All posts by soniamain

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

Exploring creativity

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I have recently started a new chapter in my book, this one is exploring how creativity is an important aspect in developing children’s well-being. Often when I start writing a new chapter I will first go for a walk, I find the space of outside helps me to clarify my ideas and how to start. On Sunday morning I got up early and went for a walk along the beautiful valley at the back of our house, the start of this walk is down an old lane called Stoneage lane, it leads to the bottom of the valley, on the edge of woodland along the cam valley stream. This is such a beautiful space and one I have walked many times over the years of living here. Being outside, being in nature allows me to think far more clearly and creatively.

What I love about writing new chapters is the time I spend reminding myself and looking up the latest research on the subject. As part of the research for this chapter, I have been looking at the neuroscience evidence for the development of the brain and the link with creativity. I was reminded today that in the last trimester of pregnancy the sound-processing parts of the brain are developed and the baby is able to hear and recognise the sounds and rhythms of voices and music. I also learnt that Neuroscientists have now found that the brain has specific and specialised areas that respond only to music and that these areas stimulate emotional responses (Sousa 2006). This isn’t really surprising but it is a reminder of how important creative processes are to our development.

Sadly encouraging children to be creative is happening less and less in schools, there is an increasing emphasis on more academic subjects, and an increase in testing. The current education secretary Nicky Morgan has warned teenagers against taking creative subjects as this will disadvantage them in the future. This view has, of course, been challenged by many people.

I have been thinking, if we are going to encourage creativity in children it is vital that the adults working with children are comfortable and at ease with being creative themselves. So often as adults we can be gatekeepers to children, particularly younger children. If our experience of creativity is negative, if we feel that we can’t do it, or feel awkward about it then this is often picked up by the children we are working with and can discourage them.

The other challenge with allowing children to be creative is the adults who need to be in control, I have often seen adults who are quick to tell children where to stick things, how something should look, instead of allowing children to try it out, create, be curious and discover for themselves. Sometimes this comes out from adults need to be in control, but I also wonder if at other times it is about adults not allowing themselves to develop their own creativity, instead trying to express this through the children. Curiously I have particularly seen this in some senior school art teachers; the best art teachers I know are those that are also developing their own artwork outside of work and don’t feel frustrated by what the children are making.

I believe that creativity is soul enriching, allowing ourselves to be creative , it doesn’t matter how, it could be through drawing, dancing, singing, gardening, cooking, knitting or writing; but by allowing ourselves to be creative, allowing ourselves to use these parts of our brain will help to increase our well-being.

 

Sousa. D (2006) How arts develop the young brain

Image-Stoneage lane. Tunley

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Spending time in wild places with a heart of gladness

IMG_7950 As a family, we were really fortunate to spend a few days this week in Cornwall, at Porthcurno, almost at the end of Cornwall. This is such a beautiful part of the country. I love the wildness of the landscape there. A mix of the cliffs, beautiful beaches and wild waves. I am an early morning person, unlike the rest of my family. My habit on holiday is to get up early and walk. There is something very beautiful about walking first thing in the morning when no one else is around. I always find being outside in nature, but particularly being by the coast deeply nurturing, life enhancing and also healing. There is something about the wildness of the coast of Cornwall which I find very alluring, and I find the magnificent space gives me space to find a deep calmness.

In the week previous to going away I had been working on finishing 2 chapters of my book, planning for the children’s book on mental health and writing some training I will be delivering soon. These were all a welcome break from my term time nurture work. I loved the creativity they brought but they were still quite demanding. Having a few days by the coast brought with it some welcomed time and space. Time to relax and unwind, time to notice the beauty around me, time to enjoy walking and time to enjoy feeling the sand and freezing sea.

I found the time and the environment gave me space to think of new ideas and activities for my nurture work. It gave me some fresh perspective on my business and work, and most of all it reminded me of how much there is to be grateful for. During the time away I read the book Mindful Walking by Adam Ford. He talked about how walking in a mindful way can encourage a spirit of gratefulness. There is something about walking and noticing the beauty around that can really promote a deep sense of awe, wonder, and gratefulness, particularly in a landscape that is wild. I came back reminded of how much I enjoy my work and being self-employed and how fortunate I am to have some creative opportunities ahead.

