Category Archives: mindfulness

Gardening as a radical act

 

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This weekend I have mostly been gardening, I know I am very fortunate to have a garden and I have felt so grateful for this all weekend. My garden is long, quite wild, my gardening style is to put things in and see what happens, it’s haphazard and some things do amazingly well ( too well sometimes!) and other things do less well.

Since the lockdown, I have been growing lots of seeds in my greenhouse, mostly vegetables, but also flower seeds. I always grow from seed, but this year I have become very busy in the greenhouse with an increasing range of seeds being grown. I am trying new varieties of Tomato, and cucumber, lots of new flowers and I am also growing loofah plants. I realise the time in my garden and greenhouse feels gentle and slow, it feels calming and safe. I have always known that I find gardening to be a nurturing act, but at this time, it has felt life-saving.

I have been thinking about how gardening and growing plants feel like a radical act of hope in this time of COVID 19. While our normal lives have stopped, while there is worry and fear and grief and despair around us, I am aware that my act of growing is a rebellion to all of those things. I can’t pretend COVID 19 isn’t happening, but I can look forward to changes, new growth, new life. I am looking forward to sharing in the months ahead, with family and friends the fruit and vegetables of my garden. I am looking forward to giving gifts of homegrown Loofahs at Christmas, from my greenhouse. I am enjoying being able to share surplus seedlings and plants with friends who live nearby, leaving them on doorsteps when I am on my weekly shopping trip or daily walk, waving at friends through the window. This reminds me that there are still acts of hope there is still a way to connect with others.

In my last week before I became a homeworker, I planted seeds with the nurture children I work with, they decorated a small ceramic pot and we planted flower seeds for them to take home. At the time I was aware this may be my last session with them for months, I love growing things with children and it’s an activity I often do, but I hadn’t realised at that time the significance of this act. The children took home their pots and were encouraged to nurture these seeds. I now hope in growing these seeds they will be reminded of our work and our nurture times together. I have heard one of my boys has been excitedly telling his teacher each week in a telephone call how the seeds are growing, I am going to be speaking to him tomorrow, I am looking forward to hearing his delight in the small act of hope.

Calming ideas to try at home

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One of my schools asked for an ideas sheet of calming things to do at home. As a team we have created this sheet. Attached it here incase it is useful for others.

Ideas for parents to help your child feel calm

Some of our children are feeling anxious at this time, here are some ideas from the Brighter Future team of activities you could do with your children at home to help them feel calmer.

Bubble breathing – Take a pot of bubbles, tell your child you are going to do some bubble breathing to help them feel calmer. Get your child to dip the wand into the bubble mixture, take a deep breath in and slowly blow out through the wand. Watch the bubbles float away, imagine the bubbles are taking away your worries and fears.

Bee breathing- Sit somewhere comfortable, place your hands over your ears, take a breath in, as you breathe out making a humming noise. Repeat a few times.

Bubbles in a bowl- Put some bubble bath into warm water in a bowl, if possible use some calming bubble bath e.g. lavender scent. Use a straw to blow bubbles to the top of the bowl.

Rocking toy to sleep- Get your child to lie on their back and put a toy on their tummy. Explain they are going to rock the toy to sleep. Get them to take deep breaths, as they breathe in and out their tummy will lift up and down, rocking the toy to sleep.

Barefoot walking- Do this activity together, if you can go outside in a garden or on a grass area, check the area for sharp things, etc. Take your shoes and socks off and walk on the grass, notice how it feels on your feet, notice how it makes you feel.

Senses exercise- You can do this outside or through an open window. Close your eyes and listen to what you can hear, listen to how many different noises you can hear. Open your eyes, notice the different colours you can see. Sniff the air, what can you smell.

Foot bath- Fill a bowl with warm soapy water, invite your child to take their shoes and socks off and put their feet in the bowl.  Gently massage their feet.

Hand massage- Use some hand cream and gently give your child a hand massage

Eye spy bottles- Get an empty bottle and collect some small items from the house, put these inside the bottle, fill the bottle with rice and glitter. Add a label to the bottle with a list of things to spy. Get the child to see how many things they can spy by gently shaking the bottle.

Calming bottle – Fill an empty bottle with water, add some glitter. Get your child to shake the bottle, place their hand on their tummy and breathe in and out slowly as the glitter settles.

Make a happy book- Draw or stick pictures in the book of things that make them happy, when they are feeling sad or need to find some calm, they could look at this.

