Tag Archives: mental health

End of school year 2020/21

I have just finished work with my group of nurture children for this academic year. Like everyone in education in September 2020, I had no idea how this year would work out. My colleagues and I work with children who have been recognised as having additional social, emotional, mental health needs. I was pretty fearful in September about how we would navigate through the year, how the bubbles would work, how the children would respond to the staff mask-wearing and constant hand washing and not seeing other children or staff. But we did all survive! And actually, most of the children thrived. At the end of every year, we write an end of year report about our work, we reflect on where the children were and how they are now. At the end of every year, I am always amazed and moved by the progress we see, but this year feels more significant. This year’s group missed out on massive amounts of preschool education before starting; many of them have missed time from schools in the first two terms due to bubbles going down with covid isolation and then further lockdowns in the winter. All of these are hugely significant. My colleagues and I measure our children’s progress on how settled they are, can they now play with others, can they begin to become regulated when they have a regulated adult with them, can we understand their speech and language, are they now talking to us and others, can they take part in class for some of the time with their peers, do they have an emotional understanding and vocabulary. The answer is yes, a massive YES. And that feels brilliant and quite remarkable.

As ever this year, I have seen teachers and teaching assistants and Sencos and headteachers doing a fantastic job. We don’t say thank you enough to the education staff; the last 18 months have been the most challenging time for everyone in education. My hope is education staff can finally stop and rest for some time over the summer, I know there is still much they will need to do for the new term, but my hope is they can stop for a time but also I hope they can feel appreciated and thanked for their amazing work.

In the last few weeks, I have had a new book published with Routledge, it is called supporting children with social, emotional and mental health needs in the early years. The book offers practical ideas and suggestions on how to support children with SEMH needs

Coping in January

I find January quite hard, it often feels like a long and grey month. Currently, I am feeling a greater sense of heaviness for the next few weeks. It is not helped by the uncertainty about schools returning, I currently have 3 plans in place for my work this term and I have no idea which one I will be going with tomorrow, of course, this is the same for teachers and parents across most of the country. Uncertainty and last-minute changes can lead many people to feel on edge, being more snappy, finding it difficult to be motivated.

With all of these thoughts I have been thinking about what will help me in January, it needs to be small actions, I have learned over the years that January is a time when I need to be more gentle with myself and now even more so. I have written myself a list to remind me of things I can do that will help me feel ok. They are small reminders of actions that help to make me smile, help me to relax, and help to nurture myself. We will all have different things that help us, writing a list may sound daft, but I know that sometimes when it becomes grey and dreary I can start to catastrophise and forget what helps me, a list helps to remind me. I probably won’t do everything on the list, but it reminds me of things I enjoy, things that bring me moments of joy

This is my list:

Have flowers in the house each week

Daily walks ( find new places to walk)

Wild swim when I can

Sunrise walks if I can’t swim in the pool

Meet friends for take away coffee and walk

Read

Plan the garden for the spring

Look for the Tawny Owls

Watch a new film each week

Watch a new box set

Listen to podcasts

Bake a cake

Make soap

Make marmalade

Exhaustion in education settings

It is finally the end of term 2. I thought term 5 & 6 last academic year was the hardest I have seen, but no this term I think has been the most challenging. I am tired, but I know this is nothing compared to the utter exhaustion the teachers, ta’s and senior leaders in schools are feeling. It has been such a strange term and it has impacted me in ways I did not expect. As well as being a nurture consultant with young children, I am also a writer and a trainer, but this term I have not felt able to write. That might be partly because at the end of the last term I finished one of my biggest writing projects, a new book for Routledge, but I think it was also due to trying to manage the constant change, I did not have the capacity to think about writing or training.

This week I have been writing reports for the children I support, it has given me some headspace to think and reflect. As I write that, I know that is a total luxury, and if I am honest I am feeling a bit guilty about that. One of my reflections has been how this term has felt like I have been standing on shifting sands. Every time I planned something, things changed, the rules changed, the children were there, then they were not there, it reached the point where daily I dreaded seeing an email or having a phone call telling me about another change. I have realised during this strange year that I really don’t like change! I like routine, I like to know what my plans are and I like to have notice about any changes. That is very similar to the children I support, they don’t like change and they like to be prepared for changes. If nothing else I think this term has given me a deeper understanding and appreciation of how the children I work with often feel.

