Mental Health Awareness Week – While We Can’t Hug Lesson Plan

When offered the opportunity to contribute a lesson plan for the One Dance UK Education Bulletin I felt it was important to create something that is relevant to the current situation we (still) find ourselves in, but, that would also stand the test of time and continue to be a useful resource in the future. I do like to set myself a challenge!

The book While We Can’t Hug, written by Eoin McLaughlin and illustrated by Polly Dunbar (2020), is about two friends; Hedgehog and Tortoise, who cannot hug and so they have to think of other ways they can show each other they care. This is a situation that all children now have personal experience of after the past year and have navigated in different ways. However, it is a situation that will continue to exist for many children, whether they live far away from their family or because a family member is vulnerable and so physical contact may not be possible.

When thinking about the national curriculum While We Can’t Hug has clear links to the Personal, Social, Health and Economic (PSHE) curriculum; particularly when thinking about how to support children to develop positive relationships with the people in their lives as well as promoting their mental health. During Mental Health Awareness Week it seems especially important to share and highlight resources like this, particularly this year as we focus on helping children with all the changes they are experiencing.

I’ve split this story into sections each containing inclusive ideas which explore different ways we can show others we care and that can be used and adapted for different groups. There are so many ideas within While We Can’t Hug and so I’ve deliberately written the plan so that different individuals can use it in a way that makes sense for them and those they’re working with.

During Mental Health Awareness Week the focus is on starting conversations about mental health and the things in our daily lives that can affect it. This story can support these discussions and be used as a starting point to talk about, for example;

  • all of the different things we can still do for our family and friends even when we can’t see them and give them a hug,
  • our emotions during these experiences, how it is ok to feel the way we do and for us to guide children to process how they are feeling.

This book has become a personal favourite of mine and most children I know have received a copy as a gift at some point during the last year. As well as sharing ideas through this creative dance lesson plan, I have also used it in our ‘Splatter Natter’ sessions where children and their families can learn the key Makaton vocabulary from the book.

The focus of this lesson plan is for a Primary school aged group of children who have additional needs; though as an inclusive plan it is easily adaptable for all children. Due to the resources focus, I’ve highlighted some free resources from the Makaton charity as well as a Makaton signed story read by Mr Tumble. As a Makaton Tutor it’s important to mention that both of these resources will support all children’s speech, language and communication regardless of age or ‘need’. All children continue to develop these skills and so making experiences as visual as possible, which Makaton does very effectively, will only be of further benefit. If you would like to find out more about Makaton please get in touch.

The While We Can’t Hug lesson can be found here.

The free Makaton resources can be found here – please sign up for a free account to access to lots of free resources.

The Makaton signed story read by Mr Tumble can be found here.

This blog is written by Emma Jones; Founder and Artistic Director. To subscribe to our next blog or to let us know what you think please get in touch.