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Supporting children to flourish

 

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

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Thinking about mental health

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I have spent the last few weeks thinking a lot about mental health, mainly because my Mum is really struggling with her mental health at the moment but also the last two weeks I have spent a lot of time talking to staff and parents about anxious children. One of the reflections I have had is that when someone is suffering from mental health it impacts not just the person but many around them. One problem is this is such a difficult thing to talk about because we don’t want to make the person feel guilty. There is, of course, nothing for them to feel guilty about. However, poor mental health always affects more than just the sufferer. Talking about mental health is less of a taboo than it used to be, and that is a good thing, but I think talking about the impact on surrounding people is talked about less.

JK Rowling writes about the dementors in her Harry Potter series, she has talked about how the idea of dementors came about from her experience of depression. I think this is such a good description, depression and anxiety suck the life out of you, it sucks away the joy of life, which is exactly what the dementors do in her stories. The problem is this doesn’t only impact the person, it also impacts those around them. When a child is highly anxious in school, they will often show this through very challenging behaviour, leading to the staff feeling distressed and often de-skilled as they feel unable to help or support the child. When a parent has a child who has been excluded due to their challenging and often distressing behaviour, again the parents feel worried, anxious and don’t know where to turn for help and support.

There are no easy answers in all of this, but one small thing that is needed is for people around to notice, and offer support. This week my colleague Fred called me and popped in for a tea in the middle of our day between schools visits, he knew my Mum was ill and he wanted to check in that I was ok. This meant so much to me. This small act of kindness and noticing made a huge difference. I think sometimes we can feel de-skilled when we know depression and anxiety is affecting a family or a school. When I delver staff wellbeing training I regularly talk about the need to support our colleagues. If you know a teacher or teaching assistant in your school has had a tough day due to being hurt by a distressed child, check in with them, ask them if they are ok. If you know a friend is struggling with their anxious child and the child has been excluded for the day or refusing to go to school, check in with the parents, ask how they are.

The other question you can ask for those surrounding the person with mental health difficulties is what small thing can they do help themselves feel well. They need to be well themselves to be able to support the person who is mentally ill. Thinking about their own mental health is so important. I write a lot about how swimming helps me feel mentally and physically well. On Thursday this week, I knew I needed to swim outside, the weather was awful, but I knew outdoor swimming would help me. I swam in our local Lido, in the pouring rain and it was the best decision I had made all week. It felt wonderfully refreshing, it allowed me to let go of what is in my head, it was cool, but that was I needed, the rain was at times heavy but that just increased the mindfulness of the experience. I am looking forward to my next outdoor swim this week.

How to thrive during term 6

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During half term, I have been thinking a lot about how to thrive during term 6. Term 6 is often the busiest term of our year, we take on new children and end with the children we have supported all year. From the last 5 years, I have learned that by the end of term 6 I am exhausted and drained both emotionally and physically. I love my job as a nurture consultant with 4 year olds, it’s incredibly rewarding and challenging which works well for me, however, I realised I often spend term 6 in survival mode not thriving and I want to change that.

Over the last few years wild swimming and outdoor swimming has become a key part of my summer, last year I managed 23 outdoor swims over the spring and summer months and that was great. Last week I had time away in the Peak district and then the Lake district, I discovered a Lido in Hathersage at the beginning of the week and then I swam in Wastwater Lake at the end of the week. The swim in the lake was probably the most beautiful wild swim I have done. The water was amazingly clear and fresh, and the lake is surrounded by stunning mountains, including Scafell Pike. It was a cold swim, this is the deepest lake in England, but I decided I wanted it to be my first wild swim of the year without a wet suit. It felt amazing, the endorphins I got from this swim were fantastic! yes, it was cold, but it was so worth it. Since returning home I swam yesterday in my local favourite swimming spot in a nearby river and again this was wonderful. I have known for years that swimming really helps my wellbeing, both mentally and physically, that is why I swim five days a week in a local pool. Last year I began to realise that wild swimming particularly helps me to feel great. Knowing this I have realised that is what I need to do to thrive term 6, I need to swim outdoors at least once a week. So that is my aim, to swim in the local lidos and to swim in the river, I have booked it in my diary, to help me make sure I remember. I hope this will increase my wellbeing and help me to thrive this term not just survive this term.

Wellbeing in outdoor spaces

 

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Today I ran a workshop for 90 children ( 3 separate groups) of year 4 &5 children (8-10-year-olds) at Wells Cathedral. It was part of the Bath and Wells Diocese education team  for  mental health awareness week. The theme for the day was wellbeing. The theme for my workshop was how outdoors helps our wellbeing. We were located in a walled garden, full of beautiful trees, plants, and some very old gravestones. My aim was to offer the children some space to enjoy being outside, a chance for them to slow down, notice and find moments of joy in the space. Research is repeatedly showing us how important the outdoors is for our wellbeing, we are also continually hearing that children are disconnected from the outdoors. I wanted to offer the children some time and space to connect with nature.

The session was incredibly simple and spacious, we first did some barefoot walking, we all engaged with bubble breathing and finally, I invited them to explore, discover and be curious about the space around them. I had books about flowers, birds and bugs and The Lost words book, I also had plain postcards and drawing materials which they could use if they wanted. The children were encouraged to engage with the space around them and they did. Some sat in front of a flower or a tree and drew it, others went on bug hunts, others spent time reading and looking at the ancient memorial stones. One child sat listening to bird song and was identifying the birds she could hear, other children made daisy chains and some experimented with dying the postcards with the flowers and leaves.

At the end of each session we talked about how they felt, some of the words they used to describe their feelings were peaceful, calm, joyful, so happy, full

The focus of all my work is on children’s wellbeing, I know how important the outdoors is to their wellbeing, I write about it, I train about it!. However, it was wonderful to see and hear the children today experiencing joy and calmness and engaging in the outdoors, there were moments when I was really moved by how they connected to nature.

So often we think we need to entertain children or teach them, but sometimes the best opportunity we can give them is the space to explore, be creative and enjoy the wonder of the world around them.

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. 

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.

Spring term

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My half term has been full of gardening, reading, and writing, a great mix for me. I wrote for a few hours each morning to move the new book on and then spent the rest of the time reading for fun and gardening. We all need to work out what rest and relaxation look like for ourselves, I find gardening helps me to totally switch off from everything else that is going on. I have a large and unruly garden, my garden is quite wild ( my argument is the birds and animals love it), I am hopeless at growing things in straight lines, it never looks neat and ordered. But my garden brings me huge joy.

This last week has been a week of preparing the garden and greenhouse for a new season of growth, I have been clearing away brambles, cutting back dead raspberry canes, clearing away weeds and cleaning the greenhouse; then last night burning all the dead brambles and twigs. Now I have cleared away the old I can start beginning to plan and think about what I will plant, how my vegetable plot will look this year, what flowers I want to grow from seed and begin planting new seeds.

Moving into the spring term I am aware I feel very hopeful, it may be the sun has really cheered me up, having a week in the garden has certainly been a tonic for my emotional and physical wellbeing, but also the spring term is often one which is more settled, the children I work with and the schools have generally reached a rhythm and routine that works, it is often a term when we begin to see progress, new growth, and development. I am aware that spring brings me hope, the hope of warmer days, the hope of growth in my work and in my garden, the hope of positive change ahead.