We know that attention to transitions is so important. So much of my nurture work is about helping children to cope with transitions. So many children find transitions hard. In many primary schools last week and this week children are finding out who their new teacher will be, year six children have had their move up day to senior school. Children who are moving into reception will have visited and met their teachers.
Unfortunately, transitions don’t always get the full attention that is needed. In our role as nurture worker, we spend all year talking to staff about transitions. Over the years I have seen a few ideas/practices which have been brilliant.
Making photo books for children about their new setting/ classroom- this can be shared at home over the holidays
Having school uniform in the nursery to dress up in
Taking a video of the new setting to watch at home or in nursery
Meeting new teacher ( lots) if the child is in a school having lots of opportunities to visit the new teacher/classroom- ideally for weeks and weeks ( not just a few days!)
Making photo books with the children about what they like in their current class or nursery and share this with their new teacher, getting the children to take the photos.
As well as transitions for children we also need to think about closure. For some staff who have been working 1-1 with a child, this can be a very strong relationship, and it can be hard for the staff when this work is closed. We need to give attention to our feelings about the closure and the child moving on. It is ok to feel sad about the work ending, and we need to acknowledge that. It is important that staff have someone they can de-brief with and also that they are praised and thanked for their work. Also as individuals, there are things we can do to acknowledge the work ending, this week I was encouraged to think about this in my role. This year I have worked closely with two children, where the work has been at times very emotional, my boss suggested I planted something, in nurturing a plant it can help to bring a sense of peace to a situation. I followed her advice and planted some alpines (photographed above).
Over the last week, I have been writing end of year reports for the nurture children I support. This is an opportunity to recognise and celebrate the development in the children we work with. Each September I am never really sure what progress we will make, there are so many possibilities that can affect the child and the work. Each year my hope is that the new little person I am starting work with will reach a place where they feel secure, safe and wanted. Our work is not about achieving academic targets, but it is about the child feeling that they are safe, that they can express themselves in positive and safe ways and for them to know they are wanted and loved.
The joy of writing end of year reports is that we start by remembering how the child was at the beginning of the year, in many ways this can be quite an emotional time, looking back and remembering how hard it was for the child and their staff. By this time of year, you can so easily forget and take for granted the progress made. I have children now who can sit for 10 minutes and join in, children who can tell their staff how they feel, children who now have friends and invite other children to play with them, children who when a stranger walks into the classroom no longer stand out as the child with big issues.
These children will not necessarily reach their early learning goals; they will all still need support and help in year 1. But these children have all grown and developed and flourished, and that is wonderful and worth celebrating.
My role at the end of the year with the staff is to remind them of the amazing work that they have done with the children. To remind them to celebrate the steps that have been made.
At the end of May, I planted a sunflower seed for each of the children I was working with. This week they have started to flower, a beautiful reminder of the joy and wonder and celebration of the children I work with.
I have an arrangement with a good friend called Will; he is a children’s counsellor working in schools with upper primary school-aged children. During this last term I have messaged him each Thursday, his day when he is not in schools, and ask him ‘ what will you be doing for rest today or what are you doing today that will make you happy ? . I, in turn, tell him a little of my week and what I am going to do to be kind to myself or to find rest. We started this as I noticed Will was getting worn down, run down and I thought he needed to take care of himself more. But also it also came about because I was aware we are both lone working most of the time and I thought this accountability to one another would help both of us.
Today Will’s question for me was How will you celebrate the work you have done this term, and that threw me, but I loved it. This week and this term have felt pretty tough and long, there have been some hard and sad stories that I have heard, that I have supported children and staff in, those stories don’t have happy endings, they are still hard and sad and messy. At the end of a term like this it is easy to feel exhausted, I know I am run down both physically and mentally, and it is easy to miss the achievements and overlook the small but good moments.
Will’s question helped me to reframe my term, to tell myself what has been good, I do this all the time with staff, but recently I have forgotten to do it to myself. I took the time to write a list of what I am proud of in my work over this last term, and that felt good. So the next part, how was I going to celebrate?- I love gardening, and this is my favourite time of year in the garden, with planting new seeds. So I decided to buy some sunflower seeds, I have planted ten seeds to celebrate the ten children I have supported and worked with this term, I will enjoy seeing these seedlings grow into beautiful flowers over the coming months.
So my question is – how will you celebrate the work you have done this term?
These last few weeks I have been growing plants with children, we planted cress faces and planted peas in pots. I love the activity of growing plants with children, it is hugely sensory and the children I work with need many sensory experiences to help them feel calm and in touch with their feeling and emotions. Also, there is something very beautiful about seeing a child who can find life and school challenging to be supported to nurture and grow something; it can give them a massive sense of achievement. As I went back into school this week all the children were excitedly showing me the peas that had started growing ( the cress worked less well!). The children were all taking such pride in watering and checking on their plant each day. There is the risk the plants won’t grow; we discovered cress doesn’t survive the weekend without being watered, but the staff and I were able to support the children to understand this and think about what we could try differently. The activity of growing something with children is an excellent way to help them with their wellbeing. It gives them sensory experiences; we can use lots of emotion language while doing it, we can talk about the importance of being cared for and tell children ‘ my job is to care for you and together we are gong to care for this plant’.
