Tag Archives: nurture work

Embracing stillness and slowness

 

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So much of the nurture role I do is helping children and the staff who support them to find a place of calmness and safety. There are many tools my colleagues, and I use to do this, it’s not rocket science! But it does need practitioners who can be calm and secure themselves. When you have a child who is throwing, kicking, biting, running, etc. because they are scared and frightened and have overwhelming feelings, they desperately need an adult who is solid and calm to help them feel safe and to come to a place of calmness.

Over the last three years of doing this work, I have realised increasingly how important it is for me to have space and encounter stillness outside of work. I firmly believe it is from a place of stillness and silence that I can become nourished to do my role. Daily swimming and gardening are important aspects for me in nourishing this. In the last six months, I have been writing a book about adults wellbeing, an important section in this book is about being comfortable with silence and stillness and be able to slow down.

This week we are away on the Isle of Mull, it’s not a very large Island, but many of the roads are narrow with passing points. If you are driving around the island this forces slow driving, also the scenery is so stunning, so you end up stopping regularly to watch an Eagle, look for Otters, or stop for the many Highland Cows and Sheep that are on the road. Although Mull has many visitors, it is easy to be in the hills or a beach and encounter nobody. What I have loved about this week away is embracing the stillness, at home I regularly walk around the community meadow at the back of our house and I love the stillness this brings, but here on Mull, it is another level of stillness and slowness and silence. To be able to spot Otters or watch for the Sea Eagles or Golden Eagles you have to sit and be still and watch, I have learnt how wildlife watching is such a mindful exercise.

The summer break from the nurture work is a time for me to take stock, reflect, have space to think about my writing and training, to be creative and plan. It is also a time to read, to nourish myself, to feed my soul. I feel this week of slowness, of big open spaces, of stillness and silence is a good starting point.

Transitions and closures

 

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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).

 

 

Offering resources to children which look beautiful

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During this week I have been thinking about resources for my nurture work, thinking about the individual needs and interests of the different children.I have also been writing training and organising photos to go into my book- Promoting young children’s health and well-being, which will be published soon by Jessica Kingsley publishers. The thread in all of these activities is giving careful thought about the resources we offer to children and how we can make them look inviting.

I believe if we want children to get pleasure from the activity, if we want children to learn to value and look after resources and if we want children to have the opportunity to create beautiful things then we need to offer them resources which look attractive, beautiful and inviting.

I love it when I see creative areas in classrooms and nurseries which look inviting and attractive. In Reggio Emilia ( a town in North Italy who are have developed a creative pedagogy) they give a lot of thought to the resources they offer, how they look, how they feel etc. I visited Reggio over ten years ago and took away with me the idea of presenting materials and resources to children in a beautiful way.

During this last week, I have been developing a new resource, inspired by Reggio practice, it is a resource tray of small parts. I will be using this in training I am delivering, I also plan to use it as one of the photos in my book. I have made a smaller version that I will be using in my nurture work. The idea of a small parts tray is to offer resources that children can use in their creative making.The aim is that it looks interesting, tactile, inviting and will encourage children to extend their creative activities.

Photo of small parts tray taken by Iain Cotton

Children who take toys into school- are they transitional object?

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It’s a few weeks into the new term, I have now met all my new nurture children and their staff. It is common for new children starting school to bring something with them from home, often a toy, sometimes a bit of a blanket or a scarf, this is the case for several of my new children. Some schools allow this for a week or maybe two but then want it to be stopped. Many teachers feel that bringing toys and items from home is a distraction, can cause unnecessary disagreements between children and fear they might be damaged.

I understand these concerns but for some children, there is another reason for bringing something in from home, it is comforting, it helps them to feel safe, it is a connection between home, their carer and school. Donald Winnicott in 1953 introduced the term transitional object for items that children use to help them cope with changes. Some children have one object that they take everywhere, e.g a piece of blanket or one very loved, old toy, for other children it is about taking something from home, which acts as a physical link to home.

Early years settings are often really good at understanding the importance of a transitional object and the comfort this provides to children. I think it is really important that this knowledge of child development and good practice from early years settings is shared with staff in schools.

While we are helping children to transition into school we can sometimes forget that for some children this settling in process, helping them to feel safe and secure can take a while, this does not always happen in the first few days or weeks. Some children still need their transitional object to help them feel secure, this doesn’t have to be on them all the time, it could be in a pocket, on a shelf or in a drawer. The very knowledge that they have something with them from home in school can often be enough to help them feel safer and secure.

There will be some children who are still arriving at school and are deeply upset and distressed at leaving their parent, I often suggest for these children that they are allowed to bring in something to school which reminds them of their Mum or Dad e.g a small scarf which smells of mum or a small lego man that they play with Dad. I encourage the parent to explain to the child “I know you are feeling sad that I am not with you at school,  have this scarf to look after for me, when I pick you up you can give it back to me, I will be thinking of you today” the parent can also have something of the child’s e.g a toy that they will look after until the child comes home. The object from home can be kept in the child’s pocket or in their drawer, when the child is feeling overwhelmed or sad they can feel the object and remember they will see their parent soon.

I have been having conversations with the staff working with my new children about the importance of transitional objects and encouraging the staff to recognise that some children still need this.

What brings you joy?

 

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This is the last week of the school holidays, my nurture  work with 4 yr olds will start again next week. This week I will be reminding myself about my new children, thinking about how best to support them over the next few tricky weeks for them, I will be pulling in new resources I might need and generally preparing.

