Tag Archives: early years

What brings you joy?

 

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This is the last week of the school holidays, my nurture  work with 4 yr olds will start again next week. This week I will be reminding myself about my new children, thinking about how best to support them over the next few tricky weeks for them, I will be pulling in new resources I might need and generally preparing.

I know from previous years as a nurture consultant these first few months of the new school year can be really hard. I will be needing to make relationships with all new staff this year, building up their trust, I need to gain the trust of 7 small, scared children, who sometimes will display very challenging behaviour. To do this well I need to ensure I am taking care of myself, that I am finding ways to nurture myself.

For me an important part of nurturing myself is through trying to find something each day which brings me joy, this may be as simple as noticing the roses growing in my garden, enjoying eating some chocolate, it doesn’t need to be big things. By stopping, recognising and enjoying that joyful moment it helps to nourish me.
One of yesterday’s joyful moments was buying myself Dahlias from the local farmers market. I love Dahlias. Dahlias remind me of my Grandad and my Aunt, Grandad grew beautiful, bold Dahlias in his small back garden every year, alongside runner beans, I don’t remember him ever growing anything else. Every time I visited as a small girl, a teen and an adult, when the Dahlias were in bloom he would take me into the garden and show me with pride his flowers. My Aunt Pam also went on to grow Dahlias for years as well, I think she had some of the bulbs that Grandad started. I love gardening, but I can’t grow Dahlias, they always die, get eaten by slugs, look dreadful. So instead I always buy myself cut flowers. By looking at them it brings me so much joy and lovely memories of my Grandad and Aunt.

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Transitions

 

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For a long time I have been interested in transitions, the process of how we prepare, how we think and plan for transitions, for change. I believe we need to give careful time and thought to transitions and change. For my, under graduate dissertation, I did a piece of research around supporting 4 yr olds transition into school, and now 8 years on a large part of my current job is supporting 4 yr olds where it has been recognised they are going to find the transition into school very hard. A key component of a good transition is preparation and support. I know through the work with the 4 yr olds if we involve them in visiting the school, buying uniform, buying shoes , talking about the school, their teacher, talking about what they will do at lunch time, practicing with them carrying a plate with food on or eating from a lunch box and talking about the feelings they have, this all helps the child in the transition. I also encourage the schools I work with to make a booklet for the new children about their school, their teacher and classroom so the children can look at this over the summer.

I often believe what works for 4 yr olds often works with older children and adults too!, the new children moving into senior school, is another huge transition , these children respond well when they are emotionally and physically supported, again the process of buying new school bags, practicing the walking route/ bus route, practicing buying lunch in a cafe where they need to order what they want, carrying the tray, pay for the food, encouraging them to talk about their feelings, their expectations and their fears, all of these are important life skills. These can help ease the transitions when they are talked about, practised and supported.

In our house we are in a stage of a new transition, our eldest daughter is going away to university, we have had many conversations about what it will be like, how she feels about it, over the summer we have been buying new quilt covers, cushions for her new room, mugs, plates, thinking about what she needs to take away and what she doesn’t need, having conversations about independent living, managing money, safety. I am aware this transition is a huge one for all of us, this last year I have been preparing myself for her going, trying to recognise and acknowledge the emotions this brings, both a mix of pride, delight, excitement for her, plus some fear of the unknown and also sadness of a time that is ending but the recognition of the importance of this and looking forward to what is ahead.

During this year I have thought a lot about the physical experience of being wrapped, I noticed over the year that several of the children I worked with responded really well to having a blanket that they could wrap themselves or be wrapped in when they were feeling overwhelmed, sad or anxious. Over the Summer I bought myself a large shawl, it is soft, and I find it really comforting, I have worn it a lot over the last few weeks, I am beginning to think it has been a way of nurturing myself, providing myself with some comfort, not that I have been feeling overwhelmed or sad, but maybe instinctively I have known that I need that extra sense of holding. One thing I have discussed a lot with Lily has been how cold her  new room might be! with this thought I have been knitting a blanket, it is one I started several years ago but now I am rushing to finish it. It’s a blanket of coloured squares, it’s not perfect but it is a blanket made of love, it is a blanket that hopefully will provide some comfort, some warmth and some nurturing at times when that is needed during this transition.