As I said at the beginning of this piece of writing, I am tired, but I know this is nothing compared to what I am seeing in education staff. In previous blogs, I have written that I was concerned for education staff, but ending this year, I have never seen so much exhaustion and brokenness on such a large scale. I can’t express how worried I am for the staff who work in our education settings. They are doing the most incredible job. During terms 5 and 6, it is thanks to many education settings that families had food to eat, there were so many food deliveries to families organised by them as well as all the education they organised. In terms 1 and 2 this academic year, many staff have been worried about their health, and yet they have been working incredibly hard to provide an education for the children. Despite all of this the government and the tabloid press seem to think it is ok to criticise, to accuse teachers of slacking. I have often felt that the government and the press have no idea about what it is like to work in a school, and these last few months have proved that.

My hope is that the education staff can stop and rest over these next few weeks, but I know that won’t actually happen. Education settings are still responsible for the track and trace until Christmas eve, they will still be planning and preparing for next year and our colleagues in the senior schools will now be changing their plans for the beginning of the new term, as well as figuring out how to roll out testing on a massive scale.

Now is a time when those education staffs need to be held up, supported, encouraged, and helped.

Focus on children’s wellbeing

The last two weeks I have had the joy of working on a playscheme, the team I worked with included artists, sports coaches, forest school leader, playworkers, and nurture workers. We represented 6 organisations and we worked with 2 bubbles of children, with 42 children altogether, from 28 families and 9 schools, funded by St Johns foundation. The children were aged 4-11. Our ethos was based on high-quality early years practice, following children’s interests underpinned by a nurture approach. The whole play scheme was delivered outside on a school site, in their forest school area.

Before it began I was slightly nervous about how it would be, sometimes playschemes can be manic, especially if there is a team of adults who think the way forward to is to hype children. This play scheme was intentionally well planned with calm adults and a nurturing basis. The team leader and I have a long background in the early years and we wanted a playscheme that would nurture children and offer them open-ended opportunities in the way many early years settings offer. The aim was also to offer sports, art, play in an outdoor provision to support the children’s mental health and wellbeing. We knew that this could work across the ages of 4-11 and it did.

For many of these children lockdown has been a tricky experience, quite a few of the children had not been socialising with people outside their family, some of the children lived in flats with a limited outdoor provision, for many of the children lockdown had been a stressful experience and has negatively impacted their social, emotional and mental health. The children were identified and nominated by their schools. My role was to support the emotional wellbeing of the staff and children, we intentionally had a high ratio of adult to child, enabling us to offer the safety and emotional regulation that the children needed.

Part of the reason the playscheme worked so well, better than any of us imagined or hoped for, was the multidisciplinary team. Children were able to choose the things they wanted to do and the staff was able to facilitate and support this, one little boy discovered he is really good at hockey, he told us he hates sports but he tried hockey and loved it, another child discovered she loves making things with clay, other children experienced a campfire for the first time, the children together with the play workers made a wooden treehouse and took pride in what they had made. One boy on the last day wanted to chop down a tree, this was made possible with the support of staff, as there was a tree on the site that needed removing. Throughout the playscheme the children found space to be with others, to chat about how they were feeling, to express themselves through art and sport and play.

For years I have been been a huge advocate of following children’s interests and enabling children to discover new things and opportunities by offering open-ended provocations. This play scheme reminded me again of how powerful it can be when children have adults around them who can follow the child’s interests, who can come alongside them with interest and curiosity and co adventure with them. We hoped at the beginning that the playscheme would offer respite to the children from the ongoing challenges of COVID, we hoped that it would give them the freedom to play and socialise. It certainly did this, but for many of the children, it also gave them new opportunities, helped them to see themselves in new ways and discover new things about what they can do and enjoy. As we all reflected at the end, this playscheme also hugely benefitted the staff, there was a lot of laughter and delight at being with the children, it gave us a renewed sense of purpose and reconnected us to work we all love and are passionate about.

