Awe and wonder around us

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February is coming to an end, this is a great time to engage in the outdoors, spring flowers are growing and where I live wild garlic is just appearing, perfect for early foraging. We are so climate aware now and I have noticed an increase in early years setting’s thinking about how they can be environmentally friendly and conscious. Many early years settings are increasing their thinking about how to engage children in the outdoors and support them to have a love for nature and to engage with the awe and wonder around them. I love seeing these examples.

We know that early years children are naturally fascinated by all that is around them, they mindfully notice and are curious about the world in a way that many adults have lost. Around ten years ago I visited a Danish kindergarten and went for a walk in the woods with the children and staff, I observed them foraging their way through the woods, I loved the way the children knew what they could and couldn’t eat and how connected they were to the environment around them. The Danish trip was the start of my love of foraging and also my journey into exploring wellbeing for children and adults, that trip was one of those pivotal moments in my career.

I believe one way to help the next generation to love and protect the environment is by sharing a love of nature with them, one way to start this is by giving them names for plants, helping them to recognise what is growing around them, to learn what plants are helpful for us, which ones we can eat, which ones are poisonous. To do this we need to learn ourselves. I heard someone say recently that foraging is a middle-class countryside hobby. I disagree with that view, you can forage nettles to make nettle soup, they grow everywhere!, blackberries are delicious and grow all over the country, you can eat dandelion leaves ( although they are slightly bitter!) you can make elderflower cordial, and that grows as a weed in cities as well as the countryside.

As I mentioned at the start of this piece, the wild garlic is just appearing in the lanes where I live, this morning I experienced a joyful walk foraging for the new wild garlic leaves, they are such an easy plant to forage for as the smell is so distinct of fresh garlic. If you want an easy recipe for wild garlic pesto this is the one I use taken from woodland trust website

Wild garlic pesto
100g Wild garlic leaves
50 g of Parmesan cheese ( although you can use other hard cheeses)
50 g of pine nuts ( but again you could use other nuts e.g. walnut, hazelnut)
glug of olive oil
the small amount of lemon juice- add a bit and taste
Wash the garlic leaves and blitz all the ingredients together in a food processor or you could use a pestle and mortar. You want this to look like pesto, so if it looks too thick add more oil. Taste and see if you want to add more lemon juice, it’s a personal choice how lemony you want it to taste. You can use this with pasta, with meats as a marinade, or it is lovely in mash potato.

The recipe above fills one medium-sized jar, you can, of course, half the recipe. The Pesto will keep in the fridge for a few days. It’s quite a strong taste for children, so experiment with it, add more cheese which will lighten the taste, and the colour is fantastic, such a vibrant green.

Mini adventures

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I read about the idea of mini-adventures in a book recently – Taking the plunge by Anna Deacon and Vicky Allan. The thought is that we all can easily experience mini-adventures in our busy lives, to have an adventure doesn’t have to be about spending money, going to far-flung places, in their book they are talking about it with wild swimming, but it could be anything. Last night we had dinner with friends and we were talking about the idea of mini-adventures and what they could look like for us and what mini adventures we would like to do.

This morning I was reflecting on this idea some more,  I was thinking about the idea of mini-adventures linking to my nurture work with children. This year particularly I have realised that many of the nurture activities I do with some of the children are new for them, this year I have had children who have never made playdough or played with gloop, who haven’t been for a picnic or made a den outside. I have been thinking about how part of my job is to introduce new experiences, in a safe and supportive way. To offer the children mini-adventures. There is something fantastic about experiencing that newly felt excitement and wonder with a child when they are trying something new and re seeing it through a child’s eyes. As adults, it can be so easy to forget and lose touch with the wonder and excitement of simple things. I talk to staff I work with about how the children need co-adventurers, adults who are learning and exploring alongside children. I have been thinking about this some more and I think to be a co-adventurer with children we need to be an adventurer ourselves, we need to have mini adventures and to re-engage with the wonder and excitement of the world around us, to be curious and try new things.

I love the idea of mini-adventures for myself and my work. It can be so easy to fall into a rut of doing the same things both in home life and work life. I have one more week of term and then there will be a well needed half term break, during that week I am going to think and dream a bit more about what mini-adventures I can do both personally and with the children I work with.

 

 

Goodbye to January

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This morning I went for a long walk, partly as a way of starting February off in a positive way. I have found January hard, it feels like it has been a month of mostly bad news about friends and family health, there has been a lot of grey weather and sky, and work has felt challenging, but not in a positive way, challenging in a way that has triggered quite a lot of self-doubt.

This morning I was thinking about what I like in February, the days getting longer, early spring flowers, new leaves which can bring early foraging of nettles and wild garlic, also being able to start some early spring planting in my greenhouse. Yesterday I washed and cleaned the greenhouse in preparation for the new year of planting. The other plus is the water is slowly warming up- perfect for more wild swimming!

These are just small changes but thinking about them has cheered me up this morning, it has helped me to feel more positive about the coming month. Curiously, it has also helped me to think about what has gone well in the last month, rather than staying in the negative thoughts, seeing the small moments of positive in work rather than focusing on the challenges. I am usually quite an optimistic person, but sometimes I can find the gloom can pull me in!.

To aid me through February, I have written a list of ideas of what will help me to thrive during this month, the idea is if I am feeling gloomy and down and I can look at my list and remind myself what will help and do one of them.

Awe and wonder around us

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This weekend my husband and I went to watch the wonder of Starling murmurations on the Somerset Levels, we live quite near the area and it’s something we have started to do each year over the last few years. It’s an amazing spectacle to watch, so awe-inspiring, the movement and fluidity of the birds, in synchronisation with one another is incredible. It is a natural wonder.

