Tag Archives: early years

End of school year 2020/21

I have just finished work with my group of nurture children for this academic year. Like everyone in education in September 2020, I had no idea how this year would work out. My colleagues and I work with children who have been recognised as having additional social, emotional, mental health needs. I was pretty fearful in September about how we would navigate through the year, how the bubbles would work, how the children would respond to the staff mask-wearing and constant hand washing and not seeing other children or staff. But we did all survive! And actually, most of the children thrived. At the end of every year, we write an end of year report about our work, we reflect on where the children were and how they are now. At the end of every year, I am always amazed and moved by the progress we see, but this year feels more significant. This year’s group missed out on massive amounts of preschool education before starting; many of them have missed time from schools in the first two terms due to bubbles going down with covid isolation and then further lockdowns in the winter. All of these are hugely significant. My colleagues and I measure our children’s progress on how settled they are, can they now play with others, can they begin to become regulated when they have a regulated adult with them, can we understand their speech and language, are they now talking to us and others, can they take part in class for some of the time with their peers, do they have an emotional understanding and vocabulary. The answer is yes, a massive YES. And that feels brilliant and quite remarkable.

As ever this year, I have seen teachers and teaching assistants and Sencos and headteachers doing a fantastic job. We don’t say thank you enough to the education staff; the last 18 months have been the most challenging time for everyone in education. My hope is education staff can finally stop and rest for some time over the summer, I know there is still much they will need to do for the new term, but my hope is they can stop for a time but also I hope they can feel appreciated and thanked for their amazing work.

In the last few weeks, I have had a new book published with Routledge, it is called supporting children with social, emotional and mental health needs in the early years. The book offers practical ideas and suggestions on how to support children with SEMH needs

Lost words

I haven’t written a blog post in months, my winter was ok, but on reflection, I think during terms 3 and 4, I was in coping mode and had so little headspace to think and reflect, I felt I had nothing to say. The Easter break, getting back to my regular swimming routines, a bit of travelling around and seeing people and the sunshine has hugely boosted my energy, thinking capacity, and mood.

This first week back in term five has been a delight with the children. This week we have been bug hunting; it is a gentle activity to do, it encourages children to notice, slow down; it’s a mindful activity. It’s also a helpful activity to link to feelings and emotions. There are often comments about being a bit scared of specific bugs and noticing what bugs do when they are afraid of us. We talk about how we feel and how we know when we are scared and what we do. One boy told me he was scared of spiders as they might jump out at him, and if they are hairy, they are poisonous; I reassured him we wouldn’t find a poisonous spider here. For this boy, telling me something scared him was a positive step. Until now, he often shows that he is strong, nothing scares him, and we were able to talk about how it is ok to be scared and what we can do when we are afraid how it can be important to notice when our body is telling us we are scared.

I noticed with lots of the children and their friends that joined in was the lost words. They didn’t know the names of bugs; some children thought flies were bees, another child thought worms were snakes, children thought a dandelion was a sunflower or a buttercup, children didn’t know the name for a slug or a beetle. At first, I thought this was one small group, but then I saw it repeated in 8 schools over the week. It has made me wonder, is this unique to the children I am working with?. I wonder if this is Covid related?. Is it due to the enormous amount of time children have missed out on their last year of the nursery? Or the lack of opportunity for them to be outside and explore the awe and wonder around. I would be interested to know if others have noticed this.

For the next few weeks, we are going to continue thinking about bugs, learning names of bugs and flowers and what we see around us; I am hoping to replace those lost words for the children.

Nature and children’s wellbeing

This week it is children’s mental health week in the UK. I know many schools, nurseries and organisations are paying particular attention to the subject this week. I must admit mental health weeks leave me feeling slightly uneasy, our attention needs to be on mental health and wellbeing all the time, not just as an intense look at it over a week. We need to learn how to embed mental health conversations; creating a positive practice around wellbeing and mental health to underpin all of our work.

