All posts by soniamain

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

Looking after your wellbeing over Christmas

 

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We know that the run-up to Christmas can be very stressful for many. If you work with children and young people this also a tricky time of year with extra colds, illness and very excited children can lead to staff feeling extremely tired, worn down and having low wellbeing

The Christmas holidays can be both emotionally and physically draining, that is particularly hard if you are already feeling worn down and not at your best. I think it is important to think about a few things you can put in place to look after your own wellbeing. This doesn’t need to be time consuming or expensive, but by stopping and thinking about yourself, your health and how you feel, this could help you get through the Christmas period.

Below are a few suggestions on what might help your wellbeing over the next days and weeks

Eat well- make sure each day you eat something which is good for you and makes you feel good. Food which is classed as good mood foods are- blueberries, avocado, kale, marmite, sweet potato, spinach, dark chocolate, chamomile tea

Sleep well– we need around 8 hrs sleep a night, sleep enables us to have clear minds and make memories.

Spend time outside– there is growing research to show the positive impact spending time outside has on our brain, emotional and physical wellbeing. If possible get outside every day, even if it is only for 5 minutes.

Be kind to yourself- so often we can put high expectations on ourselves, we can be self-critical about things not being perfect or not getting enough done. Think about the words you use on yourself, take time to notice these and if they are negative change them, tell yourself that what you are doing is good enough, remind yourself it is ok to feel tired, you will get through this.

Do something that makes you happy -do something each day which makes you happy and is for you. When I asked people what they did that made them happy the list was varied, some ideas were- swimming, crochet, bake, read, listen to music, garden, walk my dog, mindfulness, yoga, paint, run, sing.

Experience some silence– our lives are so busy, particularly at this time of year. Having time to stop, be silent, experience stillness, even for 5 minutes, can be very good for our wellbeing. Some people use mindfulness, yoga or spiritual practices for this, others just enjoy the silence while in the bath, or during a walk by themselves. Experiencing silence can be liberating and can help you to find some calmness.

 

Whatever you do over Christmas, I hope you find some time to look after yourself, this is not a selfish act but it is an important part helping our own wellbeing.

If you would like more ideas and further writing on this subject, I have a new book out this week –Promoting emotional wellbeing in early years staff published by Jessica Kingsley Publishers. The ideas in the book are suitable for everyone, not just early years workers.

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Letter to the reception class teachers I work with

This is a letter I sent today (email actually!) to the excellent early year’s teachers I work with. I am posting it on my blog as it is also for all those other reception class teachers who feel deeply depressed after reading Ofsted’s damning report and recommendations on the reception year.

Dear all, I am working with each of you in your schools. This week there has been a very depressing Ofsted report about reception classes and teaching and the emphasis on reception classes needing to prepare children better for YR 1- e.g. more formal.

I know you are all excellent early years teachers, I see your work each week, and I am really impressed at the dedication and commitment you all make to excellent early years practice.I know this is not really my role But I wanted to take the opportunity to say Thank you for the amazing jobs you are all doing, thank you for your dedication to the children you work with, thank you for allowing the children in your classes to play and discover and be curious and to learn though this. Thank you for committing yourselves to making a difference to these children.

We all know Ofsted are wrong in their suggestion, we all know that early years children learn best through play, through having their learning scaffolded and supported by trained, early years staff.

I know that reading the Ofsted report is deeply depressing and must make some of you wonder why you are still doing the job. That is why I am mailing you, to thank you and encourage you. As I am not sure, you get that enough.

There is another report, which does have hope and which is based on early years practice, research and evidence. If you want head teachers reading something useful this might be a useful link for them!

Have a restful weekend

Slowing down, bringing stillness and silence into our lives.

 

 

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I have recently been delivering training, to children center workers in the Wirral, children’s workers from Churches in Cambridge and parents and teens at a local school. In each of the training sessions, I talked to the groups about having times of slowing down, encountering stillness and silence. This is still so often viewed as counter-intuitive, especially in our work with young children or teens. So often as adults we presume that children and young people need noise, lots of doing, lots of activity. A growing amount of research is showing us that children and young people need times of being still, encountering silence, having time when they are not being entertained or busy.

