Category Archives: wellbeing

Awe and wonder around us

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This weekend my husband and I went to watch the wonder of Starling murmurations on the Somerset Levels, we live quite near the area and it’s something we have started to do each year over the last few years. It’s an amazing spectacle to watch, so awe-inspiring, the movement and fluidity of the birds, in synchronisation with one another is incredible. It is a natural wonder.

This term I am delivering lots of staff wellbeing training, over the coming months I will be delivering this 8 times. In many ways, it’s no surprise that January and February are the months that schools and nurseries are wanting support in this area. For some people January and February can be quite bleak and tough, the lack of sunshine and often endless rain in the UK doesn’t help that. Each time I deliver wellbeing training I talk about being outside, I encourage the participants to get out, to spend time in nature, enjoy the outdoors, to engage with the awe and wonder that surrounds us. This can feel hard to do in the winter months, but it’s worth making the effort. There is growing evidenceshowing how engaging with nature boosts our mental and emotional wellbeing.

Watching the murmuration yesterday evening we were alongside many other people, of all ages, but particularly families with young and older children. It was a joy to share this delightful moment alongside strangers. You would often hear gasps of wonder from across the ages at the sight they were watching, there was something magical that we were all sharing. A reminder of how precious our earth is, how wonderful nature is. I did not doubt that our hour spent out in the dusk, watching birds was a huge boost for everyone’s wellbeing.

A year of outdoor swimming

 

I spend much of my working life talking and training on wellbeing, both for adults and children. Several years ago I realised that outdoor swimming was an essential part of supporting my wellbeing. At the beginning of 2019, I decided I wanted to do more outdoor swimming. I love swimming and I swim every early morning Monday-Friday in my local pool, that time is precious and an important part of my routine, also it has given me a lovely swimming community to be part of. However, outdoor swimming brings a different joy, the joy of being in nature, the amazing feel of cold water on my skin. It’s hard to explain but it is wonderful.

At the start of 2019 I wrote a list of outdoor places I hoped to swim, it was a mix of lidos, and sea swims, and rivers. I hoped that I would be able to swim outdoors at least once a month from around April/ May. I decided to keep a list of all the outdoor swims so that I could see over the year the different places I had swum. I managed to swim outdoors every month from February-December, some of these were cooler lidos but mostly they were rivers, sea, lakes, ponds and tidal pools. I have swum outdoors 43 times this year.

Swimming outdoors is about pure pleasure for me, it’s not about the distance or the length of time in the water, it’s about the joy of the experience. I feel so alive when I swim outside and it makes me feel so happy. Swimming outside has also become something that I do with my husband, our children have now left home ( mostly!) when our youngest left for uni in 2018 I knew we needed to find something that we could do together, a way of reconnecting. Outdoor swimming has become that thing.

In my wellbeing training, the final point I put to the group is an encouragement for people to discover what makes them happy, the thing that makes them smile when they think about it and brings them joy. So much of our lives can be busy and hard, often taken up with meeting the needs of others, putting in place something that brings us joy is a good start for wellbeing.

I am currently writing my list of ideas for outdoors swims in 2020, starting on January 1st!.

Story of hope and imagining change

 

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This last week I have had a few conversations with colleagues ad friends about the stories that children carry with them, or stories that we hear from family members and other professionals about the child. With the children that we see, these are often negative stories, a story about how the child will be violent, challenging, can become easily overwhelmed. The challenge when we hear these stories is that we can make a judgment before we have even met the child. Sometimes these stores can be so huge, that we struggle to see the child in the story.

I don’t think this is unique to education, I have friends who work in other agencies with children and young people, and they also say sometimes it is hard to see the child within the story. The problem when we take on big, negative stories is that our expectations, our hopes, and plans can become narrow for the child.

It feels like we need to hold the stories lightly, to be aware of what has gone before, but also to have hope for the future and imagine what may become possible. I am aware that as a nurture worker myself and my colleague’s role is to have hope for the child, when we start a piece of work we need to believe that there will be change, we need to help everyone see the story can be different.

Changing the story is important for the adults but especially for the child, as a nurture team we mainly work with 4 yr olds, some of those 4 yr olds arrive at school already having a story about themselves, that they are naughty, or they are bad. These are words we would never use, but they are words that the child has taken on. Words are powerful. When the words over you and around you and about you are negative, that is hard to break away from.

As a team we use Thrive assessment tool, this talks about telling a new story about the child, a story about their unique abilities, a story of hope and imagining something different.

Photo- carving by my husband Iain cotton

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.

Recognising feelings and emotions

 

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This week it is world mental health day on Thursday 10th October, a day when many organisations, nurseries, and schools will be focusing on promoting positive mental health and wellbeing. Raising awareness is so important, however, one day a year or one wellbeing week a year in a nursery or school is not enough to embed practice. One area that I have been thinking a lot about recently is how we enable children to have a wide emotional vocabulary and understanding. If we can help children from a young age to understand the feelings they have, to be able to interpret what is going on in their bodies, then we are setting them for a good foundation of emotional wellbeing.  

