This project was delivered by Verbal with support from the Garfield Weston Foundation. Verbal designed a 12-week Shared Reading programme aimed at improving mental wellbeing and helping young children to understand and manage challenging emotions and behaviours.

Providing young children with these skills is vital in the context of relatively poor childhood mental health in Northern Ireland (Bunting et al., 2020) and funding cuts to mental health services in schools that are posited to leave children “without vital support” (British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy, 2023).

The programme adopted a whole-school approach as sessions were delivered by teachers and supported by classroom assistants. Programme delivery was completed in 21 classes in 14 schools between January-June 2023, reaching a total of 527 students delivered across 213 storytelling sessions.

Mental wellbeing significantly improved in 43% of children after taking part in the programme and helped children to feel more calm. Improvements in wellbeing were highest for the youngest children in the programme.

The ability to understand and manage emotions also improved in 43% of children. Children particularly improved in their ability to recognise their emotions, regulate their emotions, and to empathise with others. Children were also less likely to be hurt by unkind words and were more likely to self-soothe when upset.

Programme feedback was positive from both children and teachers. Children enjoyed stories and accompanying illustrations, felt listened to during classroom discussions, and would take part in the programme again. Children learned lessons from stories such as being kind to themselves and others and what they should do when they are feeling overwhelmed. Teachers felt that stories were effective in providing mental health lessons that children could relate to that led to important classroom discussions such as the importance of not bottling up emotions.

Our programme significantly improved mental wellbeing and helped children to understand and manage their emotions in a manner that they found enjoyable and could relate to. These findings indicate that Verbal’s programmes are effective in improving children’s mental health and wellbeing. Furthermore, they suggest that Shared Reading can both improve mental wellbeing and embed mental health knowledge and support directly within schools, helping to reduce stigma and to make mental health support more accessible.

To read the full report, please click here.