Category Archives: well-being

Participation, art and children

 

In the past, I have collaborated with my husband Iain Cotton on various creative projects. Iain leading on the art and I lead on participation, drawing on both our skills and passions. Last week we had the opportunity to work together professionally, Iain has been commissioned to create a sculpture for Winterbourne Primary school. This was to be a project which involved the children.

We wanted this project to involve the children’s creative ideas, the aim of this project was to be creative, participative and inclusive. The idea was for Iain to carve words, chosen by the school, into a large sand stone boulder. It was very important to us both that all the children in the school would be involved in this project. We decided to get each child in the school to design a letter. There will be one letter for every child in the school.

The words that are being carved are:

 

St Michaels Church of England Primary School Winterbourne

Learn
Care
Enjoy

 

Enjoy the present
Educate for the future
Inspire with Love

Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.

We had many discussions about how we could involve the children in a meaningful way, this project was about inspiring the children to think about how letters are formed, about designing and creating. We wanted each child to design their own, unique letter. Iain will then carve each individual letter onto the stone. One of the challenges with this idea is, of course, the varying ability of the different ages. I knew that in reception and year one there are some children who would find it very difficult to write a letter, for this reason, we decided to use 2 materials, we used plasticine and coloured pens. I have used plasticine many times in participation projects, it is an excellent tool for children of all ages to use. It holds it’s shape well and works across the ages. With the children in reception and year one, we gave each child a letter which was in their name. This was important as they would be familiar with the letters in their name and were likely to be used to writing it. We knew for the children in the lower years it would be a challenge to design a letter, but our hope with using plasticine was that the children would be encouraged to be more playful with the material and this would come through in the letters they made.

With the children in reception and year one, we worked with small groups, enabling us to give them more support and attention. We involved our youngest daughter on this project, she is on a gap year and we knew an extra adult would be very helpful. Iain started the day with an assembly, showing the children photos of his sculptures and letting cutting work and introducing the idea.

We found such a joyous enthusiasm from all the children. We worked with the whole school over two days. The children in the lower years mainly used plasticine, this worked really well as it enabled them to be imaginative and make clear letters.The children from year 3 upwards mostly used pens to design their letters, but for those who found that hard they were able to use the plasticine and found a freedom with that. The children from year 2 upwards began to experiment and design a bit more using plasticine and drawing. With children in year 3 and 4, they really enjoyed making pictures with the letters, we had dinosaurs, cats, a shark and a flamingo as part of the letters. With years 5 and 6 we were seeing a stronger graphic design, with bolder, stronger shapes. They had more of an understanding of translating their design into stone carvings.

The process of designing letters with the children was wonderful, it worked across the ages, enabling children of different abilities to be involved.

Next stage of the process is for Iain to translate this all into carvings!. The letters from the lower years are going to make up the sentences at the bottom of the stone and then will go up in year groups. With the older children’s letters being used at the top of the stone. By putting them together on the stone in year groups this will help each child to find their letter, but also gives a lovely image of the children’s work developing across the ages.

It has been a fantastic project to work on together, it reminded us both of the joy of bringing participative and creative practice together.

 

Once this art work has been finished and installed, I will ad an updated blog posting.

 

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Support for you

 

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

 

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

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

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

Choosing Joy

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This week I read a piece by the Henri Nouwen Society about choosing to find joy. They propose that finding joy is an act we can choose to engage in. So often it easy to think that joy is something which people have when they are in a job they love, when they have money and all is well for them. However joy can be something that we choose to engage in, this is not to negate from the feelings we have at difficult and painful times but it is to recognise that we can still find joy in moments of deep hardness. It is often so easy to get stuck focussing on negative thoughts, feelings, and actions. The challenge is to look for the joyful moments. For me, this is particularly important when we are working with children who present with challenging behaviors and lives. The children I support through my Nurture work can at times present with deeply challenging, sad stories and lives, which can lead to very challenging behavior. It is so easy to get stuck in problems, in the moments that have gone wrong and forgot or not notice the glimpses of joy. To choose to see the moments of joy takes a very purposeful and mindful decision. Choosing joy can often be about noticing and picking up on small details. One way of practicing an intentional act of finding joy is through taking time at the end of each day and asking the question, “Where did I find joy today.”

This morning I found joy while walking in the early morning, I saw a deer, rabbits and a buzzard, I found joy while picking wild garlic to put in the bread I plan to bake today. Where will you find joy today?