I know from previous years as a nurture consultant these first few months of the new school year can be really hard. I will be needing to make relationships with all new staff this year, building up their trust, I need to gain the trust of 7 small, scared children, who sometimes will display very challenging behaviour. To do this well I need to ensure I am taking care of myself, that I am finding ways to nurture myself.

For me an important part of nurturing myself is through trying to find something each day which brings me joy, this may be as simple as noticing the roses growing in my garden, enjoying eating some chocolate, it doesn’t need to be big things. By stopping, recognising and enjoying that joyful moment it helps to nourish me.
One of yesterday’s joyful moments was buying myself Dahlias from the local farmers market. I love Dahlias. Dahlias remind me of my Grandad and my Aunt, Grandad grew beautiful, bold Dahlias in his small back garden every year, alongside runner beans, I don’t remember him ever growing anything else. Every time I visited as a small girl, a teen and an adult, when the Dahlias were in bloom he would take me into the garden and show me with pride his flowers. My Aunt Pam also went on to grow Dahlias for years as well, I think she had some of the bulbs that Grandad started. I love gardening, but I can’t grow Dahlias, they always die, get eaten by slugs, look dreadful. So instead I always buy myself cut flowers. By looking at them it brings me so much joy and lovely memories of my Grandad and Aunt.

Transitions

 

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For a long time I have been interested in transitions, the process of how we prepare, how we think and plan for transitions, for change. I believe we need to give careful time and thought to transitions and change. For my, under graduate dissertation, I did a piece of research around supporting 4 yr olds transition into school, and now 8 years on a large part of my current job is supporting 4 yr olds where it has been recognised they are going to find the transition into school very hard. A key component of a good transition is preparation and support. I know through the work with the 4 yr olds if we involve them in visiting the school, buying uniform, buying shoes , talking about the school, their teacher, talking about what they will do at lunch time, practicing with them carrying a plate with food on or eating from a lunch box and talking about the feelings they have, this all helps the child in the transition. I also encourage the schools I work with to make a booklet for the new children about their school, their teacher and classroom so the children can look at this over the summer.

I often believe what works for 4 yr olds often works with older children and adults too!, the new children moving into senior school, is another huge transition , these children respond well when they are emotionally and physically supported, again the process of buying new school bags, practicing the walking route/ bus route, practicing buying lunch in a cafe where they need to order what they want, carrying the tray, pay for the food, encouraging them to talk about their feelings, their expectations and their fears, all of these are important life skills. These can help ease the transitions when they are talked about, practised and supported.

In our house we are in a stage of a new transition, our eldest daughter is going away to university, we have had many conversations about what it will be like, how she feels about it, over the summer we have been buying new quilt covers, cushions for her new room, mugs, plates, thinking about what she needs to take away and what she doesn’t need, having conversations about independent living, managing money, safety. I am aware this transition is a huge one for all of us, this last year I have been preparing myself for her going, trying to recognise and acknowledge the emotions this brings, both a mix of pride, delight, excitement for her, plus some fear of the unknown and also sadness of a time that is ending but the recognition of the importance of this and looking forward to what is ahead.

During this year I have thought a lot about the physical experience of being wrapped, I noticed over the year that several of the children I worked with responded really well to having a blanket that they could wrap themselves or be wrapped in when they were feeling overwhelmed, sad or anxious. Over the Summer I bought myself a large shawl, it is soft, and I find it really comforting, I have worn it a lot over the last few weeks, I am beginning to think it has been a way of nurturing myself, providing myself with some comfort, not that I have been feeling overwhelmed or sad, but maybe instinctively I have known that I need that extra sense of holding. One thing I have discussed a lot with Lily has been how cold her  new room might be! with this thought I have been knitting a blanket, it is one I started several years ago but now I am rushing to finish it. It’s a blanket of coloured squares, it’s not perfect but it is a blanket made of love, it is a blanket that hopefully will provide some comfort, some warmth and some nurturing at times when that is needed during this transition.

Unwinding and slowing down

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My school year in the nurture role has now ended for the summer holidays. I still have other work I will be doing over the break, but it is a 7-week break from working with 4-year-olds. On Friday evening I and my family came down to Cornwall for a family holiday on the Lizard. The last term has been a very tough term, particularly emotionally. During this term, I have been using various techniques to try and stay calm and not allow the stress to take over, not always easy. I have been trying to use mindfulness daily, I have been regularly listening to the beautiful, calming tracks of Olafur Arnalds living room songs and my morning swims have helped to get me through the term. In the last few weeks, I have been thinking a lot about swimming in the sea, a friend on Facebook Karen Arthur swims in the sea daily and photographs what she sees. I really enjoy seeing Karen’s images daily, seeing how she captures the beauty of the sea and how she has used this to help her through depression . For the last few days I have been able to swim in the beautiful green sea, I love wild swimming, I find so much delight in the beauty and the immediate closeness to nature, when I am swimming in the sea, my brain and body immediately switch off from the tension and stress and focus on the delight of that moment.

I know that taking, this time, to unwind and slow down is vital, a time to care for myself, a time to enjoy being with my family. Not all work has stopped, as I am still keeping an eye on the Mummy’s got Bipolar campaign, and still trying to get more support to make that happen, but at least when I am in the sea swimming I can have some time when nothing else matters other than enjoying the moment and the beauty.