Tag Archives: early years

The labels we use

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Over this last week, I have had the chance to stop and rest. At the beginning of the week I had a strong urge to find some wildness, I felt that I needed to physically let go of what was in my head and what I was carrying in my body. I wanted to stand on a cliffside with the wind blowing around, to feel a sense of letting go and breathing deeply. I was able to go to Zennor in Cornwall for two days and walk to Zennor point, on the cliff top, with the wind whipping around me, there was silence, and awesome beauty. Standing on the cliff I felt I was able to let go and breathe deeply. There is something about this process that helps me to begin to rethink and begin to question. I was aware that I had labelled last term as being hellish.  Having time to stop and let go enabled me to question if this was really true, if it was the whole picture. One of the questions I have had is around the labels I use for children, situations and myself and how easy it can be for those to shadow my view.

I like to think I enter into work with a new child with an open mind, we are given information about the family and the child, I meet and observe new children and use those observations to inform my thoughts and plans. However, I am aware that it can be easy to allow the views of previous settings and parents to shadow my view. It can be so easy to see a situation within a deficit model, to label and fear the worst for a situation and allow that to impact my expectations and views. I have noticed this term that I was beginning to carry the views of a deficit model around in my head, viewing and labeling situations in a negative way, rather than seeing the positives or being open-hearted and minded about a situation.

I have a few children I am working with this term who will be making significant changes and transitions during the coming term. One role I have is to send information on that will support new practitioners/ carers working with the child. I have recently been writing this for one child. Looking back I realised that at the start of September I had low expectations, I anticipated the term to be hugely challenging with this one child and setting, but that hasn’t happened. Instead, I have seen progress made by the child, I have watched the child’s ability to engage with joy and an unexpected tenderness. I have also been moved by the commitment and openness from the setting, and the dedication to make this term the best they can for the child. It has been wonderful to see and reflect on. It’s unusual for me to reflect on a child and the progress made this early on in the year, as we don’t usually write a mid-year report until December. However, writing and reflecting now has helped me to see how the expectations I initially had were totally wrong. It also helped me to see where something went really well, this exercise has encouraged me to go back over all the other children and list the positives, the things that have gone well, the moments that were good from the last term. This has been a good exercise to do, to help me re-label the last term and see it through different lenses.

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Hope

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I have been reading Brene Brown’s new book Daring to Lead, there is a question in her book about the values we hold, that underpin our lives. There is an exercise that asks the reader to pick two values from a list of around 100, that’s quite a challenging exercise. One of the words I chose was hope. This is our last week of the autumn term, it has felt like a very long term, this term has been marked by unexpected closures, continual change, and the overwhelming feeling that I am holding a slippery eel that I can’t quite keep a grasp of!. There have been moments this term when I have asked what the hell am I doing here! and other moments of pure joy, moments of beauty in the midst of what sometimes feels like chaos. Reading Brene’s writing about values really resonated with me this week. I have often said to do the nurture work I have to hold onto hope. Hope that we are making a difference, hope that things can change, hope that we can bring some joy and love and safety into children’s lives.

Sometimes holding onto hope can be really difficult. I am really aware that by the end of a term when I am tired and worn down, I need to actively choose hope but I also need to actively choose what I engage in and what I block out. I currently can not stand being around conversations of negativity, I will not engage in ranting on social media, I am often turning off the news because it is all so negative. I am trying really hard to find the hope and the lightness in the dark. I am actively choosing things which feel life enhancing rather than life-sapping. I know that currently, that is what I need to boost my wellbeing. This morning I took my usual early Sunday morning walk around the community meadow, the sun was rising behind the mist in the valley. It was beautiful and joyful and a reminder that there is hope.

Building trust with staff and children

 

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The first week of the new term can often feel like a harsh shock to the system, for both the children and the staff. This week I have been visiting some of my new schools. I was reminded again that the role of a nurture worker is as much about supporting staff as it is supporting children.