However, if we are going to help children find times of stillness and silence we need to embrace this in our own lives. We need to recognise in ourselves when we are too busy when our lives are too cluttered. We need to find ways to seek out stillness. This can make some adults feel deeply uncomfortable, and it does take practice. I am aware that for myself I need this increasingly, this may be because the work I engage in is often emotionally intense and so I need to find a place which is quiet and still, to help my wellbeing. I firmly believe if we engage in the practice ourselves we can then help children to feel comfortable in being still and finding silence.

For many  people the practice of mindfulness and yoga is really helpful in creating good practices, I use mindfulness a lot, but for me, the practice of mindfulness and being outside is the place where I truly feel I can embrace silence and stillness. This morning I knew I needed a longer time of this, I knew my usual short Sunday morning walk around the meadow would not be enough, so I went on the long walk, down a lane called Stoneage lane, into the Cam valley and up to our village. This walk is a couple of miles; it takes me past Cam brook and along country lanes, it is such a familiar walk for me; it is one I have walked for the 20 years we have lived here. It is the walk I did to quiet my babies, it is the walk I did to grieve over losing jobs and death of friends, and it is the walk I do to find peacefulness and space. I always find this walk gives me the space and time to breathe and enjoy the moment, enjoy just being.

In training, I encouraged people to think about what stillness practice they have or what stillness practice they could develop and to think about the spaces they can use to help them find stillness. When we regularly engage in a time of slowing down, noticing, just being, then we are able to share this practice with children.

There are many books and apps on mindfulness, stillness practice and examples of how we can use this for ourselves and with children. Some of the ones I particularly like are:

Mindfulness: a practical guide to find stillness in a frantic world

Headspace app

Mindful monsters to use with children

The mindful child

What will help your wellbeing this week?

 

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It is half term this week, many reception children are exhausted and have often gone down with lots of bugs. Starting school is hard work for a four year old, and it is hard work for the staff who work with them. All the staff I am working with are happy for half term; this is a time to slow down.

I have noticed in this new school year increase in staff feeling more stressed. I have especially noticed an increase of pressure on teaching staff to be doing more ‘ formalised teaching.’ This is hard for early years staff who know that in the first few weeks it is essential to help the children to settle into school, get to know the children, help them to feel safe, secure and they belong. I am increasingly noticing the pressure we are now putting onto our reception age children and their staff. This year feels worse than the year before and that concerns me.

So for staff who feel under pressure, who are already feeling very stressed and anxious, this half term is a crucial week for them to do something for their wellbeing and their mental health. It is a week to be kind to themselves, to do some things that make them smile and feel happy. Earlier in the year, I did some research to find out what people do to help their mental wellbeing. The most popular answers are below:

 

Be outside
Spend time with family
Cook and eat nice food
Run
Swim
Walk the dog
Be in the woods
Crochet/ Knit
Sing
Draw
Read
Watch films
See friends

Half term for me is a chance to catch up on writing for training and writing my next book, but I know that I also need to be mindful about wellbeing, so when I return to the new term, I feel refreshed and ready to support the nurture children and staff. I plan each day to something that makes me feel good, yesterday I read the new Philip Pullman book, today I plan to go for a walk with my family, I know those small things will make a difference.

 

My next book Promoting Emotional Wellbeing for Staff will be out in December.

Where did you find joy this week?

 

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One of my jobs this week was to proof read the book I have coming out in December ‘ Promoting Emotional Wellbeing in Early Years Staff. I love the whole process of writing a book; I find the subject takes up a lot of my thinking and reflecting time, but once I have finished it I often move on in my thoughts to the next project or just take a break from that level of thinking. When I get to proof read the final edition I am reminded of ideas I had, research I had done, some sections I read remind me of the time I wrote it and the feelings I had at that time. That was my experience this week; one small section talks about experiencing joy, finding joy in our work, in our lives, looking out for joyful moments. As I was writing this section, my close friend, Liz was dying of cancer, so to be honest life didn’t feel very joyful at the time.
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One of the suggestions I make is having a practice of gratefulness, at the end of each day asking two questions what am I grateful for today? and where did I find joy? This is a practice I have tried to embed for a long time. It can be a real challenge when days are truly dreadful it can be really easy to get caught up in the gloom and negativity, but this practice encourages me to find something, even if it was small that I am thankful for and that brought me joy.