This term, in my daily nurture sessions with children, I am trying to use the outdoors and connecting with nature a lot more. I have been trying to make sure that all nurture activities when I am in school are outdoor-based and for the children at home, I have been creating packages that they can use at home, encouraging them to get outside. We know from the last lockdown that the outdoors was a crucial element to everyone’s mental health, children as well as adults. I know for many, myself included January has felt very challenging, it’s grey, it’s wet and it’s cold and we are in another lockdown and January has not felt an easy month to get outside. However, when we do get out it is so worth it. Some of the moments of joy this term has been using ice in our play, experimenting with freezing objects, adding colours, using coloured salt on the ice. Making bird feeders and bird spotting, the excitement, and delight from the children of seeing a bird, then finding it on the RSPB bird spotting sheet, children calling out to a blackbird that there is food for them, and calling a pigeon to come and eat. I and some of my team have also discovered how to get bubbles to freeze!. I think that brought us more delight than the children ( strong bubble mixture is the answer- recipe at the end ).

January has been hard, but being outside, being in nature has rescued me. I know it also has helped the children I work with, it has brought them joy and excitement, and discovery. One good thing which will come from this mental health week is a reminder of how important it is that we pay attention to what helps children’s mental health. At the top of my list is the outdoors, if we can help children and families to connect with the outdoors and nature, if we can enable them to engage in the awe and wonder around them, then we are offering them such an important underpinning tool for their wellbeing and mental health.

Strong bubble mixture recipe

1 cup of strong washing up liquid ( eco ones don’t work, I use Fairy)

6 cups of water

1 tablespoon glycerin

Give it a gentle stir and then play. This makes giant bubbles, but can also be used for small bubbles and freezing bubbles- To get them to freeze, let them land, and then after a few minutes, they start to freeze ( needs to below 0 for this to work).

For more information on children’s wellbeing, I have written

Promoting Young Children’s Emotional Health and Wellbeing

Promoting Emotional Wellbeing in Early Years Staff

Coping in January

I find January quite hard, it often feels like a long and grey month. Currently, I am feeling a greater sense of heaviness for the next few weeks. It is not helped by the uncertainty about schools returning, I currently have 3 plans in place for my work this term and I have no idea which one I will be going with tomorrow, of course, this is the same for teachers and parents across most of the country. Uncertainty and last-minute changes can lead many people to feel on edge, being more snappy, finding it difficult to be motivated.

With all of these thoughts I have been thinking about what will help me in January, it needs to be small actions, I have learned over the years that January is a time when I need to be more gentle with myself and now even more so. I have written myself a list to remind me of things I can do that will help me feel ok. They are small reminders of actions that help to make me smile, help me to relax, and help to nurture myself. We will all have different things that help us, writing a list may sound daft, but I know that sometimes when it becomes grey and dreary I can start to catastrophise and forget what helps me, a list helps to remind me. I probably won’t do everything on the list, but it reminds me of things I enjoy, things that bring me moments of joy

This is my list:

Have flowers in the house each week

Daily walks ( find new places to walk)

Wild swim when I can

Sunrise walks if I can’t swim in the pool

Meet friends for take away coffee and walk

Read

Plan the garden for the spring

Look for the Tawny Owls

Watch a new film each week

Watch a new box set

Listen to podcasts

Bake a cake

Make soap

Make marmalade

The long term

In Bath, we are entering week 8 of this first term back. If I am honest I didn’t think we would get to this week, I genuinely thought the schools would have been locked down or there would have been a 2 week half term as a circuit breaker, I know I’m not the only person in education who was hoping for the 2 week half term!.

My role is in reception classes, and all the reception classes I am in feel pretty normal, and this is down to some very dedicated staff making it feel ok for children. I know senior leaders, teachers, and teaching assistants are working so hard to make this ok. The transition into school is always hard, and we are seeing children who are finding the transition trickier after having 6 months at home. But at this point in the school year, I am not so worried by the children, but I am concerned about how much the staff are carrying and how tired many of them are.

As an outside person going into schools, I can see the job in a school is harder. There is more planning, more cleaning, lots of logistical thinking around keeping the children in their bubbles, barely any time to take a lunch break as the staff are often monitoring the lunchtime for their class, virtual school meeting’s, virtual parents evening alongside the hope that they and the children in their class won’t get Covid. This is a lot of additional thinking and worry.

