Looking for hope

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It has been a week of awful news , the homophobic deaths in Orlando, the tragic death of Jo Cox and personally an old friend of mine , Bob Holman died of motor neurone disease this week. I have also been reminded several times this week, how extremely hard and sad life is for many of the children I work with. In weeks like this, it is really hard to find any hope, to find any light in the darkness. I have found myself each day acknowledging how hard it feels, how desperately sad it makes me feel. When life is dark it’s important to acknowledge the darkness and the feelings that brings. But I also know, particularly with the children I work with, I need to find some light, some hope.

The hope for me this week has been reading Brendan Cox’s words, just hours after his wife’s death, calling on people to “fight against the hatred that killed her”, reminding people how Jo believed in a better world. Bob Holman’s death is very sad, but he leaves behind a legacy of fighting for justice and against poverty, his work influenced and touched many people, my memory of Bob is that he hoped and believed that things could be different, he believed there could be change.

Finding light in my nurture work has been through seeing the children laughing, engaging and playing, these sound like small things, but for many of the children I work with, that is a huge achievement. Also in the rest of life enjoying being with friends and family, enjoying the preciousness of our time together and giving thanks for our lives.

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Re-connecting with nature

 

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This last week has been a half term holiday for me, a small break from working in schools, an opportunity to refresh and relax a bit. I have spent large chunks of the week re-connecting with nature. I spend a lot of time with children outside, helping them re-connect with their feelings while outside, this is great but it is work, I work hard while with the children commenting, supporting, observing, modelling to staff, supporting staff and enabling the child to engage.

So this week I felt that I needed to reconnect my feelings with nature. When you work with children who find life hard, who become dysregulated quickly, it is so important to be aware of your own feelings, emotions and needs. I spend a lot of my time telling staff they need to be kind to themselves, so I need to make sure I do that myself!

Since a trip to Denmark over 5 years ago, I have developed a love of foraging!. So this week I have been enjoying foraging and cooking. I have enjoyed cooking nettle soup, elderflower cordial and red clover cordial. I have also enjoyed times of walking barefoot on grass, in meadows and on a beach. I love the experience of walking barefooted, it makes you feel more connected to the earth, more aware of what is around you. This morning I took my usual early morning Sunday walk in the meadow at the back of our house, I love the beauty of this space and how it changes over the season. It is now almost at full height, with the various grasses, clover, wild orchids and oxeye daisy’s growing. There is a path mowed around the edge of the meadow, for the community to be able to walk around and enjoy it without trampling all the wild flowers. I walked it this morning barefooted, I noticed this made me really slow down, really take notice of what was around me. This felt very timely as I know I am about to enter my busiest term of the year, ending with current children, meeting new children and supporting an extra four year six children, as well as training and writing. Lots to look forward to.

 

Photo of Tunley meadow

How will you be kind to yourself this week?

 

 

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I have spent my week mostly asking this question to the teachers and TA’s that I work with. It’s the end of the term, the teachers are exhausted, the children are a mix of being irritable and bouncy! they inevitably pick up on the stress of the staff and this, in turn, leads them to respond in ways which the staff finds hard. So, everyone, this week has been saying how much they are looking forward to the week off, but then in the next breath, the teachers have been telling me the work they need to do, the planning that has to be done, the reports that have to be written. So my question has been how will you be kind to yourself  this week?

When we are busy, when we are stressed, those are the times it is particularly important to be kind to ourselves. For one teacher I suggested that each day in half term she did one thing for herself that she enjoyed, that made her feel good. She looked a bit blank and wasn’t sure what that could be, I told her that for me I like to bake or garden, those are 2 things I enjoy and find therapeutic. She agreed that she loved baking and would try this.

I am interested in how we learn to be kind to ourselves and what different people do for this, I have one friend who loves running, Jenny  ran through her treatment of cancer last year, this was one way she could be kind to herself. I have another friend who loves knitting and finds the process of knitting helps her to switch off. My husband cycles, if he doesn’t have a chance to cycle in a week he becomes agitated, this weekend he is cycling to and around the Isle of Wight with a group of friends and Amos Trust, to me that is an extreme way to be kind to himself, but it works for him!.

During my week off from schools it will be an opportunity to start a new chapter, the next one is on staff well-being, it feels pretty timely after this last week!; but along with writing I plan to be  kind to myself by gardening each day, my garden at this time of year brings me so much joy and pleasure ( as long as the slugs don’t eat everything!).

Preparing for change and transitions

 

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This week has had a focus on preparing for change. I have just begun working with my 4-year-olds to help them prepare for the change and move into a year 1 class. It is vital to help these children to prepare for and be ready for changes. To start this process I got them to take photos in school about what they enjoy and like doing in school. I will make these into mini photo books for them, they will have a copy and a copy will go to their new year 1 teacher; helping the teachers to understand and hear directly from the children about what is important to them and what makes them happy in school. I love asking children to take photos, it allows us as adults to view the world through their eyes. Many of the photos this week have been of outdoor spaces, another reminder of how important it is to have children outside, how happy this makes them feel; hopefully, something the year 1 teachers will be able to include lots of next year.

As a family, we have also been thinking of change. Our eldest daughter has been on her first foreign holiday with friends. This has brought about some anxiety on my behalf! but also the reminder to myself, her Dad and sister that she is moving to University in September. We have all found seeing her bedroom empty this week quite poignant and sad, we have missed her this week and have been talking about her moving in September. This is, of course, an important transition for her and one we will celebrate, but it is also a transition that will bring some sadness. One close friend who has already experienced this change dropped off today some ‘ magical brownies guaranteed to bring slight consolation to anyone who maybe missing a child or sibling”. This was such a wonderful reminder of the support we have from close friends who will help us to manage our next transition.

