Tag Archives: early years

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

worry-dolls2

Movement breaks

 

ocean-movement-flash-cards

 

Gardening as a radical act

 

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This weekend I have mostly been gardening, I know I am very fortunate to have a garden and I have felt so grateful for this all weekend. My garden is long, quite wild, my gardening style is to put things in and see what happens, it’s haphazard and some things do amazingly well ( too well sometimes!) and other things do less well.

Since the lockdown, I have been growing lots of seeds in my greenhouse, mostly vegetables, but also flower seeds. I always grow from seed, but this year I have become very busy in the greenhouse with an increasing range of seeds being grown. I am trying new varieties of Tomato, and cucumber, lots of new flowers and I am also growing loofah plants. I realise the time in my garden and greenhouse feels gentle and slow, it feels calming and safe. I have always known that I find gardening to be a nurturing act, but at this time, it has felt life-saving.

I have been thinking about how gardening and growing plants feel like a radical act of hope in this time of COVID 19. While our normal lives have stopped, while there is worry and fear and grief and despair around us, I am aware that my act of growing is a rebellion to all of those things. I can’t pretend COVID 19 isn’t happening, but I can look forward to changes, new growth, new life. I am looking forward to sharing in the months ahead, with family and friends the fruit and vegetables of my garden. I am looking forward to giving gifts of homegrown Loofahs at Christmas, from my greenhouse. I am enjoying being able to share surplus seedlings and plants with friends who live nearby, leaving them on doorsteps when I am on my weekly shopping trip or daily walk, waving at friends through the window. This reminds me that there are still acts of hope there is still a way to connect with others.

In my last week before I became a homeworker, I planted seeds with the nurture children I work with, they decorated a small ceramic pot and we planted flower seeds for them to take home. At the time I was aware this may be my last session with them for months, I love growing things with children and it’s an activity I often do, but I hadn’t realised at that time the significance of this act. The children took home their pots and were encouraged to nurture these seeds. I now hope in growing these seeds they will be reminded of our work and our nurture times together. I have heard one of my boys has been excitedly telling his teacher each week in a telephone call how the seeds are growing, I am going to be speaking to him tomorrow, I am looking forward to hearing his delight in the small act of hope.

Calming ideas to try at home

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One of my schools asked for an ideas sheet of calming things to do at home. As a team we have created this sheet. Attached it here incase it is useful for others.

Ideas for parents to help your child feel calm

Some of our children are feeling anxious at this time, here are some ideas from the Brighter Future team of activities you could do with your children at home to help them feel calmer.

Bubble breathing – Take a pot of bubbles, tell your child you are going to do some bubble breathing to help them feel calmer. Get your 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 your worries and fears.

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.

Bubbles in a bowl- Put some bubble bath into warm water in a bowl, if possible use some calming bubble bath e.g. lavender scent. Use a straw to blow bubbles to the top of the bowl.

Rocking toy to sleep- Get your child to lie on their back and put a toy on their tummy. Explain they are going to rock the toy to sleep. Get them to take deep breaths, as they breathe in and out their tummy will lift up and down, rocking the toy to sleep.

Barefoot walking- Do this activity together, if you can go outside in a garden or on a grass area, check the area for sharp things, etc. Take your shoes and socks off and walk on the grass, notice how it feels on your feet, notice how it makes you feel.

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.

Foot bath- Fill a bowl with warm soapy water, invite your child to take their shoes and socks off and put their feet in the bowl.  Gently massage their feet.

Hand massage- Use some hand cream and gently give your child a hand massage

Eye spy bottles- Get an empty bottle and collect some small items from the house, put these inside the bottle, fill the bottle with rice and glitter. Add a label to the bottle with a list of things to spy. Get the child to see how many things they can spy by gently shaking the bottle.

Calming bottle – Fill an empty bottle with water, add some glitter. Get your 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- 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.

Hot Chocolate calming- Make a cup of hot chocolate, breathe in sniffing the warm mug of hot chocolate, breathe out blowing on your hot chocolate to cool it down

Create a calm space – together create a space in the house that can be safe and nurturing, a space to go to when they feel stressed. Make it cosy and put in a favourite toy, blanket, cushion etc. Explain this a space to go in and feel safe and calm.

Lay in a blanket –Find a big blanket, get your child to lie in it and wrap them gently in the blanket, if the child isn’t too big, you could take both ends, lift it slightly off the ground and gently rock them in the blanket.

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

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.

Cloud dough

1 cup of cornflour

1/2 cup of hair conditioner 

Mix together until it looks like dough. This is very soft to play with, it can become crumbly, playing with it in a large bowl stops it getting everywhere. You can keep this in an airtight container.

Home made stress  balls 

1 balloon

cornflour

funnel

Put the funnel into the top of the balloon, 3/4 fill the balloon with corn flour. squeeze the remaining air out and tie the balloon, use this as a stress ball to let out feelings of frustration. You could draw a face on the balloon.

Worry dolls worry-dolls2.jpgTaken from https://abcdoes.com/home-learning/