Can books at home help children thrive? 🧒👧📚📖🗞

• A child growing up in a home with at least 80 books will have greater literacy and numeracy in adulthood.
• A home library can promote reading and math skills more than college alone can.
• Growing up in a pro-learning home leads to a lifetime of knowledge-seeking.
The average number of books in a U.S. household is 114, according to a just-published paper called “Scholarly culture: How books in adolescence enhance adult literacy, numeracy and technology skills in 31 societies.” 114 is a good number. The paper’s authors studied 160,000 adults between 2011 and 2015 and found that just having 80 or more books in a home results in adults with significantly higher levels of literacy, numeracy, and information communication technology (ICT) skills. The paper finds, “Growing up with home libraries boosts adult skills in these areas beyond the benefits accrued from parental education or own educational or occupational attainment.”
The effect was found to be powerful in: Children from such homes who ended up attaining just a high-school-level education “become as literate, numerate and technologically apt in adulthood as university graduates who grew up with only a few books.”
It’s not quite the more books the better
The study, led by Dr. Joanna Sikora of Australian National University, found the greatest gains in adult literacy, numeracy, and ICT skills when a home had from 80 to 350 books — no additional gains were seen above that number. Nonetheless, what constitutes a large library depends on where you are. Scandinavian families had the biggest collections: 14% of Norwegians and 13% of Swedes had 500+ books in their homes home. Only a handful of countries, though, own fewer than 80 books on average: Chile, Greece, Italy, Singapore, and Turkey.
The effect of digital media
A reasonable question to ask would be about the effect of the rise in digital books. The study downplays the impact of this trend on its findings, saying, “For the time being, however, the perception that social practice of print book consumption is passé is premature.” The reason for this is that large digital libraries, for now at least, parallel large paper ones: “…home library size is positively related to higher levels of digital literacy so, the evidence suggests that for some time to come, engagement with material objects of scholarly culture in parental homes, i.e. books, will continue to confer significant benefits for adult ICT competencies.”
Why does living with a home library help?
The study suggests that there are two factors at play here. First is the impact of growing up in a pro-knowledge/learning social environment, since “adolescent exposure to books is an integral part of social practices that foster long term cognitive competencies.” Second, reading often helps individuals develop related skills, and, as the study says, “Early exposure to books in [the] parental home matters because books are an integral part of routines and practices that enhance lifelong cognitive competencies.” Moreover, “These competencies facilitate educational and occupational attainment, but they also lay a foundation for life-long routine activities that enhance literacy and numeracy.”
Since the report found that “university graduates who grew up with hardly any books around them had roughly average literacy levels,” it stands to reason that having books around the house is an excellent investment in a child’s future. The authors write, “So, literacy-wise, bookish adolescence makes for a good deal of educational advantage.” When it comes to numeracy, a substantive home library’s benefits holds true, as “its impacts are equivalent to [having] additional years of education.”
The study’s conclusions should be heartening to families around the world unable to provide higher education for their children. Having books around the house can substantially level the playing field in reading and math skills even without the expense of post-secondary time in the classroom.
For those who can send their kids to college, the study suggests that raising a child in a bookish atmosphere may be a prerequisite to deriving the full benefit of a college education, and, of course, it provides a child with an even greater chance of success in adulthood.

Rolling out mental health trials in schools

Anna Moore and Dr Daniel Hayes, researchers at the Evidence Based Practice Unit (UCL and Anna Freud Centre), discuss their leading research into mental health and wellbeing in schools.

As recently announced by the education secretary Damian Hinds, thousands of children and young people are taking part in our randomised control trials evaluating different mental health and wellbeing interventions in schools. The latest NHS digital prevalence survey suggested that emotional difficulties in young people are on the rise, and one in eight five- to 19-year-olds have at least one mental health difficulty. These figures highlight the need for action – the Department for Education is funding us to deliver the Education for Wellbeing programme, one of the largest studies in the world of its kind.

The Anna Freud Centre is committed to building the evidence base for mental health in schools, and the Education for Wellbeing programme forms part of the centre’s extensive work with schools across England. It provides resources and support for pupils, teachers and parents, and through its research contributes to evidence-based practice, informing policy at a local and governmental level.