Along with this is helping children to understand we all have a wide range of emotions and that is ok, we don’t have to be happy all the time. Over the last few years I have worked with a few children who have a fixed smile on their face, at first it is easy to think they are happy, but once you spend time with them, you realise it is a smile that comes out of a place of feeling uneasy, unsure, a bit scared, and they don’t know how to express these feelings. We need to help children to understand it is ok that they are not happy all the time, they can be sad or angry or jealous or scared, these feelings are normal. The problem is when we think happiness is a state we should aim to be in all the time, this can set us up to feel like a failure. As adults we need to model and show children that we all have wide range of feelings and emotions and to be able to name them, part of this is by regular acknowledging how we feel and noticing how the children are feeling- ‘ Lily I can see you are feeling tired and a bit sad today, that’s ok, would it help to spend some time sitting quietly together and looking at a book?’ or children I am feeling a bit worried this morning, I have lost my keys, I keep looking for them, do you think you could help me find them. A rich emotional vocabulary needs to be what we constantly hear in our early year’s settings.

If we can help children to have an emotional understanding and vocabulary from a young age, we are equipping them with a tool for life. I often come across adults who have a really limited emotional vocabulary, they find it so hard to express appropriately how they feel, or they feel guilty about not always feeling happy with their life. This is an unnecessary burden to carry through life, as early years workers we can help to change this. 

I am being interviewed about emotional literacies by Kathy Brodie on her Early Years summit if you want to hear this and many fantastic interviews a link is here

There is a growing range of resources we can use to help children understand feelings and emotions and to support mental wellbeing. A few books I have written are:

Mummy’s Got Bipolar 

Can I tell you about Bipolar disorder- ( for children aged 7 plus)

Promoting Young Children’s Emotional Health and Wellbeing: A Practical Guide for Professionals and Parents

Relationship and connection

 

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This first month of the new school year has mostly focussed on building relationships and making connections with new staff and new children. We will be working together a lot over the next year and I know there will be a mix of great times and challenges ahead!. In these first few weeks, we spend a lot of time observing the children, we hold lightly the information we have about how they were in nursery and how they are at home, these first few weeks are about finding out with curiosity and interest.

In the first few weeks with the children I use an all about me tool I have developed, it’s a small bag with a few key items in it. I use this to tell the children something about me, who I am, what I enjoy and to talk about what we will do together. In my bag, I have a small wind up swimmer, a pressed flower from my garden, a photo of my family, a shell, a pot of bubbles and a small lavender bag. This tool is really useful to start conversations with children about what they like and what they enjoy. Sometimes, when you discover a child’s keen interest, it can be a key to their involvement. When I know a child has a keen interest in something, I will bring that into the sensory play and emotion work over the weeks and months that we work together.

This week I discovered one of the children I am supporting has a passion and a huge knowledge about Minecraft, this is a new subject for me, I don’t know anything about Minecraft. However, I agreed that I would go away and find out, I haven’t been very successful in this, I have downloaded the game but I am not doing very well!. Over the next few weeks, I am sure, I will be learning more about how it works. I have managed to acquire some Minecraft toys, and I will be using those over the coming weeks with sensory play.

As adults when we connect with a child through something they are interested in, we are showing them that we care, that they are important, that their passions and interests matter. When a child feels that an adult cares and is interested, then they will start to trust you and work with you. Listening to them and finding out what they care about is key to building a relationship with them.

I have a book about listening to children titled Listening to young children in an early years setting: A practical guide published by Jessica Kingsley Publishers this has more ideas and suggestions about listening to children.

 

 

Foraging with children

 

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This is the perfect time of year to forage with children. Hedgerows are full of blackberries. I have always enjoyed foraging, even before it became a trendy thing!. I have wonderful memories of blackberry picking with my mum in Bristol and also when we stayed with my Nan in Wales. I did blackberry picking with my girls throughout their childhood ( and recently, they are now 20 and 22!) also with children I nannied for and now with my nurture children in the current role. With so much concern and worry about children’s mental health and the increased time children spend indoors, foraging is a brilliant way to help children engage in nature and support their mental wellbeing.

Around ten years ago I visited a kindergarten in Denmark, it was early September, we all went for a walk in the woods and the children foraged their way along the journey, eating a wide range of food from berries, small green plants, and fungi. The children all knew what was ok to eat and what was not, the staff was watching and trusting them, the staff had taught the children from when they were tiny what was ok to eat. Looking back on my trip to Denmark, this was a significant trip and moment for me, one of the refections I had was how well connected the children were to their environment, how well they understood nature and to take care of the world. A big emphasis of the staff was in teaching the children about the environment around them and part of that was understanding what they could eat and not eat. I came away from this trip firstly wanting to know more about foraging in my local area, finding out about what was growing in my local hedgerows and also thinking about how we can share this with children in the UK.

Everyone is becoming more aware of the importance of engaging in nature, of helping children to know and learn about the world around them and how to take care of this. There are fantastic resources with helping to teach children about the outdoors, woodland trust has a lovely site with ideas and activities across the ages including recipes for using blackberries!

One recipe that I am making this year is blackberry cordial, we all make blackberry pies and crumbles and these are lovely, but making a cordial is a little different, you can easily make it in a nursery or at home and with warm water added to it, it is a lovely autumnal drink. The recipe I am using is below
Blackberry cordial

750g blackberries
cold water to cover them
1 small cinnamon stick
1 tsp lemon juice
150g sugar

Wash the blackberries, put them in a pan and cover with water ( enough to just cover them).
Boil until the blackberries burst, then mash them ( potato masher) and strain through a sieve.

Put the blackberry juice, sugar, lemon juice and cinnamon in a pan. Bring to boil and simmer until sugar dissolves ( around 10 mins).

Pout into a sterilised bottle and dilute to drink
I then used the leftover fruit and mixed with apple to make a fruit cobbler.