Tag Archives: education

Say hello to….

IMG_1384

This has been a week of sitting with dark days and heavy feelings, both in work and with family. Several of the children I work with are finding the run-up to Christmas incredibly challenging and our niece has Sepsis.

This week I have found myself needing to sit with the feelings of darkness. I don’t have an easy answer or solution to help the children and their staff. I don’t have any answer or solutions as comfort for my sister in law or niece.

Recently I have been reading a book by Padraig O Tauma he uses the phrase Say hello, to acknowledge the feelings and emotions and situations we are in. He uses this phrase to recognise throughout the day what you are experiencing. I know this idea of noticing how you feel is an integral part of mindful practice, the phrase say hello to, I found helpful. It feels quite a gentle phrase and it’s a helpful way to acknowledge what is happening right now.

In my role as a nurture consultant, I support the children and the staff. My job is as much about supporting staff as it is working directly with children. Sometimes I can have ideas and suggestions for ways forward, how we might support the child in the class. However, this week I mostly found myself not having any new suggestions, at one point in one school I sat and listened, we sat with hard descriptions and the hard feelings we were seeing and feeling. I didn’t have any words, I just acknowledged it was very tough. I am aware as I write this that doesn’t sound very advisory or consultant like! but that is how it is. Sometimes the best we can do and be is to sit with dark feelings. To turn up, to say hello to the feeling of uncertainty or fear or anger or despair. That is ok. The turning up is what matters.

Story of hope and imagining change

 

imagine1

This last week I have had a few conversations with colleagues ad friends about the stories that children carry with them, or stories that we hear from family members and other professionals about the child. With the children that we see, these are often negative stories, a story about how the child will be violent, challenging, can become easily overwhelmed. The challenge when we hear these stories is that we can make a judgment before we have even met the child. Sometimes these stores can be so huge, that we struggle to see the child in the story.

I don’t think this is unique to education, I have friends who work in other agencies with children and young people, and they also say sometimes it is hard to see the child within the story. The problem when we take on big, negative stories is that our expectations, our hopes, and plans can become narrow for the child.

It feels like we need to hold the stories lightly, to be aware of what has gone before, but also to have hope for the future and imagine what may become possible. I am aware that as a nurture worker myself and my colleague’s role is to have hope for the child, when we start a piece of work we need to believe that there will be change, we need to help everyone see the story can be different.

Changing the story is important for the adults but especially for the child, as a nurture team we mainly work with 4 yr olds, some of those 4 yr olds arrive at school already having a story about themselves, that they are naughty, or they are bad. These are words we would never use, but they are words that the child has taken on. Words are powerful. When the words over you and around you and about you are negative, that is hard to break away from.

As a team we use Thrive assessment tool, this talks about telling a new story about the child, a story about their unique abilities, a story of hope and imagining something different.

Photo- carving by my husband Iain cotton

Using children’s books to help children understand their world

 

IMG_1324

I am a huge fan of books, particularly children’s books. I have my own mini library that I use with children and in training. Any training I deliver I always have a huge pile of books and resources with me to recommend, I see it as a vital addition to my training.

I love the storytelling in books, and how they can develop children’s imagination, curiosity, an interest in things outside of their experience. We know that reading to children develops their language skills, I read to both my babies on the day they were born, the first story I read both of them was Guess how much I love you by Sam Mcbratney. My babies have grown into wonderful women with a passion for books and a love of language. I like to think that grew from being read to throughout their childhood.

In my work with children who have social, emotional and mental health needs I use books to help children understand things that may be difficult for them. I use stories about strong feelings, books about emotions; these help us to talk about their feelings and emotions, doing this with the aid of a book helps the children to see it’s not just them. I also use books with children to help them see themselves represented in a book, books about 2 dads or 2 mums, books about mental illness, books with pictures of children like them, books about going to the hospital, new babies arriving. I have also written two children’s books about mental illness, so books are definitely something I passionately believe in!

