Over the years of working with young children, I have loved seeing their joy and delight, at the wonder and at the awe of the world around them. I believe that children have a natural sense of wonder, curiosity and delight; we often see this more when they are outside and with animals.
I was reminded of that last week when I was taking a walk with a small boy and a dog, this boy usually has limited speech and it has been hard to find out what the boy enjoys, but this week I discovered the boy adores dogs! In the short walk, we made some wonderful discoveries, had a great time climbing trees, watching the dog sniff everywhere, played in mud and with puddles. The extension of his language and communication was amazing. I discovered so much more about what he likes, what he is good at and what makes him happy. We discovered that dogs are very happy most of the time and wag their tails to show us, we discovered that dogs will eat all the biscuits in a little boys pockets if given the chance, we discovered that branches on a tree are quite bouncy when you stand on them, we discovered that dogs and little boys love running together. Going on this walk reminded me of how much more we can learn about children when we give them the space to explore and discover. It also reminded me of the powerful impact animals can have on children. I saw a whole new side to this little boy, through seeing him with a dog. I saw a gentleness, a curiosity, a delight and I heard some fantastic words from him. It’s encouraged me to think about how we can give children opportunities to be with animals.
In the summer, I was introduced to the poet Mary Oliver. She wrote a poem called The Summer day, which is a beautiful poem, it talks about noticing, about stopping and seeing and being. At the end of the poem it raises the question, ‘Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?’
I have had this line going through my head over the last few months since I first heard it.This line is a reminder of the wonder of our lives, about noticing the beauty around us but also about recognising how wonderful, precious and amazing our life is. This line has encouraged me to reflect on what I do with my life, how I spend my time working and playing and resting. I find the question challenging but also exciting. Part of my work life is to train people. I try to encourage them to be inspired and excited about working with children and young people. I try to encourage them to think about how they listen to children and young people and the difference that can make and the influence they can have. I love training, and I often get a real buzz from it. I love the thrill of going into an unknown group, there is always a slight moment of fear that they won’t like what I am saying, but also a hope that I can leave behind some ideas that might influence their practice and ultimately make a difference to children and young people. In the last two weeks, I have been offered an amazing opportunity to write a book for Jessica Kingsley Publishers about how we promote young children’s emotional health and wellbeing. Writing a book was never really in my thoughts or imaginings, but once the seed had been planted I realised how excited I was at the opportunity. This opportunity has reminded me that sometimes things come our way that we were not looking for, that we can’t always plan ahead. To be honest, I am not sure if I can write a book, but I am going to have fun trying and enjoy this one wild moment and opportunity in my life.
Yesterday I attended a retreat led by Ian Adams and Gail Adams. One of the questions they were exploring is how do we nurture ourselves? This is a question I have been exploring and thinking about a great deal over the last few months. One of my roles is a nurture support worker, supporting and working with 4 yr olds who find it very difficult to be in school. The main part of this role is to nurture them, and support the staff in school to nurture them. I feel that I spend a lot of hours in the week thinking about what it means to be nurturing and what the nurture needs are of the children I support and what the nurture needs are of the staff I support. The word nurture has become an everyday word for me, but it is a special word, a word which carries so much depth.
In the last few months, I have been particularly aware of the need to nurture myself. I know that if I do not take care of myself, take care of own wellbeing then I will be unable to fully nurture others. Last weekend we went to see a friend who has recently been diagnosed with terminal cancer. In our conversations together we discussed how she can die well, but also how she can live well now. This conversation was full of laughter and joy but also, some soul-searching for all of us about how do we live well now? I feel the question of how do we nurture ourselves is woven in with how do we live well now.
In my role of nurturing young children, I want to help them feel special, to feel loved, to find joy and learn to love life and live well. I am aware these are things I want for myself, my family and friends. So my aim this week is to continue trying to nurture myself. Part of this is spending time with friends, finding joy each day and to continue learning how to live life well.
The photo was taken this morning, seeing the sun rise over the meadow by our house. My start this morning at living well and nurturing myself.
As adults do we play? One thing I love about my job is hearing what children say. I have heard 4 yr olds over the last few weeks tell me that adults don’t play. Play in the early years is vital, play in all of childhood is vital but it is still (at the moment) recognised in the early years as the main way children learn. As an early years worker playing is an essential skill, so hearing children say that adults don’t play is possibly suggesting they are not seeing a lot of play from the adults around them, which is worrying. A new advert has come out recently from Ikea. It asks children to write a letter to the Three Kings (Sweden’s equivalent to Father Christmas) saying what they want for Christmas. It then asks the children to write a letter to their parents, saying what they want from their parents. Lots of the children say in the letter to parents, play with me more. I am pretty sure this was set up and scripted, but I know from research I was involved in gathering for The Children’s Society’s Good Childhood Inquiry, that children often say they want adults to spend more time with them and to play with them.