Hot Chocolate calming- Make a cup of hot chocolate, breathe in sniffing the warm mug of hot chocolate, breathe out blowing on your hot chocolate to cool it down

Create a calm space – together create a space in the house that can be safe and nurturing, a space to go to when they feel stressed. Make it cosy and put in a favourite toy, blanket, cushion etc. Explain this a space to go in and feel safe and calm.

Lay in a blanket –Find a big blanket, get your child to lie in it and wrap them gently in the blanket, if the child isn’t too big, you could take both ends, lift it slightly off the ground and gently rock them in the blanket.

Play calming music – Find some music that you all find calming, lie down or sit and listen to it

Do some yoga – Do some Yoga together, cosmic kids on Youtube offers yoga and mindfulness sessions. https://www.youtube.com/user/CosmicKidsYoga

Finger breathing

Inhale as you trace up the thumb, exhale as you trace down the thumb, inhale tracing up the next finger, exhale down etc until you have traced all five fingers.

Cloud dough

1 cup of cornflour

1/2 cup of hair conditioner 

Mix together until it looks like dough. This is very soft to play with, it can become crumbly, playing with it in a large bowl stops it getting everywhere. You can keep this in an airtight container.

Home made stress  balls 

1 balloon

cornflour

funnel

Put the funnel into the top of the balloon, 3/4 fill the balloon with corn flour. squeeze the remaining air out and tie the balloon, use this as a stress ball to let out feelings of frustration. You could draw a face on the balloon.

Worry dolls worry-dolls2.jpgTaken from https://abcdoes.com/home-learning/ 

Supporting emotional development at home .

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Over the next few weeks I am going to post some links/ ideas for support around emotional development. In the UK for many parents this is the first week of starting the home educating, schools have sent home work to do, there are loads of free resources etc out there, but I know the list can be a bit overwhelming. My daily work is around supporting emotional development for children and staff, I thought a few links and ideas on this area might be useful. To start with here are some basic starting ideas.

Routine

We all need routine in our lives, our children are used to routine in school and nursery. Try and come up with a daily routine, that is going to work for you all. Write / draw this up so everyone in the family can see, involve the children in this planning. But also be realistic, you all need time and space to relax, play, do things you enjoy. As well as thinking about the routine as a family, think abut your own routine, put something in each day which will help you survive e.g reading at the end of the day, doing an online exercise class etc.

Get out

When possible regularly spend time outside. At the moment we can all still go outside, Being outside is known to lower our stress levels, this is vital for both parents and children. Observe guidance on avoiding people, but still try and spend time outside each day. Even if it is just walking around the streets of your local area, this is still important time outside.  If you wanted you could use this opportunity to identify birds, flowers or trees.  Birds of Britain and British Tress are both free and useful apps. The woodland trust have some suggestions of things you can do outside.

Mindfulness and Yoga

Stress and anxiety levels are high for everyone at the moment. A regular practice of mindfulness and or yoga can be a gentle way to support us. If possible I would suggest you put in place a daily practice that you do together with your children. Some useful links are:

Mindful Kids- 50 mindfulness activities– By Whitney Stewart ( This is a box of cards with 50 different activities to do) ( age 2 plus)

Yoga Pretzels- 50 Fun Yoga Activities for kids and Grownups – Tara Guber ( This is a box of cards with 50 different activities to do) ( age 2 plus)

Csomic Kids Yoga and mindfulness – you tube – There are a wide variety of mindfulness and yoga sessions on here for younger children. ( age 2 plus)

Connect with others

We will all be missing our friends and extended family. The children will be feeling this just as much as adults. We all need to find new ways to connect and stay in touch with people, setting up Skype/ face time/ zoom connections can be helpful for everyone. Children can find speaking on the phone difficult but when they see someone on the screen it can sometimes make that easier for them. 

Notice our feelings and emotions

This is a time of huge change for everyone, we will all be feeling such a wide range of feelings and emotions, and this is ok. We all need to be aware of how and what we are feeling and help our children to do the same. Using the  I wonder phrase can be so useful to recognise and acknowledge what a child is experiencing , if they are struggling with missing their friends you could say ‘ I wonder if you are feeing lonely and sad, that’s ok, if they are feeling frustrated and angry you could say ‘ I wonder if you are  feeling really cross right now. It’s important for us of all to know the feelings we have are neither right of wrong, they just are, however this does not mean it is ok for children ( or adults) to hit out etc when we have strong feelings. It is also important for adults to recognise our own feelings e.g saying to our children I too am feeling cross and sad right now that we can not see our friends.

