This weekend my husband and I went to watch the wonder of Starling murmurations on the Somerset Levels, we live quite near the area and it’s something we have started to do each year over the last few years. It’s an amazing spectacle to watch, so awe-inspiring, the movement and fluidity of the birds, in synchronisation with one another is incredible. It is a natural wonder.
This term I am delivering lots of staff wellbeing training, over the coming months I will be delivering this 8 times. In many ways, it’s no surprise that January and February are the months that schools and nurseries are wanting support in this area. For some people January and February can be quite bleak and tough, the lack of sunshine and often endless rain in the UK doesn’t help that. Each time I deliver wellbeing training I talk about being outside, I encourage the participants to get out, to spend time in nature, enjoy the outdoors, to engage with the awe and wonder that surrounds us. This can feel hard to do in the winter months, but it’s worth making the effort. There is growing evidenceshowing how engaging with nature boosts our mental and emotional wellbeing.
Watching the murmuration yesterday evening we were alongside many other people, of all ages, but particularly families with young and older children. It was a joy to share this delightful moment alongside strangers. You would often hear gasps of wonder from across the ages at the sight they were watching, there was something magical that we were all sharing. A reminder of how precious our earth is, how wonderful nature is. I did not doubt that our hour spent out in the dusk, watching birds was a huge boost for everyone’s wellbeing.
During the last week, I have been in Cornwall with my family, staying on the Lizard, the countryside and coastline here is breathtaking. I have learned over the years I find it helpful to be in a wild space at the start of the school holidays, this helps to me let go of the previous term. Towards the end of a term, I crave wild spaces, where I can take coastal walks, swim in the sea, and find some spaciousness. I know that being by the sea helps me to feel relaxed and brings me huge amounts of joy. During the week I was reading a book called the Blue Mind by Wallace J Nichols, he looks at neuroscience, psychology, evolutionary biology, and medical research to understand why many people are connected to water and how water can be very good for our health and wellbeing. As a person who swims 5 days a week and who feels a real draw to being by the water, this book made so much sense and explained some of the strong feelings of joy and calmness I have when I am by water. The week away, being by water, enabled me to build up many more moments of joy in my memory.
One idea the book talks about is how we need to savor joy for 15 seconds for it to imprint on our mind. By noticing we are feeling joyful and savoring that moment with gratitude it will imprint on our minds. I have read this in a few places over the last few weeks, and this has made me think about how we can help children imprint joy in their minds. Many of the children I work have an imprint of sadness and hurt on their minds, and do not always recognise when they are encountering joy. Neuroscientists have found that hurt and sadness sticks to our minds and memory immediately, whereas joy takes 15 seconds to stick. As trusted adults who are co-journeying with them, we can notice it for them, comment to them e.g. wow you look so happy there, you are smiling and laughing, I think you are really enjoying this moment. Helping children to build up a memory bank of joyful moments is such an important way we can support them in their wellbeing.
My half term has been full of gardening, reading, and writing, a great mix for me. I wrote for a few hours each morning to move the new book on and then spent the rest of the time reading for fun and gardening. We all need to work out what rest and relaxation look like for ourselves, I find gardening helps me to totally switch off from everything else that is going on. I have a large and unruly garden, my garden is quite wild ( my argument is the birds and animals love it), I am hopeless at growing things in straight lines, it never looks neat and ordered. But my garden brings me huge joy.
This last week has been a week of preparing the garden and greenhouse for a new season of growth, I have been clearing away brambles, cutting back dead raspberry canes, clearing away weeds and cleaning the greenhouse; then last night burning all the dead brambles and twigs. Now I have cleared away the old I can start beginning to plan and think about what I will plant, how my vegetable plot will look this year, what flowers I want to grow from seed and begin planting new seeds.
Moving into the spring term I am aware I feel very hopeful, it may be the sun has really cheered me up, having a week in the garden has certainly been a tonic for my emotional and physical wellbeing, but also the spring term is often one which is more settled, the children I work with and the schools have generally reached a rhythm and routine that works, it is often a term when we begin to see progress, new growth, and development. I am aware that spring brings me hope, the hope of warmer days, the hope of growth in my work and in my garden, the hope of positive change ahead.
