless supply of information available on the internet, the ‘Thinking about mental health’ strand encourages students to think critically about where their information is coming from: are they reading something about mental health that is from an unreliable source or provides low quality information online?

As has been said elsewhere, you only get one shot at shaping young lives. The BrainWaves lessons have been designed to engage young people through active learning and are full of discussions and critical thinking situations to explore the ideas being introduced. Every lesson also includes at least one ‘take-away’ strategy which students can try for themselves outside the classroom.

Our work is ongoing and more lessons will be made available throughout this academic year. The lessons will also be revised over time as newer, evidence-based science further informs what we know about mental health and interventions for young people. For now, we hope these resources will help empower young people to understand the choices and opportunities they have to positively influence their own wellbeing, throughout secondary school and beyond.

You can access all the free BrainWaves wellbeing lessons and teacher support materials at https://education.brainwaveshub.org/.