Tag Archives: children

How do we measure success?

 

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Over the weekend I have been writing end of year reports for my nurture children. This is a time to look back and reflect on the changes over the year. Alongside this, I have had conversations with various friends about success, and how as individuals we measure success.

At the end of the reception year school’s and the Education Department decides the success of the child’s first year in school is based on whether they have met the Early Learning Goals. For the children we work with the success criteria is different, we ask ourselves the question what progress have we seen in their emotional, social and mental health over the year. I love writing end of year reports, remembering how tricky things were in September and seeing the change in that little one’s life over the year. We use an assessment tool throughout the year called Thrive; this is helpful to track change. However, it is also useful to notice and remember the small changes over the year e.g a child who would hit others time and time again in September, and looking back you realise that hasn’t happened in months. The child who could never sit through a story now chooses to have stories read to them. These are small but significant, we can so easily overlook or forget these changes, but these are signs of success.

My husband is an artist, he creates such beautiful hand carved letter cutting pieces of art. He and I are both self-employed, throughout the years we have both struggled with the idea of how do we know if we are successful in our self-employed businesses. There is so much emphasis on success being linked to making lots money, in the world of art success being linked to selling artwork, in the world of writing success being linked to the number of books you sell or as a trainer how many people buy you in for training. However, we have both learnt solely using these measures can quickly lead to you feeling that you have failed. Each year I now set myself some small aims for what success might look like. I have a list for my nurture children, a list for training and consultancy and a list for my writing. The emphasis on my list is about making progress. In the same way that I look over the year to see what progress my nurture children have made, I look to see what progress I have made. That might be linked to new learning I have acquired, whether I have been able to embed a new practice. Also asking have I given myself time to be creative and space to dream of new ideas. My list always has a link to having a good work, life, play, balance. Changing the emphasis to progress rather than success or failure has really helped me to remodel and change the script in my own head. A useful question can be how can I be more fully human and what would that look like.

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Participation art and children

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A few weeks back I wrote about an art project I worked on with my husband Iain Cotton. The project was a letting cutting piece for St Michaels primary Winterbourne. I worked with Iain on the participation of the children in the school. We got every child in the school to design a letter. Iain then cut these letters into a large stone.

 

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The stone is now finished and in place on the school grounds, most of the carving took place in Iain’s workshop and then he finished the last line on site, so the children could watch him carve. He also painted the letters on site. The response from the children and the school has been wonderful, children have recognised their letters and excitedly told Iain which one was theirs, they have shown so much joy and delight that their letter is on the stone.

This was a wonderful project to be involved in, each child in the school had a part in this art piece. It was so inspiring to see how every child was able to create and design their own letter. The younger children took such delight in playfully making letters with plasticine. Plasticine enabled them to manipulate and design a letter in a way they would have found hard with writing. The older children were able to be very imaginative and creative with their drawn designs.

At a time when creativity is having less of a place in education, it was wonderful to work with a school on a creative project and to leave a lasting legacy with the school. Who knows some of the children we worked with may one day become artists, letter cutters or designers, but hopefully we left them all with a very positive memory about their involvement in an art project.

 

Slowing down, bringing stillness and silence into our lives.

 

 

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I have recently been delivering training, to children center workers in the Wirral, children’s workers from Churches in Cambridge and parents and teens at a local school. In each of the training sessions, I talked to the groups about having times of slowing down, encountering stillness and silence. This is still so often viewed as counter-intuitive, especially in our work with young children or teens. So often as adults we presume that children and young people need noise, lots of doing, lots of activity. A growing amount of research is showing us that children and young people need times of being still, encountering silence, having time when they are not being entertained or busy.

However, if we are going to help children find times of stillness and silence we need to embrace this in our own lives. We need to recognise in ourselves when we are too busy when our lives are too cluttered. We need to find ways to seek out stillness. This can make some adults feel deeply uncomfortable, and it does take practice. I am aware that for myself I need this increasingly, this may be because the work I engage in is often emotionally intense and so I need to find a place which is quiet and still, to help my wellbeing. I firmly believe if we engage in the practice ourselves we can then help children to feel comfortable in being still and finding silence.

