Making memories

IMG_0448

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?

 

 

IMG_1747

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.

IMG_1395

 

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?

 

IMG_0134

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?

Growing

 

IMG_1699

These last few weeks I have been growing plants with children, we planted cress faces and planted peas in pots. I love the activity of growing plants with children,  it is hugely sensory and the children I work with need many sensory experiences to help them feel calm and in touch with their feeling and emotions. Also, there is something very beautiful about seeing a child who can find life and school challenging to be supported to nurture and grow something; it can give them a massive sense of achievement. As I went back into school this week all the children were excitedly showing me the peas that had started growing ( the cress worked less well!). The children were all taking such pride in watering and checking on their plant each day. There is the risk the plants won’t grow; we discovered cress doesn’t survive the weekend without being watered, but the staff and I were able to support the children to understand this and think about what we could try differently. The activity of growing something with children is an excellent way to help them with their wellbeing. It gives them sensory experiences; we can use lots of emotion language while doing it, we can talk about the importance of being cared for and tell children ‘ my job is to care for you and together we are gong to care for this plant’.

I know many great examples of nurseries and schools who have gardens that children help to tend and look after, RHS have a schools project with ideas and suggestion on how your school or nursery can set up a garden. Many of the children I work with can find school work hard and a challenge. However they often respond very well to being outside and gardening, if they have support in taking responsibility for some of the growing they can often thrive and develop in this role and take real pride in what they have done. I wrote a blog piece about being outside last week and the research showing how good this is for our wellbeing and children’s wellbeing. Gardening is also recognised as an excellent activity for wellbeing; the charity Mind has many gardening projects across the country set up to help people’s mental health. I know for myself Gardening is one activity that helps me to feel calm, I find gardening a very mindful activity, I become totally focussed on the activity, and it allows me to switch off from everything else. I think this is the same for many children who are stressed and anxious.

This weekend I plan to spend lots of time in my garden and greenhouse.

Helping children to find stillness

 

Photo.3_rest

This is a blog piece that I wrote recently for Childcare Expo , it links to a chapter in my new book Promoting Young Children’s Emotional health and Wellbeing 

Our lives are very busy, and our children’s lives are often busy also, as adults we know that we need to find times of stillness and relaxation, to enhance our well-being but how often do we think about helping our children to find stillness?.

Several years ago I was on a study trip to a kindergarten in Denmark; the children had spent half the day in the woods, exploring and discovering. Later, back in the nursery garden, I noticed one girl lying on her back on a wooden water trough, she was gazing at the blue sky for around 30 minutes, this girl was in her space, she had found a moment of stillness. The image stayed with me as I came back to the UK, I started to question what opportunity we give to children and ourselves to find stillness. I spoke with colleagues, and often I was told that children ‘ don’t do stillness,’ some staff said to me of quiet areas they had in their setting, but often acknowledged these didn’t work as intended. I knew from my experience of being a parent that it was possible to help children experience stillness.

In one of my current roles, I work as a nurture consultant, supporting four-year-olds who are finding the transition into school difficult. An essential element of this role is supporting staff to help the children find times of stillness and calm daily; this is relevant for all the children. Some examples we use are:
Create a space in the classroom/nursery/ outdoors which is a safe, quiet area- you could use a tent, a den, have cushions, blankets inside this space, make it cosy. Explain to the children this is the space they can use when they would like some quiet time, time to be calmer and relax.
Make a sensory bottle ( Look at pinterest for instructions), or use a snow globe. These are excellent to use with children who are feeling agitated or anxious. Acknowledge how they are feeling, shake the globe or bottle and together watch the glitter solution as it begins to slow down; at the same time get them to put their hands on their tummy’s and notice their breathing, helping them to be calmer.

Use Mindfulness and Yoga with children; there are some excellent resources for teaching young children mindfulness and Yoga, examples to look at are:

The Mindful Child (2010) by Susan Kaiser-Greenland
My Daddy is a Pretzel: Yoga for Parents and Kids (2012) by Baron Baptise

Using stories to help children find stillness- A collection of stories called Relax Kids by Marneta Viegas. They have a short meditation at the end to help children find stillness and calmness

Helping children learn how to find some stillness and calmness is an essential part of enhancing their well-being.

Being outside is good for our wellbeing

 

IMG_1695

Yesterday I spent most of the day outside gardening, under the blue sky, enjoying the early spring sun. I felt the happiest, most relaxed and the most awake and alert that I had felt all week. I know that being outside is good for my well-being, I can feel the difference it has on me. My 17 yr old daughter also spent some time outside taking a break from her A level work; she was sawing branches off a tree that needed cutting back, again she was the most happiest and calm that she had been all week. We could both see and feel the difference spending time outside was having on our wellbeing.

We know there is lots of research on the need for children to spend more time outside, I wrote a chapter on this in my book Promoting Young Children’s emotional health and wellbeing.  There is now growing research to show how being outside can have enormous benefits for adults wellbeing as well as children. The UK mental health charity Mind has information about Ecotherapy; this is about experiencing nature, being outside, working outside e,g gardening, they suggest this therapy can be used to help with mental health problems. I have been reading a new book this week called The Nature Fix by Florence Williams, in her first chapter she talks about a growing interest in Japan called ‘Shinrin-yoku’ in English this means Forest therapy; this is about people spending time in forests, it is viewed in Japan as a preventive therapy. The effects of being in forests have been measured with hundreds of individuals by Chiba University researchers. Their research showed that a casual walk in a forest had a 12.7% decrease in the participant’s cortisol levels ( stress levels) and a 103 % increase in the parasympathetic nervous activity ( Relax state). ( Miyazaki 2012). Japan have realised that the stress levels of many people living there are very high, partly due to long hours that they work. They have now set up forest trails in many forests across Japan to encourage people to get out into nature and alleviate some of the stress they have been encountering in their busy work lives.

I think the challenge can be finding the time and opportunity to be outside; it might be worth considering for this next week can you find some time to be outside? This could be taking a coffee break outside, going for a walk on a lunch break, finding some woods to walk in today. If you work with children how are you going to incorporate outdoor play and outdoor learning into your week? This will be hugely beneficial to you and the children.

nurture and wellbeing