But the one area that has been tricky to share in a book is poverty, how we do talk to children about living in poverty?. I have been interested in this for a long time, I used to work for The Children’s Society and led on some of the research with young children around their experiences of poverty for the Good Childhood Inquiry. This is one subject where there has been a lack of books for children, until recently. Kate Milner has just written a book for young children called It’s a no money day, it’s a story about a girl and her mum, they wake up and only have 1 piece of bread in the house, and no money, it’s a story about going to the food bank, the things they can do together that doesn’t cost any money. This book is beautifully and sensitively told. We shouldn’t need this book, but we do. Current figures say we have 4 million children living in poverty in the UK, with this set to rise to five million in 2020 ( The Children’s Society). Many of us working in education, children centers, nurseries and as childminders will be working with children who are living in poverty, maybe some of us are also living in poverty. Poverty is such a hard thing to talk about, many people find it shameful. This book doesn’t solve the answers, but it does help children to understand it’s not just them, it also reminds practitioners who find this hard, to think about how it can be for some of our families. This is a book we should all add to our resources.

Relationship and connection

 

IMG_1214

This first month of the new school year has mostly focussed on building relationships and making connections with new staff and new children. We will be working together a lot over the next year and I know there will be a mix of great times and challenges ahead!. In these first few weeks, we spend a lot of time observing the children, we hold lightly the information we have about how they were in nursery and how they are at home, these first few weeks are about finding out with curiosity and interest.

In the first few weeks with the children I use an all about me tool I have developed, it’s a small bag with a few key items in it. I use this to tell the children something about me, who I am, what I enjoy and to talk about what we will do together. In my bag, I have a small wind up swimmer, a pressed flower from my garden, a photo of my family, a shell, a pot of bubbles and a small lavender bag. This tool is really useful to start conversations with children about what they like and what they enjoy. Sometimes, when you discover a child’s keen interest, it can be a key to their involvement. When I know a child has a keen interest in something, I will bring that into the sensory play and emotion work over the weeks and months that we work together.

This week I discovered one of the children I am supporting has a passion and a huge knowledge about Minecraft, this is a new subject for me, I don’t know anything about Minecraft. However, I agreed that I would go away and find out, I haven’t been very successful in this, I have downloaded the game but I am not doing very well!. Over the next few weeks, I am sure, I will be learning more about how it works. I have managed to acquire some Minecraft toys, and I will be using those over the coming weeks with sensory play.

As adults when we connect with a child through something they are interested in, we are showing them that we care, that they are important, that their passions and interests matter. When a child feels that an adult cares and is interested, then they will start to trust you and work with you. Listening to them and finding out what they care about is key to building a relationship with them.

I have a book about listening to children titled Listening to young children in an early years setting: A practical guide published by Jessica Kingsley Publishers this has more ideas and suggestions about listening to children.

 

 

Foraging with children

 

IMG_1149

This is the perfect time of year to forage with children. Hedgerows are full of blackberries. I have always enjoyed foraging, even before it became a trendy thing!. I have wonderful memories of blackberry picking with my mum in Bristol and also when we stayed with my Nan in Wales. I did blackberry picking with my girls throughout their childhood ( and recently, they are now 20 and 22!) also with children I nannied for and now with my nurture children in the current role. With so much concern and worry about children’s mental health and the increased time children spend indoors, foraging is a brilliant way to help children engage in nature and support their mental wellbeing.

Around ten years ago I visited a kindergarten in Denmark, it was early September, we all went for a walk in the woods and the children foraged their way along the journey, eating a wide range of food from berries, small green plants, and fungi. The children all knew what was ok to eat and what was not, the staff was watching and trusting them, the staff had taught the children from when they were tiny what was ok to eat. Looking back on my trip to Denmark, this was a significant trip and moment for me, one of the refections I had was how well connected the children were to their environment, how well they understood nature and to take care of the world. A big emphasis of the staff was in teaching the children about the environment around them and part of that was understanding what they could eat and not eat. I came away from this trip firstly wanting to know more about foraging in my local area, finding out about what was growing in my local hedgerows and also thinking about how we can share this with children in the UK.

Everyone is becoming more aware of the importance of engaging in nature, of helping children to know and learn about the world around them and how to take care of this. There are fantastic resources with helping to teach children about the outdoors, woodland trust has a lovely site with ideas and activities across the ages including recipes for using blackberries!