 

Photo of outdoor space taken by a 4-year-old

Looking after ourselves

 

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The importance of looking after ourselves can so often be overlooked. I think this is particularly the case for people working in the caring professions, where our role is to look out for the needs of others. Taking care of ourselves can at times be layered and it isn’t always easy to work out what we need to do. Other times it is very simple. One day this week a child I work with was sitting on the classroom carpet, he leant forward, with his head on the floor; I knelt down behind him, gently rubbed his back and spoke to him. He turned around and without saying anything he leant into me, he just wanted to be cuddled. At that moment his needs were really quite simple, he needed to be held, he needed to know someone was there for him, that he was loved and cared for. It was a privilege to be able to offer him the comfort he needed in that moment.

Sometimes as adults we find it difficult to recognise what our needs are, how we can increase and enhance our own well-being, but we just know, as that little boy did, that we don’t feel right.There are times when we need to ask ourselves challenging questions and when we need to admit we don’t know what we are doing or that we are not very happy with the situation we are in. At these times, we need to find others that we trust, that we can go to, talk to, and find support from. Sometimes we are not able to enhance our  own well-being by ourselves but we need others to walk alongside us and allow ourselves to be nurtured, held, supported and guided.

This morning I knew I needed to be outside, to wander through the meadow at the back of our house and enjoy the space, quietness, and beauty around me. This time gave me space to think and reflect on conversations I’d had this week, to think about and be thankful for the people who have held me, supported me and loved me this week and have helped to improve my well-being.

 

Image-Tunley meadow early this morning.

Developing well-being through outdoor play and stress and anxiety kits

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My job is hugely varied, which I love. This week I have been creating stress and anxiety toolkits for older children and teens. Delivering participation and well-being training to Bath YFC and being creative outdoors with my nurture children. The focus with all of this has been thinking about well-being and promoting well-being.

I have worked in the field of participation for many years, by listening to children and young people, giving them a voice and enabling them to feel that they are special and unique, we know this enhances their well-being. We also know that many children and young people suffer from huge pressures and stresses and often feel very anxious, particularly at this time of year with exams affecting both primary and senior aged children. With this in mind, I have recently been developing some stress and anxiety toolkits, and I have been asking young people to trial them for me, with excellent feedback.

In my nurture work, I have been making the most of the sunshine and enjoying outside spaces with the children. This week we were making nature pictures, collecting small things from outdoors that they found and sticking them onto a card with double sided sticky tape. This is such a simple and wonderful activity. It was delightful to see the wonder and excitement the children expressed as they found their treasures and made a picture out of them. It’s brilliant to observe these children concentrating, engaging, being curious and creative and talking with enthusiasm about what they were finding. These are children who at the beginning of the school year found it hard to focus on anything for more than a few minutes, and now were engaging for around 40minutes. A very joyful experience and a great sense of their enhancing well-being.

 

Image of a nature picture

Exploring creativity

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I have recently started a new chapter in my book, this one is exploring how creativity is an important aspect in developing children’s well-being. Often when I start writing a new chapter I will first go for a walk, I find the space of outside helps me to clarify my ideas and how to start. On Sunday morning I got up early and went for a walk along the beautiful valley at the back of our house, the start of this walk is down an old lane called Stoneage lane, it leads to the bottom of the valley, on the edge of woodland along the cam valley stream. This is such a beautiful space and one I have walked many times over the years of living here. Being outside, being in nature allows me to think far more clearly and creatively.

What I love about writing new chapters is the time I spend reminding myself and looking up the latest research on the subject. As part of the research for this chapter, I have been looking at the neuroscience evidence for the development of the brain and the link with creativity. I was reminded today that in the last trimester of pregnancy the sound-processing parts of the brain are developed and the baby is able to hear and recognise the sounds and rhythms of voices and music. I also learnt that Neuroscientists have now found that the brain has specific and specialised areas that respond only to music and that these areas stimulate emotional responses (Sousa 2006). This isn’t really surprising but it is a reminder of how important creative processes are to our development.

Sadly encouraging children to be creative is happening less and less in schools, there is an increasing emphasis on more academic subjects, and an increase in testing. The current education secretary Nicky Morgan has warned teenagers against taking creative subjects as this will disadvantage them in the future. This view has, of course, been challenged by many people.

I have been thinking, if we are going to encourage creativity in children it is vital that the adults working with children are comfortable and at ease with being creative themselves. So often as adults we can be gatekeepers to children, particularly younger children. If our experience of creativity is negative, if we feel that we can’t do it, or feel awkward about it then this is often picked up by the children we are working with and can discourage them.

The other challenge with allowing children to be creative is the adults who need to be in control, I have often seen adults who are quick to tell children where to stick things, how something should look, instead of allowing children to try it out, create, be curious and discover for themselves. Sometimes this comes out from adults need to be in control, but I also wonder if at other times it is about adults not allowing themselves to develop their own creativity, instead trying to express this through the children. Curiously I have particularly seen this in some senior school art teachers; the best art teachers I know are those that are also developing their own artwork outside of work and don’t feel frustrated by what the children are making.

I believe that creativity is soul enriching, allowing ourselves to be creative , it doesn’t matter how, it could be through drawing, dancing, singing, gardening, cooking, knitting or writing; but by allowing ourselves to be creative, allowing ourselves to use these parts of our brain will help to increase our well-being.

 

Sousa. D (2006) How arts develop the young brain

Image-Stoneage lane. Tunley

nurture and wellbeing