At Children for Health we have long been supporters of Jane McGonigal’s work on SuperBetter. For those who are not familiar with it, SuperBetter is a gameful approach to supporting mental wellness. The methodology uses gameful design – already familiar to many young people and children.
For many years our close associate, Sarah Newton, and I have gone back and forth about how we could incorporate SuperBetter’s approach into the powerful work already being done by CFH and how to adapt it to be used with or without technology. It’s a conversation that never quite got to a conclusion, but was on my mind.
Then the pandemic hit. The ‘pandemic pause’, as I’ve been calling it, changed everything. Not only in the work I do, but how the world operates and what is needed. I feel now, like never before, that mental health and resilience are now on most people’s minds. As people were plunged into lockdowns struggling with issues that most find challenging, we all began to realise that our mental health is just as important as handwashing!
While so many (quite rightly) turned their eyes toward the pandemic, with the help of frequent and rich conversations with Sarah and practitioners all over the world (on Zoom!) I was encouraged to turn my eyes towards the ways in which Children for Health could better support the mental health and well-being of children in low-resource settings affected by the virus.
I contacted the CEO of SuperBetter, Keith Wakeman and began to discuss possible ways we could INJECT SuperBetter ideas into CFH’s work in developing countries.
As a team we quickly began to see the importance of getting easy-to-use tools and techniques into the hands of those that need these the most and we wanted to start by simply giving tools immediately to those that could benefit.
We consulted with educators in Tanzania, Kenya and Zambia to understand what already existed to help children aged 10-14 with their well-being and resilience, what interventions would work in their settings and the specific issues that these children are struggling with as a result of the pandemic in their settings.
I took a course on Social and Emotional Learning with the wonderful ISL.
In addition, Children for Health helped facilitate a meeting with 240 adolescents living all over Kenya who are part of a 700 strong cohort of children awarded scholarships to access secondary education that would otherwise be out of the reach of their families. As a result of lockdown these children were given smart phones to use to continue their studies and attended the meeting with me using Zoom. As part of this meeting I presented the SuperBetter model to get a feel for how they would respond to, what would be, a mental model. The response was positive and both children and their educators and mentors have asked for more content.
We tested simple techniques in low-resource settings, and we saw first-hand the power some simple tools in the right hands could make.
We produced ‘Unlocked’ a story and resource book about how four friends deal with Covid-19. It is free to all. This book is also available in Kindle and mobile formats from Worldreader. As this strange year draws to an end, a 60-strong team of translators are helping us create versions in 14 languages.
Our consultations with educators in a range of settings has resulted in our new 5-tier programme of content and activities for educators to implement with children linked to schools we know in both Africa and India. We have built into our project design sufficient scope to adjust the programme to suit the context as well as training others to do the same.
We believe SuperBetter’s appealing and gameful approach could be as well applied to key health issues such as Malaria, HIV and AIDS and as well as addressing and reducing risk factors such as smoking, obesity, drugs and alcohol consumption that have led to the increase of non-communicable diseases.
Our ‘vision’ is to equip young adolescents with a mental model, tools, skills and courage to identify and address ways to boost their own health and well-being and to enable them to help other children do the same. Read more about our vision.
You can also read about this alliance on their blog too!
So now we need your help!
Pass the link to our storybook, Unlocked – on to anyone who you think needs it.
Our programmes, SuperBetter Children in Africa and SuperBetter Children in India are inspired by the work of Jane McGonigal. Jane invented SuperBetter which is now a popular app and a highly successful book, SuperBetter, The Power of Living Gamefully. This work emerged from Jane’s experience suffering from a severe concussion and using her knowledge as a researcher and game designer to support her recovery. Jane sets out her amazing story in an inspiring TED Talk (viewed by millions) and which can be viewed here.
A third of the world’s population plays video games. The SuperBetter app is regularly featured in ‘best apps’ for improving mental health resilience and social-emotional skills. It’s backed by science. It’s had over a million players to date of both genders and its appealing across age groups with significant number of users in Europe, Brazil and China as well as in the US.
The SuperBetter ‘Rules’ model is used to build physical, mental, social and emotional resilience. It has seven keys features: going for epic wins, seeking out and completing quests, identifying challenges, collecting and activating power ups, identifying heroic identities, find and battling the bad guys and recruiting allies. All of these are key features of gaming and fun play.