Unwinding and slowing down

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My school year in the nurture role has now ended for the summer holidays. I still have other work I will be doing over the break, but it is a 7-week break from working with 4-year-olds. On Friday evening I and my family came down to Cornwall for a family holiday on the Lizard. The last term has been a very tough term, particularly emotionally. During this term, I have been using various techniques to try and stay calm and not allow the stress to take over, not always easy. I have been trying to use mindfulness daily, I have been regularly listening to the beautiful, calming tracks of Olafur Arnalds living room songs and my morning swims have helped to get me through the term. In the last few weeks, I have been thinking a lot about swimming in the sea, a friend on Facebook Karen Arthur swims in the sea daily and photographs what she sees. I really enjoy seeing Karen’s images daily, seeing how she captures the beauty of the sea and how she has used this to help her through depression . For the last few days I have been able to swim in the beautiful green sea, I love wild swimming, I find so much delight in the beauty and the immediate closeness to nature, when I am swimming in the sea, my brain and body immediately switch off from the tension and stress and focus on the delight of that moment.

I know that taking, this time, to unwind and slow down is vital, a time to care for myself, a time to enjoy being with my family. Not all work has stopped, as I am still keeping an eye on the Mummy’s got Bipolar campaign, and still trying to get more support to make that happen, but at least when I am in the sea swimming I can have some time when nothing else matters other than enjoying the moment and the beauty.

Being supported

 

 

IMG_0050It is the last week of the school year for my nurture work, this is a week to say goodbye to staff who I have worked so closely with all year, a time of final sessions with the children who have become very important to me and will also leave a little of themselves in my memory. It’s a time to tell staff once again what an amazing job they have done, to remind them of the progress they have made with the child; and it is a time to tell the children for one last time this year that they are special and how much I have loved working with them.

The end of the school year is a time to stop and reflect, my main reflection has been how important support is. In our nurture role, we are in an unusual position that we can work with a school and child for a year, we can support them by visiting them weekly, by being there, not just advising and telling them what to do but also by being hands on and modelling the work. One teacher told me she appreciated having someone to rant to, others have said they were grateful for having someone who they knew was there for them and supported them through some very stressful times.

We all need people in our lives to support us, people, who will come alongside us and tell us we can do it, to encourage us. A week ago I and a small team launched a crowdfunding project for a children’s book and animation project called Mummy’s Got Bipolar. When we initially planned for this I had not anticipated the strong feelings I would have with it. I wrote the children’s book, drawing on my own experience of my Mum having Bipolar and my experience of working with other families and children over the years. I foolishly didn’t really realise how brave I needed to be to do this project!. I find asking for support in this project quite hard, I am not a natural promoter or marketing person. Also because it is a subject that I believe in and I care about it has brought up feelings of vulnerability and fear of being rejected. Earlier this year I read a book by Brene Brown called Daring Greatly, I didn’t realise at the time how important her words were going to be to me. Brene talked about having the courage and being brave to step out of your comfort zones and take risks. That is definitely what I have done this last week, but this has only been possible by people supporting me. It has been a very scary week! but various family and friends have been there, given me encouraging words, supported the project, offered ideas and suggestions. Without their support the last week would have been a lot harder. There is still another 3 weeks of the campaign to go and I know that ongoing support is going to be vital to get us to the end.

If you’re interested in looking at the campaign a link  is here

Talking to children about mental illness

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We know that mental illness affects huge numbers of adults and children in this country, Mind suggest 1 in 4 adults have a mental illness, Young Minds suggest 1 in 10 children aged between 5-16 have a diagnosed mental health disorder. Even with the numbers being so high, mental illness is still a subject that many people feel awkward, embarrassed, uncomfortable talking about.

I grew up in a family where mental illness was very obvious, my Mum has Bipolar, there was no hiding away from it. As a family, we had many many good times together but there were also times that were hard, days when she was very ill. Back then it was common for people with Bipolar to be hospitalised, my Mum spent many, many months over the years in a large mental health hospital called Barrow Gurney in Bristol. As a child I visited her plenty of times; never really understanding what was wrong, all I knew was that my Mummy was ill, that sometimes she couldn’t look after me and sometimes she needed to stay in the large, scary hospital. Thankfully far more is now understood about mental illness/ Bipolar and hospitalisation is often not needed.

I knew my Mum had an illness but I didn’t have a name for the illness. I didn’t realise what her illness was until I was in a school assembly aged 14 when Mind took the assembly and described mental illness and something called Manic depression ( the name for Bipolar back then). That was a lightbulb moment for me, I suddenly realised that it was not just my Mum that was ill. Having an understanding of her illness really helped me.

