Category Archives: early years

Support for you

 

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During this year I have been writing a book about the wellbeing of adults who look after children, it is almost finished!. I am at the stage of finalising, checking, pulling it together. As I finish this book, it feels almost ironic that I have written this book while supporting and working with two children who’s story is deeply complex and very sad. In my experience of working with children for over 25 years, there are always one or two that stay with you, that you don’t ever forget. The two I am working with this year fall into that category. This year I am supporting their Ta’s and their teachers, and together we are helping them to feel safe and loved and protected when everything else around them is changing and falling apart. Our focus is on nurturing them, protecting them, enabling them to express how they feel, our focus is not on learning.

 

This has probably been one of the most emotionally demanding experiences I have had in work, and it has highlighted for me again how vitally important it is to have the right support in place when you are working in emotionally demanding situations. My job is to support the children but also to support the staff, to talk with them, listen to them, guide them, supervise them. There have been moments this year, when we have cried together, there have been moments when we have shared our deep frustration and anger at what is happening around the children, that we have no control over. Each week I remind the staff how they need to take care of themselves, how they need to be kind and gentle to themselves and do something that makes them feel good.

We are only able to help and support children who are finding life very hard when we have support ourselves. I have a fantastic supervisor, although we don’t see each other every day, I am always able to ring her when I need to talk through a situation. This week she left me chocolate in my pigeon hole! She knows me well, as that always helps me to feel loved and supported!.

If you are working in an emotionally challenging situation, think about who is supporting you, what is in place to help you offload, who is there to listen to you? This could be your supervisor, manager or colleague. If you don’t have this in place, then it needs addressing, and you need to ask for support.

Listening to children and young people

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The news this week filled me with hope, and the main reason was that record numbers of young people chose to vote. I have worked in the field of children and young people’s participation for over 15 years. For many years I ran participation work, commissioned by our local authority. For years I heard policy makers, politicians, budget holders tell me they wanted to hear from children and young people but all too often their actions showed us something different. If children and young people feel like their voices won’t be heard, then they won’t speak out, they won’t participate. But there appears to be a change taking place. Finally, young people feel like someone is listening to them. Finally, they are recognising they do have a voice, and they have a right to partake and give their opinion.

My specialism for years in the participation field was in how we listen to the youngest of children, I have delivered a ‘ listening to young children’ training course, across the country for many years. I know that if we get it right in the early years, then we are providing children with essential life skills.

Listening to young children is a joy, we can and should involve them in decision making about a wide range of areas, including:

Staff recruitment
Staff appraisals
Resources we buy
Follow their interests for our planning
The design of our rooms/ outdoor spaces and buildings
They can help us plans menus etc

Over the years I have seen some inspiring examples of listening to children in the early years. I have worked across many sectors, and I always argued some of the best participation practice was coming from the early years. I would like to believe one of the reasons we are seeing a change in Young Peoples voting today is because those young people were the three and four year olds sixteen years ago that were listened to and had a voice in their early years setting. In early years we are making a difference.

 

 

Awe and Wonder

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One of the joys of working with young children is their sense of excitement and wonder with the world, the way they delight at a snail or a dandelion can be delightful to see. This sense of awe and wonder is often lost in adults; we become jaded, worn down by the misery that we hear on the news, this feels especially relevant today on the back of more terrorist attacks.

This morning I walked around the community meadow, this is one of my weekly rituals, each Sunday morning I walk, think and enjoy the early morning stillness. The joy of walking around the same space each week, all year round, is that you notice the changes. This morning it was great to see how high the grass has grown, the recent rain has helped the growth. I also saw the wild orchids had come back. I have seen these orchids growing year after year for the last 23 years that we have lived here, but they still fill me with a sense of awe and wonder when I see them back, each year. By choosing to stop and notice, by engaging with a sense of beauty and awe, I feel this is nourishing and nurturing myself.

In the yearly cycle of nurture work we are now entering the last term, the term when we stop and reflect on what the children have achieved this year, on how far the children and the staff have developed. I love this term as it is an opportunity to spend time reflecting back on how distressed and unhappy the children were in September, to think about the fears we had back then and to recognise the progress that has been made and celebrate that achievement. I see this term as the chance to celebrate the awe and wonder of the children we work with over the year and recognise the change and the difference we have made.

I think as adults we need to be open to noticing the beauty that is around us, that might be in the people who surround us or in our environment.

How will you celebrate the work you have done this term?

 

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I have an arrangement with a good friend called Will; he is a children’s counsellor working in schools with upper primary school-aged children. During this last term I have messaged him each Thursday, his day when he is not in schools, and ask him ‘ what will you be doing for rest today or what are you doing today that will make you happy ? . I, in turn, tell him a little of my week and what I am going to do to be kind to myself or to find rest. We started this as I noticed Will was getting worn down, run down and I thought he needed to take care of himself more. But also it also came about because I was aware we are both lone working most of the time and I thought this accountability to one another would help both of us.