My final reflection on the time was how crucial these 2 weeks were for the children’s wellbeing, on the return to school my concern is that many schools will go back to how it was before lockdown. During lockdown many children have not had the chance to be with friends, socialise, play, be active and be creative. This needs to be addressed, I would love to see every school putting on a playscheme for all their children on the return, how radical and positive that would be. I know I am dreaming big here, and I know many will tell me it is out of the question. But, there does need to be an emphasis on children’s wellbeing when they return, and using the arts, play, sport and emotional support is an excellent way to assist that.

The organisations involved were:

Brighter Futures

Bath area ply project

Forest of imagination

Twerton infant school

Get sported

St Johns foundation

On the re-opening of early years and school.

 

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This week most schools and early years settings are re-opening. There are so many political arguments about this, which I am not going to enter into on this posting. However, I know staff have been working so hard over the last few weeks, to make this the best they can for the children to return. I know staff have been working incredibly hard at organising, preparing, planning, and changing plans as the government keeps changing the guidance. I know that many staff feel that they are having to compromise what they believe is the best practice in order to fit into the new guidance.

I am aware that in all the arguing and political debating we can easily forget that behind all this are many staff, some will be pleased to return, some will be unsure and others will be incredibly scared. Change is so hard, especially when change is happening and we don’t really know what the outcome will be, how long we will be working in this new way, and whether we will all be shut down again.

Working in the time of a crisis, at a time of change and uncertainty, and at a time when many feel fearful and anxious, this brings with it additional stresses on top of an already demanding job in normal times. These are not normal times.

I am writing this blog for my friends and colleagues who are returning this week, and for those of you I don’t know, I am writing to say I am thinking of you, I know this is going to feel hard and maybe scary and to say thank you. Thank you for doing this, thank you for being there for the children, thank you for making it the best you possibly can for the children, because I believe that is what you will do.

Please make sure you take extra time to care for yourself and if anyone is reading this who lives with or is friends with a teacher, TA or early years worker who is returning, be extra kind to them in these weeks, check in on them, buy them chocolate ( or something else they like!), they are going to need it.

May your week go well.

Below are some links which might be useful

Alistair Bryce Clegg  has an excellent blog post with thoughts on returning

I was asked by my local early year’s team to make some short videos for staff about the return to work, staff wellbeing, and children’s wellbeing. They are accessible to all. This is a link to them.

Wellbeing ideas for children on the return to school/ nursery

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Early years staff and reception teachers have been working extremely hard over the last few weeks preparing settings ready for children to return in June. I know for many this has been a hugely stressful experience, re thinking the spaces and resources children are able to access.  When children return we know their experiences will be massively varied, when they return we are all going to need to pay even more attention to their emotional and mental wellbeing. During this last week the team I work with have been pulling together wellbeing ideas for reception class staff to be able to use in the classroom, some simple ideas which can support children’s wellbeing, that can be done individually or with a socially distanced group and ideas where the resources won’t cause cross contamination. I hope these ideas might be helpful to others.

 

Bubble breathing – Give each child their own small pot of bubbles, tell the child you are going to do some bubble breathing to help them feel calm. Get the child to dip the wand into the bubble mixture, take a deep breath in and slowly blow out through the wand. Watch the bubbles float away, imagine the bubbles are taking away their worries and fears. You can buy a pot of 24 mini party bubbles from amazon for around £5.

Bee breathing Sit somewhere comfortable, place your hands over your ears, take a breath in, as you breathe out making a humming noise. Repeat a few times.

Barefoot walking Do this activity all together go outside on a grassy area, check the area for sharp things, etc. Get everyone to take shoes and socks off and walk on the grass, notice how it feels on your feet, notice how it makes you feel. Bare-foot walking is a slow and mindful activity.

Senses exercise You can do this outside or through an open window. Close your eyes and listen to what you can hear, listen to how many different noises you can hear. Open your eyes, notice the different colours you can see. Sniff the air, what can you smell.

Calming bottle – Get each child to fill an empty bottle with water, add some glitter. Get the child to shake the bottle, place their hand on their tummy and breathe in and out slowly as the glitter settles.

Make a happy book-Get each child to draw or stick pictures in the book of things that make them happy, when they are feeling sad or need to find some calm, they could look at this.

Play calming music – Find some music that you all find calming, lie down or sit and listen to it

Do some yoga – Do some Yoga together, cosmic kids on Youtube offers yoga and mindfulness sessions. https://www.youtube.com/user/CosmicKidsYoga

Playdough give each child their own pot of play dough to play, squeeze, explore, make a face.

