Participation, art and children


In the past, I have collaborated with my husband Iain Cotton on various creative projects. Iain leading on the art and I lead on participation, drawing on both our skills and passions. Last week we had the opportunity to work together professionally, Iain has been commissioned to create a sculpture for Winterbourne Primary school. This was to be a project which involved the children.

We wanted this project to involve the children’s creative ideas, the aim of this project was to be creative, participative and inclusive. The idea was for Iain to carve words, chosen by the school, into a large sand stone boulder. It was very important to us both that all the children in the school would be involved in this project. We decided to get each child in the school to design a letter. There will be one letter for every child in the school.

The words that are being carved are:


St Michaels Church of England Primary School Winterbourne



Enjoy the present
Educate for the future
Inspire with Love

Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.

We had many discussions about how we could involve the children in a meaningful way, this project was about inspiring the children to think about how letters are formed, about designing and creating. We wanted each child to design their own, unique letter. Iain will then carve each individual letter onto the stone. One of the challenges with this idea is, of course, the varying ability of the different ages. I knew that in reception and year one there are some children who would find it very difficult to write a letter, for this reason, we decided to use 2 materials, we used plasticine and coloured pens. I have used plasticine many times in participation projects, it is an excellent tool for children of all ages to use. It holds it’s shape well and works across the ages. With the children in reception and year one, we gave each child a letter which was in their name. This was important as they would be familiar with the letters in their name and were likely to be used to writing it. We knew for the children in the lower years it would be a challenge to design a letter, but our hope with using plasticine was that the children would be encouraged to be more playful with the material and this would come through in the letters they made.

With the children in reception and year one, we worked with small groups, enabling us to give them more support and attention. We involved our youngest daughter on this project, she is on a gap year and we knew an extra adult would be very helpful. Iain started the day with an assembly, showing the children photos of his sculptures and letting cutting work and introducing the idea.

We found such a joyous enthusiasm from all the children. We worked with the whole school over two days. The children in the lower years mainly used plasticine, this worked really well as it enabled them to be imaginative and make clear letters.The children from year 3 upwards mostly used pens to design their letters, but for those who found that hard they were able to use the plasticine and found a freedom with that. The children from year 2 upwards began to experiment and design a bit more using plasticine and drawing. With children in year 3 and 4, they really enjoyed making pictures with the letters, we had dinosaurs, cats, a shark and a flamingo as part of the letters. With years 5 and 6 we were seeing a stronger graphic design, with bolder, stronger shapes. They had more of an understanding of translating their design into stone carvings.

The process of designing letters with the children was wonderful, it worked across the ages, enabling children of different abilities to be involved.

Next stage of the process is for Iain to translate this all into carvings!. The letters from the lower years are going to make up the sentences at the bottom of the stone and then will go up in year groups. With the older children’s letters being used at the top of the stone. By putting them together on the stone in year groups this will help each child to find their letter, but also gives a lovely image of the children’s work developing across the ages.

It has been a fantastic project to work on together, it reminded us both of the joy of bringing participative and creative practice together.


Once this art work has been finished and installed, I will ad an updated blog posting.



Talking about mental health



Talking about mental health is hard, my mum has Bi-polar disorder. I spent years as a child and teenager feeling embarrassed that my mum was different, back then she spent several times a year in the hospital, hospitalisation is what they did then. I eventually found out the name for my mum’s illness, but that didn’t really help me, the name didn’t tell me how to support her or what support she needed, the name didn’t give me or my sister any support. So I learned, I read everything I could, I spoke to consultants, I spoke to Gp ’s, I spoke to mental health nurses, I spent my late teens and early 20’s finding out everything I could. I wanted to know if I would also develop Bi-polar, I wanted to know about the medication and what it did and how it affected her behavior, I wanted to know if my children would get Bi-polar.

Over the years I started to insist on naming what Mum had, I realised it was nothing to be shameful of and that families needed to be able to talk about it. The other reason to talk about it is that where there is a mental illness, families need support. They may not always need support; but when a parent is having a bad episode the schools need to know so that they can offer more emotional support to the child. If an adult is having a low time they need friends to support them.

We know that poor mental health effects so many people, in so many ways, and it is unbelievably hard for the person with the illness. But it also affects the family and the people supporting the person. Mental illness can put huge strains on the whole family.

