‘Brain breaks’ for new arrivals – art activities to help transitions to a new school

The first few weeks at a new school are crucial, for educators as well as for pupils. All those rules you thought you knew are suddenly overturned, and you have to learn new ones: new names, new faces, new ways of doing things. Every June, Refugee Week celebrates contributions in the arts made by those who have made it to a safe country. One of the ways in which routine can gradually be restored is when children are in a position to attend school in their new host country. 

While life is full of transitions - scary, exciting, exhausting and bewildering – the challenge is even greater if you’re a new arrival, and find yourself faced with a new language in a new location. Suddenly, lessons are taught, games are played and instructions delivered with words and gestures that are unfamiliar. Any techniques that can help ease that transition must, therefore, be welcomed.
In an effort to ease the way, Rochdale Borough Council commissioned the Art for Wellbeing team at Cartwheel Arts to produce Art for Induction, a package specially designed to offer support to pupils during those crucial first few weeks at a school. Teaching and Learning Advisor for EAL Erica Field describes the activities in the package as ‘brain breaks’ for learners, offering children some much-needed relief from the academic pressures of the first few weeks in a new school.

Educators can use the package to work with children on a one-to-one basis, or with small groups, or for pair work. Although they are especially suitable for UK Key Stage 2 (ages 7-11) the activities can be adapted to older or younger children as required. The amount of time required for each task is also flexible, depending on the needs of the learner, whether they are refugees, economic migrants, or have been relocated for some other reason. 

The activities encourage a mindful approach, focusing on the senses, and staying within the here and now to help bring meaning to the experience. The pack activities are also designed to help reduce anxiety, encouraging children to feel more relaxed in their new environment and develop a sense of self-worth.

The pack has been designed to work with multilingual publisher Mantra Lingua’s innovative PENpal technology, which adds an audio dimension. Educators can choose from 18 different languages on the translation card to facilitate communication. The package was tested with many newly arrived children in a range of educational environments. The suggested time scale is six weeks but, as with all the activities, this can also be adapted. The package is rooted in both practical experience and proven theories - It’s now recognised that art helps with health in general and stories regularly feature in the academic and healthcare press and on mainstream media like the BBC.
Art for Induction featured in detail at the Reaching Out – Art for Wellbeing Conference at Rochdale Town Hall in spring 2019.