Feather breathing – give each child their own feather, encourage them to take a mindful moment with the feather, notice its colour, texture, how it feels against the skin. Then ask children to take a breathe in and breathe out blowing onto the feather. Do this 3 or 4 times. You can then ask the children to let go of the feather on the out breathe and see if they can keep it in the air with their breathe.

Finger breathing Inhale as you trace up the thumb, exhale as you trace down the thumb, inhale tracing up the next finger, exhale down etc until you have traced all five fingers.

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Make a worry doll ( see bellow) and read the book Silly Billy by Anthony Browne, Worry dolls taken from Alistair Bryce -Clegg website

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Movement breaks

 

ocean-movement-flash-cards

 

Sunrise

 

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This week is mental health awareness week, the overall theme is kindness. As people who know me will be aware mental health is an area I spend a lot of time in, I work with 4 yr olds who have social, emotional, and mental health difficulties and my Mum has Bipolar. This lockdown period has been a huge challenge for so many children, young people, and adults who have mental health difficulties. It’s also been a huge challenge for people who don’t usually have mental health difficulties.

During this lockdown, I have found myself being asked to write more articles, deliver more training, do more short video links around mental health and wellbeing alongside virtually supporting schools, families, and staff I work with. I found myself regularly questioning what on earth do I know about how to stay mentally well in these times. I am also trying to write a new book on how we support children with social-emotional and mental health difficulties. Lockdown seemed the ideal time to write a book, but actually, that isn’t my experience!.

In my writing and training, I talk about the importance of a routine for children and adults to support wellbeing. My usual routine before the lockdown was to do an early morning swim each Monday-Friday, I have been doing this for around 8 years. In lockdown I decided to replace my swim with a sunrise walk, at the start of lockdown this was around the time I would normally leave the house, 6.05 and it felt good to continue my normal routine. Then the clocks changed changing the time to 6.50 this still felt good. If I am honest I didn’t think that lockdown would last that long, I could cope with the idea of 4 maybe 5 weeks, I couldn’t cope with thinking of it longer than that. So I decided I would keep going with my sunrise walk. I knew the routine was important, I knew being outside was good for my wellbeing, but it’s become more than that. Now 9 weeks on the time of sun rising is getting earlier, tomorrow it will be 5.14 in our area, by the end of May it will be 4.59. I have been asking myself how long will I keep going, it doesn’t look like pools are about to reopen, so do I keep going, or do I stop? The problem is in my thinking about stopping, I have realised how much I cherish seeing the sunrise. It gives me hope for each day, it’s become a spiritual act, a time where I am reminded that all is not lost, there is still hope with a new day. More than ever this lockdown has shown me I need routine. Also, when all around me feels heavy and frightening, I need to see some beauty and something positive. Starting the day in this way feels like a gentle nurturing act of kindness to myself. I was talking it through with my husband this morning, I am thinking I might just keep going. The solstice is 21st June, sunrise here will be 4.52, that doesn’t sound too bad.

I have written a few books around mental health, see links below

Promoting Young Children’s Emotional Health and Wellbeing- a practical guide for professionals and parents

Promoting Emotional Wellbeing in Early Years Staff – a practical guide for looking after yourself and your colleagues

Mummy’s Got Bipolar. 

Can I tell you about Bipolar disorder- 

There is also a free animation of Mummy’s Got Bipolar on Youtube 

 

 

Calming ideas to try at home

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One of my schools asked for an ideas sheet of calming things to do at home. As a team we have created this sheet. Attached it here incase it is useful for others.

Ideas for parents to help your child feel calm

Some of our children are feeling anxious at this time, here are some ideas from the Brighter Future team of activities you could do with your children at home to help them feel calmer.

Bubble breathing – Take a pot of bubbles, tell your child you are going to do some bubble breathing to help them feel calmer. Get your child to dip the wand into the bubble mixture, take a deep breath in and slowly blow out through the wand. Watch the bubbles float away, imagine the bubbles are taking away your worries and fears.

Bee breathing- Sit somewhere comfortable, place your hands over your ears, take a breath in, as you breathe out making a humming noise. Repeat a few times.

