Tag Archives: listening to children

Taking the time to stop and listen to children

 

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The children I work with have now been in school for four weeks, I have spent the time watching, observing, listening and getting to know them and then assessing them using the Thrive assessment. From this week we start the intervention work, the Ta’s and I start working together with the child to build up their sense of feeling safe, feeling they are special and meeting their needs.

During the observation period, it is so important to see the world through the child’s eyes; we often focus on what overwhelms the child, what they find hard but I also love to discover what it is that excites them, that they are fascinated by. Once we glimpse this, we can then incorporate this into the nurture work and sensory work we will be doing. We know that children respond well when they are doing activities that link to their interests. I am always encouraging early years practitioners to follow children’s interest, and I believe we need to do this also in the nurture role.

This year some of the interests are Thomas the tank engine, owls, and dinosaurs. One little boy told me this week, with such passion and depth of feeling how he “adores owls” as he told me about his love of owls he put his hand on his heart and said “ I love owls so much’. Until this conversation I wasn’t sure what made him happy, this one conversion brought him alive, his eyes were sparkling, he was animated and enthusiastic, this was the first time I had seen this response. Another child loves Thomas the tank engine, the one way to engage him is to talk about Thomas and the characters.

This week I will be hiding Thomas and his fellow engines in lavender sensory rice, I will be hiding dinosaurs in crazy soap, and I will be playing with owls, fabric and boxes. I know from experience that keying into the child’s interests and incorporating this into the nurture activities will engage them, it will help them to feel they have been noticed and valued and help them to feel special. It’s amazing how much emotion language you can use with Thomas the tank engine or a dinosaur!.

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Listening to children and young people

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The news this week filled me with hope, and the main reason was that record numbers of young people chose to vote. I have worked in the field of children and young people’s participation for over 15 years. For many years I ran participation work, commissioned by our local authority. For years I heard policy makers, politicians, budget holders tell me they wanted to hear from children and young people but all too often their actions showed us something different. If children and young people feel like their voices won’t be heard, then they won’t speak out, they won’t participate. But there appears to be a change taking place. Finally, young people feel like someone is listening to them. Finally, they are recognising they do have a voice, and they have a right to partake and give their opinion.

My specialism for years in the participation field was in how we listen to the youngest of children, I have delivered a ‘ listening to young children’ training course, across the country for many years. I know that if we get it right in the early years, then we are providing children with essential life skills.

Listening to young children is a joy, we can and should involve them in decision making about a wide range of areas, including:

Staff recruitment
Staff appraisals
Resources we buy
Follow their interests for our planning
The design of our rooms/ outdoor spaces and buildings
They can help us plans menus etc

Over the years I have seen some inspiring examples of listening to children in the early years. I have worked across many sectors, and I always argued some of the best participation practice was coming from the early years. I would like to believe one of the reasons we are seeing a change in Young Peoples voting today is because those young people were the three and four year olds sixteen years ago that were listened to and had a voice in their early years setting. In early years we are making a difference.

 

 

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

 

 

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

As adults do we play?

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As adults do we play? One thing I love about my job is hearing what children say. I have heard 4 yr olds over the last few weeks tell me that adults don’t play. Play in the early years is vital, play in all of childhood is vital but it is still (at the moment) recognised in the early years as the main way children learn. As an early years worker playing is an essential skill, so hearing children say that adults don’t play is possibly suggesting they are not seeing a lot of play from the adults around them, which is worrying. A new advert has come out recently from Ikea. It asks children to write a letter to the Three Kings (Sweden’s equivalent to Father Christmas) saying what they want for Christmas. It then asks the children to write a letter to their parents, saying what they want from their parents. Lots of the children say in the letter to parents, play with me more. I am pretty sure this was set up and scripted, but I know from research I was involved in gathering for The Children’s Society’s Good Childhood Inquiry, that children often say they want adults to spend more time with them and to play with them.

This leads me to the question, do we still know how to play? How playful are we? What do we do in our lives that is playing? For me playing is something which is not work, it is something which brings me pleasure and joy. Play is something I can lose myself in and there doesn’t have to be a result at the end. I play a lot in my job, this week I have been playing Superheros (happy and sad ones). I have been playing with jelly and squirty cream and playing with fuzzy felt faces, but this is work for me. It’s great work but it’s not really playing I would choose! The type of play I would choose is crunching through leaves in the meadow behind our house. I never tire of the sound of walking through leaves, and noticing the changes in the meadow. The type of play I would choose is swimming. I swim every weekday early morning, I love the rhythm and the feel of gliding through the water. The type of play I would choose is Reading. Although this is not an active play thing, it is something which brings me great pleasure, in which I can lose myself and relax. The type of play I would choose is Felting. This is a creative play activity for me, which I learnt a few years ago. The joy of felting for me is the process, it’s often not about the finished piece. Most of the felting I do is abstract, its about exploring and playing with colours and fibers. I love how you never really know what you will end up with when you are felting, the piece at the beginning looks very different to the piece at the end.

Within the world of early years, we need to make sure we are playing with our children and not just observing their play. As parents, we need to play more with our children, on things that they choose. As adults we need to find time to play, doing things that bring us joy.

The photo is of my latest piece of felting

A conversation with an 11 yr old about SATS

I had a conversation this morning with my neighbour’s daughter, she is eleven. She was outside playing on her bike and we were talking about bike riding, then out of the blue, she said: “I am not looking forward to this week, I have Sats.” I know the girl a little, we speak each time we see each other, but I am not someone who is a major part of her life. The thought of SATS has clearly been playing on her mind and I guess having an adult showing an interest, taking some time to talk to her was all that was needed for her to tell someone how worried she is feeling.

As the conversation developed she told me that SATS will affect the rest of her education and then her chances of getting a job. She told me if she gets it wrong now, she might not get good exams at the end of school. I explained that SATS was the government’s way to find out how good the teachers are, whether they have taught children the things the Government thinks they should know. I told her that her new secondary school will look at the SATS results to see what she knows and it will help them choose what set she goes in. I also explained that once she is in senior school they can change the set she is in, that her SATS results don’t decide what will happen for the rest of her schooling. I explained that, yes taking tests is no fun, and can be a bit worrying but she really didn’t need to worry that they would influence her future career.

What appalls me is that this eleven-year girl is worrying and stressing about how tests next week will impact upon her getting a job. Why are we allowing eleven-year-old children to feel stressed and concerned and worried about their job prospects? Why are we not encouraging them to enjoy life, to play, to discover what they are good at? Going up to senior school is scary enough already for them, without the added pressure and fear that next week they might ruin things for the rest of their schooling or life.

I am passionate abut hearing children’s voices. We need to stop and really listen to what our children are telling us and take notice. We know that an increasing number of children are needing help with stress and anxiety. We need to hear their fears and we need to address them. As a community, we need to speak out against the stress and pressure we are putting on our children. As parents, we need to support our children and help them know that their future in life is not dependent on them passing exams. We need to let them know we are available to listen to them and hear their worries and fears.

At the end of our conversation, the girl told me she felt better for talking to me, and she said she wouldn’t be so scared now. Hopefully, she will go into the week feeling a little calmer.