Books can be a really useful way of extending our understanding of feelings and emotions, below are some suggestions

The feelings book- Todd Parr ( age 1 up)

The colour monster- Anna Llenas ( age 2 up)

Feelings inside my heart and in my head- Libby Walden and Richard Jones  ( age 3/4 up)

What are feelings- Katie Daynes and Christine Pym ( age 3/4 up)

Hello Happy- Mindful kids activity book for children who sometimes feel sad or angry- Stepahnie Clarkson and Dr Sharie Coombes- ( age 5 plus)

No worries Mindful kids activity book for children who sometimes feel sad or anxious-Dr Sharie Coombs- ( age 5 plus)

Also these are great

Sesame street- Ernies feelings game- you tube  (age 2 plus)

Sesame street- Ernie sings feelings – you tube( age 2 plus)

Inside out film- guessing the feelings game – you tube ( 4 plus)

Films

Inside out ( age 4/ 5 plus)

Song of the sea ( age 4/5 plus)

Goodbye to January

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This morning I went for a long walk, partly as a way of starting February off in a positive way. I have found January hard, it feels like it has been a month of mostly bad news about friends and family health, there has been a lot of grey weather and sky, and work has felt challenging, but not in a positive way, challenging in a way that has triggered quite a lot of self-doubt.

This morning I was thinking about what I like in February, the days getting longer, early spring flowers, new leaves which can bring early foraging of nettles and wild garlic, also being able to start some early spring planting in my greenhouse. Yesterday I washed and cleaned the greenhouse in preparation for the new year of planting. The other plus is the water is slowly warming up- perfect for more wild swimming!

These are just small changes but thinking about them has cheered me up this morning, it has helped me to feel more positive about the coming month. Curiously, it has also helped me to think about what has gone well in the last month, rather than staying in the negative thoughts, seeing the small moments of positive in work rather than focusing on the challenges. I am usually quite an optimistic person, but sometimes I can find the gloom can pull me in!.

To aid me through February, I have written a list of ideas of what will help me to thrive during this month, the idea is if I am feeling gloomy and down and I can look at my list and remind myself what will help and do one of them.

Say hello to….

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This has been a week of sitting with dark days and heavy feelings, both in work and with family. Several of the children I work with are finding the run-up to Christmas incredibly challenging and our niece has Sepsis.

This week I have found myself needing to sit with the feelings of darkness. I don’t have an easy answer or solution to help the children and their staff. I don’t have any answer or solutions as comfort for my sister in law or niece.

Recently I have been reading a book by Padraig O Tauma he uses the phrase Say hello, to acknowledge the feelings and emotions and situations we are in. He uses this phrase to recognise throughout the day what you are experiencing. I know this idea of noticing how you feel is an integral part of mindful practice, the phrase say hello to, I found helpful. It feels quite a gentle phrase and it’s a helpful way to acknowledge what is happening right now.

In my role as a nurture consultant, I support the children and the staff. My job is as much about supporting staff as it is working directly with children. Sometimes I can have ideas and suggestions for ways forward, how we might support the child in the class. However, this week I mostly found myself not having any new suggestions, at one point in one school I sat and listened, we sat with hard descriptions and the hard feelings we were seeing and feeling. I didn’t have any words, I just acknowledged it was very tough. I am aware as I write this that doesn’t sound very advisory or consultant like! but that is how it is. Sometimes the best we can do and be is to sit with dark feelings. To turn up, to say hello to the feeling of uncertainty or fear or anger or despair. That is ok. The turning up is what matters.

Swimming to deal with stress

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Life can be stressful, but sometimes when we work with vulnerable people we take on their stress. An important question to ask is whether the stress you’re feeling is your own or someones else stress. I first heard this idea from Louise Bomber in her book Inside I’m hurting, an excellent book about working with children with attachment difficulties, she talks about how easy it is for staff to take on the stress and trauma of the child they are working with and encourages us to ask the question is this my stress or someone else’s.

Over the last few days, I have been feeling increasingly agitated, at first, I thought it was down to the persistent rain and the grey sky, but over the weekend I have realised it’s the stress and worry I have taken on from a school and 2 children. It’s not my stress, but it feels like mine, it has been impacting my sleep, leaving my jaw feeling tight and causing me to feel doubt about what I am doing. This morning I realised this isn’t my stress, these are not my feelings, I have taken these on from somewhere else. Having that moment of realisation was really helpful but I also knew I needed to act on it.

