Category Archives: creativity

Mental wellbeing

 

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This week I have started writing the last chapter for my new book on the wellbeing of adults who work with children. The chapter’s focus is on mental wellbeing, so often when we are stressed, anxious and are wellbeing is low, we lose focus on how we look after our brain. An important aspect of looking after our mental wellbeing is through ongoing stimulation and learning. The learning doesn’t have to be about formal learning; it can be about learning new skills, and mental stimulation can be through creative and cultural engagements. However, this needs to be an intentional act, an area that we actively think about and choose to partake in. When we are deeply tired, this can feel very hard, but maybe that is the time when we most need to engage and help our mental wellbeing,

Yesterday I posed a question to early years practitioners about how they improve their mental wellbeing. I had some great responses about engaging in learning through books, web training, reflective practice with colleagues, being involved in yoga, gardening, knitting, spending time outdoors.

I have recently been working on my metal wellbeing by extending my learning and my creativity through foraging!, since a study trip to Denmark around seven years ago I have become fascinated in foraging and what you can cook and make from the foraged food. This spring I have been experimenting a lot, some more successful than others. I have discovered a few foraging people on Facebook who I now follow. I have made nettle soup, nettle cordial ( not a success!) dandelion and wild garlic salad, wild garlic and nettle pesto, wild garlic bread and dandelion salve for tired muscles; the dandelion salve that one was a great success foe my general wellbeing. Today I am going to make a nettle and honey cake, and I will see if the elderflower in our local playing field is out for me to make my yearly elderflower cordial. I love the creative process of experimenting and making new things with my foraged goodies; I am fascinated around what we can eat and make from the weeds in my garden and the lanes around my house. It is engaging my brain in a way that is gentle but enjoyable, and for me, it is a great way to switch off from work and my nurture cases.

My encouragement today is thinking about how you are looking after your mind and your mental wellbeing, what could you do today that would gently help your mental wellbeing?

How do we help children have a good wellbeing?

 

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Wellbeing is a term we hear a lot about for adults and young people, but we don’t hear so much about it for young children. We know that the rates of teenage mental health problems are rising alarmingly, we are aware that children and young people are feeling increasingly stressed and distressed. I passionately believe if we can help young children to have a good wellbeing then we are setting them off on a great start in life. To help children have a good wellbeing we need to be intentional about it.

One critical aspect of a child having good wellbeing is by them knowing that they are loved, they are loved for the unique and precious individual that they are. Parents and Grandparents clearly have a crucial role in letting children know that they are unconditionally loved, but I also believe that Key workers, Ta’s, children’s workers also have a role in showing children that they are loved and wanted. We show this through the words we use, the way we hold children. Part of my job is as a nurture consultant; I have seven children and schools that I support throughout the year. Every time I see one of my nurture children I ensure I show delight in seeing them that day, I smile at them, I look them in the eyes and tell them how lovely it is to see them today, how much I have been looking forward to our time together.

If you work with children, think about how you welcome them each day. By showing warmth in your smile and your words, through noticing how they look; maybe they have a spiderman hat on or a new hair band in their hair. Through seeing things that are important to the children and telling them how delighted you are to see them, this helps a child to arrive feeling wanted and loved.

In my new book Promoting Young Children’s emotional wellbeing, I explore a few essential ways we can further help to embed this. Below are a few examples:
Playing outside– there is so much research showing the need for children to spend quality time being outside. Giving children opportunities to explore, discover, climb, run. As parents we can do this by taking walks each day, going to the park, going to a field. Playing bubbles outside is a joyful and cheap activity to do with children outside.

Sensory play– giving children the chance to explore with all their senses, children learn through exploring and using all their senses. A very simple example of sensory play is play dough; you can buy this very cheaply or make your own ( there are many recipes on Pinterest)

Using emotional language– We need to help children understand their feelings and emotions, by using emotion language and giving them an emotional vocabulary we are enabling them to understand their feelings and also other peoples. From babies we can start to talk about their feelings e.g when a baby is crying to be fed we can respond with gently saying ‘ it’s ok I know you are feeling hungry, I am going to feed you now’. With a toddler who is crying because their parent has left them at nursery we can say ‘ I can see you are really sad that Mummy has gone, she will be back later I am here for you now” .
Un-rushing & stillness– Our lives are often very busy, and our children’s lives are often busy too. We need to help children to find times to rest, to experience moments of stillness. Are there spaces in your setting or your home where your child can lay back and relax or daydream?. You can also use Yoga and Mindfulness with young children both of these practices help children to find stillness. CBeebies have a children’s program called Waybuloo which teaches different yoga poses.

Being creative– creativity is an essential part of wellbeing.We need to give children the space to be creative and to be creative with them. Find times to sing and dance with your children, dancing and singing together with your toddler can be a joyful experience. Giving children the opportunity to experiment with paint, chalks, making things with cardboard boxes, these will all help your child’s wellbeing.

Be co-explorers – Children have a passion for learning and discovering, they need adults around them who want to learn and explore with them. I believe one of our roles as adults is to be a co-explorer and adventure with our children. Children are great at becoming fascinated in something, this might be the snail and sticks on the road as you are walking to the shops, or it may be a fascination with dinosaurs. As adults, we can show interest and delight with children and learn alongside them.

Our wellbeing -And finally, if we are going to help children to have a good wellbeing we need to pay attention to our wellbeing. We need to take care of ourselves; we need to ensure we are eating well, exercising, having rest and doing things which make us happy.
I explore all these themes more fully in my book, this is available from Tuesday 21st March, it can be ordered from Jessica Kingsley Publishers.

