Tag Archives: listening to children

Relationship and connection

 

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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.

 

 

Seeing the world through a child’s eyes

 

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This last week my nurture work has focused on photo journeys with children. Each child took photos of things that made them happy in school. The point of this exercise is to enable the adults to see the world through the child’s eyes, it’s also to hear and see directly from the children what brings them joy, what is important to them. This information is then shared with their current staff and will be used to inform their new staff to help them gain a fuller understanding of the child, it can also be used in reviews and assessments as part of the child’s voice.

This is a piece of work I have done many times over the years, what I love about this activity is how there are always new things I learn about the child. By this point in the year, I and the teaching assistants have worked closely with the child, and by now we have a good understanding about the child’s needs and how to support them, however, there are still new things we often discover.

The common thread with all my children this year has been outdoors, this is not unusual but it is a reminder again of how important it is for children to spend a lot of time outside, having space to explore, be curious, to try new things. A lot of the children took photos of play equipment and talked about how they could now climb /balance on them etc, with each of them they had a sense of achievement with this, which clearly brought them some joy and pride. One child took photos of trees and flowers, actively looking for certain flowers to photograph and he talked about how the flowers make him very happy.

With all my children the start of the school year was an extremely frightening, overwhelming experience, there was little happiness or joy for them being in school. It is such a pleasure to see these children identifying with being happy, understanding what it means to be happy and being able to show us clearly what makes them happy in school.

There are lots more ideas on how to listen to children in my new book Listening to young children in early years settings. 

Listening to children and promoting their wellbeing

 

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For over 15 years I worked with a large children’s charity working with schools, nursery’s, social services health services in how they listen to children and involve them in decision making. Then five years ago I started to work as freelance nurture consultant with a small organisation in Bath called Brighter futures, my role is to support 4 yr olds who have had a challenging start in life and are finding the move into school overwhelming and whose wellbeing is low. Over the last few months as a team we have been reflecting on our work over the last 5 years, we have been thinking about the children we have supported, the changes we have seen and the common threads. Taking the opportunity to look back I have been reminded how listening to children in the nurture role has to underpin all that we do, if a child does not feel listened to from at least one adult, then they will not have good wellbeing.

The act of listening in my current role is not just about listening to the words that the child is saying, it is about listening to the behavior, to the facial expression, to their body language and the sounds they may make. A few years ago I worked with a child who growled, when she was overwhelmed. When she became agitated she would start to growl, quietly at first, almost under her breath and then as she became more distressed the noise would rise. She didn’t have the words to say I can’t cope, she needed adults around her who were able to listen to her sounds and recognise what was happening for her, to come along aside her and support her.

Children’s poor wellbeing is such a huge issue in the UK right now, three years ago I wrote a book about how we can support children’s wellbeing. I believe there are many reasons for our children having low wellbeing, the increasing stress of families, communities and of the country really does not help. I recently delivered some training where it was suggested to me that listening to children in this time of high stress and austerity was a luxury, I was told that staff did not have the time for this, there were too many things they were being expected to do and listening to children takes precious time that they did not have. Yes, listening to children does take time, you can’t rush it, however, if we ignore what a child is telling us, if we show them we are too busy and have too many other important things to do and think about, then we are paying a huge disservice to those children and we are contributing to their poor wellbeing.

This week I had a new book published with Jessica Kingsley publishers titled Listening to young children in early years settings, a practical guide. This book explores the links between listening to children and children’s wellbeing it is also has a lot of practical ideas and suggestions on how we can listen 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!.

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