I still think we need to get better at working out how to support families/ people where there is mental illness. We still need to get better at talking about it.

Over the last few years, I have written 2 children’s books, one for younger children- Mummy’s Got Bipolar and one for older children- Can I tell you about Bi-polar Disorder. The aim of the books is to help inform children and adults about Bi-polar. One of these books has also been turned into a free animation. Links are below:


Mummy’s Got Bipolar

Mummy’s Got Bipolar animation

Can I tell you about Bi-polar Disorder?



Being intentional to stop, slow down and notice what is around us.


This weekend I have been having conversations with my husband about wellbeing. There is a joke in our family that he and the girls have lived all my wellbeing stuff, they don’t need to read the books! ( although he has recently started reading it and commented with an air of surprise that it is very good!). Our conversation was around how busy he is, he is a self-employed letter cutter, and has some great jobs with tight deadlines over the next few weeks. He knows what he needs to do, he knows he needs to eat well, exercise, get enough sleep, rest, spend time outside, intentionally do things that make him happy, and take time each day to stop and notice. But knowing something doesn’t mean we always put it into practice. He decided he needs to put it into practice a bit more.


During this week I delivered listening to young children training, I now always include staff wellbeing within any training I do. The exercise I got people to do was a noticing exercise, we went outside for 10 minutes, and I challenged them to look around, see what grabbed their attention, notice something which made them smile, maybe something of beauty and to take a photo of it, on their phones. We spend so much time rushing, not noticing, the aim of this exercise is to help people to slow down, for a moment and just notice what is around them. The staff all commented on how helpful they found this exercise.

This morning I went for one of my long walks, I knew I needed some time to encounter silence, I wanted this walk to be a slow, intentional walk, a walk of noticing and I was hopeful I would be able to do some early foraging. It was such a beautiful morning, cold but bright and sunny. I did find early nettles and some early wild garlic. For me the smell of wild garlic is a sure reminder of spring, I love the smell. The joy of foraging is that you need to be very mindful, you have to really look and notice, and be very careful about how your picking and how much your picking. I then came home and made wild garlic soda bread and nettle soup. All good for my wellbeing.

There are more ideas on enhancing wellbeing in my book Promoting emotional wellbeing in early years staff.


Be the love


It is the last week of term, the last couple of weeks have felt quite challenging in my nurture role. A number of the children I work with have been finding life particularly hard, and they show this in ways that can be quite demanding for everyone. This weekend I have been visiting family, while away we visited Liverpool Anglican Cathedral. As we walked into the building the choir were practicing, the space was filled with beautiful music and then I saw the Tracy Emin art work above the door with the words ‘I felt you and I knew you loved me’. I arrived in that space feeling shattered, quite stressed, my mind buzzing with the week ahead. The mix of the words in the art work and the music stopped me, forced me to stop, breathe, notice. Those words felt very pertinent to me, I have been regularly telling staff that the children we work with need to know they are safe, they need to know they belong and they need to know they are loved, isn’t that what we all need?.

Tracy Emin described the reason for her work

“The Church has always been a place, for me, for contemplation. I wanted to make something for Liverpool Cathedral about love and the sharing of love. Love is a feeling which we internalise; a feeling very hard to explain. I thought it would be nice for people to sit in the Cathedral and have a moment to contemplate the feelings of love, it’s something we just don’t have enough time to think about and I hope this work creates this space in time.” Liverpool Echo, September 2008

The idea of loving the children we work with can be challenging to some. Dan Hughes developed a model for adoptive and foster parents called PLACE ( sometimes called Pace)


This model is also used by many people who work children, including the team I work with. Dr Jools Page has also developed a model called professional love, which looks at how early years practitioners develop a professional loving attachment with the children they work with. Both of these models are helpful to remind us how essential it is that the children we work with know they are loved and accepted, these are both underpinning needs for a child to have a good wellbeing.

When we are working with children who are overwhelmed, scared, unregulated, as adults we need to be the calm, loving, trustworthy person for them. By consistently using scripts and reminding the children- “I can see you are …., I am here for you” we are accepting them, loving them and empathising with them.