If I am honest I am quite concerned about term 2, the term which is always nuts!, planning for Christmas often starts straight into the new term. To survive the term 2 education staff need to be well organised. Alongside the additional things they try to fit in with all the teaching they need to do and targets they need to reach; they also have the children’s rising excitement and for others the distress because it is all changing and they don’t like change. This alongside minimal lunch breaks, extra cleaning, extra planning re Covid, trying to keep everyone safe, that is a huge burden.

What is the answer? I don’t have one, but I do know that anyone who is living with or is friends with a teacher or teaching assistant, be kind to them this half term, be extra kind. They may need lots of rest and relaxation, but I know many will be using the half term to prepare for term 2, but they also need a break from work and schools and thinking and planning.

how to thrive through the autumn months

Schools have been back in England for 4 weeks, there are another 4 weeks until half term. Personally, I have loved being back in schools, working directly with children and staff, I have been reminded how much I love my job as a nurture consultant. If you were to quickly look into a reception classroom it would feel and look pretty normal to any other year, apart from hand sanitiser and lots of handwashing symbols on the visual timetables. However, behind that is a staff team who are working extremely hard to make this a success. As the weeks have gone by I have noticed how much the staff are holding, the extra worry, the extra organising, and planning. This is heavy and understandable that staff are feeling tired, and yet there are still 4 weeks to go.

This week I have begun to wonder with staff what will help them to nurture themselves. As a nurture consultant, my job isn’t just about nurturing the children, it’s as much about helping staff to feel nurtured too. But I am aware that I cant just talk about it and advise, I need to live that too.

At the end of this week, a question I have been thinking about for myself is how can I thrive through these Autumn months, I love autumn, the colours the change in temperature, having a fire in our stove, all of those things bring me joy. However, I am aware that this autumn feels heavy, in our family life there is a lot of heaviness and then add COVID, the hurt we hear about through black lives matter, climate crisis, Brexit, this all feels huge and can be overwhelming. My gut feeling is I need to put in place things that will help me to thrive, I need to plan for this. I started this weekend, yesterday I went on a mini day trip to the coast with my husband, we swam in the sea, I floated on my back in the sunshine. The rays of the sun warming me while the water held me, that felt so nourishing and I was able to switch off, just enjoy the sun and the moment. I have a list of ideas that will help me to thrive, these are a mix of sunrise walks, being in the woods, collecting sweet chestnuts, places to swim, chutneys and jams to make, and books to read. These are all simple things, but I know I need to be intentionally proactive in embedding them.

Hope for the new term

With the start of the new term, I am feeling fizzy inside!, it’s not a dread, thankfully I love my job, however, it’s the fizz of expectation with the slight nervousness and unknown of what lies ahead. I am aware that over the last week this feeling has been growing. I usually experience this a little on the return to school. But this year it is a stronger feeling than normal, as we are not in normal times. I haven’t met the new children I will support, I am not totally sure what the new school set up’s will be like, and I am slightly anxious about how children who have been out of a setting for 6 months will feel about starting school.

I am hugely aware that I feel unsure, and this includes slight nagging doubts and questions about will I remember what to do, what happens if a child becomes dis-regulated on my first day in a school, will I remember how to respond. The logical part of my brain kicks in and tells myself this is my work world, I know how to respond, as my 21 yr old daughter this morning reminded me I will automatically say ‘ Wow I can see you are so cross and angry, your face is red and I can see you want to hit, but we don’t hit people’ and then apparently I will play with mud or playdough! ( according to her this sums up my job well!). And I expect she is right.

But if I am feeling fizzy and slightly nervous, then I am pretty certain teachers, headteachers, parents, nursery workers, children and young people across the country are also feeling that slight anxiety, worry, fizziness. We are in different times, this is not just a normal new return, which can be hard for many in ordinary times. This is different, as well as the usual concerns there are of course many anxieties around COVID, safety, and protection, for some they have been away from school or nursery for 6 months, that all complicates our feelings and anxieties.

Knowing that I am feeling like this, I am trying to pay attention to my breathing, spend more time outside noticing and enjoying nature, barefoot walking, and wild swimming, all ways to be extra nurturing to myself.