For those who work in schools or term time early years settings, we are part way through term 5. I always think of term 5 as being an easier term, with my nurture work the children are usually in a good place, they are more settled; often by now the school and children have reached a point of understanding one another. The children often feel safer and happier. But this term hasn’t quite been the usual pattern for a whole variety of reasons. This term I and some of the staff I work with are counting down the days to the next break. For this reason, the bank holiday Monday is a joy!. Don’t get me wrong, I love my job, I wouldn’t change it for any other, it brings me so much delight and hope and satisfaction, but this term I am feeling tired.
The question I often write about and put to others is what can you do that will make you happy? and the extra day that the bank holiday brings us is a perfect time to think about this. It doesn’t have to be big, expensive things. Early this morning I walked around the community meadow, I often do this on a Sunday morning, but this morning I walked barefoot, through the morning dew. By walking barefoot it forces you to slow down, it connects you with the earth, you notice more, you become mindful. The coldness of the morning dew was at first a slight shock, but it soon became really enjoyable. By the end of the walk I felt so happy, the endorphins had really kicked in, in the way I feel when I swim, particularly when I swim outside.
I know from experience putting in place small things that make you feel good, that bring you joy, these really help us to look after our wellbeing.
For more ideas on looking after you well-being look at my book Promoting emotional wellbeing in early years staff.
In my nurture work, it’s the start of a new term, after a badly needed Easter break. The nurture consultant role can be an emotionally challenging job and one in which you need to be fully present to the children and staff. Holidays are a vital time to take some time to replenish. Over the last two weeks, I decided to spend a lot of my time reading. The books I have read have all been around wild swimming, perseverance, finding silence and the joy of nature ( Find a way, one untamed and courageous life:Diana Nyad, The Salt Path, Raynor Winn, The Moth snowstorm: Nature and joy -Michael McCarthy and Silence in the age of noise- Erling Kagge).
At the start of the holiday, I was feeling fraught, stressed and edgy, I was aware I was catastrophising more than I usually do. The term hadn’t been particularly challenging but I was feeling less able to deal with the usual challenges. Looking back on my choice of books I can see how my body and soul were craving to read and experience things that I know are good for me. I have spent two years writing about wellbeing for children and adults. I know the things that help my wellbeing, but looking back over the last term I can see I hadn’t been doing them enough.
Going into this new term I am planning ways I can incorporate more time outside and exploring nature with the children, using mindful and listening walks with them. I have been thinking again about how I best experience silence, which I know I need every day; being outside, gardening and swimming are the best ways for me. For this I am thinking about how I can increase these opportunities, I am hoping to do some gardening each week; I already swim ever Monday-Friday, but I am also thinking of ways I can fit in open-air swimming into some weekends and end of the days. In the holidays I did my first open air swim of the year in the Cornish sea, I felt so alive and full of joy, it reminded me of how good I feel when I am combining two loves, swimming and being outside.
This weekend I attended the wedding of a beautiful couple, Harry and Grace. During the reception, I had the usual conversation with other guests about jobs, when I am asked what I do I usually say I work with 4 yr olds who are finding life very hard. Or tell them my daughter’s description of my role “mum works with 4 yr olds, plays with play dough and says I can see you are really cross but it’s not ok to bite”. People, always look slightly taken aback when I describe my job and often ask how can a four-year-old be in such a difficult place. One person on Saturday asked me what hope there was, and my answer was lots. One of the main aims of my job is to share an emotional language, to encourage and help the children to recognise how they are feeling, what they are feeling and to help them manage those feelings. If we can put in place from a young age an excellent emotional intelligence we are offering children a fantastic starting point to life.
At the wedding on Saturday, I was reminded by the wonderful hope we have for the future, it was fantastic to see how this couple and their friends have an amazing emotional intelligence, there was no sign of any toxic masculinity at this wedding. This was a wedding full of men and women expressing their true feelings, this was a wedding where the best man and the groom publicly said how much they loved each other, where the bride publicly told her bridesmaids how important they were in her life. This was a truly equal wedding, with bride and groom walking in together, with tears from both as they greeted each other, with women leading the service and all speeches by an equal mix of men and women, including a speech from the bride’s father and the groom’s mother. This wedding gave me hope for the future, this wedding reminded me that times are changing, that there is a growing emotional intelligence and I firmly believe that will make for a better world and a better future.
