“Mum, I haven’t got that Sunday feeling today,” declared 10-year-old Elizabeth Fowler at the weekend. A few days earlier she had excitedly brought home a letter from school informing parents that lessons were being cancelled for a week and replaced with outdoor activities and team-building games.

So rather than spending Sunday worrying about another week of rigorous academic catch-up, Elizabeth was looking forward to a week of catching up on making memories instead.

“Children have missed out on school trips, they’ve missed out on celebrations, discos, Halloween, all those sorts of things,” said her mother, Heather Fowler. “We’re talking about a week just to give children some of those experiences back and that’s going to make such a massive difference.”

The initiative at Nether Kellet primary school in Carnforth, Lancashire, named Wellbeing Welly Week, will see pupils from the year 5 and 6 class spend a week in non-uniform and wellies doing mainly outdoor activities such as gardening, treasure hunts and, weather permitting, building campfires, “because we’ve gone too long without marshmallows”, the school said.

“We just decided that although we do need to do catch up in academic stuff, the children need a bit of a break and the social side of things has been what they’ve missed the most because they’ve all been stuck at home,” said the headteacher, Nicki Brough.

“I think all teachers are very aware that unless children are in the right place to learn mentally, things just don’t go in, so they need a different approach.”

Fowler said she was pleased to see the school placing more emphasis on children’s emotional wellbeing, when the government’s catch-up programme is so heavily focused on boosting academic attainment.

“We’ve got to stop seeing children as something other than just people who’ve had a rough ride during this pandemic,” said Fowler, adding that although the family hadn’t struggled too much in lockdown, Elizabeth, like many children, was spending more time indoors and in front of screens. “We need childhood experiences so we can grow up into happier and healthier adults.”

In February a group of academics calling themselves PlayFirstUK wrote to the education secretary, Gavin Williamson, calling for an emphasis on play, mental health and wellbeing as children emerge from lockdown. “This spring and summer should not be filled with extra lessons,” the letter said. “Children, teachers and parents need time and space to recover from the stress that the past year has placed on them.”

Fowler said she was “overwhelmed” when a tweet she wrote about her daughter’s school’s initiative went viral, with over 120,000 likes and hundreds of comments from parents saying they wish their child’s school was doing something similar.

“But it does concern me that this tweet has had such a response, because it isn’t a revolutionary idea,” she said. “It’s definitely a conversation that needs to happen so I’m hoping for that ripple effect, that other schools will see it and think it’s a good idea. Staff need an opportunity to reconnect with the kids as well.”

This content first appear on the guardian

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