Choosing to be bold

 

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There have been various moments this week when I have been thinking about boldness and how sometimes we need to be bold. We need to step outside of our comfort zone and safe place to discover something new, sometimes this enables us to do something that brings us joy and sometimes this can be scary and feel uncomfortable.

At the beginning of the week, I met with a friend, Julia. She was telling me how she has been offered a job in the Congo with the UN. I love her passion and her courage. I find her belief and determination to be involved in justice so inspiring. I was struck by how taking this job is a bold move, it is to an area she has never worked before and not an easy place to be. Another friend, Jenny, has been bold this week; over the past year, she has been treated for breast cancer and has spent this weekend running the Palestine half marathon. She was raising money for breast cancer services for women in Gaza, as the cancer service in Gaza is massively inadequate. This year has been really tough for Jenny, but again she is a bold woman, who has come through treatment and has continued her passion of running. She chose to raise money for something she passionately believes in, the act of running for Jenny brings her joy but she says the act of asking for donations makes her feel deeply uneasy and uncomfortable, so again an example of being bold.

At the start of this weekend, I helped organise a poetry event with Ian Adams and my husband Iain Cotton showed some new artwork. Somebody asked the question to Ian if he was able to earn money from making poetry, which made him laugh, as this is very very hard!. What struck me while listening to both men talk about their work and creativity was that the very act of choosing to be creative, of choosing to do something that brings them joy, but also choosing to do something which puts them in a place where others will make a judgement about their work, is bold, and at times that can be uncomfortable.

Over the last few months, I have been working on a project developing a children’s story book about living with a parent with Bi-Polar. This is a subject which is very important to me for both professional and personal reasons. I asked two work colleagues this week to look at a draft. This felt so scary, I have huge respect for their knowledge and expertise in working with vulnerable children. I realised as I sent them the draft their opinion really, really, mattered. If they thought it wasn’t very good then I wouldn’t go forward with the project, but I knew that I needed to put myself in this uncomfortable position if this project was to move forward. For me that was a bold move, thankfully their feedback was good and really helpful!.

To be bold can be scary and it can be uncomfortable but it can also lead to some great things.

 

Image of a  finger labyrinth carved by Iain Cotton

 

 

Stories of belief, in ourselves and in others

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This week I read these words by Ian Adams, ‘Belief is stepping into a story that rings true and allowing the story to form you, the story must shape again in you. The belief finds its believability in your life today’

These felt very pertinent words to me this week; I have spent some lovely moments this week on Exmouth beach, sitting, wandering, thinking and reflecting. In these moments of reflection, I became aware of the voices of doubt, questioning, and a sense of blagging, that have crept back into my head, without me really realising it. I became aware of the destructive story that was creeping back into my head.

The stories we have in our head about ourselves can be very powerful, sometimes they can be destructive and sometimes they can be really positive. For years, the story in my head about myself was that I was stupid. I failed at school, largely due to being a young carer. Fifteen years later I eventually did an early years degree and got a first, but I still felt that I was just blagging my way; I then did an MA in early years, and this began to quieten some of the voices in my head about being stupid.

Ian’s words helped me think a lot about the story I have been living in my head recently and how I can change that; how I can believe in a new story and live that new story. Importantly the words also really got me thinking about the stories the children I work with have in their heads, about themselves. Often their stories are about being stupid, naughty, angry and unloved. I and the educators I work with need to help these children to have a new story. One that is about being unique, special, loved and able. Our role in the year we work with them is to start to change the stories they have, enable them to believe the new story and to begin to live it.
Ian Adams– 40 temptations – Proost 

Daydreaming

 

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How much time do you spend day dreaming? When do you have the time to gaze out of the window, and let you mind wander? Over the last few weeks I have been writing a chapter about how to help children find stillness. A few years ago I went on a study trip to Denmark and visited a Kindergarten situated on the edge of the woods. In the afternoon I observed one little girl aged 4, lying on a wooden water trough, staring up at the blue sky. She stayed there for around 25 minutes, happy in her own little world, totally relaxed, in a place of stillness. This image has stayed with me; there was something very beautiful about seeing her in such a relaxed moment.

As part of my writing I have been doing some further reading and found some really interesting research about day dreaming. Often day dreaming, particularly in schools, is seen as being negative. It is associated with being lazy and unengaged, but contrary to this, new evidence is showing that daydreaming is vital and an important part of the creative process. Children who daydream are often weaving stories in their minds. Researchers have recently found that children who daydream are often the children who are able to play more imaginatively, who are able to make up elaborate stories in their games, which links to them playing for longer and in a more engaged way. They have also found that daydreaming and imaginative make believe play can help children work through and understand complex emotions and situations (Fries 2009).