Children who arrive at school feeling overwhelmed, frightened, confused, may show us those huge feelings in a strong way, e.g. kicking, biting, scratching. These feelings are overwhelming for the child, but they can be frightening, shocking and overwhelming to the adults too. I and my colleagues spend a lot of time explaining, interpreting the children’s behaviour to staff. We also spend a lot of time listening, being present, reassuring staff.

When you start in a new school, the emphasis is on building relationships, over the next year we are going to work very closely, I will be in each week, supporting, guiding, and leading staff in how to support the children. I need the staff to learn to trust me, I need to trust them, the child needs to learn to trust all of us. Sometimes, we encounter staff and schools who have had limited experience of children who have encountered a difficult start in life and can be really shocked at some of the behaviours they see. I need to remind myself this is ok, the staff will adapt. I need to quietly but firmly reassure them we can change this, we can support the child, we will enable the child to feel safe, secure, loved and that they belong and from this we will seee change. I have found myself repeating a phrase this week, ‘It will be ok, I know it is hard but we can do this, I am here to support you’. I know that will be a phrase I will repeat a lot; it’s not to deny the stress of working with a very scared and cross child, but it hopefully reassures that they are not on their own in this.

At the start of a new school year, I know I need to hang onto the knowledge and hope that change is possible and will happen. Sometimes I think the staff must think I am mad when at the beginning of the year I am saying, I am not worried, I know we will see change. I need to be the one holding onto that hope. This is the 5th year of this role, I have that knowledge and experience to carry me through the tricky first term, knowing that ahead of us, in a few months, all could be very different.

This morning I was walking in our community meadow, this is a practice I do each Sunday morning. At the bottom of the meadow is a view into the valley across the way. This morning the sun was shining down, it looks like a window. I was reminded of the words by Julian of Norwich, All shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well. I expect I will be saying this a lot to myself over the next few weeks!.

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.

Small steps to wellbeing

 

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Over the last few weeks, I have had many conversations with friends and colleagues about adult wellbeing. Within early years it has been high on the agenda again with a report form Preschool learning alliance showing that 1 in 4 people in the sector is considering leaving due to high stress.

Through conversations over these last few weeks, I have been reminded how hearing about wellbeing and knowing about the need for good wellbeing can sometimes feel very overwhelming if we are in a place of high stress and despair. I am beginning to wonder if actually, all the talk of having high stress and the need to have good wellbeing can sometimes lead us to feel inadequate and more stressed. I have heard speakers and read many articles where we are being told that we need to look after our mental health, we need to talk about feeling stressed, however sometimes all the ideas and solutions can also feel overwhelming,

Over the last few weeks, I spoke at Preschool learning alliance conference and on a podcast for Early Years TV with Kathy Brodie ( this will be out in a few months). My main reflection on both of these is that is ok to take small steps to well-being. Sometimes we can feel too overwhelmed to try the many different ideas, but if we can put one thing in place each day, this is making a small step towards improving things. I often encourage people to do each day one thing which makes them feel happy, this might be going for walk, reading a book, sitting in the garden for 5 minutes with a cup of tea. It will be different for everyone, but finding one thing each day which makes you happy, which helps you to smile, this won’t solve all your wellbeing issues but it is taking a small step towards a change.

For me swimming and wild swimming makes me smile, it helps me to feel alive and joyful and makes me feel really happy.

You can find more ideas for staff wellbeing in my book Promoting Emotional wellbeing for early years staff

Sitting with sadness and sorrow

 

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This last week has been a roller coaster of highs and lows. I have been reflecting the last few days on the need to sit with sadness and sorrow and how hard that can sometimes be. This week my parents have both been ill, with my dad having a heart operation which didn’t go to plan. I have also been working with children who have been deeply sad. Sometimes in life, you can’t fix things, I can’t fix my dad’s heart or my mum’s depression and sometimes I can not make it ok for the children I work with.