I know many great examples of nurseries and schools who have gardens that children help to tend and look after, RHS have a schools project with ideas and suggestion on how your school or nursery can set up a garden. Many of the children I work with can find school work hard and a challenge. However they often respond very well to being outside and gardening, if they have support in taking responsibility for some of the growing they can often thrive and develop in this role and take real pride in what they have done. I wrote a blog piece about being outside last week and the research showing how good this is for our wellbeing and children’s wellbeing. Gardening is also recognised as an excellent activity for wellbeing; the charity Mind has many gardening projects across the country set up to help people’s mental health. I know for myself Gardening is one activity that helps me to feel calm, I find gardening a very mindful activity, I become totally focussed on the activity, and it allows me to switch off from everything else. I think this is the same for many children who are stressed and anxious.
This weekend I plan to spend lots of time in my garden and greenhouse.
Yesterday I spent most of the day outside gardening, under the blue sky, enjoying the early spring sun. I felt the happiest, most relaxed and the most awake and alert that I had felt all week. I know that being outside is good for my well-being, I can feel the difference it has on me. My 17 yr old daughter also spent some time outside taking a break from her A level work; she was sawing branches off a tree that needed cutting back, again she was the most happiest and calm that she had been all week. We could both see and feel the difference spending time outside was having on our wellbeing.
We know there is lots of research on the need for children to spend more time outside, I wrote a chapter on this in my book Promoting Young Children’s emotional health and wellbeing. There is now growing research to show how being outside can have enormous benefits for adults wellbeing as well as children. The UK mental health charity Mind has information about Ecotherapy; this is about experiencing nature, being outside, working outside e,g gardening, they suggest this therapy can be used to help with mental health problems. I have been reading a new book this week called The Nature Fix by Florence Williams, in her first chapter she talks about a growing interest in Japan called ‘Shinrin-yoku’ in English this means Forest therapy; this is about people spending time in forests, it is viewed in Japan as a preventive therapy. The effects of being in forests have been measured with hundreds of individuals by Chiba University researchers. Their research showed that a casual walk in a forest had a 12.7% decrease in the participant’s cortisol levels ( stress levels) and a 103 % increase in the parasympathetic nervous activity ( Relax state). ( Miyazaki 2012). Japan have realised that the stress levels of many people living there are very high, partly due to long hours that they work. They have now set up forest trails in many forests across Japan to encourage people to get out into nature and alleviate some of the stress they have been encountering in their busy work lives.
I think the challenge can be finding the time and opportunity to be outside; it might be worth considering for this next week can you find some time to be outside? This could be taking a coffee break outside, going for a walk on a lunch break, finding some woods to walk in today. If you work with children how are you going to incorporate outdoor play and outdoor learning into your week? This will be hugely beneficial to you and the children.
I have spent my week mostly asking this question to the teachers and TA’s that I work with. It’s the end of the term, the teachers are exhausted, the children are a mix of being irritable and bouncy! they inevitably pick up on the stress of the staff and this, in turn, leads them to respond in ways which the staff finds hard. So, everyone, this week has been saying how much they are looking forward to the week off, but then in the next breath, the teachers have been telling me the work they need to do, the planning that has to be done, the reports that have to be written. So my question has been how will you be kind to yourself this week?
When we are busy, when we are stressed, those are the times it is particularly important to be kind to ourselves. For one teacher I suggested that each day in half term she did one thing for herself that she enjoyed, that made her feel good. She looked a bit blank and wasn’t sure what that could be, I told her that for me I like to bake or garden, those are 2 things I enjoy and find therapeutic. She agreed that she loved baking and would try this.
I am interested in how we learn to be kind to ourselves and what different people do for this, I have one friend who loves running, Jenny ran through her treatment of cancer last year, this was one way she could be kind to herself. I have another friend who loves knitting and finds the process of knitting helps her to switch off. My husband cycles, if he doesn’t have a chance to cycle in a week he becomes agitated, this weekend he is cycling to and around the Isle of Wight with a group of friends and Amos Trust, to me that is an extreme way to be kind to himself, but it works for him!.
During my week off from schools it will be an opportunity to start a new chapter, the next one is on staff well-being, it feels pretty timely after this last week!; but along with writing I plan to be kind to myself by gardening each day, my garden at this time of year brings me so much joy and pleasure ( as long as the slugs don’t eat everything!).
I am a really keen gardener, I am not very good at it, mainly because I have no spatial awareness, I can’t do straight lines and I am rubbish at following instructions. So my planting is very haphazard and I often forget how much space things need to grow. But I love it, I have realised that being a gardener, particularly my style of gardening, requires a lot of hope.
Today is the first day in my new gardening year. Today I planted broad beans and sweet pea seeds in my greenhouse. I had forgotten how exciting I found the start of a new gardening year; the anticipation, the planning, the preparing. I love the rituals involved at the start of the new gardening year, cleaning the greenhouse, sorting out pots, sorting through seeds. I had forgotten how meditative and calming I find this whole process, but also how happy it makes me. So much hope goes into the process of gardening, at the start of the new year you plan and think about what you will grow, you hope that the seeds that you carefully nurture will first of all appear and then grow and flourish. You then have the hope you experience as you put your small plants out into the garden, desperately hoping that slugs and birds wont eat them. From previous experience I know that I will lose some plants, I know that I will have another battle with slugs and birds and I know that I will probably overestimate how many plants I can grow in my veg patch, but that doesn’t matter, the hope for some good things is what I am hanging onto, because I also know some things will work.
As I was planting the seeds this morning I was thinking about how hope is an important part of my work life too. The hope as a self employed person that people will want to buy in my services of training and consultancy; the hope as a nurture worker for the small children I work with, that things will improve for them, and that I and the education staff can help them to feel safe, loved and secure. I know that there will continue to be some difficult times in my nurture work, and probably some scary times ahead being self employed, but I also know that having hope is a good thing.