Category Archives: change

Story of hope and imagining change

 

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This last week I have had a few conversations with colleagues ad friends about the stories that children carry with them, or stories that we hear from family members and other professionals about the child. With the children that we see, these are often negative stories, a story about how the child will be violent, challenging, can become easily overwhelmed. The challenge when we hear these stories is that we can make a judgment before we have even met the child. Sometimes these stores can be so huge, that we struggle to see the child in the story.

I don’t think this is unique to education, I have friends who work in other agencies with children and young people, and they also say sometimes it is hard to see the child within the story. The problem when we take on big, negative stories is that our expectations, our hopes, and plans can become narrow for the child.

It feels like we need to hold the stories lightly, to be aware of what has gone before, but also to have hope for the future and imagine what may become possible. I am aware that as a nurture worker myself and my colleague’s role is to have hope for the child, when we start a piece of work we need to believe that there will be change, we need to help everyone see the story can be different.

Changing the story is important for the adults but especially for the child, as a nurture team we mainly work with 4 yr olds, some of those 4 yr olds arrive at school already having a story about themselves, that they are naughty, or they are bad. These are words we would never use, but they are words that the child has taken on. Words are powerful. When the words over you and around you and about you are negative, that is hard to break away from.

As a team we use Thrive assessment tool, this talks about telling a new story about the child, a story about their unique abilities, a story of hope and imagining something different.

Photo- carving by my husband Iain cotton

Stillness and noticing in preparation for the new term

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We are entering the last week of the summer holidays for many in England and Wales, this is a week when it can be a mix of excitement for what is ahead, trepidation, sometimes fear, and these can be feelings experienced by all involved; children, parents, and staff. I am aware I have all those feelings about the new year, I love my job as a nurture consultant, I think it’s probably the best job I have had so far, but there are unknowns ahead, new children, new staff, new schools and I can find new things can lead me to feeling a bit anxious.

Sometimes this week can be busy with organising and sorting, it can be a busy week in the preparation for the new term ahead. I am aware that for me this week needs to also involve some extra time for slowness and stillness, times when I can notice my breathing, recognise the creeping anxiety and nervousness. I have learned over the years the main way to help me find some slowness and calmness is by being outside. I have started this week by having an early morning barefoot walk, around the community meadow, slowly walking and noticing the changes in the season, noticing the first signs of autumn, enjoying the beauty around me. My plan is to repeat this each day this week.

I know many children find this last week of the holiday difficult, their anxiety levels rise with the fear of what is ahead. There is an increasing amount of research to show how spending time outside actively supports children’s ( and adults) wellbeing and mental health. If you are a parent reading this, possibly find some times to be outside this week with your children, go for a walk, pick blackberries, build a den, find a stream and build a dam and paddle. Spending time together outside, noticing, enjoying the joy of the natural world will be positive for you and your children. If you are a teacher or an educator, again find some times to be outside, don’t spend all week planning and preparing, enjoy the natural world around you.

If your child does suffer from anxiety at the thought of returning to school there are some excellent books for children, I would recommend Starving the Anxiety Gremlin by Kate Collins-Donnelly, there is a version for primary and senior age, No worries Mindful kids activity book by Kate Abey ( suitable for older primary and lower senior), Rubys worry by Tom Percival ( younger children picture book).
I have a new book out this week, exploring how we can help engage with stillness practice in a faith context, many of the ideas in there are linked to being outside. The book is Using Christian Contemplative Practice with children.

 

Transitions

 

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Schools in England and Wales are back this week. A new start for teachers, support staff, and children. Transitions are essential for new starts, the whole process of buying new school shoes, school uniform. For four years old, having conversations about school, trying on their new uniform, walking past the school and looking through the fence during the holidays. For children going into year seven trying out the journey before school starts, conversations about how they will do lunchtimes, whether they take lunch with them or have lunch there, the agreements over what food it is ok to have for lunch and what is not. For staff, preparing new resources, planning, these are all part of the transition preparation.

There are so many transition preparations that we do, that we can often forget about the significance of them. The first term for me in my nurture role is all about transitions. I have worked with staff and met the new children at the end of the last term, I am hopeful that the schools have put in place my recommendations for the individual children. There is a danger in this current climate that we can be inclined to rush transitions. I know many schools who are now choosing to have their four-year-olds start in school, full time from day one. I know some in Oftsed recommend this, and many parents would prefer this. Personally, I think the staggered start is better for children and teachers. I am often told again and again that children are in the nursery for so many hours now, the staggered start does not make sense anymore. However, a nursery is very different, even with reception classes following the EYFS, a nursery is not the same as school. Starting school is stressful, often the buildings are big, they are often noisy, there are different rules, there are more children in the class and fewer adults to support you. I believe children need time to adapt and staff needs time to get to know the children. We want children to start school from a positive place, we want children to feel supported and safe in school, we need them to have a good wellbeing, this is essential. I believe by staggering the start, even if it is by a week of half days and then a week of half-day and lunches and then third-week full time, this slower start helps children to get used to the changes, it helps children to become familiar with the changes. Of course, for parents, this can be really hard to manage with their time, and I do understand that, but I still believe for children’s good wellbeing, a staggered start is better.

In my family we have a big transition this year, our youngest is going to University in a few weeks, we will have moved over the last few years from a household of four going back to being two. This year our daughter has had a gap year, we have talked a lot about transitions, for her and for us and this has been good. This summer my husband and I have been away for quite a few weekends, partly work, partly seeing friends, partly time away together, to remind ourselves of the importance of quality time together. I am so aware it is easy to let changes happen without really planning or thinking about it, so I have tried to be very intentional and aware and to prepare ourselves for the next transition.

