Leeds leads the way in a programme that puts excercise and welfare of children before academic pressures
A self-development and running club for young girls has seen an increase in take up as the need for well-being rather than education of children takes precedence in schools.
Mini Mermaid Running Club UK is an American concept, brought to England by a Leeds mum, with the city being the first in the country to roll programmes out to schools back in 2015.
It aims to build self-confidence, resilience and self-esteem into girls aged 7 and 11 through excercise. While not a running club as such, it allows girls to explore and find out what kind of physical activities they want to take part in.
Hannah Corne discovered Mini Mermaids while researching the relationship between physical activity and well-being because her daughter experienced Selective Mutism. It is an anxiety disorder that made it difficult for her to interact with other children and adults verbally but her anxiety decreased when she was outside, playing, or riding her bike.
Moor Allerton Hall Primary School was the first in the UK to take up the courses offered by Mini Mermaids and since then demand has grown.
"We are not creating runners as such, but use it because it is a simple form of activity, you don't need specialist equipment so there are less barriers to taking part. But, we do embrace the value of movement and use it as a tool to help mental health."
It is shown that by the time they reach 14, activity levels for girls become very low due to lack of confidence and social media pressures so Mini Mermaids aims to instill from an early age how activity is intrinsic to keeping mental health balanced.
There are four different curriculums tailored to meet relevance, age and experiences girls may have every day. Schools can order a programme and Mini Mermaids provides the resource and even training for teachers. Sessions are delivered in groups of up to 12 and include instructions, objectives, games, workouts and journal exercises, leading up to a 5k challenge.
Ms Corne said: "I am not a teacher and do not work in an education setting but I am a mum, have experience around movement and activity and definitely feel that children are being forgotten about during this pandemic. They are expected to bounce back and accept they are in school, out of school, can't see friends and grandparents.
"What is not at the forefront is how we will help them recover - it is so much more than catching up on Maths and English. I have been having a few conversations with schools in my area and they have all said 'we are taking the recovery into our own hands'. When we do have to focus on Maths and English, if we get them in the right headspace and relaxed, everything else will come with."
Mini Mermaid Running UK is also starting a similar programme aimed at boys which looks at emotional intelligence, respect and teamwork.
Ms Corne added: "In Leeds we have so many fantastic organisations that focus on children's health and well-being and there are so many resources that schools can reach out to but what we are not saying is that schools have all the answers. They are under so much pressure to fix society's problems, we all have a responsibility to our children to help them."