A Toronto arts educator is tackling some of the most pressing difficulties of the pandemic head on by incorporating the benefits of breathing mindfulness and emotion exploration in his elementary classes.

Michael Hodgson teaches drama, dance and music at with the Toronto District School Board at Perth Avenue Junior Public School.

“All emotions are valid, all emotions exist within all people. This is a human factor that all of us experience things and we can learn strategies and calm ourselves down and breath through issues,” Hodgson told CTV News Toronto Thursday.

Since COVID-19 has upended school and life Hodgson has focused on activities around emotions to help students get in touch with or alter a feeling for a positive impact on mental health.

Hodgson, who is a former musical theatre actor, has been teaching for a decade. He said wanted to share the benefits of what he was doing in his own life with his students.

Some exercises are more breathing focused, others centres around feelings.

In one activity, Hodgson plays a drum. Students use their bodies and faces to show their emotions and with movement express how they feel or want to feel.

The movements can be twisting for happy, hiding for nervous, crumbling for sleepy, spinning for excitement or stomping for angry.

“The breathing things help you be more clam and then some of the activities get you moving,” said Grade 3 student Caio Ramos.

“Your mental health is really important because if you don’t talk about it you might have some problems,” another Grade 3 student, Beatrix Ambachtsheer, said.

The class also focuses on positive thinking and asks students to think of what makes them amazing.

Hodgson says the activities have created a connection with his students he hasn’t had before.

“There’s a unity that happens with that and there’s a collective goal of having a great mindset when those things are happening and having a focused, productive mindset and a positive one,” he said.

Hodgson said he’s noticed students look forward to the activities and it’s important to allow kids to be open and honest about their feelings and schedule a time for it.

“Even if it’s a five-minute breathing, or a guided breathing exercise will have immediate change,” he said.

Hodgson’s work was brought to the attention of the board by parents on Twitter.

Education Minister Stephen Lecce dropped in on one of Hodgson’s classes Thursday, which also fell on Bell Let’s Talk Day.

“I’m happy and I’m just so proud for every one of you for joining today and staying positive,” Lecce told the class.

TDSB Board Chair Alexander Brown called Hodgson one of the great examples.

Brown said he acknowledges the activities Hodgson has been doing aren’t for everyone, but encouraged educators, leaders within the board and at the provincial level to listen to the expertise of teachers.

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