Category Archives: out-door play

Focus on children’s wellbeing

The last two weeks I have had the joy of working on a playscheme, the team I worked with included artists, sports coaches, forest school leader, playworkers, and nurture workers. We represented 6 organisations and we worked with 2 bubbles of children, with 42 children altogether, from 28 families and 9 schools, funded by St Johns foundation. The children were aged 4-11. Our ethos was based on high-quality early years practice, following children’s interests underpinned by a nurture approach. The whole play scheme was delivered outside on a school site, in their forest school area.

Before it began I was slightly nervous about how it would be, sometimes playschemes can be manic, especially if there is a team of adults who think the way forward to is to hype children. This play scheme was intentionally well planned with calm adults and a nurturing basis. The team leader and I have a long background in the early years and we wanted a playscheme that would nurture children and offer them open-ended opportunities in the way many early years settings offer. The aim was also to offer sports, art, play in an outdoor provision to support the children’s mental health and wellbeing. We knew that this could work across the ages of 4-11 and it did.

For many of these children lockdown has been a tricky experience, quite a few of the children had not been socialising with people outside their family, some of the children lived in flats with a limited outdoor provision, for many of the children lockdown had been a stressful experience and has negatively impacted their social, emotional and mental health. The children were identified and nominated by their schools. My role was to support the emotional wellbeing of the staff and children, we intentionally had a high ratio of adult to child, enabling us to offer the safety and emotional regulation that the children needed.

Part of the reason the playscheme worked so well, better than any of us imagined or hoped for, was the multidisciplinary team. Children were able to choose the things they wanted to do and the staff was able to facilitate and support this, one little boy discovered he is really good at hockey, he told us he hates sports but he tried hockey and loved it, another child discovered she loves making things with clay, other children experienced a campfire for the first time, the children together with the play workers made a wooden treehouse and took pride in what they had made. One boy on the last day wanted to chop down a tree, this was made possible with the support of staff, as there was a tree on the site that needed removing. Throughout the playscheme the children found space to be with others, to chat about how they were feeling, to express themselves through art and sport and play.

For years I have been been a huge advocate of following children’s interests and enabling children to discover new things and opportunities by offering open-ended provocations. This play scheme reminded me again of how powerful it can be when children have adults around them who can follow the child’s interests, who can come alongside them with interest and curiosity and co adventure with them. We hoped at the beginning that the playscheme would offer respite to the children from the ongoing challenges of COVID, we hoped that it would give them the freedom to play and socialise. It certainly did this, but for many of the children, it also gave them new opportunities, helped them to see themselves in new ways and discover new things about what they can do and enjoy. As we all reflected at the end, this playscheme also hugely benefitted the staff, there was a lot of laughter and delight at being with the children, it gave us a renewed sense of purpose and reconnected us to work we all love and are passionate about.

My final reflection on the time was how crucial these 2 weeks were for the children’s wellbeing, on the return to school my concern is that many schools will go back to how it was before lockdown. During lockdown many children have not had the chance to be with friends, socialise, play, be active and be creative. This needs to be addressed, I would love to see every school putting on a playscheme for all their children on the return, how radical and positive that would be. I know I am dreaming big here, and I know many will tell me it is out of the question. But, there does need to be an emphasis on children’s wellbeing when they return, and using the arts, play, sport and emotional support is an excellent way to assist that.

The organisations involved were:

Brighter Futures

Bath area ply project

Forest of imagination

Twerton infant school

Get sported

St Johns foundation

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. 

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.

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.

Re-connecting with nature

 

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This last week has been a half term holiday for me, a small break from working in schools, an opportunity to refresh and relax a bit. I have spent large chunks of the week re-connecting with nature. I spend a lot of time with children outside, helping them re-connect with their feelings while outside, this is great but it is work, I work hard while with the children commenting, supporting, observing, modelling to staff, supporting staff and enabling the child to engage.

