Tag Archives: outdoor play

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

Seeing the world through a child’s eyes

 

IMG_2056

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. 

Developing well-being through outdoor play and stress and anxiety kits

nature card

 

My job is hugely varied, which I love. This week I have been creating stress and anxiety toolkits for older children and teens. Delivering participation and well-being training to Bath YFC and being creative outdoors with my nurture children. The focus with all of this has been thinking about well-being and promoting well-being.

I have worked in the field of participation for many years, by listening to children and young people, giving them a voice and enabling them to feel that they are special and unique, we know this enhances their well-being. We also know that many children and young people suffer from huge pressures and stresses and often feel very anxious, particularly at this time of year with exams affecting both primary and senior aged children. With this in mind, I have recently been developing some stress and anxiety toolkits, and I have been asking young people to trial them for me, with excellent feedback.

In my nurture work, I have been making the most of the sunshine and enjoying outside spaces with the children. This week we were making nature pictures, collecting small things from outdoors that they found and sticking them onto a card with double sided sticky tape. This is such a simple and wonderful activity. It was delightful to see the wonder and excitement the children expressed as they found their treasures and made a picture out of them. It’s brilliant to observe these children concentrating, engaging, being curious and creative and talking with enthusiasm about what they were finding. These are children who at the beginning of the school year found it hard to focus on anything for more than a few minutes, and now were engaging for around 40minutes. A very joyful experience and a great sense of their enhancing well-being.

 

Image of a nature picture

Daydreaming

 

IMG_0006

How much time do you spend day dreaming? When do you have the time to gaze out of the window, and let you mind wander? Over the last few weeks I have been writing a chapter about how to help children find stillness. A few years ago I went on a study trip to Denmark and visited a Kindergarten situated on the edge of the woods. In the afternoon I observed one little girl aged 4, lying on a wooden water trough, staring up at the blue sky. She stayed there for around 25 minutes, happy in her own little world, totally relaxed, in a place of stillness. This image has stayed with me; there was something very beautiful about seeing her in such a relaxed moment.

As part of my writing I have been doing some further reading and found some really interesting research about day dreaming. Often day dreaming, particularly in schools, is seen as being negative. It is associated with being lazy and unengaged, but contrary to this, new evidence is showing that daydreaming is vital and an important part of the creative process. Children who daydream are often weaving stories in their minds. Researchers have recently found that children who daydream are often the children who are able to play more imaginatively, who are able to make up elaborate stories in their games, which links to them playing for longer and in a more engaged way. They have also found that daydreaming and imaginative make believe play can help children work through and understand complex emotions and situations (Fries 2009).

If daydreaming is good for children’s creativity, it is also good for adults. Neuroscientists now know that it is when our brain is wandering that we are most creative. It is in those times when we are gazing out, not concentrating, that we can have some of our best creative ideas ( May 2012).
My intention for the rest of this weekend is to have more of those moments.

 

Image at the top of the beautiful blue sky this morning

 

Fries,A. ( 2009) How Daydreaming helps children process information and explore ideas. Accessed on 6/3/16 at: https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-power-daydreaming/200910/how-daydreaming-helps-children-process-information-and-explore

May,M The Neuroscience of creativity: why day dreaming matters-
https://www.americanexpress.com/us/small-business/openforum/articles/the-neuroscience-of-creativity-why-daydreaming-matters/

How long do we expect children to sit on the carpet in school/ nursery?

How long do we expect children to sit?

IMG_0653
It’s a new term and I am back into schools, in reception classes. I have been struck once again by the need our school system has to make children sit down on the carpet. My gut feeling has always been that this is unnecessary for young children; more than that, it is unhelpful and unrealistic. This week I have seen 4 and 5 yr olds sitting on the carpet for over 30 mins; this is too long.

This week I read an article by Angela Hansom, who is paediatric occupational therapist in America- http://wapo.st/1xlsgMV;

she advocates that children (specifically those under 7) need at least one hour a day playing outside. She goes on to explain how children need “rapid vestibular (balance) input” every day. She describes this as the opportunity to go upside down, spin around in circles, and to roll down hills – all wonderful examples of outdoor play. By enabling children to do this, their balance system will develop effectively. Until this is effectively developed she argues children are not able to sit and concentrate. I found this really fascinating, for how often do we hear children being told by teachers, early years workers, and from parents not to roll down the hill, and not to hang upside down on the bars?

I regularly see children who really struggle to sit still, who fidget and roll around on the carpet. I see other children who are labelled as being naughty because they won’t comply with the rules of sitting for an extended period. My question is always why are we asking young children to sit on the carpet? What is the child telling us through their behaviour? how are we listening to children about what their needs are? Some of the best early years practice I have seen is from those practitioners who really tune into what the children are telling them and what children need; who have very limited times when the children are sitting on the carpet. We need to ensure that we enable children to play and learn through play and exploration, especially outside. We need to allow our children many opportunities to spin , roll, balance and hang upside down, and most of all we need to make sure our young children are not sitting on the carpet for too long.
our young children are not sitting on the carpet for too long.