Led by the Evidence Based Practice Unit (EBPU) (UCL and Anna Freud National Centre for Children and Families), over 370 schools and around 30,000 pupils across England will take part in the drive to produce robust evidence about what works best for pupils’ mental health and wellbeing.

The Education for Wellbeing programme consists of two separate trials: AWARE and INSPIRE. Both explore the impact of different mental health and wellbeing approaches in school, in recognition of the significant time children spend at school and the important role that school staff can play in recognising changes in pupils’ behaviour or mood.

AWARE (150 secondary schools) aims to implement and evaluate two interventions with Year 9 pupils. Both interventions focus on improving pupil’s knowledge and awareness around mental health, reducing stigma, and encouraging help-seeking.

  • Youth Aware of Mental Health (YAM) is delivered in schools by external mental health professionals. It is a structured programme of five sessions involving group discussions and role plays.
  • The guide aims to increase mental health literacy in pupils and staff and consists of six sessions delivered by trained teachers.

INSPIRE (160 primary and 70 secondary schools) investigates three interventions aimed at improving pupils’ wellbeing. Schools are working with Years 4, 5, 7 and 8 to evaluate approaches delivered by trained school staff:

  • Mindfulness is delivered for five minutes each day and consists of mindful breathing exercises and other activities focused on self-awareness of sensations, emotions, and thoughts.
  • Relaxation is also delivered to classes for five minutes every day and involves deep breathing and muscle relaxation exercises.
  • Strategies for Safety and Wellbeing draws on emerging practice in some UK schools around teaching practical approaches to personal safety (protective behaviours). It consists of eight 45-minute sessions in which pupils explore the themes of risk, noticing early warning signs, and recognising the importance of support networks.

The evaluation team at EBPU are using survey data, focus groups, and interviews to examine the impact and experiences of these interventions on pupils and staff when compared to usual practice. This research has the potential to transform mental health promotion in schools, giving teachers and other school staff the confidence to promote pupil wellbeing and support the children and young people they work with.

We are delighted to have received great feedback from schools involved. One young person said: “…if it was to be all around the country, it will help other schools as well. It will raise awareness about what’s going on and I think it will help… It will make the country a better place I think, to be very honest.

A class teacher said: “I feel empowered by it, you know? I feel like these subjects are not talked about enough.”


BBC in the News

Northern Ireland’s hospital emergency departments deal with, on average, 28 cases of self harm daily, figures show.
More than 50,000 cases have been dealt with in the past five years.
One trust area dealt with 15 incidents involving children under the age of 10. Annually, about 1,000 child cases are seen by emergency departments.
Dr Denise O’Hagan, of the Public Health Agency, said self-harm should always be taken seriously due to patients’ severe emotional distress.
“Self-harm is when a person harms themselves through injury or poisoning and it can take many different forms,” she said.
“It may be something which is kept hidden from others.
“For some people, self-harm is a way of coping with and communicating their distress, but for others it can be associated with a wish to end their lives.”
Self-harm can include everything from punching or hitting, to cutting or burning.
The figures were released in response to a Freedom of Information request from BBC News NI to all five health trusts, and four of them covered the financial years from 2013 to 2018.
The Northern Trust provided data from September 2013 to August 2018.
The number of teenage girls self-harming in Northern Ireland jumped by 66% in five years, in keeping with trends in the rest of the UK which show that instances among young women almost doubled during the past two decades.
Where were the most incidents?
 With almost 15,000 cases, the South-Eastern Trust had the highest number of self-harm reports.
 At just over 5,000, the Northern Trust area had the lowest number of cases.
 Girls aged 18 and under are almost twice as likely to self-harm as boys.
 The Northern Trust dealt with 15 incidents involving under-10s, while there were 12 cases of people over 80.
 In the Belfast and Western areas, there were larger numbers of women self-harming – the opposite was true within the Northern and South-Eastern trusts.
 The Southern Health Trust did not provide a gender breakdown of the figures.
One patient, who wishes to be known as Sandra, told BBC News NI she began hurting herself at secondary school a decade ago as a “coping mechanism” following childhood sexual abuse.
“Initially my mum had supported me to contact the GP; I attended the GP who then referred me on to a mental health team,” she said.
“I have been to so many counsellors in the past, I never felt like I was able to speak with them like I can now with my counsellor. In the past I felt like I was being judged.
“At the start, I dreaded every session as I knew that I would have to talk about things that were difficult, but now I don’t think about it, I see it as a positive session.”
But the government collapsed in early 2017, with no subsequent opportunity for MLAs to debate the issue.
The Department of Health said that when someone who has self-harmed attends an emergency department, he or she will be assessed by the mental health team and provided with the appropriate service either in the trust or through the community and voluntary sector.
There is a specialised programme that aims to provide an early intervention service for people who self-harm with a view to preventing serious physical harm and suicide attempts.
But not all those who self-harm present to EDs. Some will go to their GP, some to community and voluntary sector groups, and others do not seek medical help.
There were more than 700 referrals last year to the charity, Zest NI, which operates self-harm counselling services at clinics in five locations across the Western Trust area.
However, Conor McCafferty, the co-director of the charity, said last year it saw 125 people who came in off the street and had not been to an emergency department.
“Although the statistics are frightening, the important thing is that the services are there to support this population but we can’t make the person come to us,” he said.
Mr McCafferty said that there was an increased number of men coming forward for help, but noted that the instances of self-harming among young women remains “very high”.
The Department of Health said it had been working towards an evaluation of the Bamford report regarding mental health provision in Northern Ireland, but the government had collapsed before it could get ministerial approval. It said it was developing a five-year plan for mental health in Northern Ireland.
Meanwhile, it said, the Public Health Agency continues to invest more than £8m a year to deliver suicide prevention and emotional health and wellbeing services.
Original blog:

Harmless drop in dates

Our sessions are friendly and welcoming. We create a relaxed atmosphere with approachable staff who provide important information explaining how our service can support you, your friends and family or a colleague. We can offer information or advice about any concerns you may have around self harm.
Please see poster for details.

Silent disco for Hertfordshire dementia care home residents 💃🕺 – what a wonderful idea?

A silent disco for residents at a dementia care home in Hertfordshire has been greeted with a “fantastic” response.
People living at Margaret House, Barley, took part in the trial session – believed by organisers to be the first time the audio experience has been used as a stimulus for UK dementia patients.
Leanne Smith, activities coordinator at the residency, got the idea from a care home in Australia.
Watching people engage and enjoy themselves at the event just made her “well up”, she said.

Bristol nursery promoting imaginative play

A preschool is trialing a no-toys rule for a month, to see what effect it has on the children. Illminster Avenue Nursery School in Knowle West, Bristol, has swapped the plastic toys for cardboard boxes and train tickets.
It says the move is not about depriving the children, but challenging their play and learning experiences. Supporting the children to develop imaginative play.
Click the link to watch a short video about this exciting experiment.

Mother’s Day and grief
Mother’s day and the lead up can be extremely difficult for anyone whose mum or child has died. The day may bring with it many painful and difficult feelings, and we wanted to reach out to support you on this day. Take some time on this day to really look after yourself and do things that you know normally you enjoy.
Sometimes the anticipation of certain times of year can be worse than the actual days themselves. Perhaps the most important thing is to simply recognise that the upcoming days or weeks might be hard.
It’s OK if you don’t want to go out
Sometimes just having a nice bunch of flowers or a photo to look at, in the comfort of your home, and a still moment of reflection can help you through the day.
Spend time outdoors
Research shows us that spending time in nature makes us feel happier. Spending time outdoors to reflect and take comfort in nature may be helpful particularly on this day.
Be kind to yourself
You may feel emotionally drained and it’s important to really put yourself first today. Whatever it means to support you….a dinner you love, an exercise class, walk in the park, your favourite movie. Be gentle with yourself today. You’re doing your best and your best is good enough.
Reach out if you need support
If you are struggling reach out to someone you feel close to. Or if you know the day will be hard, speak to a friend or family member and pre arrange company on this day.
Involve children in decisions on the day
Involving children on decision for the day empowers them and will support them through the day. Ask them and really listen empathically to how they feel about Mother’s Day. Provide them with a safe space where they are able to explore the feelings this day is bringing up. They may even come up with a wonderfully creative and imaginative idea for the day. Don’t be afraid to ask.
Don’t feel guilty
Allow yourself to enjoy moments when they happen and don’t feel bad when they do. It’s ok to be sad and it’s ok to be happy. This is normal, healthy and human. We all manage differently and that’s okay too.
If you need support on this day…
Marie Curie are free to call on Mother’s day 10am-4pm on 0800 090 2309
Cruse Bereavement Care are going live on Facebook at 3pm, they will offer a warm and safe space to ask questions around care and support.
You can also contact Samaritans for free on 116 123.

