Category Archives: early years

Foraging with children

 

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This is the perfect time of year to forage with children. Hedgerows are full of blackberries. I have always enjoyed foraging, even before it became a trendy thing!. I have wonderful memories of blackberry picking with my mum in Bristol and also when we stayed with my Nan in Wales. I did blackberry picking with my girls throughout their childhood ( and recently, they are now 20 and 22!) also with children I nannied for and now with my nurture children in the current role. With so much concern and worry about children’s mental health and the increased time children spend indoors, foraging is a brilliant way to help children engage in nature and support their mental wellbeing.

Around ten years ago I visited a kindergarten in Denmark, it was early September, we all went for a walk in the woods and the children foraged their way along the journey, eating a wide range of food from berries, small green plants, and fungi. The children all knew what was ok to eat and what was not, the staff was watching and trusting them, the staff had taught the children from when they were tiny what was ok to eat. Looking back on my trip to Denmark, this was a significant trip and moment for me, one of the refections I had was how well connected the children were to their environment, how well they understood nature and to take care of the world. A big emphasis of the staff was in teaching the children about the environment around them and part of that was understanding what they could eat and not eat. I came away from this trip firstly wanting to know more about foraging in my local area, finding out about what was growing in my local hedgerows and also thinking about how we can share this with children in the UK.

Everyone is becoming more aware of the importance of engaging in nature, of helping children to know and learn about the world around them and how to take care of this. There are fantastic resources with helping to teach children about the outdoors, woodland trust has a lovely site with ideas and activities across the ages including recipes for using blackberries!

One recipe that I am making this year is blackberry cordial, we all make blackberry pies and crumbles and these are lovely, but making a cordial is a little different, you can easily make it in a nursery or at home and with warm water added to it, it is a lovely autumnal drink. The recipe I am using is below
Blackberry cordial

750g blackberries
cold water to cover them
1 small cinnamon stick
1 tsp lemon juice
150g sugar

Wash the blackberries, put them in a pan and cover with water ( enough to just cover them).
Boil until the blackberries burst, then mash them ( potato masher) and strain through a sieve.

Put the blackberry juice, sugar, lemon juice and cinnamon in a pan. Bring to boil and simmer until sugar dissolves ( around 10 mins).

Pout into a sterilised bottle and dilute to drink
I then used the leftover fruit and mixed with apple to make a fruit cobbler.

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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.

 

Supporting children to flourish

 

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This is my last week of the school year in my nurture role. The last few weeks I have been writing the end of year reports for the children and reflecting on the year. The joy of writing the reports is the opportunity to notice and remember the distance traveled with the child and school. The stories we hear in term 6 when we pick up our new nursery children before we start work with them, can often lead us to a feeling of uncertainty and slight nervousness of the year ahead. We need to be able to put that to one side and have faith that we can make a difference and see change. Then we look back over their first year in school and realise that we have all survived and often thrived and they are a different child to the one we first heard about a year ago.
This last week one of our team was reflecting on our role as being the job of building up confidence in others and giving faith and hope in challenging situations to enable staff and children to flourish and fly. I love this statement, for me, it is filled with hope and opportunity. As I look back over the last year there have been moments of pain and sadness and sometimes despair, but there have been many more moments of delight and laughter and joy, of flourishing and thriving.
I started term 6 anticipating it to be challenging due to workload, my aim for the term was to thrive it rather than survive it, and I was going to do this by wild swimming each week. The term has ended up being far more stressful than I could have anticipated, it has been incredibly busy but there have also been some huge and emotional family stressors. Outdoor swimming has been my oasis and has given me moments of joy to hold onto, I have managed 7 outdoor swims over the term. The highlight came this week when I swam with my team at Vobster quarry, it was a wonderful way to end our year, swimming together in a beautiful, peaceful location. There was a vulnerability with one another with some of the team feeling very nervous about the swim, but there was also a huge sense of joy and a feeling of flourishing at the end.

Seeing the world through a child’s eyes

 

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This last week my nurture work has focused on photo journeys with children. Each child took photos of things that made them happy in school. The point of this exercise is to enable the adults to see the world through the child’s eyes, it’s also to hear and see directly from the children what brings them joy, what is important to them. This information is then shared with their current staff and will be used to inform their new staff to help them gain a fuller understanding of the child, it can also be used in reviews and assessments as part of the child’s voice.

This is a piece of work I have done many times over the years, what I love about this activity is how there are always new things I learn about the child. By this point in the year, I and the teaching assistants have worked closely with the child, and by now we have a good understanding about the child’s needs and how to support them, however, there are still new things we often discover.

The common thread with all my children this year has been outdoors, this is not unusual but it is a reminder again of how important it is for children to spend a lot of time outside, having space to explore, be curious, to try new things. A lot of the children took photos of play equipment and talked about how they could now climb /balance on them etc, with each of them they had a sense of achievement with this, which clearly brought them some joy and pride. One child took photos of trees and flowers, actively looking for certain flowers to photograph and he talked about how the flowers make him very happy.