My hope for the new term is that wellbeing will be high on the agenda, that headteachers and managers will be supporting their own wellbeing and from there they are then able to support their staff wellbeing who are then able to support the children’s wellbeing. Wellbeing needs to underpin this return, it can’t be an add on, it needs to be an embedded approach. But also parents and partners of staff who work in education need to focus on their loved ones’ wellbeing in these next days and weeks. Provide food, hugs (where allowed), chocolate!, a listening ear. This needs to be a joint effort, a joint support package.

How do we support children through transition during COVID 19

lily, summer & mum039

This is a question I and the team I work with have been giving a lot of thought to. I also delivered some training for Wandsworth this week looking at how we can make this work during COVID times.

In ordinary times we would arrange visits to schools/ classes/ nurseries. In ordinary times children would be in school and nursery, however, as we know these are not ordinary times. Below are a few ideas we will be using and I have suggested to Wandsworth they could try.

Videos

During the lockdown, we have all become more competent at making videos. I have suggested to schools and nurseries that they could make a video of the new classroom, to show the children what it will look like, show them any of the key areas you think the children need to know e.g. outdoor space, dining hall, toilets, pegs, carpet time, creative area, toys. Another way to do this is to include the children you have currently in school/ nursery, ask them what they think the new children need to see.

Video of staff, one important part of the children’s transition is for them to meet staff, many settings do home visits and visits to the nursery or the school, allowing the staff and children to meet each other. This may not be possible this year. One suggestion is for the new staff to make a short video of themselves to send to the children, telling them their name, a few things they like to do, how they are looking forward to seeing the child, this will go a long way to help the child feel familiar and in touch. They can also then re-watch this film, helping with that familiarity.

Photos

For some of our children they may not have access to watching videos, as an alternative, you could make a small photo book of the important parts of the school, include photos of the teacher, Ta’s ( nursery staff if it’s a nursery transition), again you could involve the current children in this. Pull these together into a simple PDF document, if possible print them and send them to the children, encourage the parents to look at this over the weeks before they return.

Books and play

During normal times in the weeks running up to transition, settings will be reading stories to children about moving to school, having school uniforms for children to try on, they may be playing games about going to school. These things can still happen, encourage parents to buy the uniform, and let the children try it regularly. There may be an issue about cross-contamination with clothes in the nursery, to get around this have the uniform from the school hanging up or photos of children wearing the uniform, this is all about helping children to recognise, be familiar, with this change and what will be new. You can still read books to children, there are many books available which you could use. Suggest books to parents they could read to their children, if purchasing books is difficult for parents you could film a member of staff reading some of the books and email the video out to families.

Social story

Make a social story about going to school for the children to take home. The social story we use is a simple story about a girl called Lily who is going to school, through the story we ask questions to enable a conversation and discussion. An example of the questions in our story are below:

  • Lily is going to her new school, it is called Camerton primary, where are you going to school?
  •  Lily’s school jumper is blue, what colour will your school jumper be?.
  • Lily is going to school with her friend Megan, which friends are going to your new school?
  • Lily will be going to school on the bike with her Dad, how will you get to school?
  • Lily will be having school lunches at school, she likes eating jacket potato, what will you do at lunchtime?
  • Lily is looking forward to playing with the pirate boat in the classroom, what are you looking forward to at school?
  • Lily is a little bit worried about playtimes, the playground has a big climbing frame and she is a bit scared about that. Does anything worry you about school?

This is a simple tool to design and use, it enables staff or parents to have conversations with the child about the school they are going to and how they are feeling about it. We have a photo on each page of the story to make it more visually appealing. This is just an example that you could adapt.

These are just a few ideas, but hopefully will help you to think of other ways too that we can still support during this transition. 

At the end of July I have a new book being published withJessica Kingsley Publishers, the title is Supporting Young Children Through Change and Everyday Transitions: Practical Strategies for Practitioners and Parents. It has a chapter on the transition to school/nursery, a chapter on bereavement, and another on separation, along with other chapters covering other changes children experience. 

On the re-opening of early years and school.

 

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This week most schools and early years settings are re-opening. There are so many political arguments about this, which I am not going to enter into on this posting. However, I know staff have been working so hard over the last few weeks, to make this the best they can for the children to return. I know staff have been working incredibly hard at organising, preparing, planning, and changing plans as the government keeps changing the guidance. I know that many staff feel that they are having to compromise what they believe is the best practice in order to fit into the new guidance.

