Embracing stillness and slowness

 

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So much of the nurture role I do is helping children and the staff who support them to find a place of calmness and safety. There are many tools my colleagues, and I use to do this, it’s not rocket science! But it does need practitioners who can be calm and secure themselves. When you have a child who is throwing, kicking, biting, running, etc. because they are scared and frightened and have overwhelming feelings, they desperately need an adult who is solid and calm to help them feel safe and to come to a place of calmness.

Over the last three years of doing this work, I have realised increasingly how important it is for me to have space and encounter stillness outside of work. I firmly believe it is from a place of stillness and silence that I can become nourished to do my role. Daily swimming and gardening are important aspects for me in nourishing this. In the last six months, I have been writing a book about adults wellbeing, an important section in this book is about being comfortable with silence and stillness and be able to slow down.

This week we are away on the Isle of Mull, it’s not a very large Island, but many of the roads are narrow with passing points. If you are driving around the island this forces slow driving, also the scenery is so stunning, so you end up stopping regularly to watch an Eagle, look for Otters, or stop for the many Highland Cows and Sheep that are on the road. Although Mull has many visitors, it is easy to be in the hills or a beach and encounter nobody. What I have loved about this week away is embracing the stillness, at home I regularly walk around the community meadow at the back of our house and I love the stillness this brings, but here on Mull, it is another level of stillness and slowness and silence. To be able to spot Otters or watch for the Sea Eagles or Golden Eagles you have to sit and be still and watch, I have learnt how wildlife watching is such a mindful exercise.

The summer break from the nurture work is a time for me to take stock, reflect, have space to think about my writing and training, to be creative and plan. It is also a time to read, to nourish myself, to feed my soul. I feel this week of slowness, of big open spaces, of stillness and silence is a good starting point.

Transitions and closures

 

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We know that attention to transitions is so important. So much of my nurture work is about helping children to cope with transitions. So many children find transitions hard. In many primary schools last week and this week children are finding out who their new teacher will be, year six children have had their move up day to senior school. Children who are moving into reception will have visited and met their teachers.

Unfortunately, transitions don’t always get the full attention that is needed. In our role as nurture worker, we spend all year talking to staff about transitions. Over the years I have seen a few ideas/practices which have been brilliant.

Making photo books for children about their new setting/ classroom- this can be shared at home over the holidays

Having school uniform in the nursery to dress up in

Taking a video of the new setting to watch at home or in nursery

Meeting new teacher ( lots) if the child is in a school having lots of opportunities to visit the new teacher/classroom- ideally for weeks and weeks ( not just a few days!)

Making photo books with the children about what they like in their current class or nursery and share this with their new teacher, getting the children to take the photos.

 

As well as transitions for children we also need to think about closure. For some staff who have been working 1-1 with a child, this can be a very strong relationship, and it can be hard for the staff when this work is closed. We need to give attention to our feelings about the closure and the child moving on. It is ok to feel sad about the work ending, and we need to acknowledge that. It is important that staff have someone they can de-brief with and also that they are praised and thanked for their work. Also as individuals, there are things we can do to acknowledge the work ending, this week I was encouraged to think about this in my role. This year I have worked closely with two children, where the work has been at times very emotional, my boss suggested I planted something, in nurturing a plant it can help to bring a sense of peace to a situation. I followed her advice and planted some alpines (photographed above).

 

 

Recognising the change and celebrating every success

 

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Over the last week, I have been writing end of year reports for the nurture children I support. This is an opportunity to recognise and celebrate the development in the children we work with. Each September I am never really sure what progress we will make, there are so many possibilities that can affect the child and the work. Each year my hope is that the new little person I am starting work with will reach a place where they feel secure, safe and wanted. Our work is not about achieving academic targets, but it is about the child feeling that they are safe, that they can express themselves in positive and safe ways and for them to know they are wanted and loved.

The joy of writing end of year reports is that we start by remembering how the child was at the beginning of the year, in many ways this can be quite an emotional time, looking back and remembering how hard it was for the child and their staff. By this time of year, you can so easily forget and take for granted the progress made. I have children now who can sit for 10 minutes and join in, children who can tell their staff how they feel, children who now have friends and invite other children to play with them, children who when a stranger walks into the classroom no longer stand out as the child with big issues.

These children will not necessarily reach their early learning goals; they will all still need support and help in year 1. But these children have all grown and developed and flourished, and that is wonderful and worth celebrating.

My role at the end of the year with the staff is to remind them of the amazing work that they have done with the children. To remind them to celebrate the steps that have been made.

At the end of May, I planted a sunflower seed for each of the children I was working with. This week they have started to flower, a beautiful reminder of the joy and wonder and celebration of the children I work with.

Support for you

 

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During this year I have been writing a book about the wellbeing of adults who look after children, it is almost finished!. I am at the stage of finalising, checking, pulling it together. As I finish this book, it feels almost ironic that I have written this book while supporting and working with two children who’s story is deeply complex and very sad. In my experience of working with children for over 25 years, there are always one or two that stay with you, that you don’t ever forget. The two I am working with this year fall into that category. This year I am supporting their Ta’s and their teachers, and together we are helping them to feel safe and loved and protected when everything else around them is changing and falling apart. Our focus is on nurturing them, protecting them, enabling them to express how they feel, our focus is not on learning.

