Mental Health Awareness Month and Children's Mental Health Week Ideas for the Classroom and Counseling

May is Mental Health Awareness Month in the US and also kicks off Children's Mental Health Awareness Week in Canada. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, 
  • 1 in 6 U.S. youth aged 6-17 experience a mental health disorder each year
  • 50% of all lifetime mental illness begins by age 14, and 75% by age 24
These sobering are a testament to how important early and proactive interventions are as we equip our primary students with the vocabulary they need to recognize feelings, the confidence to know how to cope with them and the strength to reach out to others when they aren't sure how. 
Below are some engaging and effective ways that we can hone in on skills to support emotional and social well-being within our primary classroom and counseling groups.

Positive Self-Talk

Start each day off strong with positive affirmations. Consistent repetition and outward projections sends a signal to our brains to work overtime to internalize and fossilize these statements. With these intentions and building blocks in place to support self-esteem and self-worth, we can then let our working memory do the rest to feel our best. 

Make it Visual

If breaking down what mental health means to primary students feels overwhelming, then this mental health bulletin board is the perfect place to start. This bulletin kit includes a lesson plan with the theme of a balancing scale woven throughout, designed to teach classes why it's important to share our emotions and to unpack what might be weighing us down. The retro cellphone theme is a fun way of bringing the learning to life by designing your very own interactive bulletin board that showcases each child's cellphone craft.


Give Back

Doing some outreach work is the best way to cultivate empathy as we let others less fortunate than ourselves know that they are not alone as they navigate through their own hurdles. Here are a couple of ways we did this when partnering with local children's mental care centers:

1) Donate kits of sensory tools 

We worked with a shelter to support coping skills for trauma, grief and sadness. From homemade stress balls, to ice packs, mini journals and pens, to Play Doh, poetry and bubbles, this group of students did an amazing job of extending their knowledge of coping techniques and applying it to mini calm kits we put together. 

2) Design night lights that help uplift and support deeper, sounder sleeps. 

I grabbed enough packs of night lights at the dollar store that had a spot at the back to slip in a picture of family (that would project onto the wall when turned on), but instead of placing a photo, we drew happy scenes and wrote motivational messages to support visualization and calm. 


Break it Down 

These coloring pages explore some of the most important pillars of mental health, including: acts of kindness, personal hygiene, social connection, outdoor time, healthy eating, rest, alone time and self-love. Coloring is such a powerful tool to disarm insecurities and reservations that can commonly be associated with expressing how we're feeling. I have used these mental health coloring sheets as a springboard into bigger conversations surrounding self-care and best well-being practice.



Spread the Word

Co-creating murals for the cause has numerous benefits in the theme of well-being, including: problem-solving, mindful coloring, and the opportunity to connect for a greater cause. These collaborative posters serve as powerful visuals to eliminate the stigma associated with prioritizing our mental health, loudly and unapologetically.


Watch & Learn

Below are some fun animated looks at the importance of prioritizing our mental health as much as we would physical, as well as some choices to showcase emotions and feelings. 

Read to Relate

Here are some of my current favorite read alouds to complement your Health curriculum and conversations surrounding mental health. 


How to Train Your Pet Brain by Nelly Buchet 

This visually stunning, important, and often humorous picture book personifies the brain as a pet who we need to nurture and take care of. Following the journey of two "pet owners", it's a great baseline to explain how interconnected our thoughts and actions are, and how our brain has a set of needs that need to be met to feel our best.

Try: Have students write a procedural text on how to train their pet brain.

I Am Stuck by Julia Mills

This is an adorable tale of a turtle who finds himself stuck and wondering how to recover. Perfectly paralleling some complex emotions that we might feel that leave us feeling frozen and helpless, it's a story about the power of friendship and the healing powers of a good belly laugh.

Try: Decorating a turtle shell and writing what helps them overcome the emotional overwhelm that can cause us to feel stuck. 

More than Words by Roz Maclean

In this story, the author explores the plethora of ways in which humans can express themselves. This is a brilliant way of encouraging active listening as students learn that so much can be said beyond the spoken word through art, movement, song and even silence. 

Try: Give students an emotion, phrase or word and have them use different means or mediums to try and showcase this in different ways. 

It's Ok (Being Kind to Yourself When Things Get Hard) by Wendy O'Leary

This read aloud is a beautiful tool to teach our students to always have grace for ourselves while we navigate difficult circumstance. I especially love how it offers an affirmation that students can repeat to themselves as a daily act of self-compassion. 

 Try: Have students come up with a personalized affirmation they can recite after they make a mistake, feel sadness, shame or anger. 

When Sadness is at Your Door by Eva Eland

This all-too relatable tale presents a boy who adamantly tries to cower away from and hide Sadness, the unwanted guest. The author invites the reader to work alongside Sadness, to play with him, to find calm together and be curious until the dawn of a new day and fresh start arrives. 

Try: Our Friendly Feelings Visitor craft. Comment on this blog post if you'd like the link!

The Rabbit Listened by Cori Doerrfeld

This is a powerful story about how more often than not, the best thing we can do for our children is not to problem solve or meddle, but to just listen until emotions have settled.

Try: Dividing the class into partners. Set a 30-second or 1-minute timer and invite one partner to listen for the entirety of the time without interrupting or injecting their opinions or experiences.

When a Friend Needs a Friend  by Roozeboos

Aya and Oskar are the best of friends who love to adventure and storytell. But when Oskar becomes quiet, grumpy and reserved, Aya panics and is flooded with intrusive thoughts, "Did I do something wrong?". She soon learns that Oskar's feelings had become as big as a giant and he just needed time and space to feel instead of having his feelings fixed

Try: Have your group name their big emotion and draw it like a giant. Then draw or build a tower where they can observe their giant and wave to it.  

Create a Safe Spot

Co-creating a calm corner creates a foundation from which students can thrive. Ask them to pick and choose their favorite tools to display to bring the zen zone to life. This process supports self-regulation and encourages your class or small groups to listen to their body so they can best support their brain and heart. For more tips and tricks on how to run a calm down corner, check out the blog post here


Weather Check In for the Classroom 

How do you talk about mental health with your little ones?
  Let me know in the comments below!
Choose SEL & Be Well,
      Namaste in School


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