I now work with young children and young people some of whom have parents with mental illness, some children and young people who have a mental illness themselves. I passionately believe that we need to help children and young people understand what is happening around them. If they or parent/ sibling has an illness I believe we need to help children understand what that is illness is. I use books all the time in my work, I have a mini library of issue books that I use with children and recommend to people, these vary from domestic violence, cancer, divorce, parents in prison. When I had my own children I started to look for books that I could use to explain to my children about their Granny’s Bipolar, and I couldn’t find any aimed at younger children. There are now books available aimed at older children around 7+ but no books aimed at younger children.

I know it can be hard for adults to know how to begin talking to a child about Bipolar, I know some adults are worried about talking to children at too young an age. In my experience young children are curious, inquisitive, they want to ask questions, they want information, not too much, but enough to help them feel safe. For this reason, I have written a children’s book aimed at children aged 3-7 years. I have recently launched a crowdfunding project to fund the illustration, printing of the book and to turn the book into an animation. My hope is that we can make this book available to children’s centres, nurseries, schools, GP surgeries, CAMHS services. The aim of the book and animation is that children and families can look at this together and begin to talk about Bipolar.

The story is about a Mum, Dad, 2 girls and 2 guinea pigs. It will be a beautifully illustrated book, illustrated and animated by my close friend Jon Birch. It is a gentle story introducing Bipolar, helping children to understand it is not something to be afraid of, and it is ok to ask questions about it.

Please have a look at the crowdfunding page, it would be great if you could support this and tell others about it. We need to raise a lot of money, £13,000. The great idea with crowdfunding is that no money is taken until the whole amount has been pledged, so no-one loses out.

 

Image by Jon Birch, 1 of the illustrations to be used in the book and animation

 

 

Stopping and noticing beauty and change

 

 

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This term is about reflecting and reviewing the nurture work over the past year. It is time to write end of year reports, remember the children as they were in September and recognise the tremendous change , they, their staff and I have seen over the year. It is about stopping and noticing the beauty in their development.

The year has at times been fraught, there have been many tears and much laughter. Some highlights for me have been seeing children who started the year very scared and frightened are now laughing, joining in, making friends. Being able to write end of year reports and describe a child as being a happy, smiling, joyful child is a wonderful achievement. Once again I have seen school staff work so hard to accept, love and support these children. Once again I have been reminded that progress for a child is not just about their academic attainment.

Throughout the year I have walked around the meadow at the back of our house, every Sunday morning, it’s a bit of ritual for me, it is a place where I can think, reflect and just be. A thought I had this morning was about the changes I see in the meadow through the year, in the Autumn it has been mown, it is short, sparse and a bit spiky, in the winter if often looks quite bleak, then in the spring it begins to develop new life, to grow and develop and in the summer it is space of beauty. This morning I noticed the butterflies and moths have returned, more of the wildflowers were there, it is back to being a space of beauty. But you only really notice the butterflies and the flowers when you slow down and notice and look. I felt this was really similar to the nurture work. There are times at the beginning of the year where it is hard and spiky work and there are many times in the year where it feels really bleak. But it does change, through the process of remembering and reviewing, of stopping and noticing the small changes that have been made, we can see the beauty that has developed and that is something to celebrate.

Preparing for change and transitions

 

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This week has had a focus on preparing for change. I have just begun working with my 4-year-olds to help them prepare for the change and move into a year 1 class. It is vital to help these children to prepare for and be ready for changes. To start this process I got them to take photos in school about what they enjoy and like doing in school. I will make these into mini photo books for them, they will have a copy and a copy will go to their new year 1 teacher; helping the teachers to understand and hear directly from the children about what is important to them and what makes them happy in school. I love asking children to take photos, it allows us as adults to view the world through their eyes. Many of the photos this week have been of outdoor spaces, another reminder of how important it is to have children outside, how happy this makes them feel; hopefully, something the year 1 teachers will be able to include lots of next year.

As a family, we have also been thinking of change. Our eldest daughter has been on her first foreign holiday with friends. This has brought about some anxiety on my behalf! but also the reminder to myself, her Dad and sister that she is moving to University in September. We have all found seeing her bedroom empty this week quite poignant and sad, we have missed her this week and have been talking about her moving in September. This is, of course, an important transition for her and one we will celebrate, but it is also a transition that will bring some sadness. One close friend who has already experienced this change dropped off today some ‘ magical brownies guaranteed to bring slight consolation to anyone who maybe missing a child or sibling”. This was such a wonderful reminder of the support we have from close friends who will help us to manage our next transition.

 

Photo of outdoor space taken by a 4-year-old