We all have different strategies to deal with the impact of stress on our body, but I know for me the main way is to swim and if possible outside in cold water. Over the last 6 months, I have been cold water swimming regularly and it has helped me feel so good. Particularly as the water gets cooler, the shock to skin, the way it makes your heart race, cold water swimming forces you to be in the moment, to be mindful, to forget what is on your mind, to forget any tightness in your body, and once you have started swimming and began to adjust to the cold you feel so alive and so happy ( that’s my experience). This afternoon I went to a new spot to swim, Clevedon marine lake ( a tidal pool) It was a fantastic swim, it was cold, but not too cold yet ( around 13 degrees), it was seawater, which I love, but in a tidal pool, I really enjoyed the feeling of being in the safety of a pool but in seawater. The endorphins kicked in and I felt fantastic when I got out, eating whiskey cake and a warm drink afterward also really added to the after experience!. I now feel ready to go into the new week, I feel calmer, happier, more relaxed and prepared for the new week.

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.

 

Savouring Joy

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During the last week, I have been in Cornwall with my family, staying on the Lizard, the countryside and coastline here is breathtaking. I have learned over the years I find it helpful to be in a wild space at the start of the school holidays, this helps to me let go of the previous term. Towards the end of a term, I crave wild spaces, where I can take coastal walks, swim in the sea, and find some spaciousness. I know that being by the sea helps me to feel relaxed and brings me huge amounts of joy. During the week I was reading a book called the Blue Mind by Wallace J Nichols, he looks at neuroscience, psychology, evolutionary biology, and medical research to understand why many people are connected to water and how water can be very good for our health and wellbeing. As a person who swims 5 days a week and who feels a real draw to being by the water, this book made so much sense and explained some of the strong feelings of joy and calmness I have when I am by water. The week away, being by water, enabled me to build up many more moments of joy in my memory.

One idea the book talks about is how we need to savor joy for 15 seconds for it to imprint on our mind. By noticing we are feeling joyful and savoring that moment with gratitude it will imprint on our minds. I have read this in a few places over the last few weeks, and this has made me think about how we can help children imprint joy in their minds. Many of the children I work have an imprint of sadness and hurt on their minds, and do not always recognise when they are encountering joy. Neuroscientists have found that hurt and sadness sticks to our minds and memory immediately, whereas joy takes 15 seconds to stick. As trusted adults who are co-journeying with them, we can notice it for them, comment to them e.g. wow you look so happy there, you are smiling and laughing, I think you are really enjoying this moment. Helping children to build up a memory bank of joyful moments is such an important way we can support them in their wellbeing.

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.

Surviving January

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Schools in this area are back this week so I re-pick up my nurture work and I have 2 training sessions to deliver this week, both reasons to feel motivated and inspired. I have had a lovely Christmas break, I feel relaxed and calm, all reasons to be feeling energetic and motivated. But it’s January, and the last few years I have begun to find January tricky, it’s not due to overindulging or stopping exercise over Christmas, I drink very little alcohol and don’t really eat lots of rubbish food and I have continued to swim throughout most of the last 2 weeks. I think I find January hard partly because of the greyness and the drabness. I am much happier on blue cold and crispy days, but also there is so much talk around new plans, new resolutions, I find all that talk quite depressing as it can feed into my feelings of not quite doing enough or not quite being good enough, those thoughts are largely pushed aside and don’t really live in my head much any more, but January seems to bring them forward.

So this year I have decided to make a plan, for each week, I am going to actively to do some simple things which I know make me feel happier and more hopeful during January, things which I know bring me pleasure. I have written them in my diary to remind myself. The list is simple but they are things that I know will help. My list is

Make marmalade
Buy daffodils each week
Garden each week
Go for extra walks
Make dates to see friends
Watch a feel-good film
If it is sunny, have a picnic lunch in a sunny spot at my husband’s studio ( with him!)

These will be alongside the usual swimming, yoga, and mindfulness, all things that I know are essential for my mental health. I know from experience that in a few weeks when we begin to see leaves returning and spring flowers appearing, that I will feel lighter and more hopeful, but in the short few weeks of the dark months of winter, I am going to try and be more active in helping myself.