About SKIPs and MAT programs – at Woori Yallock Primary School

Supporting Kids in Primary Schools (SKIPS) program

‘The purpose of the SKIPS program was to educate about mental health promotion to our staff, students and families. Our year 5/6 students received three, one-hour lessons and staff received two after-school sessions.
This program aimed to strengthen student and parent understanding of mental health and skills and to support their efforts to achieve and maintain optimal mental health. The SKIPS program gave our grade 5/6 students appropriate language for talking about mental illness and increased their understanding of people who live with a mental illness. Hopefully through ongoing education we can reduce the stigma of mental health in school and the broader community.’

Outcomes and observations

  • Increased staff capacity and confidence to support their students who have a parent with mental illness and their families.
  • All students participated in the three lessons and were interested in the subject content.
  • The subject language was age-appropriate to convey information and helped with digesting it.
  • There were no triggers for the students living with a parent with mental health issues. In fact, they were already familiar with most mental illnesses and their symptoms and were willing to share their understanding.
  • The students were surprised to learn that good mental health is like physical health and that it can range from good to poor and that it can also change over time.
  • Reduced stigma through respectful questioning with both facilitators. The students were engaged with the guest speaker and the dialogue flowed well.
  • A couple of students admitted to feeling anxious sometimes.
  • Provided a non-threatening environment where the students felt safe to ask questions.
  • Students appeared tuned into things that can help them reduce mental health issues including exercise, sport, nature, looking after yourself, eating and sleeping well.


Martial Arts as Therapy (MAT) program

The MAT program is funded by FaPMI (Families where a parent has a mental illness) at Eastern Health in Ringwood, Victoria. The funding required that the students needed to have a parent/carer who either had or does experience mental illness. 

The MAT program is a physically active, therapeutic program that combines the basics of behaviour management with the principles of traditional martial arts. It provides students with a structured opportunity to develop self-control and self-esteem and it has been found it to be equally effective with both boys and girls, particularly those who display a lack of impulse control.

It was our aim to teach the students skills that they would transfer from the martial arts classes to other classes as well as to their behaviour in the schoolyard, at home, and in community contexts. Students were each given their own t-shirt with the MAT code of ‘Be Strong, Be Calm, Be Kind and Try Hard’ printed on it. This really helped to reinforce this code and their identification with the MAT program. 

With the Wellbeing Team in attendance at all the sessions, this allowed us to continue with the language and themes addressed at each session as required. This proved to be very helpful when we had to follow up with these students on any issues. 

The program ran for one hour a week over eight weeks. We were fortunate to have the program run an additional four weeks after this.  We had 15 boys from grade 4 to grand 6 attend and most weeks we had at least five parents watch part of the sessions. Towards the end of the program we had a parent/friend session where the families participated.

Outcomes and observations

  • We observed evidence of the students using skills to self-regulate quicker and their ability to articulate appropriate language to solve issues. As the program continued through into Term Three the responses to personal situations included-deep breathing, walking away, becoming the ‘Rock’ and ignoring triggers that would have been difficult to resist. 
    Student feedback to addressing triggers: ‘I think of food’, ‘I try breathing slower’, ‘I ignore and pretend the person isn’t there’, ‘I think of my favourite book and remember the best parts’.
  • The instructors influenced and taught the development of positive personal traits – the focus on the value of showing kindness and how that can help in making you happy. The instructors challenged the students to look for an opportunity to brighten someone’s day and make them happy. To be kind not for a reward, but because it had the power to make a positive difference in the life of another person.


  • The strengthening of connectedness and the importance of families. Students learnt about listening to their parents even when they found this hard. It was great for some of our parents to hear these messages who then responded appropriately.
  • The students highly valued the program and learnt over the weeks that they weren’t alone in their difficulties. By the end of the program there was a noticeable shift in the engagement and concentration.  They became supportive and empathic to their peers and encouraged each other not to give up or give in to emotions. 
    Student feedback: ‘I learnt better communication skills’, ‘I can express my emotions better’, ‘not to follow others’ and ‘to breathe properly’.
  • At the parent session we had 26 people and siblings participate. It was great to see the family and friends happily joining in with students. The atmosphere in the room was very positive and everyone appeared to enjoy being a part of the program.
  • Parents that sat through the sessions noticed at home that there was less conflict and they were using the language learnt to dissolve tensions.
  • Teachers noticed a significant change in attitude in the group compared to Term Three. Staff believed students enjoyed the program and that they had a greater understanding of what the program did for them.
  • Teachers also saw differences in regulation abilities where their responses were highly improved and they needed less time to calm down.’

MAT Program parent observations and reflections

  • ‘My sons relax in testing situations now.’
  • ‘Trying to stay calm and walk away from a bad situation.’
  • ‘Breathing, especially helpful at bed time.’
  • ‘Speaking up for himself with others in regards to bullying.’
  • ‘Increased self-confidence.’
  • ‘I appreciated that it was for children with parents struggling with different issues, I think you are giving new coping tools to children who may be predisposed to mental illnesses that their parents probably didn’t have.’
  • ‘Much calmer in school. Not so distracted. More observant with others and surroundings.’
  • ‘Trying hard. You can defeat any odds that you come across.’
  • ‘I have noticed he deals with issues differently a lot more calmly and is very aware now about people’s personal space.’

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