Category Archives: Uncategorized

End of term

I have had the chance to stop for two weeks, my term ended a couple of weeks ago. The last few weeks of the term felt manic, with a mix of very different endings both in my family and with work and preparing new starts for next term. There were times in term 6 that I strongly felt the sense of reduction and depletion that COVID has brought too many. For most of the lockdown, I and our team found creative ways through, to continue to support children and staff, if I’m honest other than missing my daily swims, COVID lockdown was not that hard for me. But as the term ended I became quite overwhelmed by the difference, I wasn’t able to do endings I would normally do, with the schools, with the children or with our team. I think the final zoom meetings with children and the team meeting felt particularly sad and wrong. I know that endings are important and it felt so frustrating to not be able to do them in the way I normally would.

It’s also made me reflect on how much I take for granted simple parts of my job such as seeing children. In term 6 I would normally visit the new children I will be supporting in September, I would visit them in the nursery at least once, sometimes twice. I would meet them, observe them, introduce myself, and maybe discover one thing about them. This year that has not been possible, instead I have read notes, so many notes, I have spoken to nursery workers, health visitors, children center staff, social workers, parents. But, I have realised none of those conversations make up for seeing the child. I have always been an advocate of observations. The first early year’s qualification I took when I was 16-18 was the NNEB. In this course, we were taught how to do observations. This was an essential element of the training. I was taught that you never make a view about a child until you have watched, observed, noticed. Thirty years on and I particularly realised this year how much that early teaching has influenced my practice and how underprepared I feel for the new term without the observations.

The last couple of weeks have also made me realise I haven’t been with a child, in person, for 19 weeks. I have been working with children since I was sixteen, 19 weeks is the longest time I have had a break from directly being with children. But this is about to change, the organisation I work with are co-running a playscheme for 2 weeks with 3 other local charities, offering some play, fun, art, sport, food and emotional regulation and support ( my role in the scheme!) aimed at some of the more vulnerable children in our area. I’m looking forward to it, 2 weeks with children. It will be an interesting challenge with the new regulations we need to put in place, but I think it will be wonderful to be back working directly with children once again.

Other news from my last week is my latest book , Supporting young children through change and everyday transitions published by Jessica Kingsley Publishers is now available to buy and it has been nominated by Teach early years under their CPD, category which was a wonderful surprise.

On the re-opening of early years and school.

 

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This week most schools and early years settings are re-opening. There are so many political arguments about this, which I am not going to enter into on this posting. However, I know staff have been working so hard over the last few weeks, to make this the best they can for the children to return. I know staff have been working incredibly hard at organising, preparing, planning, and changing plans as the government keeps changing the guidance. I know that many staff feel that they are having to compromise what they believe is the best practice in order to fit into the new guidance.

I am aware that in all the arguing and political debating we can easily forget that behind all this are many staff, some will be pleased to return, some will be unsure and others will be incredibly scared. Change is so hard, especially when change is happening and we don’t really know what the outcome will be, how long we will be working in this new way, and whether we will all be shut down again.

Working in the time of a crisis, at a time of change and uncertainty, and at a time when many feel fearful and anxious, this brings with it additional stresses on top of an already demanding job in normal times. These are not normal times.

I am writing this blog for my friends and colleagues who are returning this week, and for those of you I don’t know, I am writing to say I am thinking of you, I know this is going to feel hard and maybe scary and to say thank you. Thank you for doing this, thank you for being there for the children, thank you for making it the best you possibly can for the children, because I believe that is what you will do.

Please make sure you take extra time to care for yourself and if anyone is reading this who lives with or is friends with a teacher, TA or early years worker who is returning, be extra kind to them in these weeks, check in on them, buy them chocolate ( or something else they like!), they are going to need it.

May your week go well.

Below are some links which might be useful

Alistair Bryce Clegg  has an excellent blog post with thoughts on returning

I was asked by my local early year’s team to make some short videos for staff about the return to work, staff wellbeing, and children’s wellbeing. They are accessible to all. This is a link to them.

Sunrise

 

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This week is mental health awareness week, the overall theme is kindness. As people who know me will be aware mental health is an area I spend a lot of time in, I work with 4 yr olds who have social, emotional, and mental health difficulties and my Mum has Bipolar. This lockdown period has been a huge challenge for so many children, young people, and adults who have mental health difficulties. It’s also been a huge challenge for people who don’t usually have mental health difficulties.

During this lockdown, I have found myself being asked to write more articles, deliver more training, do more short video links around mental health and wellbeing alongside virtually supporting schools, families, and staff I work with. I found myself regularly questioning what on earth do I know about how to stay mentally well in these times. I am also trying to write a new book on how we support children with social-emotional and mental health difficulties. Lockdown seemed the ideal time to write a book, but actually, that isn’t my experience!.