This week the main joy for me has been in playing with waterbeads. My daughters describe my job as messy play and telling a child ‘i can see your feeling really sad, I am here for you!– not a bad description of a nurture workers role!. In the nurture work this week I have been introducing my four years to waterbeads. I love this sensory tool as they are messy play without being messy ( I have a few children this year who hate the feel of messy play), through using waterbeads you can bring out lots of language and conversation about feelings, touch, emotions. Most of the children adored these; it was so delightful to see their faces light up, they pulled the most wonderful faces of surprise, delight, and pure joy. Several of the children repeatedly commented while running their hands through the tub; ‘I love this so much, I am so happy’. Even when other moments in the week have been more challenging, remembering the children’s joy has been joyful for me.

 

What helps your mental health and wellbeing?

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On Tuesday this week, it is world mental health day. We know that there is rising level of stress and anxiety in adults ( as well as children). In 2015 there were two survey’s with teachers and early years staff, they found that 79% of teachers were considering leaving the job due to stress (Espionza 2015) and 59% of early years staff were also considering leaving the job due to stress (Crown 2015). As a nurture consultant, I work in primary schools, I work with teachers and TA’s, and I have noticed a higher number of staff who are becoming more stressed and feel unsupported, and feel the pressure is growing too much. This concerns me; we know that if our wellbeing is in a poor place then we are unable to support and increase the wellbeing of the children we support. There is growing recognition within the education system about the importance of helping children’s wellbeing, but I believe there is still a lot of growth to be made in supporting staff wellbeing.

Earlier this year I was asked by Jessica Kingsley Publishers to write a follow-on to my book Promoting young children’s emotional health and wellbeing , they wanted a book focusing on staff wellbeing. During the time of writing this book I was aware how there are many aspects of job stress and anxiety which are out of our control to change. However being aware of what helps our wellbeing is a good step towards taking back some control, putting this into our daily or weekly routine can help us to take some steps towards improving our wellbeing.

I have learnt over the years that an important way to help my wellbeing is through having regular times of silence and stillness, I manage this in different ways, through swimming each week day morning, through spending time outside and practicing mindfulness. The best for me is swimming outside in the sea, but I don’t get to do that as often as I like from living in Bath!.

I think there is a real strength in thinking about what helps our wellbeing. It will be different for everyone, I am a morning person, I thrive on early mornings, so the early morning swim works perfectly for me, but for many, this would be deeply painful!. Although many things need changing in our education system, there is without a doubt far too much pressure being placed on teachers and early years staff, and this can leave us feeling very disempowered. However, if we can work out what helps our wellbeing and put some of that into practice, we can begin to move forward, and we can start taking steps towards improving our wellbeing and mental health.

 

 

 

 

Taking the time to stop and listen to children

 

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The children I work with have now been in school for four weeks, I have spent the time watching, observing, listening and getting to know them and then assessing them using the Thrive assessment. From this week we start the intervention work, the Ta’s and I start working together with the child to build up their sense of feeling safe, feeling they are special and meeting their needs.

During the observation period, it is so important to see the world through the child’s eyes; we often focus on what overwhelms the child, what they find hard but I also love to discover what it is that excites them, that they are fascinated by. Once we glimpse this, we can then incorporate this into the nurture work and sensory work we will be doing. We know that children respond well when they are doing activities that link to their interests. I am always encouraging early years practitioners to follow children’s interest, and I believe we need to do this also in the nurture role.

This year some of the interests are Thomas the tank engine, owls, and dinosaurs. One little boy told me this week, with such passion and depth of feeling how he “adores owls” as he told me about his love of owls he put his hand on his heart and said “ I love owls so much’. Until this conversation I wasn’t sure what made him happy, this one conversion brought him alive, his eyes were sparkling, he was animated and enthusiastic, this was the first time I had seen this response. Another child loves Thomas the tank engine, the one way to engage him is to talk about Thomas and the characters.

This week I will be hiding Thomas and his fellow engines in lavender sensory rice, I will be hiding dinosaurs in crazy soap, and I will be playing with owls, fabric and boxes. I know from experience that keying into the child’s interests and incorporating this into the nurture activities will engage them, it will help them to feel they have been noticed and valued and help them to feel special. It’s amazing how much emotion language you can use with Thomas the tank engine or a dinosaur!.