All posts by soniamain

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

Small steps to wellbeing

 

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Over the last few weeks, I have had many conversations with friends and colleagues about adult wellbeing. Within early years it has been high on the agenda again with a report form Preschool learning alliance showing that 1 in 4 people in the sector is considering leaving due to high stress.

Through conversations over these last few weeks, I have been reminded how hearing about wellbeing and knowing about the need for good wellbeing can sometimes feel very overwhelming if we are in a place of high stress and despair. I am beginning to wonder if actually, all the talk of having high stress and the need to have good wellbeing can sometimes lead us to feel inadequate and more stressed. I have heard speakers and read many articles where we are being told that we need to look after our mental health, we need to talk about feeling stressed, however sometimes all the ideas and solutions can also feel overwhelming,

Over the last few weeks, I spoke at Preschool learning alliance conference and on a podcast for Early Years TV with Kathy Brodie ( this will be out in a few months). My main reflection on both of these is that is ok to take small steps to well-being. Sometimes we can feel too overwhelmed to try the many different ideas, but if we can put one thing in place each day, this is making a small step towards improving things. I often encourage people to do each day one thing which makes them feel happy, this might be going for walk, reading a book, sitting in the garden for 5 minutes with a cup of tea. It will be different for everyone, but finding one thing each day which makes you happy, which helps you to smile, this won’t solve all your wellbeing issues but it is taking a small step towards a change.

For me swimming and wild swimming makes me smile, it helps me to feel alive and joyful and makes me feel really happy.

You can find more ideas for staff wellbeing in my book Promoting Emotional wellbeing for early years staff

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Be kind to yourself this bank holiday weekend.

 

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For those who work in schools or term time early years settings, we are part way through term 5. I always think of term 5 as being an easier term, with my nurture work the children are usually in a good place, they are more settled; often by now the school and children have reached a point of understanding one another. The children often feel safer and happier. But this term hasn’t quite been the usual pattern for a whole variety of reasons. This term I and some of the staff I work with are counting down the days to the next break. For this reason, the bank holiday Monday is a joy!. Don’t get me wrong, I love my job, I wouldn’t change it for any other, it brings me so much delight and hope and satisfaction, but this term I am feeling tired.

The question I often write about and put to others is what can you do that will make you happy? and the extra day that the bank holiday brings us is a perfect time to think about this. It doesn’t have to be big, expensive things. Early this morning I walked around the community meadow, I often do this on a Sunday morning, but this morning I walked barefoot, through the morning dew. By walking barefoot it forces you to slow down, it connects you with the earth, you notice more, you become mindful. The coldness of the morning dew was at first a slight shock, but it soon became really enjoyable. By the end of the walk I felt so happy, the endorphins had really kicked in, in the way I feel when I swim, particularly when I swim outside.

I know from experience putting in place small things that make you feel good, that bring you joy, these really help us to look after our wellbeing.

For more ideas on looking after you well-being look at my book Promoting emotional wellbeing in early years staff.

Sitting with sadness and sorrow

 

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This last week has been a roller coaster of highs and lows. I have been reflecting the last few days on the need to sit with sadness and sorrow and how hard that can sometimes be. This week my parents have both been ill, with my dad having a heart operation which didn’t go to plan. I have also been working with children who have been deeply sad. Sometimes in life, you can’t fix things, I can’t fix my dad’s heart or my mum’s depression and sometimes I can not make it ok for the children I work with.

There are times when all I can do is sit with the pain and the sadness, there are times when there are no words to be said, there is no easy fix, we just need to sit and be. Being present, being there in body and mind.

But I can find that really hard, I am certainly a person who will suggest, offer ideas, in my work I spend my time offering thoughts and ideas to staff to support the children. I don’t fix things but I journey with the children and staff and find a way through. However sometimes there are no suggestions to make, sometimes you need to just be, to hold someone and let them cry, to show them you are there, at that moment, with them.

