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Strategies to support students’ mental health through creative learning

In 2020, Rebecca Evers and Elle MacHugh launched the company Creative Minds, with a vision to “create change and allow young people to succeed through creative learning.” Since then, the company has moved from creating activities and resources for home learning to working with schools and businesses nationwide. We were lucky enough to be joined by the company for a webinar exploring how specific strategies and stimuli can be used from Key Stages 1 through to 4. This Blog explores these strategies further and looks more broadly at creative learning as a ‘tool for change’.

About Creative Minds

Rebecca and Elle began the webinar by explaining how the company Creative Minds began. Rebecca is a trained secondary drama teacher and Elle has a PGCE in Dance. They both have years of experience teaching in primary and secondary schools and now work with businesses and schools to deliver CPD and develop resources for creative learning. Elle also explained:

Our primary focus is that children can learn through performing arts and it’s that learning itself in a safe environment which allows them to tap into their mental health, just being able to learn rather than learning in a ‘’traditional’ way.”

The scope of the webinar was narrowed down to focusing on how “creative learning can support well-being, social skills, confidence, communication and how to engage with the world.” One teacher’s reason for booking onto the webinar was to “look at ways to engage students who are feeling stressed, overwhelmed, anxious, lack of confidence and self-belief.” This comment was indicative of similar correspondence we had received from teachers, all concerned about the mental health of their student’s post-pandemic. Elle reflected that, over the last 18 months, the schools, and businesses they are working are responding more positively than ever to creative learning because of even more of a need to support students’ mental health. She believes that school and senior leaders are starting to recognise the power and importance of creative, child-centred approaches at both primary and secondary level.

Creating a Space for All Children to Learn

Rebecca started her presentation by talking about how creative learning engages all children through the following learning strategies & approaches:

  • Kinaethetic—When students learn by ‘doing’ and taking part.

  • Auditory- Learning through listening, helping to develop oracy and communication skills.

  • Visual- Learning by ‘watching’ or the use of visual aids.

She explained that, even with a challenging topic or stimulus, by combining all of these approaches within creative learning, children can feel safe and supported, so that they can reflect, explore and learn with confidence.

Next, Rebecca shared the ‘Mental health Umbrella’ and explored four well-being ‘strands’ which underpin creative learning. This really breaks down and dissects the way that we think about students’ well-being and how we, as drama teachers, incorporate the different ‘strands’, perhaps without realising, into our lessons. We discussed how this infographic could be shared with senior leaders in our own school settings. In addition, the ‘strands’ could be useful terms to use when planning schemes of work or individual lessons.

Developing Stimuli

Creative Minds then moved on to explore some specific strategies and stimuli which can be used from Early Years, through to Key Stage 4. Rebecca explained how a stimulus can be used within creative learning- to stimulate discussion and “generate conversation” about a particular topic, whether it be an image, word, poem, or short story. This is described by Elle as such an “important part of a lesson”, which encourages the children to creatively explore a topic “in a safe space”.

For Early Years, the company explored the idea of using ‘emotion machines’, to allow

younger children to explore a range of emotions through movement and sound. This exercise could also be used and developed for older students too. For Key Stage 1, we explored an activity called the ‘Friendship Tree’, in which a group creates their own stimulus by placing hand-prints onto a tree and scribble ideas around the important qualities of a friend. This is then developed, using instrumental music, into a piece of movement, with the children exploring actions conveying the activities they do with their friends. The children can then explore a range of movements such as canon, unison, slow motion, different levels, and frozen images to create a group performance. Instead of a ‘Friendship Tree’, students can also create a ‘Wish Tree’, when ‘hopes and dreams’ are explored.

Creative Minds then moved on to discuss an activity for Key Stage 2, which allowed students to reflect on relationships and how these relationships had changed during lockdown. This is another key activity which is child-led and allows children to reflect on their feelings. For Key Stage 3, the company talked about a range of exercises which can be used to allow the children to reflect on how they feel working individually, in pairs or in groups. By taking part in a range of practical activities, the students can then reflect on and acknowledge their preferred way of working. This would be great activity to start with in Year 7, allowing students to reflect on how they feel about collaboration and group work. The key to this exercise is that it is ‘child-led’ and the students who ‘join the dots’ themselves and make connections about how they are feeling.

For Key Stage 4, Creative Minds shared an interesting activity, perfect for drama or PSHE lessons. The stimulus material is celebrity images in magazines, with the students exploring ‘what does a perfect person look like?’ The students explore the similarities and differences between images in the magazines and real life through role-play, cross-cutting, thought-tracking and freeze frames.

Discussions around Creative Learning

The webinar ended with a broader conversation around how to embed creative learning in a range of subjects within your school setting. Creative Minds explained that this is at the core of the training and resources which they create and deliver. Elle explained that they train “all teachers within a school”, not just creative subject teachers. The key, they say, is giving teachers in all subjects the tools to use creative learning techniques in a small section of their lessons to begin with- perhaps just in a starter, or finisher. This can be done in various ways, through modelling in staff briefings to sharing small sections of filmed lessons. Then, through mentoring and teacher-modelling, creative learning strategies are disseminated and embedded within the culture of the school.


Thank you to Rebecca and Elle from Creative Minds for delivering this fascinating webinar and sharing so many useful activities. It has started an important conversation, which will continue so watch this space!

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