This leads me to the question, do we still know how to play? How playful are we? What do we do in our lives that is playing? For me playing is something which is not work, it is something which brings me pleasure and joy. Play is something I can lose myself in and there doesn’t have to be a result at the end. I play a lot in my job, this week I have been playing Superheros (happy and sad ones). I have been playing with jelly and squirty cream and playing with fuzzy felt faces, but this is work for me. It’s great work but it’s not really playing I would choose! The type of play I would choose is crunching through leaves in the meadow behind our house. I never tire of the sound of walking through leaves, and noticing the changes in the meadow. The type of play I would choose is swimming. I swim every weekday early morning, I love the rhythm and the feel of gliding through the water. The type of play I would choose is Reading. Although this is not an active play thing, it is something which brings me great pleasure, in which I can lose myself and relax. The type of play I would choose is Felting. This is a creative play activity for me, which I learnt a few years ago. The joy of felting for me is the process, it’s often not about the finished piece. Most of the felting I do is abstract, its about exploring and playing with colours and fibers. I love how you never really know what you will end up with when you are felting, the piece at the beginning looks very different to the piece at the end.
Within the world of early years, we need to make sure we are playing with our children and not just observing their play. As parents, we need to play more with our children, on things that they choose. As adults we need to find time to play, doing things that bring us joy.
The photo is of my latest piece of felting
Finally, half term has arrived, it has felt like a long term. Using emotion language and acknowledging feelings and emotions has become a vital part of my work in the last year, and particularly this term. Many of the children I work with don’t have the emotional vocabulary they need, and many of them have very strong emotions and feelings that they need to express. I and the staff in schools spend a lot of time using emotion language, recognising when the child is deeply sad or angry and using those words to explain to them what is happening. This can be powerful and slowly helps children to understand what is going on in their bodies and minds. One of the new resources I bought this week are the characters from the film Inside out. I used the joy, sadness and anger ones to help talk to children about those feelings. These were a big hit with the children. I don’t think any of the 4-year-olds I worked with had seen the film, but they all loved the characters, particularly the angry one.
I have been thinking a lot over the last few days about the wide range of emotions I have experienced in the last few weeks. It has been a real mix of shared delight, joy and laughter, celebrating a friend’s birthday and another friends wedding; but also having tears of distress and great sadness with a friend over the phone, on hearing that her cancer has returned in many places. The feelings and emotions have been very raw and very powerful. This term I have also spent a lot of time with children, while they are in rages and at other times utterly distressed. I have also sat with teachers and TA’s while they have cried over the deep concern they have for the children they care for. All of these feelings and emotions are important, it can be hard sometimes to sit with them, to let them be. So often we feel the need to chase the strong feelings away, or bury them, particularly the hard ones. We often try to distract children and tell them they don’t need to be sad, but this doesn’t help us and it doesn’t help children to understand their feelings. This last year has reminded me that allowing ourselves to acknowledge the emotions we have, allowing ourselves to recognise the emotions we are experiencing is fine. As adults we need to be able to recognise and accept our own feelings and emotions to be able to support children with theirs, and we need to help children to learn that their feelings and emotions are not bad or wrong.
Throughout my career, I have learnt the importance of celebrating small achievements. So often we can be fixated on the idea of big achievements and can miss the small details. Early in my career, I worked with children with non-organic failure to thrive; young children who refused to eat. My role was to support families and help to encourage the children to eat. I learnt early on in this role to celebrate the small details. I would often sit with a family during a meal time and exuberantly show delight at a child for eating a pea, even if they ignored, threw and refused to eat the rest of the meal. I would be celebrating with the child and the parents for the one pea that was eaten. It’s similar in my role now, often finding myself searching for those small details of change and helping staff to celebrate the small positive changes. My delights this week have been, a girl agreeing to play and explore the “Frozen” themed play dough I had made, seeing a child agree to come inside after only being reminded three times and not having a tantrum, and seeing a year 1 child begin to write 2 words. These are small events, they are things which most other children aged 4 and 5 would do easily, but for these children they were small and important achievements; and small achievements is what we need to celebrate.
It can be the same for ourselves, in own lives. Often we don’t recognise the small things we do achieve as adults. For the last two weeks, I have been frustrated and cross at myself for not managing my time well and not finding the space to sit and write and start a new project. This weekend I decided I needed to be kinder to myself. To stop being irritated at what I haven’t achieved but instead, find joy in what I have achieved. Changing my way of thinking has helped me to find a bit of space, to start writing and planning and more important it has helped me to find some calmness and acceptance.
There are times working with children when it can feel as if everything in front of us is misty and unclear. For early years workers and educators, there are clear guidelines about the development that children are expected to make. There are increasing numbers of hoops our children need to jump through and an increasing number of targets to be met. For some children these targets are set far too high; they may be aged four but they could be working at the development of a two-year-old or younger. It can be hard for the educators working with these children to know how to move forward, and how to scaffold and extend the child’s learning. The way forward can be misty and unclear.
My role is supporting staff working with children who are finding it hard to transition into school. These children often don’t meet the development guidelines for their age. I have had many conversations over the last few weeks about the way forward for these children, and about how we might adjust our expectations and our way of working to meet their individual needs. To find a different path through the mist. I am really aware that it is so easy in my role as a nurture specialist to advise, support and try to guide the staff, but the really hard work is for the teacher to be willing to step away from the usual path they take and to try new things. To take risks and to accept that the mist will probably not clear quickly. This can be a scary path to take and one which often means letting go of some control and being willing to be a co-explorer with the child.