In my writing and training, I talk about the importance of a routine for children and adults to support wellbeing. My usual routine before the lockdown was to do an early morning swim each Monday-Friday, I have been doing this for around 8 years. In lockdown I decided to replace my swim with a sunrise walk, at the start of lockdown this was around the time I would normally leave the house, 6.05 and it felt good to continue my normal routine. Then the clocks changed changing the time to 6.50 this still felt good. If I am honest I didn’t think that lockdown would last that long, I could cope with the idea of 4 maybe 5 weeks, I couldn’t cope with thinking of it longer than that. So I decided I would keep going with my sunrise walk. I knew the routine was important, I knew being outside was good for my wellbeing, but it’s become more than that. Now 9 weeks on the time of sun rising is getting earlier, tomorrow it will be 5.14 in our area, by the end of May it will be 4.59. I have been asking myself how long will I keep going, it doesn’t look like pools are about to reopen, so do I keep going, or do I stop? The problem is in my thinking about stopping, I have realised how much I cherish seeing the sunrise. It gives me hope for each day, it’s become a spiritual act, a time where I am reminded that all is not lost, there is still hope with a new day. More than ever this lockdown has shown me I need routine. Also, when all around me feels heavy and frightening, I need to see some beauty and something positive. Starting the day in this way feels like a gentle nurturing act of kindness to myself. I was talking it through with my husband this morning, I am thinking I might just keep going. The solstice is 21st June, sunrise here will be 4.52, that doesn’t sound too bad.

I have written a few books around mental health, see links below

Promoting Young Children’s Emotional Health and Wellbeing- a practical guide for professionals and parents

Promoting Emotional Wellbeing in Early Years Staff – a practical guide for looking after yourself and your colleagues

Mummy’s Got Bipolar. 

Can I tell you about Bipolar disorder- 

There is also a free animation of Mummy’s Got Bipolar on Youtube 

 

 

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)

Ideas for families to do at home at times of isolation.

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and my colleagues have just created an ideas sheet of activities to do at home, aimed at the families we support with early years children.  It is a simple list of ideas and suggestions of things they can do at home, these ideas are mostly free or things they hopefully have in the cupboard. I have pasted a copy here in case it is useful for anyone else.

Alistair Bryce Clegg is also collating some fantastic ideas.

Ideas for parents if schools are closed

This is a strange time for everyone. During this time children need reassurance, cuddles, kisses, love and they need parents to play with with them. Here are some ideas from Nurture Outreach team of activities you could do with your children if the schools are closed.

Take a walk, each day if possible. Each day you could decide on looking for different things- day 1 it might be red things, day 2 yellow, day three blue etc. One day you could see how many different coloured things you can collect and then come home and stick them on some paper or card.

Make a den together , you only need a blanket and a chair, you could have a snack whilst in the den, make it cosy with some cushions and a blanket. Share a story in the den.

Have an indoor picnic, put a blanket on the floor, put some plates and cups on the blanket and have a picnic together, imagine where you would like to be, maybe a beach or a jungle.

Have an outdoor picnic-if the weather is good have an outdoor picnic , if you have a garden you could do this in the garden.

Make a picture for a loved one, we are being advised to stay away from older people, this can be sad for everyone. Get your child each week to draw a picture or write a note to someone who is old and staying at home. Post this to them.

Play hoopla Turn a chair upside down, make hoops out of some cardboard, throw the hoops over the legs. Have a point for each leg.

Play shops Give your child some money, together make some price labels , put them on the food in your cupboard. Take it in turns to be the shop keeper and the shopper.

Make an obstacle course- Use furniture to go under, blankets to cover yourself in, hats to put on your head, make this together and take it in turns to use.

Play hide and seek, take it in turns to be the hider and the seeker.

Junk modelling Keep empty boxes and toilet roll inners,  make models and creatures with glue and tape

Plant some seeds If you have a garden plant some seeds together or save old plastic tubs e.g yogurt pots and plant some cress or pea seeds and grow on the window sill. When they have grown put them in a sandwich, you can eat the pea shoots instead of letting them grow into pea plants

Make a treasure map Hide some treasure and make a map for the child to find where it is. You could each do this and make a map for the other person to find the treasure.

Make sock puppets Turn your socks into hand puppets, give your puppet a name and make a story together.

Make a bug house Find some sticks and leaves and a make a bug house, you could leave this at the side of your house or flat and then check on it after a few days to see what bugs are in there.