Sitting with sadness and sorrow can be tiring and hard. I have been very mindful of that, and very intentional to care for myself, my main way has been spending lots of time outside this week; walking in woods, walking alongside water, noticing flowers and birds.

Participation art and children

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A few weeks back I wrote about an art project I worked on with my husband Iain Cotton. The project was a letting cutting piece for St Michaels primary Winterbourne. I worked with Iain on the participation of the children in the school. We got every child in the school to design a letter. Iain then cut these letters into a large stone.

 

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The stone is now finished and in place on the school grounds, most of the carving took place in Iain’s workshop and then he finished the last line on site, so the children could watch him carve. He also painted the letters on site. The response from the children and the school has been wonderful, children have recognised their letters and excitedly told Iain which one was theirs, they have shown so much joy and delight that their letter is on the stone.

This was a wonderful project to be involved in, each child in the school had a part in this art piece. It was so inspiring to see how every child was able to create and design their own letter. The younger children took such delight in playfully making letters with plasticine. Plasticine enabled them to manipulate and design a letter in a way they would have found hard with writing. The older children were able to be very imaginative and creative with their drawn designs.

At a time when creativity is having less of a place in education, it was wonderful to work with a school on a creative project and to leave a lasting legacy with the school. Who knows some of the children we worked with may one day become artists, letter cutters or designers, but hopefully we left them all with a very positive memory about their involvement in an art project.

 

Finding what brings you joy

 

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In my nurture work, it’s the start of a new term, after a badly needed Easter break. The nurture consultant role can be an emotionally challenging job and one in which you need to be fully present to the children and staff. Holidays are a vital time to take some time to replenish. Over the last two weeks, I decided to spend a lot of my time reading. The books I have read have all been around wild swimming, perseverance, finding silence and the joy of nature ( Find a way, one untamed and courageous life:Diana Nyad, The Salt Path, Raynor Winn, The Moth snowstorm: Nature and joy -Michael McCarthy and Silence in the age of noise- Erling Kagge).

At the start of the holiday, I was feeling fraught, stressed and edgy, I was aware I was catastrophising more than I usually do. The term hadn’t been particularly challenging but I was feeling less able to deal with the usual challenges. Looking back on my choice of books I can see how my body and soul were craving to read and experience things that I know are good for me. I have spent two years writing about wellbeing for children and adults. I know the things that help my wellbeing, but looking back over the last term I can see I hadn’t been doing them enough.

Going into this new term I am planning ways I can incorporate more time outside and exploring nature with the children, using mindful and listening walks with them. I have been thinking again about how I best experience silence, which I know I need every day; being outside, gardening and swimming are the best ways for me. For this I am thinking about how I can increase these opportunities, I am hoping to do some gardening each week; I already swim ever Monday-Friday, but I am also thinking of ways I can fit in open-air swimming into some weekends and end of the days. In the holidays I did my first open air swim of the year in the Cornish sea, I felt so alive and full of joy, it reminded me of how good I feel when I am combining two loves, swimming and being outside.

Participation, art and children

 

In the past, I have collaborated with my husband Iain Cotton on various creative projects. Iain leading on the art and I lead on participation, drawing on both our skills and passions. Last week we had the opportunity to work together professionally, Iain has been commissioned to create a sculpture for Winterbourne Primary school. This was to be a project which involved the children.

We wanted this project to involve the children’s creative ideas, the aim of this project was to be creative, participative and inclusive. The idea was for Iain to carve words, chosen by the school, into a large sand stone boulder. It was very important to us both that all the children in the school would be involved in this project. We decided to get each child in the school to design a letter. There will be one letter for every child in the school.

The words that are being carved are:

 

St Michaels Church of England Primary School Winterbourne

Learn
Care
Enjoy

 

Enjoy the present
Educate for the future
Inspire with Love

Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.