Bubbles in a bowl- Put some bubble bath into warm water in a bowl, if possible use some calming bubble bath e.g. lavender scent. Use a straw to blow bubbles to the top of the bowl.

Rocking toy to sleep- Get your child to lie on their back and put a toy on their tummy. Explain they are going to rock the toy to sleep. Get them to take deep breaths, as they breathe in and out their tummy will lift up and down, rocking the toy to sleep.

Barefoot walking- Do this activity together, if you can go outside in a garden or on a grass area, check the area for sharp things, etc. Take your shoes and socks off and walk on the grass, notice how it feels on your feet, notice how it makes you feel.

Senses exercise- You can do this outside or through an open window. Close your eyes and listen to what you can hear, listen to how many different noises you can hear. Open your eyes, notice the different colours you can see. Sniff the air, what can you smell.

Foot bath- Fill a bowl with warm soapy water, invite your child to take their shoes and socks off and put their feet in the bowl.  Gently massage their feet.

Hand massage- Use some hand cream and gently give your child a hand massage

Eye spy bottles- Get an empty bottle and collect some small items from the house, put these inside the bottle, fill the bottle with rice and glitter. Add a label to the bottle with a list of things to spy. Get the child to see how many things they can spy by gently shaking the bottle.

Calming bottle – Fill an empty bottle with water, add some glitter. Get your child to shake the bottle, place their hand on their tummy and breathe in and out slowly as the glitter settles.

Make a happy book- Draw or stick pictures in the book of things that make them happy, when they are feeling sad or need to find some calm, they could look at this.

Hot Chocolate calming- Make a cup of hot chocolate, breathe in sniffing the warm mug of hot chocolate, breathe out blowing on your hot chocolate to cool it down

Create a calm space – together create a space in the house that can be safe and nurturing, a space to go to when they feel stressed. Make it cosy and put in a favourite toy, blanket, cushion etc. Explain this a space to go in and feel safe and calm.

Lay in a blanket –Find a big blanket, get your child to lie in it and wrap them gently in the blanket, if the child isn’t too big, you could take both ends, lift it slightly off the ground and gently rock them in the blanket.

Play calming music – Find some music that you all find calming, lie down or sit and listen to it

Do some yoga – Do some Yoga together, cosmic kids on Youtube offers yoga and mindfulness sessions. https://www.youtube.com/user/CosmicKidsYoga

Finger breathing

Inhale as you trace up the thumb, exhale as you trace down the thumb, inhale tracing up the next finger, exhale down etc until you have traced all five fingers.

Cloud dough

1 cup of cornflour

1/2 cup of hair conditioner 

Mix together until it looks like dough. This is very soft to play with, it can become crumbly, playing with it in a large bowl stops it getting everywhere. You can keep this in an airtight container.

Home made stress  balls 

1 balloon

cornflour

funnel

Put the funnel into the top of the balloon, 3/4 fill the balloon with corn flour. squeeze the remaining air out and tie the balloon, use this as a stress ball to let out feelings of frustration. You could draw a face on the balloon.

Worry dolls worry-dolls2.jpgTaken from https://abcdoes.com/home-learning/ 

Goodbye to January

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This morning I went for a long walk, partly as a way of starting February off in a positive way. I have found January hard, it feels like it has been a month of mostly bad news about friends and family health, there has been a lot of grey weather and sky, and work has felt challenging, but not in a positive way, challenging in a way that has triggered quite a lot of self-doubt.

This morning I was thinking about what I like in February, the days getting longer, early spring flowers, new leaves which can bring early foraging of nettles and wild garlic, also being able to start some early spring planting in my greenhouse. Yesterday I washed and cleaned the greenhouse in preparation for the new year of planting. The other plus is the water is slowly warming up- perfect for more wild swimming!

These are just small changes but thinking about them has cheered me up this morning, it has helped me to feel more positive about the coming month. Curiously, it has also helped me to think about what has gone well in the last month, rather than staying in the negative thoughts, seeing the small moments of positive in work rather than focusing on the challenges. I am usually quite an optimistic person, but sometimes I can find the gloom can pull me in!.

To aid me through February, I have written a list of ideas of what will help me to thrive during this month, the idea is if I am feeling gloomy and down and I can look at my list and remind myself what will help and do one of them.

Awe and wonder around us

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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.