No matter what life throws your way, there is a way of getting through – Guest blog

Recently we spoke with a wonderful lady called Charlotte, and we wanted to share with you her story. Charlotte was bereaved by suicide in 2010, and has shared her journey in this heartbreaking and beautifully written blog filled with hope.

My Mum took her own life in December 2010. My brother found her. It was devastating. I have only recently felt strong enough to connect with others about my process of grief and I’m just hoping it helps with anyone else with finding the strength to overcome grief by suicide.

Every so often a human decides they are not strong enough for their life anymore. They ‘check out’ so to speak. At that point … there is only despair. No hope. They might have the number for the crisis team and have good family support. They might even have ‘got through this before’ .
They break into pieces so small that they feel they can’t put themselves back together and leaving seems their only option, a release even.

This is my mum. She fought her demons for many years behind a very very beautiful smile. A perfect veil for her pain.

My message through this experience of grief … is this … you must practice gratitude every waking moment. Cherish your loved ones. Tell them you love them as often as you can. Appreciate we are all so different, we cope differently and we act differently. Acceptance is everything, I have learnt to let go lightly and to cry whenever I need to and reach out for support when needed.

Have the courage to change your life if there are things that need changing. Life is far too short and fleeting to procrastinate. A friend of my Mums said to me at the funeral.. ‘you may not see it now but change brings about change’. She was right. I completed a four year degree after my Mum died, I went back to Uni aged thirty two and studied Occupational Therapy, after the four year part time course, I was awarded a First Class Degree and I won a research award for my final piece of research that focused on the recovery model within mental health.

I now work within children and young peoples services as a therapist at a mental health drop in. We hope that giving young people someone to talk to at the time of need may well prevent long term mental illness. It is my way of being part of something that aims to prevent crisis situations in the future and offer people the tools to cope with pain and suffering.

My Son was only fourteen months when my Mum died. He will never hear her infectious laughter, or see her dance to soul music. He will not know how much of a great cook she was or how beautifully she made everything look including herself. What he will know however, is that no matter what life throws your way, there is a way of getting through and he will know that if you have true faith in your heart, life can and always will be a celebration every day.

I’ve had to learn how to accept my mum’s choice. I now dance with her , sing with her and laugh with her. She is in my DNA … I allow our DNA to sparkle rather than fade.

Without her I would not be me. I’m grateful for her strength to hang on and I’m grateful for her effervescence. Eternally.


On behalf of Harmless and The Tomorrow Project, thank you for sharing with us your story Charlotte. We are all truly touched by your strength and hope others can take comfort in knowing that ‘no matter what life throws your way, there is a way of getting through’.