This term I am delivering lots of staff wellbeing training, over the coming months I will be delivering this 8 times. In many ways, it’s no surprise that January and February are the months that schools and nurseries are wanting support in this area. For some people January and February can be quite bleak and tough, the lack of sunshine and often endless rain in the UK doesn’t help that. Each time I deliver wellbeing training I talk about being outside, I encourage the participants to get out, to spend time in nature, enjoy the outdoors, to engage with the awe and wonder that surrounds us. This can feel hard to do in the winter months, but it’s worth making the effort. There is growing evidenceshowing how engaging with nature boosts our mental and emotional wellbeing.

Watching the murmuration yesterday evening we were alongside many other people, of all ages, but particularly families with young and older children. It was a joy to share this delightful moment alongside strangers. You would often hear gasps of wonder from across the ages at the sight they were watching, there was something magical that we were all sharing. A reminder of how precious our earth is, how wonderful nature is. I did not doubt that our hour spent out in the dusk, watching birds was a huge boost for everyone’s wellbeing.

A year of outdoor swimming

 

I spend much of my working life talking and training on wellbeing, both for adults and children. Several years ago I realised that outdoor swimming was an essential part of supporting my wellbeing. At the beginning of 2019, I decided I wanted to do more outdoor swimming. I love swimming and I swim every early morning Monday-Friday in my local pool, that time is precious and an important part of my routine, also it has given me a lovely swimming community to be part of. However, outdoor swimming brings a different joy, the joy of being in nature, the amazing feel of cold water on my skin. It’s hard to explain but it is wonderful.

At the start of 2019 I wrote a list of outdoor places I hoped to swim, it was a mix of lidos, and sea swims, and rivers. I hoped that I would be able to swim outdoors at least once a month from around April/ May. I decided to keep a list of all the outdoor swims so that I could see over the year the different places I had swum. I managed to swim outdoors every month from February-December, some of these were cooler lidos but mostly they were rivers, sea, lakes, ponds and tidal pools. I have swum outdoors 43 times this year.

Swimming outdoors is about pure pleasure for me, it’s not about the distance or the length of time in the water, it’s about the joy of the experience. I feel so alive when I swim outside and it makes me feel so happy. Swimming outside has also become something that I do with my husband, our children have now left home ( mostly!) when our youngest left for uni in 2018 I knew we needed to find something that we could do together, a way of reconnecting. Outdoor swimming has become that thing.

In my wellbeing training, the final point I put to the group is an encouragement for people to discover what makes them happy, the thing that makes them smile when they think about it and brings them joy. So much of our lives can be busy and hard, often taken up with meeting the needs of others, putting in place something that brings us joy is a good start for wellbeing.

I am currently writing my list of ideas for outdoors swims in 2020, starting on January 1st!.

Say hello to….

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This has been a week of sitting with dark days and heavy feelings, both in work and with family. Several of the children I work with are finding the run-up to Christmas incredibly challenging and our niece has Sepsis.

This week I have found myself needing to sit with the feelings of darkness. I don’t have an easy answer or solution to help the children and their staff. I don’t have any answer or solutions as comfort for my sister in law or niece.

Recently I have been reading a book by Padraig O Tauma he uses the phrase Say hello, to acknowledge the feelings and emotions and situations we are in. He uses this phrase to recognise throughout the day what you are experiencing. I know this idea of noticing how you feel is an integral part of mindful practice, the phrase say hello to, I found helpful. It feels quite a gentle phrase and it’s a helpful way to acknowledge what is happening right now.

In my role as a nurture consultant, I support the children and the staff. My job is as much about supporting staff as it is working directly with children. Sometimes I can have ideas and suggestions for ways forward, how we might support the child in the class. However, this week I mostly found myself not having any new suggestions, at one point in one school I sat and listened, we sat with hard descriptions and the hard feelings we were seeing and feeling. I didn’t have any words, I just acknowledged it was very tough. I am aware as I write this that doesn’t sound very advisory or consultant like! but that is how it is. Sometimes the best we can do and be is to sit with dark feelings. To turn up, to say hello to the feeling of uncertainty or fear or anger or despair. That is ok. The turning up is what matters.

Story of hope and imagining change

 

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This last week I have had a few conversations with colleagues ad friends about the stories that children carry with them, or stories that we hear from family members and other professionals about the child. With the children that we see, these are often negative stories, a story about how the child will be violent, challenging, can become easily overwhelmed. The challenge when we hear these stories is that we can make a judgment before we have even met the child. Sometimes these stores can be so huge, that we struggle to see the child in the story.

I don’t think this is unique to education, I have friends who work in other agencies with children and young people, and they also say sometimes it is hard to see the child within the story. The problem when we take on big, negative stories is that our expectations, our hopes, and plans can become narrow for the child.

It feels like we need to hold the stories lightly, to be aware of what has gone before, but also to have hope for the future and imagine what may become possible. I am aware that as a nurture worker myself and my colleague’s role is to have hope for the child, when we start a piece of work we need to believe that there will be change, we need to help everyone see the story can be different.

Changing the story is important for the adults but especially for the child, as a nurture team we mainly work with 4 yr olds, some of those 4 yr olds arrive at school already having a story about themselves, that they are naughty, or they are bad. These are words we would never use, but they are words that the child has taken on. Words are powerful. When the words over you and around you and about you are negative, that is hard to break away from.

As a team we use Thrive assessment tool, this talks about telling a new story about the child, a story about their unique abilities, a story of hope and imagining something different.

Photo- carving by my husband Iain cotton

nurture and wellbeing