I am aware that in all the arguing and political debating we can easily forget that behind all this are many staff, some will be pleased to return, some will be unsure and others will be incredibly scared. Change is so hard, especially when change is happening and we don’t really know what the outcome will be, how long we will be working in this new way, and whether we will all be shut down again.

Working in the time of a crisis, at a time of change and uncertainty, and at a time when many feel fearful and anxious, this brings with it additional stresses on top of an already demanding job in normal times. These are not normal times.

I am writing this blog for my friends and colleagues who are returning this week, and for those of you I don’t know, I am writing to say I am thinking of you, I know this is going to feel hard and maybe scary and to say thank you. Thank you for doing this, thank you for being there for the children, thank you for making it the best you possibly can for the children, because I believe that is what you will do.

Please make sure you take extra time to care for yourself and if anyone is reading this who lives with or is friends with a teacher, TA or early years worker who is returning, be extra kind to them in these weeks, check in on them, buy them chocolate ( or something else they like!), they are going to need it.

May your week go well.

Below are some links which might be useful

Alistair Bryce Clegg  has an excellent blog post with thoughts on returning

I was asked by my local early year’s team to make some short videos for staff about the return to work, staff wellbeing, and children’s wellbeing. They are accessible to all. This is a link to them.

Wellbeing ideas for children on the return to school/ nursery

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Early years staff and reception teachers have been working extremely hard over the last few weeks preparing settings ready for children to return in June. I know for many this has been a hugely stressful experience, re thinking the spaces and resources children are able to access.  When children return we know their experiences will be massively varied, when they return we are all going to need to pay even more attention to their emotional and mental wellbeing. During this last week the team I work with have been pulling together wellbeing ideas for reception class staff to be able to use in the classroom, some simple ideas which can support children’s wellbeing, that can be done individually or with a socially distanced group and ideas where the resources won’t cause cross contamination. I hope these ideas might be helpful to others.

 

Bubble breathing – Give each child their own small pot of bubbles, tell the child you are going to do some bubble breathing to help them feel calm. Get the child to dip the wand into the bubble mixture, take a deep breath in and slowly blow out through the wand. Watch the bubbles float away, imagine the bubbles are taking away their worries and fears. You can buy a pot of 24 mini party bubbles from amazon for around £5.

Bee breathing Sit somewhere comfortable, place your hands over your ears, take a breath in, as you breathe out making a humming noise. Repeat a few times.

Barefoot walking Do this activity all together go outside on a grassy area, check the area for sharp things, etc. Get everyone to take shoes and socks off and walk on the grass, notice how it feels on your feet, notice how it makes you feel. Bare-foot walking is a slow and mindful activity.

Senses exercise You can do this outside or through an open window. Close your eyes and listen to what you can hear, listen to how many different noises you can hear. Open your eyes, notice the different colours you can see. Sniff the air, what can you smell.

Calming bottle – Get each child to fill an empty bottle with water, add some glitter. Get the child to shake the bottle, place their hand on their tummy and breathe in and out slowly as the glitter settles.

Make a happy book-Get each child to draw or stick pictures in the book of things that make them happy, when they are feeling sad or need to find some calm, they could look at this.

Play calming music – Find some music that you all find calming, lie down or sit and listen to it

Do some yoga – Do some Yoga together, cosmic kids on Youtube offers yoga and mindfulness sessions. https://www.youtube.com/user/CosmicKidsYoga

Playdough give each child their own pot of play dough to play, squeeze, explore, make a face.

Feather breathing – give each child their own feather, encourage them to take a mindful moment with the feather, notice its colour, texture, how it feels against the skin. Then ask children to take a breathe in and breathe out blowing onto the feather. Do this 3 or 4 times. You can then ask the children to let go of the feather on the out breathe and see if they can keep it in the air with their breathe.

Finger breathing Inhale as you trace up the thumb, exhale as you trace down the thumb, inhale tracing up the next finger, exhale down etc until you have traced all five fingers.

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Make a worry doll ( see bellow) and read the book Silly Billy by Anthony Browne, Worry dolls taken from Alistair Bryce -Clegg website

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Movement breaks

 

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