12 May 2021

More than 500 worry dolls created for Strathburn pupils

As pupils and teachers across Aberdeenshire prepare submissions for our time capsule project with the Evening Express and Press and Journal newspapers which will see their lockdown memories saved for future generations, those at Strathburn School in Inverurie are enjoying the opportunity to show off their worry dolls and highlight the importance of health and wellbeing in their everyday.

The toys were hand-knitted by a collection of staff members, parents and even parents of teachers for more than 460 Strathburn pupils during the first lockdown in 2020. The thinking was to encourage children to share any concerns they had and remind them they still had the support of their school community. Staff members delivered the worry dolls on their daily walks and soon everyone was looking forward to the day theirs would arrive.

Since that time every new pupil to Strathburn School has been provided with their own worry doll. They are also preparing for a new cohort of Primary 1s and the intention is to continue handing these out in years to come. To date, more than 500 worry dolls have been lovingly created, with the mum of one staff member contributing around 200 of these herself!

How did it all come about?

The staff team at Strathburn realised that the one certainty for some children is going to school, and that quickly changed. They were all in a situation they had not experienced before and looked around for ideas as to how they could support children. That’s when they came across the concept of worry dolls.

Head teacher Barbara Milne wrote a poem to go to the children’s homes with the worry dolls and read the story ‘Silly Billy’ to pupils which is about a doll who takes away children’s worries during the night while they are sleeping.

Barbara explained: “We knew some of the children were feeling anxious during those early days and we knew that talking and sharing those worries is a big part of feeling safe and healthy. Talking to a worry doll can make it easier to share a concern with another person and we have had great feedback from parents who have said how the dolls help to encourage their children to open up.

“Each doll is completely unique and we hope they are also a good reminder that there is always someone from school who can help and support families too.”

Learning providers across Scotland use a set of eight SHANARRI wellbeing indicators to guide their health and wellbeing curriculum. At Strathburn, the children are encouraged to have an awareness of these and understand why wellbeing is important and what they can do to support their own wellbeing.

Barbara added: “Wellbeing is our first priority because this enables young people to access learning and realise their full potential. Nurture is fundamental to what we do as a school and this is about supporting families, as well as children, to thrive. We have an ongoing focus on promoting the wellbeing of all members of our school community and while this is done throughout the school we also try to support families with small things such as a Lidl helping hand table at school – with stock approaching its sell by date donated so that families can come and get what they might need.

“We also have a ‘New To You’ uniform cupboard where families can hand in outgrown uniform and take anything that may be helpful. It really is important that our children feel safe and secure, and that requires families, schools and the wider community all to work together.

“I’m really proud of our whole school and wider community and how well everybody has come together through difficult times. From staff who have realised how much of a difference they could make through regular contact with families to the sense of teamwork classes were still able to achieve even when they were at home – it is just really lovely to be part of.” 

The worry dolls have been so well-received, Aberdeenshire Council’s educational psychologists heard about them anecdotally via their helpline, with feedback from struggling parents who explained how much of a comfort they had been.

Head of Education Vincent Docherty commented: “They say a problem shared is a problem halved and it is so true. Our psychologists are very impressed by the positive impact Strathburn have made here and I absolutely share that enthusiasm.

“I know some of these wee dolls have been given their own beds, houses or pride of place on bedside tables and that is testament not only to how much the dolls mean to them but how much the support of their school does too.”  

As well as submitting a worry doll for inclusion in the time capsule project, Strathburn’s classes are currently considering what else they plan to present for inclusion.

If you are looking for some more pointers on supporting positive mental health, please check out our educational psychology service website: https://blogs.glowscotland.org.uk/as/aberdeenshireeps/ or please visit https://clearyourhead.scot/ for lots of tips and ways to access additional support.