There are times when all I can do is sit with the pain and the sadness, there are times when there are no words to be said, there is no easy fix, we just need to sit and be. Being present, being there in body and mind.

But I can find that really hard, I am certainly a person who will suggest, offer ideas, in my work I spend my time offering thoughts and ideas to staff to support the children. I don’t fix things but I journey with the children and staff and find a way through. However sometimes there are no suggestions to make, sometimes you need to just be, to hold someone and let them cry, to show them you are there, at that moment, with them.

Sitting with sadness and sorrow can be tiring and hard. I have been very mindful of that, and very intentional to care for myself, my main way has been spending lots of time outside this week; walking in woods, walking alongside water, noticing flowers and birds.

Participation, art and children

 

In the past, I have collaborated with my husband Iain Cotton on various creative projects. Iain leading on the art and I lead on participation, drawing on both our skills and passions. Last week we had the opportunity to work together professionally, Iain has been commissioned to create a sculpture for Winterbourne Primary school. This was to be a project which involved the children.

We wanted this project to involve the children’s creative ideas, the aim of this project was to be creative, participative and inclusive. The idea was for Iain to carve words, chosen by the school, into a large sand stone boulder. It was very important to us both that all the children in the school would be involved in this project. We decided to get each child in the school to design a letter. There will be one letter for every child in the school.

The words that are being carved are:

 

St Michaels Church of England Primary School Winterbourne

Learn
Care
Enjoy

 

Enjoy the present
Educate for the future
Inspire with Love

Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.

We had many discussions about how we could involve the children in a meaningful way, this project was about inspiring the children to think about how letters are formed, about designing and creating. We wanted each child to design their own, unique letter. Iain will then carve each individual letter onto the stone. One of the challenges with this idea is, of course, the varying ability of the different ages. I knew that in reception and year one there are some children who would find it very difficult to write a letter, for this reason, we decided to use 2 materials, we used plasticine and coloured pens. I have used plasticine many times in participation projects, it is an excellent tool for children of all ages to use. It holds it’s shape well and works across the ages. With the children in reception and year one, we gave each child a letter which was in their name. This was important as they would be familiar with the letters in their name and were likely to be used to writing it. We knew for the children in the lower years it would be a challenge to design a letter, but our hope with using plasticine was that the children would be encouraged to be more playful with the material and this would come through in the letters they made.

With the children in reception and year one, we worked with small groups, enabling us to give them more support and attention. We involved our youngest daughter on this project, she is on a gap year and we knew an extra adult would be very helpful. Iain started the day with an assembly, showing the children photos of his sculptures and letting cutting work and introducing the idea.

We found such a joyous enthusiasm from all the children. We worked with the whole school over two days. The children in the lower years mainly used plasticine, this worked really well as it enabled them to be imaginative and make clear letters.The children from year 3 upwards mostly used pens to design their letters, but for those who found that hard they were able to use the plasticine and found a freedom with that. The children from year 2 upwards began to experiment and design a bit more using plasticine and drawing. With children in year 3 and 4, they really enjoyed making pictures with the letters, we had dinosaurs, cats, a shark and a flamingo as part of the letters. With years 5 and 6 we were seeing a stronger graphic design, with bolder, stronger shapes. They had more of an understanding of translating their design into stone carvings.

The process of designing letters with the children was wonderful, it worked across the ages, enabling children of different abilities to be involved.

Next stage of the process is for Iain to translate this all into carvings!. The letters from the lower years are going to make up the sentences at the bottom of the stone and then will go up in year groups. With the older children’s letters being used at the top of the stone. By putting them together on the stone in year groups this will help each child to find their letter, but also gives a lovely image of the children’s work developing across the ages.

It has been a fantastic project to work on together, it reminded us both of the joy of bringing participative and creative practice together.

 

Once this art work has been finished and installed, I will ad an updated blog posting.