 

This has probably been one of the most emotionally demanding experiences I have had in work, and it has highlighted for me again how vitally important it is to have the right support in place when you are working in emotionally demanding situations. My job is to support the children but also to support the staff, to talk with them, listen to them, guide them, supervise them. There have been moments this year, when we have cried together, there have been moments when we have shared our deep frustration and anger at what is happening around the children, that we have no control over. Each week I remind the staff how they need to take care of themselves, how they need to be kind and gentle to themselves and do something that makes them feel good.

We are only able to help and support children who are finding life very hard when we have support ourselves. I have a fantastic supervisor, although we don’t see each other every day, I am always able to ring her when I need to talk through a situation. This week she left me chocolate in my pigeon hole! She knows me well, as that always helps me to feel loved and supported!.

If you are working in an emotionally challenging situation, think about who is supporting you, what is in place to help you offload, who is there to listen to you? This could be your supervisor, manager or colleague. If you don’t have this in place, then it needs addressing, and you need to ask for support.

Listening to children and young people

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The news this week filled me with hope, and the main reason was that record numbers of young people chose to vote. I have worked in the field of children and young people’s participation for over 15 years. For many years I ran participation work, commissioned by our local authority. For years I heard policy makers, politicians, budget holders tell me they wanted to hear from children and young people but all too often their actions showed us something different. If children and young people feel like their voices won’t be heard, then they won’t speak out, they won’t participate. But there appears to be a change taking place. Finally, young people feel like someone is listening to them. Finally, they are recognising they do have a voice, and they have a right to partake and give their opinion.

My specialism for years in the participation field was in how we listen to the youngest of children, I have delivered a ‘ listening to young children’ training course, across the country for many years. I know that if we get it right in the early years, then we are providing children with essential life skills.

Listening to young children is a joy, we can and should involve them in decision making about a wide range of areas, including:

Staff recruitment
Staff appraisals
Resources we buy
Follow their interests for our planning
The design of our rooms/ outdoor spaces and buildings
They can help us plans menus etc

Over the years I have seen some inspiring examples of listening to children in the early years. I have worked across many sectors, and I always argued some of the best participation practice was coming from the early years. I would like to believe one of the reasons we are seeing a change in Young Peoples voting today is because those young people were the three and four year olds sixteen years ago that were listened to and had a voice in their early years setting. In early years we are making a difference.

 

 

Awe and Wonder

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One of the joys of working with young children is their sense of excitement and wonder with the world, the way they delight at a snail or a dandelion can be delightful to see. This sense of awe and wonder is often lost in adults; we become jaded, worn down by the misery that we hear on the news, this feels especially relevant today on the back of more terrorist attacks.

This morning I walked around the community meadow, this is one of my weekly rituals, each Sunday morning I walk, think and enjoy the early morning stillness. The joy of walking around the same space each week, all year round, is that you notice the changes. This morning it was great to see how high the grass has grown, the recent rain has helped the growth. I also saw the wild orchids had come back. I have seen these orchids growing year after year for the last 23 years that we have lived here, but they still fill me with a sense of awe and wonder when I see them back, each year. By choosing to stop and notice, by engaging with a sense of beauty and awe, I feel this is nourishing and nurturing myself.

In the yearly cycle of nurture work we are now entering the last term, the term when we stop and reflect on what the children have achieved this year, on how far the children and the staff have developed. I love this term as it is an opportunity to spend time reflecting back on how distressed and unhappy the children were in September, to think about the fears we had back then and to recognise the progress that has been made and celebrate that achievement. I see this term as the chance to celebrate the awe and wonder of the children we work with over the year and recognise the change and the difference we have made.

I think as adults we need to be open to noticing the beauty that is around us, that might be in the people who surround us or in our environment.

Mental wellbeing

 

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This week I have started writing the last chapter for my new book on the wellbeing of adults who work with children. The chapter’s focus is on mental wellbeing, so often when we are stressed, anxious and are wellbeing is low, we lose focus on how we look after our brain. An important aspect of looking after our mental wellbeing is through ongoing stimulation and learning. The learning doesn’t have to be about formal learning; it can be about learning new skills, and mental stimulation can be through creative and cultural engagements. However, this needs to be an intentional act, an area that we actively think about and choose to partake in. When we are deeply tired, this can feel very hard, but maybe that is the time when we most need to engage and help our mental wellbeing,

Yesterday I posed a question to early years practitioners about how they improve their mental wellbeing. I had some great responses about engaging in learning through books, web training, reflective practice with colleagues, being involved in yoga, gardening, knitting, spending time outdoors.

I have recently been working on my metal wellbeing by extending my learning and my creativity through foraging!, since a study trip to Denmark around seven years ago I have become fascinated in foraging and what you can cook and make from the foraged food. This spring I have been experimenting a lot, some more successful than others. I have discovered a few foraging people on Facebook who I now follow. I have made nettle soup, nettle cordial ( not a success!) dandelion and wild garlic salad, wild garlic and nettle pesto, wild garlic bread and dandelion salve for tired muscles; the dandelion salve that one was a great success foe my general wellbeing. Today I am going to make a nettle and honey cake, and I will see if the elderflower in our local playing field is out for me to make my yearly elderflower cordial. I love the creative process of experimenting and making new things with my foraged goodies; I am fascinated around what we can eat and make from the weeds in my garden and the lanes around my house. It is engaging my brain in a way that is gentle but enjoyable, and for me, it is a great way to switch off from work and my nurture cases.

My encouragement today is thinking about how you are looking after your mind and your mental wellbeing, what could you do today that would gently help your mental wellbeing?

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