All posts by soniamain

Early years and participation trainer/ consultant/nurture consultant. Writer about wellbeing in children and adults.

Nurturing your soul

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This last weekend I have been taking time to stop and reflect, I attended a retreat led by Ian and Gail Adams, the retreat was very spacious with lots of opportunity for stillness practice. Some of my favourite times were sat in silence with my feet in a pool and also swimming, silently, with others. Attending a retreat, at this time of the year gives me the space to think about the year ahead ( I still think in school years as that is now the bulk of my work). It is also a valuable time to nurture my soul, to be fed and nourished. I noticed this year that many of the people attending were therapists or worked in a caring role. I think all of us in this position knew that we need to have time to be nurtured ourselves if we are to go on and give out to others.

One of my thoughts from this weekend has been around self-love.

In my nurture role, the underpinning principle that I encourage the Ta’s and teachers to understand is that the children we work with need to feel that they are loved, they are special and they are safe. We all know that to be loved is a fundamental need that everyone has. Until the children know this, they are not in a position to develop and thrive.

Supporting children who are scared and overwhelmed can be challenging. It is so important that the adults are in a good place themselves, that the adults have a good wellbeing. I believe an essential part of having a good wellbeing is by loving ourselves. This can happen in many different ways, through taking time to do something we enjoy, resting, eating well, exercising but also we need to think about how we nurture and love our soul, our spiritual wellbeing.

In my book on adult wellbeing I have a chapter on spiritual wellbeing, this is something which is often overlooked when we think about our wellbeing. An element of spiritual wellbeing is about feeling connected, feeling part of something bigger than ourselves. For some spiritual wellbeing is about engaging in religious practices, for others it is about contemplative practice outside of religious practice. There is growing evidence that spiritual practices are linked with an increase in better health and wellbeing.

The retreat this weekend was excellent to help me refocus on my spiritual wellbeing, it reminded me of some important practices and taught me new ones. With all of these things, we need to keep practising, keep engaging, noticing our wellbeing and how we are feeling. When we can see that something is out of line, we need to address that. I know, to be able to work at my best in September with my nurture children I need to spend time caring for myself and allowing myself to be nurtured by others, and Ian and Gail did this very well.

Slowing down

 

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One joy of working term time with children is that I get to live at a different pace during the summer holidays. I can slow down, it is a time to have the space to think creatively; a time to reflect, enjoy the space and to start thinking ahead.

Most of my year has involved supporting children in their wellbeing or writing about adults wellbeing, During this year I have continued to work on learning how I can live out wellbeing not just write and talk about it. I firmly believe an important aspect of wellbeing is learning how to live with stillness; also how to integrate into our lives time to slow down, notice and appreciate, to find a balance in our lives. It is so hard to notice and appreciate the people and places around us when our heads are full, and we are rushing.

So much emphasis on our society is to be busy, measuring our success by how busy we are, as if saying consistently ‘I am so busy’ makes us feel more valued. Since becoming self-employed, I have tried hard to step away from that mindset. Even writing that feels slightly absurd as a real fear of being self-employed is not having enough work, however, as we all know being frantically busy does not equal working well and it often does not help us to have a good well-being.

I started the summer holidays with a break to Mull, where slowness was almost forced on us by the single track roads, and wide open spaces called out to be looked at, noticed and enjoyed. It was my husbands birthday while we were away and our daughters bought him a new filter coffee jug. A family joke is that he is growing into a hipster and this was to add to his hipster lifestyle. The joy of this coffee filter is that not only does it make beautiful coffee it does it slowly. To make a coffee now takes longer, we grind the beans and then have to wait while the filter slowly brews and drips the coffee through the filter. It is worth the wait as the coffee tastes so good. Morning coffee is an essential part of my routine! But to now have this slow brewing coffee has forced me to start each morning on a slower note. I have noticed that while I am waiting for the coffee I am increasingly aware of the smell and the anticipation of the taste of the coffee ahead, this coffee filter has helped me to be more mindful first thing.

We are half way through the school holidays, my next few weeks I will start thinking about the new children I am to work with, begin to make new resources and continue to read more to increase my understanding. But I will also be enjoying the slower pace and the opportunity to think creatively.

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.