For many  people the practice of mindfulness and yoga is really helpful in creating good practices, I use mindfulness a lot, but for me, the practice of mindfulness and being outside is the place where I truly feel I can embrace silence and stillness. This morning I knew I needed a longer time of this, I knew my usual short Sunday morning walk around the meadow would not be enough, so I went on the long walk, down a lane called Stoneage lane, into the Cam valley and up to our village. This walk is a couple of miles; it takes me past Cam brook and along country lanes, it is such a familiar walk for me; it is one I have walked for the 20 years we have lived here. It is the walk I did to quiet my babies, it is the walk I did to grieve over losing jobs and death of friends, and it is the walk I do to find peacefulness and space. I always find this walk gives me the space and time to breathe and enjoy the moment, enjoy just being.

In training, I encouraged people to think about what stillness practice they have or what stillness practice they could develop and to think about the spaces they can use to help them find stillness. When we regularly engage in a time of slowing down, noticing, just being, then we are able to share this practice with children.

There are many books and apps on mindfulness, stillness practice and examples of how we can use this for ourselves and with children. Some of the ones I particularly like are:

Mindfulness: a practical guide to find stillness in a frantic world

Headspace app

Mindful monsters to use with children

The mindful child

The importance of talking about mental illness.

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We know that for years mental illness has been a taboo subject, this is beginning to change and shift, but it can still be an area we find it hard to talk to children and young people about, particularly young children. I grew up with a mum with Bipolar, I knew she was ill, both Mum and Dad spoke about her illness, but no one ever named it. As I got older I heard about cancer and so presumed my mum had cancer and that she was going to die, I filled in the gaps, I made up my own story to explain what was happening. That is what children do. I found out what my Mum’s illness was when I was 14 in a school assembly which the charity Mind was taking, they described manic depression ( as it was called then) and I had a light bulb moment, I suddenly realised that is my Mum.

I firmly believe we need to help children to understand about mental illness, we need to give them the words to explain the illness, and we need to help them feel safe and know they can ask questions. If we don’t talk about it, this is suggesting it is shameful, if we don’t acknowledge our feelings around it, this is unhealthy for everyone. Bipolar and mental illness is still a taboo subject with some of my extended maternal family, they still feel embarrassed and awkward. This is so sad and can leave a legacy of hurt and confusion.

Sometimes it can be hard to find the right words to explain a mental illness to children and young people, and we can be worried about using the wrong words. I want to reassure people it is better to be open and honest, it is better to discuss and explain rather than keeping quiet. Many excellent websites can help you to find the right words. Ones I would recommend in the UK are Mind and Mentalhealth.

Books and films are also an excellent resource to explain to children. I wrote a book last year called Mummy’s Got Bipolar this has just been turned into an animation which is a free resource on youtube, over the summer I also wrote a book for JKP called Can I tell you about Bipolar, this will be available in February 2018.

 

Image by Jon Birch in the book and animation

Belonging

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This week I have been reflecting on the need we all have to feel that we belong, the dictionary definition of belonging is: has a place, fitting in, being included. This week has been the start of the new term for many pre schools, nurseries, and schools; many children have started nursery or school for the first time, both infants and senior, some adults have begun new jobs. For some those first few days can be overwhelmingly scary and frightening. In my nurture role, I have the privilege of being with four-year-olds. Watching these little ones start at their new school this week, I was reminded again of how much they need to feel that they belong, that the school needs to be a place where the children feel they fit in, where they are wanted and will be included.

Knowing that you belong is a feeling, you know when you do, you also know when you don’t belong. I believe as people we all have a desire and need to belong somewhere, this is in the groups we are part of, the faith groups, our work places, our places of education, our families and our friendship groups. I can think of many times when I have been in places, groups that I felt that I didn’t belong, I felt that I didn’t fit in, that I wasn’t understood, where I knew my voice was not being listened to, this left me feeling sad, isolated and unwanted.

This week I have seen some children who have coped wonderfully at the start of the new term, they have been excited, they have felt they had a place, and they belonged. I have seen other children who have been desperately sad, who have been overwhelmed by being in a place they did not feel was for them, a place they felt they did not belong. At these times it is so important that the children have calm, soothing adults around them who recognise and acknowledge their worries and fears. They need adults who are using emotion language to acknowledge and recognise their feelings; at these times it can be useful to use a script, e.g., “I can see you are feeling so sad about being in school, it’s ok I am here for you”. When a child hears this, they know the adult has recognised their strong feeling and worries they know they have been heard. Often what children hear after a few initial soothing words are the words ‘it’s time to stop crying now,‘ these words can make a child feel more isolated and scared.

