Designing and Implementing An Elementary School Wellness Program

OK, this topic might not initially jump out at you, but it connects to our Wellness theme, a major trend in international education. If your school has or is designing a Wellness program, read on because what I will share for the Elementary division can also be applied to Middle and High School.

First, here are a few thoughts on program development. A helpful resource on change management and program implementation is the article “When Change Has Legs” by Dr. David Perkins and Dr. Jim Reese. 

As a program builder, I have seen much work go into designing new programs. Committee meetings and input from all the stakeholders take place. Wordsmithing sometimes goes into overdrive as these groups strive to write the program’s goals, methods, and content. ;)

During the move into the implementation and facilitation phase of the new program, the ball is sometimes dropped. And measuring the success or failure of these programs is often merely an afterthought. 

We know that failed program implementation can lead to staff disillusionment and a reticence to buy into future programs. I share these experiences to highlight the need to ensure that your wellness program implementation phase gets all the time, energy, and resources needed to give it the best possible chance for success.  

Retirement has allowed me to pull some ideas and strategies together in case I were to find myself at a school that wants to start an elementary Wellness program. The following is a rough outline of an integrated Wellness program based on Positive Psychology that I would share with my new school. The operative word here is integrated in that the Wellness curriculum would be taught by the teachers and then reinforced through daily activities and via the regular curriculum (i.e., LA, Social Studies, Math, specials classes, PE, etc.) to embed Wellness practices into the school’s culture. 

If you want more ideas on developing a school-wide Wellness program, I put together a blog post that offers a few ideas.  


One primary goal of a Wellness program is to help our students THRIVE! To reach this goal, here are six potential steps to follow: 

Step 1: Introductory Lessons - What is Wellness? What is character? What are Character Strengths? The Wellness coach works with the grade-level teams to design the lessons.  

Step 2: Teachers then teach students the individual Character Strengths that scientific research shows we all have. The Wellness coach works with the grade-level teams to design the lessons. One approach is for the Wellness coach and grade-level teachers to design the scope and sequence for teaching each of the strengths. Perhaps in early childhood, only a handful of strengths are introduced, such as the emotional and social intelligences, honesty, kindness, and self-control. Then, each year additional Character Strengths would be covered so that all 24 strengths are in place by, say, Grade 3.   

Step 3: Teachers then apply the PRIME integration and Secondary strategies listed on the Wellness@ES website for each Character Strength to offer many opportunities to practice using the strengths during the year. As students learn each of the strengths, they will grow their understanding by "exercising" them. 

Step 4: Teachers then teach students Positive Psychology's six "pillars." We use the acronym PERMAH to describe the pillars. Each pillar represents a significant aspect of how we live our lives. Again, it is through scientific research that psychologists concluded that living well within each pillar helps us thrive. The Wellness coach works with the grade-level teams to decide the scope and sequence for teaching about individual pillars. You could start with relationships and aspects of health in the early years, adding on pillars from there. 

Step 5: Each student creates a personal Wellness plan that lists how they will exercise the Character Strengths within each PERMAH pillar to live more fully and flourish. The Wellness plan contains action steps to help students engage with the Character Strengths and PERMAH pillars as a regular part of their lives. It can also be helpful to have students add intentional practices and habits to further engage with each pillar. 

Step 6: Upon completion of steps 1-5, we start using the term "Wellness Toolkit" as an ongoing integration practice as we continue to encourage students to integrate Wellness into their lives. At this point, students have developed a language of Wellness, further embedding the tenets of Positive Psychology into their life practices and habits. 

We use language and references such as 

  • Which tools can you use from your Wellness Toolkit to help with....? 

  • In planning for our field trip this week, which tools from your Wellness Toolkits can help us prepare for and make the most of our experience?

  • Let's look at your Wellness plans to see how you are all doing. Let's do some self-reflection on our efforts. Which tools from your Wellness Toolkit are you using most frequently? Which tools could you use more effectively?

  • Let's drill down into your toolkits with the pillar of H for Health. Which tools, as in strengths and practices like diet, sleep, and exercising, are you engaging in? Which habits are helping you engage with this PERMAH pillar?

My Lessons Learned blog has a great many posts about Wellness. 

You may also like to check out our other Wellness-related blog posts:

Boost Your Wellness Using PERMAH

Why You Should Leave Your Comfort Zone - and 7 Ways to Do So

Who Should Care About Wellness in International Schools?

PERMAH Pivot Plan

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