Order of service by Joel Baker
One of my jobs this week was to proof read the book I have coming out in December ‘ Promoting Emotional Wellbeing in Early Years Staff. I love the whole process of writing a book; I find the subject takes up a lot of my thinking and reflecting time, but once I have finished it I often move on in my thoughts to the next project or just take a break from that level of thinking. When I get to proof read the final edition I am reminded of ideas I had, research I had done, some sections I read remind me of the time I wrote it and the feelings I had at that time. That was my experience this week; one small section talks about experiencing joy, finding joy in our work, in our lives, looking out for joyful moments. As I was writing this section, my close friend, Liz was dying of cancer, so to be honest life didn’t feel very joyful at the time.
One of the suggestions I make is having a practice of gratefulness, at the end of each day asking two questions what am I grateful for today? and where did I find joy? This is a practice I have tried to embed for a long time. It can be a real challenge when days are truly dreadful it can be really easy to get caught up in the gloom and negativity, but this practice encourages me to find something, even if it was small that I am thankful for and that brought me joy.
This week the main joy for me has been in playing with waterbeads. My daughters describe my job as messy play and telling a child ‘i can see your feeling really sad, I am here for you!– not a bad description of a nurture workers role!. In the nurture work this week I have been introducing my four years to waterbeads. I love this sensory tool as they are messy play without being messy ( I have a few children this year who hate the feel of messy play), through using waterbeads you can bring out lots of language and conversation about feelings, touch, emotions. Most of the children adored these; it was so delightful to see their faces light up, they pulled the most wonderful faces of surprise, delight, and pure joy. Several of the children repeatedly commented while running their hands through the tub; ‘I love this so much, I am so happy’. Even when other moments in the week have been more challenging, remembering the children’s joy has been joyful for me.
This week I read a piece by the Henri Nouwen Society about choosing to find joy. They propose that finding joy is an act we can choose to engage in. So often it easy to think that joy is something which people have when they are in a job they love, when they have money and all is well for them. However joy can be something that we choose to engage in, this is not to negate from the feelings we have at difficult and painful times but it is to recognise that we can still find joy in moments of deep hardness. It is often so easy to get stuck focussing on negative thoughts, feelings, and actions. The challenge is to look for the joyful moments. For me, this is particularly important when we are working with children who present with challenging behaviors and lives. The children I support through my Nurture work can at times present with deeply challenging, sad stories and lives, which can lead to very challenging behavior. It is so easy to get stuck in problems, in the moments that have gone wrong and forgot or not notice the glimpses of joy. To choose to see the moments of joy takes a very purposeful and mindful decision. Choosing joy can often be about noticing and picking up on small details. One way of practicing an intentional act of finding joy is through taking time at the end of each day and asking the question, “Where did I find joy today.”
This morning I found joy while walking in the early morning, I saw a deer, rabbits and a buzzard, I found joy while picking wild garlic to put in the bread I plan to bake today. Where will you find joy today?
Last weekend I went on a retreat led by Gail and Ian Adams – http://www.belovedlife.org; one of the questions posed was what is it that brings you joy?. I have been reflecting on this question all week, and one of my thoughts has been that if as adults we are not in touch and aware of what brings us joy then we will be unable to support and help children to be joyful and find joy.
Most children are brilliant at playing and laughing and expressing happiness, but we know that there are some children for whom their lives are very difficult and it can be hard for them to be in touch with those wonderful feelings and sensations that joy can bring.
Our role as educators, carers and parents is to help children to be in touch with their feelings and emotions, to help them to have the emotional vocabulary to express how they are feeling and to help them to understand the feelings they are experiencing. To be able to help children be aware of what might bring them joy we need to be aware of makes us joyful.
I think joy is more than happiness, it is a deep rooted feeling and emotion. Two things which make me joyful are gardening – growing food and flowers, and my early morning swims. I swim each weekday at 6.30 am this is a time when I feel really alive. I love the rhythm and movement of gliding through the water. It’s a wonderful start to the day. With gardening, it is the delight of seeing ( if the slugs don’t eat them) plants emerge through the soil and the fruit and vegetables that emerge. I get really excited at seeing the first shoots of a plant coming through the soil in the spring.
To be able to offer the children we care for the best of us and to help them to fully develop and grow we need to look after ourselves, and I would suggest part of this is by discovering and nurturing what brings us joy.