I have just spent the last week with my family visiting three islands Arran, Islay, and Jura. It has been a week of slowness, exploration and wild swimming. All 3 islands are beautiful and abound with wildlife. Significant amounts of time were spent watching and noticing, looking for golden eagles, trying to spot otters, laughing at seals playing, noticing hares run by, seeing highland cows on the beach and family swimming in freezing cold water and loving the experiences. This week I have really enjoyed the wide open spaces that the islands provide and I have loved the quietness and lack of people!.
I spend half of my working week supporting children in school who are finding life challenging. This is a wonderful but also at times intense job, involving lots of emotional regulation, being present for staff and children. By the end of the school year, I am aware that I long for space, quiet, fewer people. I also spent a lot of time talking and writing about wellbeing. By the end of July, I know that for my own wellbeing I need to be outside, fully embraced and surrounded by nature for an extended period of time. I have learned over the years how restorative being in nature is. Florence Williams in her the book The Nature Fix: Why nature makes us happier, healthier and more creative, explores evidence from across the world on how being in nature helps our mental and physical wellbeing. She talks about a recent increase in the idea of Forest bathing in Japan, this is basically about people spending time in forests. It is viewed in Japan as a preventive therapy, as a way of counteracting ‘karoshi’ which means death from overwork. The effects of being in forests have been measured with hundreds of people by Chiba University researchers. Their research showed that a casual walk in a forest had a 12.7% decrease on the participant’s cortisol levels and 103 % increase in the parasympathetic nervous activity ( Relax state) (Williams 2017).
Over the next few weeks I will be writing, planning, thinking and dreaming about the next academic year and beyond. I hope that this time spent in truly wild places has helped my creative thought processes.
One of the joys of working with young children is their sense of excitement and wonder with the world, the way they delight at a snail or a dandelion can be delightful to see. This sense of awe and wonder is often lost in adults; we become jaded, worn down by the misery that we hear on the news, this feels especially relevant today on the back of more terrorist attacks.
This morning I walked around the community meadow, this is one of my weekly rituals, each Sunday morning I walk, think and enjoy the early morning stillness. The joy of walking around the same space each week, all year round, is that you notice the changes. This morning it was great to see how high the grass has grown, the recent rain has helped the growth. I also saw the wild orchids had come back. I have seen these orchids growing year after year for the last 23 years that we have lived here, but they still fill me with a sense of awe and wonder when I see them back, each year. By choosing to stop and notice, by engaging with a sense of beauty and awe, I feel this is nourishing and nurturing myself.
In the yearly cycle of nurture work we are now entering the last term, the term when we stop and reflect on what the children have achieved this year, on how far the children and the staff have developed. I love this term as it is an opportunity to spend time reflecting back on how distressed and unhappy the children were in September, to think about the fears we had back then and to recognise the progress that has been made and celebrate that achievement. I see this term as the chance to celebrate the awe and wonder of the children we work with over the year and recognise the change and the difference we have made.
I think as adults we need to be open to noticing the beauty that is around us, that might be in the people who surround us or in our environment.
One aspect I love about being self-employed is the freedom to grow and develop new ideas. Sometimes these work, sometimes they don’t, which can be hard, but I really value the space to be able to try and the space to be able to think creatively. Over the last couple of years, I have realised that I really enjoy the creative process of thinking and developing new projects/ resources and I am learning to be braver about trying to push these forward and see if they can grow and take off.
Over the last year I have been working with my husband and 2 close friends on developing one of these new ideas, it started as an idea for a children’s illustrated book to explain Bipolar to children and then developed into the idea of making this into an animation as well as a book. Over the last 5 weeks, we pushed forward a crowdfunding project to fund this idea. We knew we were being highly ambitious in the amount we were trying to raise and we were really unsure if it would work ,if anyone would want to back it. We didn’t raise the full amount we needed, but we did have pledges for half the amount .
When you try out a new idea, you often don’t have a sense of whether it will work, it can feel really risky, you’re putting yourself in a vulnerable position of risking rejection and criticism and that is very hard. The flip side of that is people do support you and you discover that people love you and believe in your idea. That has been my experience, as a group working on the Mummy’s got Bipolar project we have all been deeply touched by the support we have been offered, the generosity of people. Alongside this the incredibly moving comments from strangers telling us that they didn’t know how to tell their children about their Bipolar, messages of encouragement from people living with Bipolar telling us there is a great need for this project.