How do we measure success?

 

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Over the weekend I have been writing end of year reports for my nurture children. This is a time to look back and reflect on the changes over the year. Alongside this, I have had conversations with various friends about success, and how as individuals we measure success.

At the end of the reception year school’s and the Education Department decides the success of the child’s first year in school is based on whether they have met the Early Learning Goals. For the children we work with the success criteria is different, we ask ourselves the question what progress have we seen in their emotional, social and mental health over the year. I love writing end of year reports, remembering how tricky things were in September and seeing the change in that little one’s life over the year. We use an assessment tool throughout the year called Thrive; this is helpful to track change. However, it is also useful to notice and remember the small changes over the year e.g a child who would hit others time and time again in September, and looking back you realise that hasn’t happened in months. The child who could never sit through a story now chooses to have stories read to them. These are small but significant, we can so easily overlook or forget these changes, but these are signs of success.

My husband is an artist, he creates such beautiful hand carved letter cutting pieces of art. He and I are both self-employed, throughout the years we have both struggled with the idea of how do we know if we are successful in our self-employed businesses. There is so much emphasis on success being linked to making lots money, in the world of art success being linked to selling artwork, in the world of writing success being linked to the number of books you sell or as a trainer how many people buy you in for training. However, we have both learnt solely using these measures can quickly lead to you feeling that you have failed. Each year I now set myself some small aims for what success might look like. I have a list for my nurture children, a list for training and consultancy and a list for my writing. The emphasis on my list is about making progress. In the same way that I look over the year to see what progress my nurture children have made, I look to see what progress I have made. That might be linked to new learning I have acquired, whether I have been able to embed a new practice. Also asking have I given myself time to be creative and space to dream of new ideas. My list always has a link to having a good work, life, play, balance. Changing the emphasis to progress rather than success or failure has really helped me to remodel and change the script in my own head. A useful question can be how can I be more fully human and what would that look like.

Be the change

 

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Over this last week, I have been thinking about how easy it is to be sucked into a spiral of negativity, there is so much ranting on Facebook, negative news in the world, in my work role so many of the children I work with have deeply sad stories.I find particularly in mid-January when the days are grey, it is so easy to feel despair and negative, none of these are good for my wellbeing. The flip side on offer is a bombardment of positive feel-good messages and to be honest I personally don’t find these helpful either.

My friends Ian and Gail Adams talk about how we can be the change, how there are small actions we can all do that will make a difference. This week I have been thinking about this, there is a quote from Maya Angelou that I love:

“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

The message I give over and over to Ta’s and teachers that I work with is that our role is to help our children feel accepted, to feel wanted and to feel that they belong. Sometimes that is by noticing the small changes, seeing what it is that excites them. This week I have been trying hard to focus on the small changes e.g. recognise and celebrate when a child only hits out once rather the usual 5 times, noticing how a child sits for the whole story, celebrate with a parent that they arrived on time 3 times this week rather than always being late that had previously been the pattern. In my nurture role being the change is finding the moments of hope, it is not giving up on the children and families I work with, it is believing that change can and will happen.

I know that this time of year can be hard for my wellbeing, I long for blue sky and the feeling of the sun, I know I can easily fall into despair and forget that change is possible. When there is blue sky I make sure I get outside to enjoy it, even it it’s only for 5 minutes, the photo attached was one of the moment this week. As I am writing this blog the sky outside is grey, it is raining ( again!), I am aware I need to find some hope this afternoon, so I plan to think about my garden and plan what I will grow when the spring finally arrives.

More of my writing can be found in

 

Promoting young children’s emotional health and wellbeing

Promoting emotional wellbeing in early years staff

Start of a new academic year

 

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The bulk of my work is as a nurture consultant, supporting 4 yr olds in their reception year. Starting school is a major transition and can be so overwhelming for children and parents. The children I and my colleagues support have been identified as needing some extra nurture and extra support. However, in the first few days and weeks, all the new children ( and many of the parents ) need that extra nurture and support. The move to school is such a big change, even for those children who have been in early years settings full time. They are taking on so much new information, new experiences, there are not as many staff as there were in the nursery, the school is often louder, bigger, lots of children. There are many new noises, sights, sounds, smells, everything is often different, that can be so overwhelming even for the most confident and able child.

With all these new changes children will often be exhausted, I often hear parents who have had children in full-time nursery say that school shouldn’t be any different. It is important to understand that change is tiring, change makes us as adults feel exhausted. Think about when you started a new job; I bet you were exhausted at the end of the week; it is just the same with our children. The brain is taking on so much new information, it is working so hard, and this is tiring. So my tip is whether your child is starting infant school, junior school or senior school expect them to be very tired at the end of the week. Acknowledge this and support them with these feelings, they may well be more snappy, emotional, irritable, be there for them in these feelings. Acknowledge how they feel and validate those feelings for them. It is ok to be tired and to feel overwhelmed and to feel a bit scared at the start of something new. Be kind and gentle to them; this is a time of big change, they need to be supported and nurtured.

Also as parents, this can be a hard time for us, many of us cried when our child started school or senior school ( or university!), we can feel worried about how they will survive, overwhelmed by the change that is happening. Be kind to yourself, offer yourself kind words, do something that makes you feel happy, that might be eating cake or going for a run or a swim, speak to someone you know and trust about your feelings.

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).