So this week I felt that I needed to reconnect my feelings with nature. When you work with children who find life hard, who become dysregulated quickly, it is so important to be aware of your own feelings, emotions and needs. I spend a lot of my time telling staff they need to be kind to themselves, so I need to make sure I do that myself!

Since a trip to Denmark over 5 years ago, I have developed a love of foraging!. So this week I have been enjoying foraging and cooking. I have enjoyed cooking nettle soup, elderflower cordial and red clover cordial. I have also enjoyed times of walking barefoot on grass, in meadows and on a beach. I love the experience of walking barefooted, it makes you feel more connected to the earth, more aware of what is around you. This morning I took my usual early morning Sunday walk in the meadow at the back of our house, I love the beauty of this space and how it changes over the season. It is now almost at full height, with the various grasses, clover, wild orchids and oxeye daisy’s growing. There is a path mowed around the edge of the meadow, for the community to be able to walk around and enjoy it without trampling all the wild flowers. I walked it this morning barefooted, I noticed this made me really slow down, really take notice of what was around me. This felt very timely as I know I am about to enter my busiest term of the year, ending with current children, meeting new children and supporting an extra four year six children, as well as training and writing. Lots to look forward to.

 

Photo of Tunley meadow

Preparing for change and transitions

 

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This week has had a focus on preparing for change. I have just begun working with my 4-year-olds to help them prepare for the change and move into a year 1 class. It is vital to help these children to prepare for and be ready for changes. To start this process I got them to take photos in school about what they enjoy and like doing in school. I will make these into mini photo books for them, they will have a copy and a copy will go to their new year 1 teacher; helping the teachers to understand and hear directly from the children about what is important to them and what makes them happy in school. I love asking children to take photos, it allows us as adults to view the world through their eyes. Many of the photos this week have been of outdoor spaces, another reminder of how important it is to have children outside, how happy this makes them feel; hopefully, something the year 1 teachers will be able to include lots of next year.

As a family, we have also been thinking of change. Our eldest daughter has been on her first foreign holiday with friends. This has brought about some anxiety on my behalf! but also the reminder to myself, her Dad and sister that she is moving to University in September. We have all found seeing her bedroom empty this week quite poignant and sad, we have missed her this week and have been talking about her moving in September. This is, of course, an important transition for her and one we will celebrate, but it is also a transition that will bring some sadness. One close friend who has already experienced this change dropped off today some ‘ magical brownies guaranteed to bring slight consolation to anyone who maybe missing a child or sibling”. This was such a wonderful reminder of the support we have from close friends who will help us to manage our next transition.

 

Photo of outdoor space taken by a 4-year-old

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.

 

Image of a nature picture

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/

Working with Children and Animals

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Over the years of working with young children, I have loved seeing their joy and delight, at the wonder and at the awe of the world around them. I believe that children have a natural sense of wonder, curiosity and delight; we often see this more when they are outside and with animals.

I was reminded of that last week when I was taking a walk with a small boy and a dog, this boy usually has limited speech and it has been hard to find out what the boy enjoys, but this week I discovered the boy adores dogs! In the short walk, we made some wonderful discoveries, had a great time climbing trees, watching the dog sniff everywhere, played in mud and with puddles. The extension of his language and communication was amazing. I discovered so much more about what he likes, what he is good at and what makes him happy. We discovered that dogs are very happy most of the time and wag their tails to show us, we discovered that dogs will eat all the biscuits in a little boys pockets if given the chance, we discovered that branches on a tree are quite bouncy when you stand on them, we discovered that dogs and little boys love running together. Going on this walk reminded me of how much more we can learn about children when we give them the space to explore and discover. It also reminded me of the powerful impact animals can have on children. I saw a whole new side to this little boy, through seeing him with a dog. I saw a gentleness, a curiosity, a delight and I heard some fantastic words from him. It’s encouraged me to think about how we can give children opportunities to be with animals.