Dance together Play some music you both like and dance together

Pretend you are an animal game Imagine you are an animal and make the noises and movements for the other person to guess.

Play bubbles Go outside and play bubbles, watch where they are flying, Imagine where they might go.

Play emotion faces Pull a face of an emotion and get your child to guess the emotion. Take it in turns to do this.

Pretend you are at the hair dressers– take it in turns to be the hair dresser, brushing hair, putting clips or bands in, pretend to cut hair ( no scissors, just use your fingers) you could gently give the other person a head massage.Talk about what they would like their hair to be like today.

Play weddings Get toy animals and dolls and pretend two of them are getting married, think about the food they would eat and the dancing they would do.

Make a car/ rocket/ train Use the washing basket or a big box, get your child to decide what vehicle it’s going to be, get them to sit in it and pretend they are going on a journey. Talk about what they can see on their journey. 

Make a fruit salad together  Use tinned, frozen or fresh fruit, chop it up and put it in a bowl, talk about the colours, tastes and textures, enjoy eating it together.

Toast painting

You need

Milk ( or substitute milk) 

Food colouring

White sliced bread 

paint brush

Put a small amount of milk in cups and add a tiny amount of food colouring, this makes home made paint. Each person have a slice of white bread and paint a picture on the bread using your paint, look at your pictures. Toast your bread and enjoy eating the toast.

Make play dough

You need

2 cups plain flour

1/2 cup of salt

2 tablespoon cream of tartar

2 tablespoon oil

1 cup of hot hot water with few drops of food colouring added

Mix everything in a bowl, stir it well and then knead it and play with it. You could get your child to help you make this.  When you have finished put it in an air tight container, it will last for weeks.

Home made bubble mixture

6 cups water

1 cup strong washing up liquid e.g. Fairy

1 table spoon glycerine

Mix gently and use, this makes enough for a big bottle

We hope you have some lovely time playing together. Keep safe and well.

From Sonia, Andy, Sharon, Fred and Ruth

 

 

Being kept in mind

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Over the last few weeks, I have been thinking about this phrase a lot, it’s a phrase I often use when I talk about children’s wellbeing. In my role as a nurture consultant I regularly talk to staff about the need for them to love the children they work with (Dr Jools Page has researched and written on professional love) being kept in mind is part of this professional love. When we see a child and tell them we have been thinking about them, or we have brought in something e.g a unicorn jigsaw puzzle we found in the charity shop and we knew they would love to play with it, or we remember that they saw granny on the weekend and we ask them about this, these things make children feel special, it helps them to feel loved, it helps them to know that an adult cares about them.
It’s the same for us, we want to know that people care for us, that we are being kept in mind by another. Over the last few weeks, my Dad has had heart surgery several times, it’s been a very concerning time. What has helped is when a text arrives on my phone or phone call from a friend asking me how my Dad is, how I am. Those messages and moments of being remembered have helped to support me through this time.

This isn’t a radical way of working with children, but these small things make a huge difference in a child’s life.

Mini adventures

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I read about the idea of mini-adventures in a book recently – Taking the plunge by Anna Deacon and Vicky Allan. The thought is that we all can easily experience mini-adventures in our busy lives, to have an adventure doesn’t have to be about spending money, going to far-flung places, in their book they are talking about it with wild swimming, but it could be anything. Last night we had dinner with friends and we were talking about the idea of mini-adventures and what they could look like for us and what mini adventures we would like to do.

This morning I was reflecting on this idea some more,  I was thinking about the idea of mini-adventures linking to my nurture work with children. This year particularly I have realised that many of the nurture activities I do with some of the children are new for them, this year I have had children who have never made playdough or played with gloop, who haven’t been for a picnic or made a den outside. I have been thinking about how part of my job is to introduce new experiences, in a safe and supportive way. To offer the children mini-adventures. There is something fantastic about experiencing that newly felt excitement and wonder with a child when they are trying something new and re seeing it through a child’s eyes. As adults, it can be so easy to forget and lose touch with the wonder and excitement of simple things. I talk to staff I work with about how the children need co-adventurers, adults who are learning and exploring alongside children. I have been thinking about this some more and I think to be a co-adventurer with children we need to be an adventurer ourselves, we need to have mini adventures and to re-engage with the wonder and excitement of the world around us, to be curious and try new things.

I love the idea of mini-adventures for myself and my work. It can be so easy to fall into a rut of doing the same things both in home life and work life. I have one more week of term and then there will be a well needed half term break, during that week I am going to think and dream a bit more about what mini-adventures I can do both personally and with the children I work with.

 

 

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.