With all my children the start of the school year was an extremely frightening, overwhelming experience, there was little happiness or joy for them being in school. It is such a pleasure to see these children identifying with being happy, understanding what it means to be happy and being able to show us clearly what makes them happy in school.

There are lots more ideas on how to listen to children in my new book Listening to young children in early years settings. 

Listening to children and promoting their wellbeing

 

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For over 15 years I worked with a large children’s charity working with schools, nursery’s, social services health services in how they listen to children and involve them in decision making. Then five years ago I started to work as freelance nurture consultant with a small organisation in Bath called Brighter futures, my role is to support 4 yr olds who have had a challenging start in life and are finding the move into school overwhelming and whose wellbeing is low. Over the last few months as a team we have been reflecting on our work over the last 5 years, we have been thinking about the children we have supported, the changes we have seen and the common threads. Taking the opportunity to look back I have been reminded how listening to children in the nurture role has to underpin all that we do, if a child does not feel listened to from at least one adult, then they will not have good wellbeing.

The act of listening in my current role is not just about listening to the words that the child is saying, it is about listening to the behavior, to the facial expression, to their body language and the sounds they may make. A few years ago I worked with a child who growled, when she was overwhelmed. When she became agitated she would start to growl, quietly at first, almost under her breath and then as she became more distressed the noise would rise. She didn’t have the words to say I can’t cope, she needed adults around her who were able to listen to her sounds and recognise what was happening for her, to come along aside her and support her.

Children’s poor wellbeing is such a huge issue in the UK right now, three years ago I wrote a book about how we can support children’s wellbeing. I believe there are many reasons for our children having low wellbeing, the increasing stress of families, communities and of the country really does not help. I recently delivered some training where it was suggested to me that listening to children in this time of high stress and austerity was a luxury, I was told that staff did not have the time for this, there were too many things they were being expected to do and listening to children takes precious time that they did not have. Yes, listening to children does take time, you can’t rush it, however, if we ignore what a child is telling us, if we show them we are too busy and have too many other important things to do and think about, then we are paying a huge disservice to those children and we are contributing to their poor wellbeing.

This week I had a new book published with Jessica Kingsley publishers titled Listening to young children in early years settings, a practical guide. This book explores the links between listening to children and children’s wellbeing it is also has a lot of practical ideas and suggestions on how we can listen to children.

Lost words

 

Over the last few weeks, I have been thinking a lot about The Lost Words. In 2017 Robert Macfarlane wrote a book based on the lost words that had been left out of the children’s Oxford English dictionary. The words that had been left out were based around nature. The book was illustrated by Jackie Morris, I think it is one of the most beautiful books I have seen, and since it’s publication I have bought several copies for family members. Some of the words include conker, ivy, bramble, dandelion, otter, starling.

 

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The lost words book inspired an exhibition of letter cutters, curated by the lettering arts trust which opened a few weeks again in Snape Maltings, my husband is one of the artists who exhibited, he carved the word, Otter. We went to the opening of the show, this reminded me again how so many of our children are becoming disconnected with nature and the world around them.

 

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The last few weeks in my nurture work we have been exploring nature, looking for bugs, making nature pictures, finding beauty around us. These are sensory activities I regularly do with the children I work with, but the last few weeks I have been more intentional about naming all the things we find. Naming dandelions and forget me not, the blossom from the tree, naming the birds we see, sparrow, robin, blackbird. I want to make sure the children I work with know these names, by knowing names it helps us to connect, by connecting with nature we are more likely to want to take care of it.

Sensory mindful walking

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The last few days I have been intentionally walking around the community meadow slowly, mindfully, with the idea of really noticing how spring is developing. The meadow is a space I regularly walk around, sometimes it is a space where I walk to wake myself up, other times to work through problems in my head. However the last few days I have been wanting to be more mindful, intentional and notice the changes that are happening. Yesterday I spent around 20 minutes listening to all the bird song, there was such a range of birds, starlings, great tits, sparrows, magpies, robin, and a wren. Often I am aware of lots of bird song, but I haven’t always noticed the wide range of birds in the meadow.

Over the last few weeks, I have been thinking about how busy and noisy a lot of our schools and early years settings are. With lots of background noises, often a bombardment of visual things around the classroom, often busy schedules and timetables. There is little time to slow down, notice, find some stillness. I do believe that our busy, noisy lives are contributing to our children’s and our own mental illness.
With this in mind during this next week I am going to be doing some sensory spring walks with the children I work with, walks where we listen, smell, feel, notice, where we have un-rushed time to see and discover what is around us, where we can get in touch with our senses and our environment. These mindful walks are a good way to introduce some slowness and quietness to children.