Category Archives: wellbeing

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.

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Stillness and noticing in preparation for the new term

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We are entering the last week of the summer holidays for many in England and Wales, this is a week when it can be a mix of excitement for what is ahead, trepidation, sometimes fear, and these can be feelings experienced by all involved; children, parents, and staff. I am aware I have all those feelings about the new year, I love my job as a nurture consultant, I think it’s probably the best job I have had so far, but there are unknowns ahead, new children, new staff, new schools and I can find new things can lead me to feeling a bit anxious.

Sometimes this week can be busy with organising and sorting, it can be a busy week in the preparation for the new term ahead. I am aware that for me this week needs to also involve some extra time for slowness and stillness, times when I can notice my breathing, recognise the creeping anxiety and nervousness. I have learned over the years the main way to help me find some slowness and calmness is by being outside. I have started this week by having an early morning barefoot walk, around the community meadow, slowly walking and noticing the changes in the season, noticing the first signs of autumn, enjoying the beauty around me. My plan is to repeat this each day this week.

I know many children find this last week of the holiday difficult, their anxiety levels rise with the fear of what is ahead. There is an increasing amount of research to show how spending time outside actively supports children’s ( and adults) wellbeing and mental health. If you are a parent reading this, possibly find some times to be outside this week with your children, go for a walk, pick blackberries, build a den, find a stream and build a dam and paddle. Spending time together outside, noticing, enjoying the joy of the natural world will be positive for you and your children. If you are a teacher or an educator, again find some times to be outside, don’t spend all week planning and preparing, enjoy the natural world around you.

If your child does suffer from anxiety at the thought of returning to school there are some excellent books for children, I would recommend Starving the Anxiety Gremlin by Kate Collins-Donnelly, there is a version for primary and senior age, No worries Mindful kids activity book by Kate Abey ( suitable for older primary and lower senior), Rubys worry by Tom Percival ( younger children picture book).
I have a new book out this week, exploring how we can help engage with stillness practice in a faith context, many of the ideas in there are linked to being outside. The book is Using Christian Contemplative Practice with children.

 

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.

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.

Mental health awareness week and yr 6 SATS week

 

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This week is mental health awareness week, mental health is talked about a lot more now, which is no doubt a fantastic and vital thing. However, for me, there is also an irony with this week being mental health awareness week as it is also Sats week for year 6 children across England ( 10 and 11 year olds) and if there was evidence of a week when thousands of children, teachers, and parents will not have good mental health, it is during Sats week. The pressure around children passing these papers is huge, it has never been great, when my daughters were in school there was some pressure, but it appears to be increasing year on year. It is common now for children to take practice papers in schools from the September they start year 6, revision sessions being provided for children for months in advance, and parents being encouraged to buy revision material. The emphasis on the Sats in yr 6 has led to the  curriculum in year 6 becoming very narrow, with the focus on teaching to the Sats paper. There are a growing number of myths about Sats and the importance of them, a recent survey found that 1 in 4 children believed their Sats results would affect their job prospects- this is of course wrong. My major concern with the Sats testing is how this is causing huge pressure on our children and negatively impacting their mental health.
Over the last few months, I have heard an increasing number of parents reporting how stressed their children are about the Sats, how their children fear they will fail, that they are not good enough, worried that if they fail their Sats they will then fail in Yr 7 and will never get GCSEs. I am sure this is not the message that schools, teachers and head teachers want to pass onto children, however when we put a huge emphasis on children passing a test at the end of Yr 6, when we continue to get the children to take revision papers all year, this will inevitably cause some children to feel huge pressure and a fear of failing.

We repeatedly hear that in the UK we have a growing number of children suffering from mental illness. In the UK 10% of children aged 5-16 have a clinically diagnosable mental health problem (mental health UK website), these are the ones who have been diagnosed, there will be other children who have not been diagnosed. There needs to be change, we need to take this seriously and we need to act. We need to look at the wide range of causes that are impacting on children’s mental health. For me, one of the areas we need to look at is how we are testing children from a young age. With the issue of testing children, there are a growing number of head teachers, educators, and parents who are lobbying for change. The group of More than a score has lots of information about ways in which we can all lobby our MP’s, speak to our children’s school and to try and bring about some change. I would encourage you to have a look at their website.