Making memories

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During this last week in my nurture work, I have been thinking about how I help children to make good memories about their time in reception class. This is part of my thinking and preparing around transition work. For the children I am working with some transitions are the movement onto the next class at the end of the school year, and for other children, it is transitions of moving away.

One of the activities I do each year is get children to take photos of what they enjoy doing in school, the children love this, together we wander around the classroom and school, and they take photos of the things which are important to them and that they enjoy. I usually make these into a simple book for them, but this year I have bought scrapbooks, and I will print out the photos and get the children to stick in their photos and make comments about their photos. We will also take pictures over the coming weeks of activities they are enjoying in school; this might include a picture of their TA and teacher, hand prints of them and their friends. We will use this scrapbook together to share with their future teacher and Ta and then the child can take it home with them over the holidays, to share with family and remember their good memories.

As adults we have an important role in helping children to make positive memories about their time with us. Having positive memories that we can recall enhances children’s wellbeing and also our wellbeing. I know when I am feeling stressed or low I will look at photos of positive times with my family and friends , this helps me to remember times when I felt happy.

As well as thinking about how I help the children I work with to have positive times and good wellbeing I also need to be mindful of my own, so this morning I went for a walk with my husband in the local woods, looking for Bluebells and taking photos to act as a reminder.

Where do you find silence?

 

 

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In my work with children and my training, I often explore about how we can help children to have times of stillness and silence. In my recent book Promoting young children’s emotional health and wellbeing, I have a chapter exploring this. Currently, I am writing a book for Jessica Kingsley Publishers about promoting the wellbeing of adults who look after children, and recently I have been reflecting a lot on how as adults we need to have times of silence and stillness. If as practitioners and parents we want to help children to be able to manage a time of silence, then we as adults need to practice this exercise ourselves.

Our lives are often very busy and noisy, particularly when we work with children, we can often encounter a lot of noise each day. How often do we have background noise of TV, radio or music in our homes and sometimes work place, our streets are noisy from increasing traffic, living with and working with children is inevitably noisy. Silence can be difficult for some; it can lead people feeling uncomfortable and awkward, many people seek to fill the silent spaces.

Over the last few years, I have been interested in seeking out silence and reading about silence. Several years ago I was inspired by Sarah Maitland (2009)  A book of silence. Since reading this I actively put rhythms into my life which enable me to be in silence. One of these is my early morning swim each weekday morning, the process of getting up in a silent house, while everyone else is sleeping is very precious, during the swim there is an agreement with the regulars that no one chats, the focus is on the swimming. On a Sunday morning, I walk around the community meadow at the back of our house, this is often at a time when no one else is around. Of course, there is rarely complete silence, on the walk this morning I could hear several different varieties of birds singing and the gentle noise of hot air balloons above me, but the lack of other noises allows me to notice and appreciate the sounds in the meadow.

Research shows that lots of noise can have a negative impact on our mental health, it can lead to high blood pressure and cause people to feel increasingly stressed (Gregoire 2017), in my experience children are also vulnerable to this and can become increasingly agitated with an increase in background noise levels. So my question this morning is when do you encounter times of silence?

Image of the meadow this morning.

One wild and precious life.

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A few years ago I discovered the poet Mary Oliver ( 1992) she has a poem called ‘The Summer day and the last line of the poem says

‘Tell me, what is it you plan to do with you one wild and precious life?’

I love this question, for me, it is a question of hope, a question of encouragement. When we are feeling stressed, overwhelmed, unhappy, we can feel powerless and hopeless. However, this question can act as an encouragement. I doubt for many of us the answer is to work harder, as I am writing this the importance of those words are poignant to me, I have a close friend who has recently died. Over the last 18 months, after hearing her diagnosis was terminal we discussed a lot about what she was going to do in her last months and weeks with her precious life. She was very intentional about doing things that made her happy, she met with friends, went on beautiful walks with her husband, grew flowers, was part of a choir, drama group and book club, worked as a volunteer chaplain and walked many Labyrinths. She loved life and lived it well; she also had a rhythm to her life which brought her balance, she learnt when to slow down and also how to embrace the life she had left. At her funeral, I was moved by how many people she had loved and how many loved her, being with family, friends, spending time with others were an important part of how she lived her one precious life.

This morning I walked along the coastal path, reflecting and thinking again about this question from Mary Oliver. I write about wellbeing, and I work with children and adults to help them have a good wellbeing, I think returning periodically to this question is an important part of embedding wellbeing into our lives. To stop and think, reflect and check in with yourself and ask this question

“what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?’

 

Photo- Labyrinth carved by Iain Cotton, this was a birthday present for Liz

 

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

 

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

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

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

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