If daydreaming is good for children’s creativity, it is also good for adults. Neuroscientists now know that it is when our brain is wandering that we are most creative. It is in those times when we are gazing out, not concentrating, that we can have some of our best creative ideas ( May 2012).
My intention for the rest of this weekend is to have more of those moments.

 

Image at the top of the beautiful blue sky this morning

 

Fries,A. ( 2009) How Daydreaming helps children process information and explore ideas. Accessed on 6/3/16 at: https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-power-daydreaming/200910/how-daydreaming-helps-children-process-information-and-explore

May,M The Neuroscience of creativity: why day dreaming matters-
https://www.americanexpress.com/us/small-business/openforum/articles/the-neuroscience-of-creativity-why-daydreaming-matters/

Noticing and seeing the small things

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This week I have been thinking about noticing and enjoying the small things around us. I have spent some of the week writing a chapter about using mindfulness and stillness with children. A crucial part of mindful practice is being aware of the here and now, and noticing what is going on in your head and body. Another element of mindful practice is really noticing the environment you are in. Through the process of writing and reflecting on this, I realised how much of this has become a crucial part of my nurture work with 4 yr olds. In the role as a nurture worker I am often encouraging children to stop and notice how they are feeling and to notice what is happening in their body.

So often we can be so caught up in being busy, of thinking about the next job or the next thing we need to do, that we sometimes miss the small but significant things. This week one child greeted me with a sentence “hello, look I am wearing 2 green tops” . This was one small sentence, to many it would seem insignificant, but to me it was a small moment of brilliance. The little boy had managed to put together a sentence that I could understand, he used the correct colour and the correct number, was also really happy and proud to tell me. It doesn’t sound much, but it was a small and memorable moment, remindng me that we had made significant progress. This small moment made me feel so happy, it was a moment of great job satisfaction. I could so easily have dismissed it, but instead it has stayed with me for the rest of the week and continued to make me smile.

This next week I am going to be experimenting with using some intentional mindful practice with my 4 yr olds. I will be doing sensory play with colourful pasta  ( see photo above!) and noticing how it makes us feel. I am also going to use a friends idea, to use a magnifying glass to go on an exploration to find and notice things, to see if we can stop and enjoy some moments of beauty and enjoy how they make us feel.

Happiness

IMG_7639We watched a film last night on Netflix called Hector and the Search for Happiness. It’s beautifully filmed, and quite quirky, with some poignant questions. At the heart of the film the main character, a psychiatrist played by Simon Pegg, goes on a journey trying to find out what makes people happy. It sounds really corny, but surprisingly it wasn’t, it was actually very moving. I have also been reading recently a book by Anthony Seldon called Beyond Happiness. Both the book and the film ask questions about what makes people happy, and why are some people more happy than others. Anthony Seldon argues that happiness is good but can be fleeting and it is a deep sense of joy that people really need.

Through the nurture work I work with children who can be very unhappy. In our team we use an assessment tool called Thrive.  This tool helps us to look at a child’s social and emotional development. One of the first stages on the thrive assessment is looking at a child’s ‘being needs’. It describes these as, ‘a child needs to feel safe, to feel special and to have their needs met.’ Initially it is quite easy to look at these criteria and presume that is obvious and something that everyone needs. However as I and my colleagues have worked with these criteria and reflected on them, I have increasingly realised just how fundamental and vital they are. If a child is feeling scared and unsafe, if they don’t believe they are special and don’t hear that they are special, or if their basic needs are not being met including the need to be loved, then they cannot be happy. Their wellbeing will be low, and the way they view and see the world will be through very distorted and unhappy lenses.

As Nurture Workers our role is to support the educators in meeting children’s needs. Through nurture work and support, and providing an emotionally and nurturing stable environment, we often see good progress. However I am also aware that so many other children, young people, and adults are also in a place where their basic needs are not being met and consequently they are carrying great sadness. For me the search for happiness is implicitly linked to thinking about these questions; are you feeling safe, do you feel special, are your needs being met? I believe these questions are worth exploring when working with people who are unhappy.

 

image is of a moment of light by Summer Mainstone-Cotton