When we work in this way it can be emotionally challenging for ourselves, it can be exhausting. We need to ensure that we are loving ourselves, taking care of ourselves, some of the ways we can do this are by eating well, having time to rest and if possible getting time outside, there are more ideas on our wellbeing in my new book Promoting emotional wellbeing in early years staff.

Be the change



Over this last week, I have been thinking about how easy it is to be sucked into a spiral of negativity, there is so much ranting on Facebook, negative news in the world, in my work role so many of the children I work with have deeply sad stories.I find particularly in mid-January when the days are grey, it is so easy to feel despair and negative, none of these are good for my wellbeing. The flip side on offer is a bombardment of positive feel-good messages and to be honest I personally don’t find these helpful either.

My friends Ian and Gail Adams talk about how we can be the change, how there are small actions we can all do that will make a difference. This week I have been thinking about this, there is a quote from Maya Angelou that I love:

“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

The message I give over and over to Ta’s and teachers that I work with is that our role is to help our children feel accepted, to feel wanted and to feel that they belong. Sometimes that is by noticing the small changes, seeing what it is that excites them. This week I have been trying hard to focus on the small changes e.g. recognise and celebrate when a child only hits out once rather the usual 5 times, noticing how a child sits for the whole story, celebrate with a parent that they arrived on time 3 times this week rather than always being late that had previously been the pattern. In my nurture role being the change is finding the moments of hope, it is not giving up on the children and families I work with, it is believing that change can and will happen.

I know that this time of year can be hard for my wellbeing, I long for blue sky and the feeling of the sun, I know I can easily fall into despair and forget that change is possible. When there is blue sky I make sure I get outside to enjoy it, even it it’s only for 5 minutes, the photo attached was one of the moment this week. As I am writing this blog the sky outside is grey, it is raining ( again!), I am aware I need to find some hope this afternoon, so I plan to think about my garden and plan what I will grow when the spring finally arrives.

More of my writing can be found in


Promoting young children’s emotional health and wellbeing

Promoting emotional wellbeing in early years staff

Hope for the future



This weekend I attended the wedding of a beautiful couple, Harry and Grace. During the reception, I had the usual conversation with other guests about jobs, when I am asked what I do I usually say I work with 4 yr olds who are finding life very hard. Or tell them my daughter’s description of my role “mum works with 4 yr olds, plays with play dough and says I can see you are really cross but it’s not ok to bite”. People, always look slightly taken aback when I describe my job and often ask how can a four-year-old be in such a difficult place. One person on Saturday asked me what hope there was, and my answer was lots. One of the main aims of my job is to share an emotional language, to encourage and help the children to recognise how they are feeling, what they are feeling and to help them manage those feelings. If we can put in place from a young age an excellent emotional intelligence we are offering children a fantastic starting point to life.

At the wedding on Saturday, I was reminded by the wonderful hope we have for the future, it was fantastic to see how this couple and their friends have an amazing emotional intelligence, there was no sign of any toxic masculinity at this wedding. This was a wedding full of men and women expressing their true feelings, this was a wedding where the best man and the groom publicly said how much they loved each other, where the bride publicly told her bridesmaids how important they were in her life. This was a truly equal wedding, with bride and groom walking in together, with tears from both as they greeted each other, with women leading the service and all speeches by an equal mix of men and women, including a speech from the bride’s father and the groom’s mother. This wedding gave me hope for the future, this wedding reminded me that times are changing, that there is a growing emotional intelligence and I firmly believe that will make for a better world and a better future.

Order of service by Joel Baker

A year of wild swimming and writing



I have been looking back over the year and photos I have taken. For me, 2017 was a year of wild swimming and writing. I was fortunate to have 3 books published and I have swum in some amazing places. It has been a year of focusing on wellbeing, through writing about wellbeing, supporting my nurture children to have good wellbeing and trying to continue to learn what I need for good wellbeing.

This year I have swum in rivers, in outdoor pools, the sea and my local pool. My best swims have been off the north beach in Iona, through the Stair Hole arch at Lulworth Cove and Durdle Door and swimming in the river with mini natural jacuzzis in Dartmoor. Swimming, particularly outdoor swimming makes me feel so alive and happy and I know it enhances my wellbeing.

My hope for 2018 is to continue sharing my learning about wellbeing with others, to keep writing books and enhancing the lives of my nurture children. But most of all I hope to swim in some more amazing places in 2018.

nurture and wellbeing