One recipe that I am making this year is blackberry cordial, we all make blackberry pies and crumbles and these are lovely, but making a cordial is a little different, you can easily make it in a nursery or at home and with warm water added to it, it is a lovely autumnal drink. The recipe I am using is below
Blackberry cordial

750g blackberries
cold water to cover them
1 small cinnamon stick
1 tsp lemon juice
150g sugar

Wash the blackberries, put them in a pan and cover with water ( enough to just cover them).
Boil until the blackberries burst, then mash them ( potato masher) and strain through a sieve.

Put the blackberry juice, sugar, lemon juice and cinnamon in a pan. Bring to boil and simmer until sugar dissolves ( around 10 mins).

Pout into a sterilised bottle and dilute to drink
I then used the leftover fruit and mixed with apple to make a fruit cobbler.

Supporting children to flourish

 

IMG_0842

This is my last week of the school year in my nurture role. The last few weeks I have been writing the end of year reports for the children and reflecting on the year. The joy of writing the reports is the opportunity to notice and remember the distance traveled with the child and school. The stories we hear in term 6 when we pick up our new nursery children before we start work with them, can often lead us to a feeling of uncertainty and slight nervousness of the year ahead. We need to be able to put that to one side and have faith that we can make a difference and see change. Then we look back over their first year in school and realise that we have all survived and often thrived and they are a different child to the one we first heard about a year ago.
This last week one of our team was reflecting on our role as being the job of building up confidence in others and giving faith and hope in challenging situations to enable staff and children to flourish and fly. I love this statement, for me, it is filled with hope and opportunity. As I look back over the last year there have been moments of pain and sadness and sometimes despair, but there have been many more moments of delight and laughter and joy, of flourishing and thriving.
I started term 6 anticipating it to be challenging due to workload, my aim for the term was to thrive it rather than survive it, and I was going to do this by wild swimming each week. The term has ended up being far more stressful than I could have anticipated, it has been incredibly busy but there have also been some huge and emotional family stressors. Outdoor swimming has been my oasis and has given me moments of joy to hold onto, I have managed 7 outdoor swims over the term. The highlight came this week when I swam with my team at Vobster quarry, it was a wonderful way to end our year, swimming together in a beautiful, peaceful location. There was a vulnerability with one another with some of the team feeling very nervous about the swim, but there was also a huge sense of joy and a feeling of flourishing at the end.

Wellbeing in outdoor spaces

 

IMG_2099

Today I ran a workshop for 90 children ( 3 separate groups) of year 4 &5 children (8-10-year-olds) at Wells Cathedral. It was part of the Bath and Wells Diocese education team  for  mental health awareness week. The theme for the day was wellbeing. The theme for my workshop was how outdoors helps our wellbeing. We were located in a walled garden, full of beautiful trees, plants, and some very old gravestones. My aim was to offer the children some space to enjoy being outside, a chance for them to slow down, notice and find moments of joy in the space. Research is repeatedly showing us how important the outdoors is for our wellbeing, we are also continually hearing that children are disconnected from the outdoors. I wanted to offer the children some time and space to connect with nature.

The session was incredibly simple and spacious, we first did some barefoot walking, we all engaged with bubble breathing and finally, I invited them to explore, discover and be curious about the space around them. I had books about flowers, birds and bugs and The Lost words book, I also had plain postcards and drawing materials which they could use if they wanted. The children were encouraged to engage with the space around them and they did. Some sat in front of a flower or a tree and drew it, others went on bug hunts, others spent time reading and looking at the ancient memorial stones. One child sat listening to bird song and was identifying the birds she could hear, other children made daisy chains and some experimented with dying the postcards with the flowers and leaves.

At the end of each session we talked about how they felt, some of the words they used to describe their feelings were peaceful, calm, joyful, so happy, full

The focus of all my work is on children’s wellbeing, I know how important the outdoors is to their wellbeing, I write about it, I train about it!. However, it was wonderful to see and hear the children today experiencing joy and calmness and engaging in the outdoors, there were moments when I was really moved by how they connected to nature.

So often we think we need to entertain children or teach them, but sometimes the best opportunity we can give them is the space to explore, be creative and enjoy the wonder of the world around them.