Today Will’s question for me was How will you celebrate the work you have done this term, and that threw me, but I loved it. This week and this term have felt pretty tough and long, there have been some hard and sad stories that I have heard, that I have supported children and staff in, those stories don’t have happy endings, they are still hard and sad and messy. At the end of a term like this it is easy to feel exhausted, I know I am run down both physically and mentally, and it is easy to miss the achievements and overlook the small but good moments.

Will’s question helped me to reframe my term, to tell myself what has been good, I do this all the time with staff, but recently I have forgotten to do it to myself. I took the time to write a list of what I am proud of in my work over this last term, and that felt good. So the next part, how was I going to celebrate?- I love gardening, and this is my favourite time of year in the garden, with planting new seeds. So I decided to buy some sunflower seeds, I have planted ten seeds to celebrate the ten children I have supported and worked with this term, I will enjoy seeing these seedlings grow into beautiful flowers over the coming months.

So my question is – how will you celebrate the work you have done this term?

Growing

 

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These last few weeks I have been growing plants with children, we planted cress faces and planted peas in pots. I love the activity of growing plants with children,  it is hugely sensory and the children I work with need many sensory experiences to help them feel calm and in touch with their feeling and emotions. Also, there is something very beautiful about seeing a child who can find life and school challenging to be supported to nurture and grow something; it can give them a massive sense of achievement. As I went back into school this week all the children were excitedly showing me the peas that had started growing ( the cress worked less well!). The children were all taking such pride in watering and checking on their plant each day. There is the risk the plants won’t grow; we discovered cress doesn’t survive the weekend without being watered, but the staff and I were able to support the children to understand this and think about what we could try differently. The activity of growing something with children is an excellent way to help them with their wellbeing. It gives them sensory experiences; we can use lots of emotion language while doing it, we can talk about the importance of being cared for and tell children ‘ my job is to care for you and together we are gong to care for this plant’.

I know many great examples of nurseries and schools who have gardens that children help to tend and look after, RHS have a schools project with ideas and suggestion on how your school or nursery can set up a garden. Many of the children I work with can find school work hard and a challenge. However they often respond very well to being outside and gardening, if they have support in taking responsibility for some of the growing they can often thrive and develop in this role and take real pride in what they have done. I wrote a blog piece about being outside last week and the research showing how good this is for our wellbeing and children’s wellbeing. Gardening is also recognised as an excellent activity for wellbeing; the charity Mind has many gardening projects across the country set up to help people’s mental health. I know for myself Gardening is one activity that helps me to feel calm, I find gardening a very mindful activity, I become totally focussed on the activity, and it allows me to switch off from everything else. I think this is the same for many children who are stressed and anxious.

This weekend I plan to spend lots of time in my garden and greenhouse.

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.

Being outside is good for our wellbeing

 

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Yesterday I spent most of the day outside gardening, under the blue sky, enjoying the early spring sun. I felt the happiest, most relaxed and the most awake and alert that I had felt all week. I know that being outside is good for my well-being, I can feel the difference it has on me. My 17 yr old daughter also spent some time outside taking a break from her A level work; she was sawing branches off a tree that needed cutting back, again she was the most happiest and calm that she had been all week. We could both see and feel the difference spending time outside was having on our wellbeing.

We know there is lots of research on the need for children to spend more time outside, I wrote a chapter on this in my book Promoting Young Children’s emotional health and wellbeing.  There is now growing research to show how being outside can have enormous benefits for adults wellbeing as well as children. The UK mental health charity Mind has information about Ecotherapy; this is about experiencing nature, being outside, working outside e,g gardening, they suggest this therapy can be used to help with mental health problems. I have been reading a new book this week called The Nature Fix by Florence Williams, in her first chapter she talks about a growing interest in Japan called ‘Shinrin-yoku’ in English this means Forest therapy; this is about people spending time in forests, it is viewed in Japan as a preventive therapy. The effects of being in forests have been measured with hundreds of individuals by Chiba University researchers. Their research showed that a casual walk in a forest had a 12.7% decrease in the participant’s cortisol levels ( stress levels) and a 103 % increase in the parasympathetic nervous activity ( Relax state). ( Miyazaki 2012). Japan have realised that the stress levels of many people living there are very high, partly due to long hours that they work. They have now set up forest trails in many forests across Japan to encourage people to get out into nature and alleviate some of the stress they have been encountering in their busy work lives.

I think the challenge can be finding the time and opportunity to be outside; it might be worth considering for this next week can you find some time to be outside? This could be taking a coffee break outside, going for a walk on a lunch break, finding some woods to walk in today. If you work with children how are you going to incorporate outdoor play and outdoor learning into your week? This will be hugely beneficial to you and the children.