This morning I went for my usual Sunday morning walk around the meadow at the back of our house. This is a space where I can think and reflect. This morning I noticed a small horse chestnut tree sapling growing on the edge of the meadow. I loved noticing the beauty of this tiny new tree and the possibility of the great tree it might grow to become. We have been really encouraged by the support we had through sharing the idea of our project with others; our project feels a bit like that tiny tree, I still don’t know quite what it will become, but we are going to try and continue to see if we can make it grow.
My school year in the nurture role has now ended for the summer holidays. I still have other work I will be doing over the break, but it is a 7-week break from working with 4-year-olds. On Friday evening I and my family came down to Cornwall for a family holiday on the Lizard. The last term has been a very tough term, particularly emotionally. During this term, I have been using various techniques to try and stay calm and not allow the stress to take over, not always easy. I have been trying to use mindfulness daily, I have been regularly listening to the beautiful, calming tracks of Olafur Arnalds living room songs and my morning swims have helped to get me through the term. In the last few weeks, I have been thinking a lot about swimming in the sea, a friend on Facebook Karen Arthur swims in the sea daily and photographs what she sees. I really enjoy seeing Karen’s images daily, seeing how she captures the beauty of the sea and how she has used this to help her through depression . For the last few days I have been able to swim in the beautiful green sea, I love wild swimming, I find so much delight in the beauty and the immediate closeness to nature, when I am swimming in the sea, my brain and body immediately switch off from the tension and stress and focus on the delight of that moment.
I know that taking, this time, to unwind and slow down is vital, a time to care for myself, a time to enjoy being with my family. Not all work has stopped, as I am still keeping an eye on the Mummy’s got Bipolar campaign, and still trying to get more support to make that happen, but at least when I am in the sea swimming I can have some time when nothing else matters other than enjoying the moment and the beauty.
This term is about reflecting and reviewing the nurture work over the past year. It is time to write end of year reports, remember the children as they were in September and recognise the tremendous change , they, their staff and I have seen over the year. It is about stopping and noticing the beauty in their development.
The year has at times been fraught, there have been many tears and much laughter. Some highlights for me have been seeing children who started the year very scared and frightened are now laughing, joining in, making friends. Being able to write end of year reports and describe a child as being a happy, smiling, joyful child is a wonderful achievement. Once again I have seen school staff work so hard to accept, love and support these children. Once again I have been reminded that progress for a child is not just about their academic attainment.
Throughout the year I have walked around the meadow at the back of our house, every Sunday morning, it’s a bit of ritual for me, it is a place where I can think, reflect and just be. A thought I had this morning was about the changes I see in the meadow through the year, in the Autumn it has been mown, it is short, sparse and a bit spiky, in the winter if often looks quite bleak, then in the spring it begins to develop new life, to grow and develop and in the summer it is space of beauty. This morning I noticed the butterflies and moths have returned, more of the wildflowers were there, it is back to being a space of beauty. But you only really notice the butterflies and the flowers when you slow down and notice and look. I felt this was really similar to the nurture work. There are times at the beginning of the year where it is hard and spiky work and there are many times in the year where it feels really bleak. But it does change, through the process of remembering and reviewing, of stopping and noticing the small changes that have been made, we can see the beauty that has developed and that is something to celebrate.
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
As a family, we were really fortunate to spend a few days this week in Cornwall, at Porthcurno, almost at the end of Cornwall. This is such a beautiful part of the country. I love the wildness of the landscape there. A mix of the cliffs, beautiful beaches and wild waves. I am an early morning person, unlike the rest of my family. My habit on holiday is to get up early and walk. There is something very beautiful about walking first thing in the morning when no one else is around. I always find being outside in nature, but particularly being by the coast deeply nurturing, life enhancing and also healing. There is something about the wildness of the coast of Cornwall which I find very alluring, and I find the magnificent space gives me space to find a deep calmness.
In the week previous to going away I had been working on finishing 2 chapters of my book, planning for the children’s book on mental health and writing some training I will be delivering soon. These were all a welcome break from my term time nurture work. I loved the creativity they brought but they were still quite demanding. Having a few days by the coast brought with it some welcomed time and space. Time to relax and unwind, time to notice the beauty around me, time to enjoy walking and time to enjoy feeling the sand and freezing sea.
I found the time and the environment gave me space to think of new ideas and activities for my nurture work. It gave me some fresh perspective on my business and work, and most of all it reminded me of how much there is to be grateful for. During the time away I read the book Mindful Walking by Adam Ford. He talked about how walking in a mindful way can encourage a spirit of gratefulness. There is something about walking and noticing the beauty around that can really promote a deep sense of awe, wonder, and gratefulness, particularly in a landscape that is wild. I came back reminded of how much I enjoy my work and being self-employed and how fortunate I am to have some creative opportunities ahead.