Northern Ireland

Bunscoil an Iúir: Reading, writing and relaxation

Children with heads on desks
Image caption The depression charity, Aware, is behind the initiative

An Irish-language primary school in Newry, County Down, has introduced lessons in 'mindfulness'.

Primary six and seven pupils at Bunscoil an Iúir have been learning meditation and breathing exercises on a regular basis.

The depression charity, Aware, is behind the initiative.

They say meditation can help children develop emotional resilience and fight the effects of stress.

In the lesson in Bunscoil an Iúir, pupils are taught to relax, moderate their breathing, and concentrate, by taking things a little more slowly.

'Deep breath'

An external mindfulness tutor appointed by Aware leads the lessons, which seem to be having an impact both inside and outside the classroom.

11-year-old Brídín Ní Mhurchú said she had learned how to relax and not become anxious about things like homework.

"I take a deep breath in and then out and just don't think about anything else," she said.

10-year-old Lonán Mac Domhnaill said mindfulness helps him keep his temper in difficult situations.

"I learn how to calm down whenever I'm stressed and don't get into a tantrum and get angry," he said.

Image caption Amber McGinnis Mallon said she enjoyed the classes

11-year-old Amber McGinnis Mallon uses the techniques she has learned in class to relax at home.

"Say if I'm angry at my brothers I would go to my room," she said.

"Then I hear the birds outside instead."

Even their initially sceptical teacher, Ciarán Catney, has been won over by the classes.

"We're giving the children the tools to deal with stress," he said.

"When we started I thought I was getting time to correct some books or get some plans ready."

Image caption Mr Catney was won over by the classes

"But when I was sitting doing different activities and things with the children, I was learning that I didn't realise how stressed out I could be at times as well."

"So I was de-stressing myself."

The chief executive of Aware, Siobhan Donaghy, said she hoped to be able to offer similar classes in other schools across Northern Ireland.

"It would help children to reduce stress, and to cope with things that happen in life," she said.

Anxiety

"Younger and younger children nowadays are suffering from stress, many from anxiety and some from depression."

But what about those who say it is not a school's role to teach mindfulness?

"We believe that emotional education for young people is so incredibly important as they try to make their way through life," Ms Donaghy said.

"These children are going to move into secondary school soon, where they're going to face all sorts of pressures.

"They need the techniques and tools to deal with that."

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