Category Archives: Child development

Recognising the change and celebrating every success

 

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Over the last week, I have been writing end of year reports for the nurture children I support. This is an opportunity to recognise and celebrate the development in the children we work with. Each September I am never really sure what progress we will make, there are so many possibilities that can affect the child and the work. Each year my hope is that the new little person I am starting work with will reach a place where they feel secure, safe and wanted. Our work is not about achieving academic targets, but it is about the child feeling that they are safe, that they can express themselves in positive and safe ways and for them to know they are wanted and loved.

The joy of writing end of year reports is that we start by remembering how the child was at the beginning of the year, in many ways this can be quite an emotional time, looking back and remembering how hard it was for the child and their staff. By this time of year, you can so easily forget and take for granted the progress made. I have children now who can sit for 10 minutes and join in, children who can tell their staff how they feel, children who now have friends and invite other children to play with them, children who when a stranger walks into the classroom no longer stand out as the child with big issues.

These children will not necessarily reach their early learning goals; they will all still need support and help in year 1. But these children have all grown and developed and flourished, and that is wonderful and worth celebrating.

My role at the end of the year with the staff is to remind them of the amazing work that they have done with the children. To remind them to celebrate the steps that have been made.

At the end of May, I planted a sunflower seed for each of the children I was working with. This week they have started to flower, a beautiful reminder of the joy and wonder and celebration of the children I work with.

Mental health and our children

 

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On Monday 8th May it is the start of mental health week in the UK. On Monday the 8th May it is also the start of SATS week for year 6 children in England, (for those reading this in countries other the UK, SATS are exams for children aged 10/11 in their last year of Primary school). This feels very ironic.

As we know there is an increase in the number of children with a mental health disorder, Young Minds suggest there are 1 in 10 children in the UK with a diagnosable mental health disorder ( that is roughly 3 children in each class). I am writing this blog piece this morning as I am struck by the irony of how we can have an increased understanding about mental health, how we can have dedicated mental health weeks and yet we are still putting young children under a huge amount of pressure to sit a week long exam in year 6.
I fundamentally disagree with children in primary school taking exams for a week but it isn’t just the taking the exams that is the problem, it is the months and months of preparation that is around it. I have heard this year of some schools choosing to put in revision sessions during play times 3 times a week for months before, some schools sending home SATS papers from October for children to practice and practice, some schools sending home papers during the Easter holidays for children to do every day. Over the last few weeks I have heard locally of Yr 6 children who are self harming, I have had yr 6 children tell me they are worried, they want to do their best but they don’t know if they can, I have heard of yr 6 children waking up in the middle of the night in tears because they are scared. I work in schools and I used to be a chair of Governors, I understand the pressure that the schools and teachers are being placed under, the Government are constantly placing more and more pressure on schools and teachers but it is not ok for that to be passed onto children. I know there are some examples of schools that are doing a great job within the awful system. I heard of one school who sent a letter to their children telling them how wonderful and unique they are and that the SATS do not measure how awesome they all are, I know of another school that told children at Easter to eat ice cream, climb tress, enjoy the holidays.

Surely there comes a time when we need to speak out, when we need to challenge the government, when we need to challenge schools who are putting too much pressure on children, when we challenge multi academy trusts who run schools about how they are addressing the mental health needs of their children. How can we recognise and talk about mental health week and yet in the same week cause mental distress to thousands of yr 6 children?

 

 

Helping children to find stillness

 

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This is a blog piece that I wrote recently for Childcare Expo , it links to a chapter in my new book Promoting Young Children’s Emotional health and Wellbeing 

Our lives are very busy, and our children’s lives are often busy also, as adults we know that we need to find times of stillness and relaxation, to enhance our well-being but how often do we think about helping our children to find stillness?.

Several years ago I was on a study trip to a kindergarten in Denmark; the children had spent half the day in the woods, exploring and discovering. Later, back in the nursery garden, I noticed one girl lying on her back on a wooden water trough, she was gazing at the blue sky for around 30 minutes, this girl was in her space, she had found a moment of stillness. The image stayed with me as I came back to the UK, I started to question what opportunity we give to children and ourselves to find stillness. I spoke with colleagues, and often I was told that children ‘ don’t do stillness,’ some staff said to me of quiet areas they had in their setting, but often acknowledged these didn’t work as intended. I knew from my experience of being a parent that it was possible to help children experience stillness.

In one of my current roles, I work as a nurture consultant, supporting four-year-olds who are finding the transition into school difficult. An essential element of this role is supporting staff to help the children find times of stillness and calm daily; this is relevant for all the children. Some examples we use are:
Create a space in the classroom/nursery/ outdoors which is a safe, quiet area- you could use a tent, a den, have cushions, blankets inside this space, make it cosy. Explain to the children this is the space they can use when they would like some quiet time, time to be calmer and relax.
Make a sensory bottle ( Look at pinterest for instructions), or use a snow globe. These are excellent to use with children who are feeling agitated or anxious. Acknowledge how they are feeling, shake the globe or bottle and together watch the glitter solution as it begins to slow down; at the same time get them to put their hands on their tummy’s and notice their breathing, helping them to be calmer.

Use Mindfulness and Yoga with children; there are some excellent resources for teaching young children mindfulness and Yoga, examples to look at are:

The Mindful Child (2010) by Susan Kaiser-Greenland
My Daddy is a Pretzel: Yoga for Parents and Kids (2012) by Baron Baptise

Using stories to help children find stillness- A collection of stories called Relax Kids by Marneta Viegas. They have a short meditation at the end to help children find stillness and calmness

Helping children learn how to find some stillness and calmness is an essential part of enhancing their well-being.

Developing well-being through outdoor play and stress and anxiety kits

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My job is hugely varied, which I love. This week I have been creating stress and anxiety toolkits for older children and teens. Delivering participation and well-being training to Bath YFC and being creative outdoors with my nurture children. The focus with all of this has been thinking about well-being and promoting well-being.

I have worked in the field of participation for many years, by listening to children and young people, giving them a voice and enabling them to feel that they are special and unique, we know this enhances their well-being. We also know that many children and young people suffer from huge pressures and stresses and often feel very anxious, particularly at this time of year with exams affecting both primary and senior aged children. With this in mind, I have recently been developing some stress and anxiety toolkits, and I have been asking young people to trial them for me, with excellent feedback.

In my nurture work, I have been making the most of the sunshine and enjoying outside spaces with the children. This week we were making nature pictures, collecting small things from outdoors that they found and sticking them onto a card with double sided sticky tape. This is such a simple and wonderful activity. It was delightful to see the wonder and excitement the children expressed as they found their treasures and made a picture out of them. It’s brilliant to observe these children concentrating, engaging, being curious and creative and talking with enthusiasm about what they were finding. These are children who at the beginning of the school year found it hard to focus on anything for more than a few minutes, and now were engaging for around 40minutes. A very joyful experience and a great sense of their enhancing well-being.

 

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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

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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