All pupils will be taught about mental and physical wellbeing

Three new subjects will be universal from 2020 to ensure school prepares pupils for the modern world – health education, relationships education and RSE.
All children in England will be taught how to look after their mental wellbeing and recognise when classmates may be struggling, as the Government unveils new guidance for the introduction of compulsory health education.
Bold new plans set out today (Monday 25 February) by the Education Secretary Damian Hinds confirm that, from September 2020, pupils of all ages will be taught the new subject – with a focus on promoting the positive link between physical and mental health.
This comes alongside the introduction of compulsory relationships education for primary-age pupils and relationships and sex education (RSE) for secondary-age pupils, to ensure children have all the knowledge they need to grow up healthy, happy and safe.
It follows an extensive call for evidence and three-month consultation on the draft regulations and guidance. This received more than 11,000 responses including from leading charities, teaching unions and subject associations – many of whom have welcomed today’s proposals.
Making health education universal – and updating sex education guidance for the first time since 2000 – will ensure pupils are prepared for the opportunities and challenges of an “ever more complex” world, both on- and offline.
Education Secretary Damian Hinds said:
Growing up and adolescence are hard enough, but the internet and social media add new pressures that just weren’t there even one generation ago. So many things about the way people interact have changed, and this new world, seamless between online and offline, can be difficult to navigate. Almost twenty years on from the last time guidance on sex education was updated, there is a lot to catch up on.
Although sex education is only mandatory to teach at secondary, it must be grounded in a firm understanding and valuing of positive relationships, and respect for others, from primary age. In turn positive relationships are connected with good mental health, which itself is linked with physical wellbeing. So it is appropriate to make health education universal alongside relationships and sex education.
I’m very grateful to the many people who have fed into developing these new programmes, to equip youngsters better to deal with the world of today. It starts as it always did with the importance of friendship, kindness, taking turns; as well as learning about the pitfalls and dangers, including on the internet. It will help children learn how to look after themselves, physically and mentally, and the importance of getting away from the screen and the headphones. And it can help young people be resilient as they chart a course through an ever more complex world.
At primary school, pupils will learn that mental wellbeing is a normal part of daily life and why simple self-care – like getting enough sleep and spending time outdoors and with friends – is important.
This will go hand-in-hand with content on nutrition, the importance of staying active, and recognising the early signs of physical illness – ensuring pupils understand how mental and physical health are linked.
Primary school children will also be taught age-appropriate online safety – including what to do if they come across things they are uncomfortable with, the importance of respect for others even when posting anonymously, and the risks of talking to people on the internet that they don’t know in real life.
In addition, they will learn how important it is that spending time online doesn’t get in the way of exercising, getting enough sleep, or being an active part of their community.
Today’s announcement will follow the mental health support being made available by the NHS to a population of more than 470,000 children and young people across England in schools and colleges from September 2019.
The Department for Education is also funding training for senior mental health leads in schools and colleges to ensure a ‘whole school’ approach to mental health and wellbeing.
The new secondary content will build on everything learned at primary school, ensuring pupils can spot the signs of common mental illnesses such as anxiety and depression in themselves or others. Young people will learn how to discuss their emotions accurately and sensitively, about the impact of alcohol and drugs on physical and mental health, and how to access professional help.
Secondary pupils will also be taught online safety topics, including the serious risks of sharing private photos, the impact of viewing explicit or harmful content – including how to report it and get support – as well as how the internet can sometimes promote an unhealthy view of sex and relationships.
In addition, schools will be able to access supporting information on how to teach about all aspects of internet safety – not just those relating to relationships, sex and health – to help teachers deliver this in a co-ordinated and coherent way. The new content will complement the existing computing curriculum, which gives pupils a grounding in how to use technology safely, responsibly, respectfully and securely.
It will be left up to schools to decide exactly how they teach the new content, giving them the flexibility to promote health, wellbeing and respectful relationships – as many already do through PSHE – both across the curriculum and outside formal lessons.
To ensure teachers are well-prepared ahead of the subjects becoming mandatory in 2020, there will be a £6m budget in 2019/20 for a school support package to cover training and resources. The Department for Education will also provide support to early-adopter schools who will start teaching the new content from September 2019.
The lessons learned from early-adopters will be shared with other schools, to enable them to design high-quality programmes of study and prepare their teachers. The department will also offer training – either online or face-to-face – for teachers who might need it.
Government support will build on a range of free resources from charities and other organisations that are already available for schools to use.
Jonathan Baggaley, chief executive of the PHSE Association, said:
We strongly welcome this government commitment to compulsory education on health, RSE and relationships. Parents, teachers and young people have been crying out for more focus on PSHE education, so will be delighted that this core content will be guaranteed on the school curriculum. The PSHE Association looks forward to supporting all schools to make the most of this huge opportunity.
Anna Feuchtwang, chief executive of the National Children’s Bureau, said:
The guidance published today is a welcome step forward in preparing children for adulthood, improving their wellbeing and keeping them safe and healthy. By providing compulsory health education with a strong focus on mental wellbeing, and guaranteeing relationships education in primary schools and relationships and sex education in secondary schools, the Government has responded to the needs and concerns of children, young people and parents.
This is an important milestone but there is further work ahead to ensure the new requirements fulfil their potential for helping children grow up healthier and happier.