We had many discussions about how we could involve the children in a meaningful way, this project was about inspiring the children to think about how letters are formed, about designing and creating. We wanted each child to design their own, unique letter. Iain will then carve each individual letter onto the stone. One of the challenges with this idea is, of course, the varying ability of the different ages. I knew that in reception and year one there are some children who would find it very difficult to write a letter, for this reason, we decided to use 2 materials, we used plasticine and coloured pens. I have used plasticine many times in participation projects, it is an excellent tool for children of all ages to use. It holds it’s shape well and works across the ages. With the children in reception and year one, we gave each child a letter which was in their name. This was important as they would be familiar with the letters in their name and were likely to be used to writing it. We knew for the children in the lower years it would be a challenge to design a letter, but our hope with using plasticine was that the children would be encouraged to be more playful with the material and this would come through in the letters they made.

With the children in reception and year one, we worked with small groups, enabling us to give them more support and attention. We involved our youngest daughter on this project, she is on a gap year and we knew an extra adult would be very helpful. Iain started the day with an assembly, showing the children photos of his sculptures and letting cutting work and introducing the idea.

We found such a joyous enthusiasm from all the children. We worked with the whole school over two days. The children in the lower years mainly used plasticine, this worked really well as it enabled them to be imaginative and make clear letters.The children from year 3 upwards mostly used pens to design their letters, but for those who found that hard they were able to use the plasticine and found a freedom with that. The children from year 2 upwards began to experiment and design a bit more using plasticine and drawing. With children in year 3 and 4, they really enjoyed making pictures with the letters, we had dinosaurs, cats, a shark and a flamingo as part of the letters. With years 5 and 6 we were seeing a stronger graphic design, with bolder, stronger shapes. They had more of an understanding of translating their design into stone carvings.

The process of designing letters with the children was wonderful, it worked across the ages, enabling children of different abilities to be involved.

Next stage of the process is for Iain to translate this all into carvings!. The letters from the lower years are going to make up the sentences at the bottom of the stone and then will go up in year groups. With the older children’s letters being used at the top of the stone. By putting them together on the stone in year groups this will help each child to find their letter, but also gives a lovely image of the children’s work developing across the ages.

It has been a fantastic project to work on together, it reminded us both of the joy of bringing participative and creative practice together.

 

Once this art work has been finished and installed, I will ad an updated blog posting.

 

Talking about mental health

 

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Talking about mental health is hard, my mum has Bi-polar disorder. I spent years as a child and teenager feeling embarrassed that my mum was different, back then she spent several times a year in the hospital, hospitalisation is what they did then. I eventually found out the name for my mum’s illness, but that didn’t really help me, the name didn’t tell me how to support her or what support she needed, the name didn’t give me or my sister any support. So I learned, I read everything I could, I spoke to consultants, I spoke to Gp ’s, I spoke to mental health nurses, I spent my late teens and early 20’s finding out everything I could. I wanted to know if I would also develop Bi-polar, I wanted to know about the medication and what it did and how it affected her behavior, I wanted to know if my children would get Bi-polar.

Over the years I started to insist on naming what Mum had, I realised it was nothing to be shameful of and that families needed to be able to talk about it. The other reason to talk about it is that where there is a mental illness, families need support. They may not always need support; but when a parent is having a bad episode the schools need to know so that they can offer more emotional support to the child. If an adult is having a low time they need friends to support them.

We know that poor mental health effects so many people, in so many ways, and it is unbelievably hard for the person with the illness. But it also affects the family and the people supporting the person. Mental illness can put huge strains on the whole family.

I still think we need to get better at working out how to support families/ people where there is mental illness. We still need to get better at talking about it.

Over the last few years, I have written 2 children’s books, one for younger children- Mummy’s Got Bipolar and one for older children- Can I tell you about Bi-polar Disorder. The aim of the books is to help inform children and adults about Bi-polar. One of these books has also been turned into a free animation. Links are below:

 

Mummy’s Got Bipolar

Mummy’s Got Bipolar animation

Can I tell you about Bi-polar Disorder?