I am also discussing these in a workshop in Bath at Castle Farm Cafe on Thursday 6th April at 7pm,  book tickets on their website.

Creativity and well-being

 

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I have been exploring over the last few months how creativity enhances our well-being. One of the chapters in my new book has a focus on creativity- ‘Promoting young children’s emotional health and well-being- a practical guide for professionals and parents’, due to be published in March by Jessica Kingsley publishers. I believe if we want to encourage children to be creative and we value the benefits to creativity then we need to discover and nurture the creative side in ourselves. It is very hard to fully encourage creativity in children if we don’t have our own creative experiences/ opportunities.

Last weekend I delivered training with the staff at Hopscotch nursery on creativity . We started the training by thinking about how each of them were creative, at first this was quite a hard exercise, but through encouragement and discussion they were all able to think of things- for some it was the creative way they used make-up, for others it was the creative way they baked or played an instrument.

If Art and music were subjects you dreaded in school and you felt you failed at them, then the word creativity can bring with it many negative feelings. This was how I felt early in my career . Fortunately, I met and then married an artist- Iain Cotton he helped me to see that creativity is so much more than being able to draw or dance. Creativity is more than just the ‘arts’ .Creativity is as much about how you view the world, how you engage with life, how you have creative ideas and problem solving as well as how you make things.

Being creative is not always about the end product, it is about the process, it’s about the ideas, it’s about the active doing. I believe this is what enhances our well-being, actively engaging, taking part. Research has shown that participating in creative activities can improve physical and psychological well-being (Swart 2015).

As part of the training, we engaged in different creative opportunities, ideas that the staff could use with the children. One of these was exploring our senses through painting with food. This was very popular with the group. This activity is great to use with babies and children who put everything in their mouth. It involved homemade edible paint ( natural yoghurt with food colouring), spices, fresh herbs, fruit tea bags and fruit ( raspberries and blueberries). It was wonderful to see how the team fully engaged in this and had fun exploring and engaging in this activity, the laughter, the enjoyment it brought, this was a good moment of enhancing their well-being.

During this week in my nurture work, I am going to be using the food painting with my nurture children, one girl has asked me to bring in custard to use. I am hoping they and I will get as much fun and laughter and enhancing our well-being as the staff in the training did.

Photo taken by Lucy – owner of Hopscotch Nursery 

Offering resources to children which look beautiful

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During this week I have been thinking about resources for my nurture work, thinking about the individual needs and interests of the different children.I have also been writing training and organising photos to go into my book- Promoting young children’s health and well-being, which will be published soon by Jessica Kingsley publishers. The thread in all of these activities is giving careful thought about the resources we offer to children and how we can make them look inviting.

I believe if we want children to get pleasure from the activity, if we want children to learn to value and look after resources and if we want children to have the opportunity to create beautiful things then we need to offer them resources which look attractive, beautiful and inviting.

I love it when I see creative areas in classrooms and nurseries which look inviting and attractive. In Reggio Emilia ( a town in North Italy who are have developed a creative pedagogy) they give a lot of thought to the resources they offer, how they look, how they feel etc. I visited Reggio over ten years ago and took away with me the idea of presenting materials and resources to children in a beautiful way.

During this last week, I have been developing a new resource, inspired by Reggio practice, it is a resource tray of small parts. I will be using this in training I am delivering, I also plan to use it as one of the photos in my book. I have made a smaller version that I will be using in my nurture work. The idea of a small parts tray is to offer resources that children can use in their creative making.The aim is that it looks interesting, tactile, inviting and will encourage children to extend their creative activities.

Photo of small parts tray taken by Iain Cotton

Growing new ideas

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One aspect I love about being self-employed is the freedom to grow and develop new ideas. Sometimes these work, sometimes they don’t, which can be hard, but I really value the space to be able to try and the space to be able to think creatively. Over the last couple of years, I have realised that I really enjoy the creative process of thinking and developing new projects/ resources and I am learning to be braver about trying to push these forward and see if they can grow and take off.

Over the last year I have been working with my husband and 2 close friends on developing one of these new ideas, it started as an idea for a children’s illustrated book to explain Bipolar to children and then developed into the idea of making this into an animation as well as a book. Over the last 5 weeks, we pushed forward a crowdfunding project to fund this idea. We knew we were being highly ambitious in the amount we were trying to raise and we were really unsure if it would work ,if anyone would want to back it. We didn’t raise the full amount we needed, but we did have pledges for half the amount .

When you try out a new idea, you often don’t have a sense of whether it will work, it can feel really risky, you’re putting yourself in a vulnerable position of risking rejection and criticism and that is very hard. The flip side of that is people do support you and you discover that people love you and believe in your idea. That has been my experience, as a group working on the Mummy’s got Bipolar project we have all been deeply touched by the support we have been offered, the generosity of people. Alongside this the incredibly moving comments from strangers telling us that they didn’t know how to tell their children about their Bipolar, messages of encouragement from people living with Bipolar telling us there is a great need for this project.

This morning I went for my usual Sunday morning walk around the meadow at the back of our house. This is a space where I can think and reflect. This morning I noticed a small horse chestnut tree sapling growing on the edge of the meadow. I loved noticing the beauty of this tiny new tree and the possibility of the great tree it might grow to become. We have been really encouraged by the support we had through sharing the idea of our project with others; our project feels a bit like that tiny tree, I still don’t know quite what it will become, but we are going to try and continue to see if we can make it grow.

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

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/