The royal mom learned how students at the Alperton Community School used art to improve their mental well-being
Art lover Kate Middleton likes to get her hands messy when playing with her children.
Princess Kate, 37, made the comments as she praised a schoolboy for switching off from the online world of social media and smartphones and concentrating on his artistic side. It came as the royal visited the second school of the day on Tuesday in her bid to highlight well-being during Children’s Mental Health Week.
Questioning teachers about the use of social media in schools, Kate praised art as a means of unlocking children’s creativity and confidence.
During a visit to Alperton Community School, Kate – who majored in art history at university – explained how her son George, 5, had recently picked up a piece of charcoal from the fireplace and asked to draw a picture.
The conversation came as she met some senior art students. One asked her whether she had studied art at school, and she said, “I did, yeah. I loved it. It’s something that I’m loving doing with the children. The papier-mâché! I forgot how messy it was. It’s so messy, but it’s great.”
“George found a piece of charcoal in the fireplace and said, ‘Mummy, I’m going to draw a picture.’ That’s what’s so nice, you can do it from all around you.”
Meeting a group of students who were working with wax and fabric on their batik technique, she disclosed: “I’m desperate to go back to tie-dying! Do you remember tie-dying?”
Speaking of the benefits of art, she added: “It expresses your creativity and can help your confidence.”
“I loved art when I was at school, and I did art A Level as well,” Kate said. “I still look back on that time and still love the skills I learnt then, so I hope you’ll feel the same. It will be a skill you’ll have for life.”
Talented pupil Shaquille, 16, told her, “Art grounds me. It makes me calm and makes me think. It makes me in the moment instead of being on social media.”
And when she was shown the drawings and sketches he does in his spare time, Kate praised him. “This is what you can do if you don’t use on social media. It’s a fantastic advert,” she said. “Honestly, it’s really, really incredible.”
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Earlier during the visit to the London school, Kate joined a round table meeting of staff and mental health support workers to hear about its approach to wellbeing and therapy. The royal mom told that the rapidly changing online technology was something they “battle with every day,” Kate heard from senior teachers that as soon as they “got to grips” with one app or social network, “another one turns up.”
Kate asked, “Is social media used at school?” And, while told it was largely an out-of-school problem, teachers said they still update parents regularly about the online world students are using via a newsletter.
The royal also asked about mental health provision and whether young people self-refer to the school’s therapist, as well as whether teachers are helped with their own well-being.
“You can’t just look at the well-being of children without looking at the whole context,” she said. “The school and the home. So many times parents haven’t had a good experience at school themselves.”
The Duchess of Cambridge then joined the school’s “Random Acts of Kindness” club, which sees pupils writing inspirational messages to send to staff and prefects to boost morale.
“So much time and effort and energy goes into making these, it must be so appreciated by those who receive them,” she remarked.
“Does it make you happy by making them happy? Does it make you feel good?” she asked. “It goes a long way to making you feel good about yourself.”
In a third session, an art class in the school’s textiles room, Kate met students working on batik, as she reminisced about her own time as an art student.
“This is amazing, it’s really clever how you’re using so many different mediums,” she said.
Kate was shown around Alperton Community School by the Britain’s first recipient of the Varkey Foundation Global Teacher Prize, Andria Zafirakou, who won in 2018 in recognition of her contribution to the school community.
The London school is considered as at the forefront of mental health provision in schools, with trained specialist counsellors and a strategy for speaking to both students and parents.
Zafirakou said of Princess Kate’s visit, “We’ve never had these opportunities before and what was lovely about the visit was how passionate and interested Her Royal Highness was in our students, how well she communicated with them and how open they were with her.”
“Our approach is that we’re not an exam factory type of school, we do look at the children’s well-being and prepare them for their futures and also how to look after themselves,” Zafirakou told reporters. “And I don’t think we would ever survive if we don’t have that approach.”
She added, “So she’s a very hands on mum who understands about being creative – it’s just brilliant and lovely to hear that, and as a mother myself I know exactly what that means.”