There are simple things which help children to feel they belong:

The start of welcoming a child warmly by their name as they arrive is an important beginning. Most settings have named and pictured pegs and drawers for children in nursery and primary school, this can help them feel they have a place. However, some children then need further guidance, an invitation to find a book or join in an activity, with some children they need a member of staff to guide them and support them to the carpet/ activity/ book corner. This sounds obvious, but it is not always remembered in the rush of the morning arrivals. For the child who is feeling overwhelmed they need the gentle guidance and support from a trusted adult. I often think it is in the first few weeks of a new term that schools could benefit from having volunteer workers. A few calm, safe adults who can be there to sit with children, welcome them, guide them to the activity/ book corner, this frees up the teachers to speak with parents. Reception classes often have one teaching assistant. However, one TA to help settle up to 30 children can be a big challenge. If there are additional adults, who can reassure the children, listen to their stories about their journey arriving, look at their conkers, hear about the runaway dog, etc. then children arrive feeling welcomed, feeling they have a place, it helps them to feel safe and secure. By being welcomed and settled well the children are then ready to learn and explore that day. However, if a child arrives and feels scared, overwhelmed, frightened it will take them a long time to calm, to regulate and they will not be ready to start learning.

Start of a new academic year

 

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The bulk of my work is as a nurture consultant, supporting 4 yr olds in their reception year. Starting school is a major transition and can be so overwhelming for children and parents. The children I and my colleagues support have been identified as needing some extra nurture and extra support. However, in the first few days and weeks, all the new children ( and many of the parents ) need that extra nurture and support. The move to school is such a big change, even for those children who have been in early years settings full time. They are taking on so much new information, new experiences, there are not as many staff as there were in the nursery, the school is often louder, bigger, lots of children. There are many new noises, sights, sounds, smells, everything is often different, that can be so overwhelming even for the most confident and able child.

With all these new changes children will often be exhausted, I often hear parents who have had children in full-time nursery say that school shouldn’t be any different. It is important to understand that change is tiring, change makes us as adults feel exhausted. Think about when you started a new job; I bet you were exhausted at the end of the week; it is just the same with our children. The brain is taking on so much new information, it is working so hard, and this is tiring. So my tip is whether your child is starting infant school, junior school or senior school expect them to be very tired at the end of the week. Acknowledge this and support them with these feelings, they may well be more snappy, emotional, irritable, be there for them in these feelings. Acknowledge how they feel and validate those feelings for them. It is ok to be tired and to feel overwhelmed and to feel a bit scared at the start of something new. Be kind and gentle to them; this is a time of big change, they need to be supported and nurtured.

Also as parents, this can be a hard time for us, many of us cried when our child started school or senior school ( or university!), we can feel worried about how they will survive, overwhelmed by the change that is happening. Be kind to yourself, offer yourself kind words, do something that makes you feel happy, that might be eating cake or going for a run or a swim, speak to someone you know and trust about your feelings.

Recognising the change and celebrating every success

 

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Over the last week, I have been writing end of year reports for the nurture children I support. This is an opportunity to recognise and celebrate the development in the children we work with. Each September I am never really sure what progress we will make, there are so many possibilities that can affect the child and the work. Each year my hope is that the new little person I am starting work with will reach a place where they feel secure, safe and wanted. Our work is not about achieving academic targets, but it is about the child feeling that they are safe, that they can express themselves in positive and safe ways and for them to know they are wanted and loved.

The joy of writing end of year reports is that we start by remembering how the child was at the beginning of the year, in many ways this can be quite an emotional time, looking back and remembering how hard it was for the child and their staff. By this time of year, you can so easily forget and take for granted the progress made. I have children now who can sit for 10 minutes and join in, children who can tell their staff how they feel, children who now have friends and invite other children to play with them, children who when a stranger walks into the classroom no longer stand out as the child with big issues.

These children will not necessarily reach their early learning goals; they will all still need support and help in year 1. But these children have all grown and developed and flourished, and that is wonderful and worth celebrating.

My role at the end of the year with the staff is to remind them of the amazing work that they have done with the children. To remind them to celebrate the steps that have been made.

At the end of May, I planted a sunflower seed for each of the children I was working with. This week they have started to flower, a beautiful reminder of the joy and wonder and celebration of the children I work with.