Supporting Young Children through Transitions by being Outside

Transitions - Group of children setting off for their sessionChange and transitions of any kind must be at the top of the list of ‘super-stressors’.  It doesn’t matter what age you are, change can be tough. I speak with heart felt conviction on this one.  Recently, I started a new job after working for the same organisation for 30 years.  I suffered a whole host of emotional challenges during this time.  But I feel great now, because I was made to feel so welcomed, wanted and needed by my new school. I also consider myself to be quite emotionally resilient. Emotionally resilient people bounce back quicker than those who are more emotionally vulnerable.

This blog post will explore these key points about supporting individuals through change and transition. We will investigate how to help children feel wanted and loved, how to give them a sense of belonging, how we can understand the stress involved in transitions of any kind and how, in the longer-term, we can help an individual to become resilient.

What kind of transitions do children experience?

Transitions - Adult, 2 children and dogTransitions can be physical, emotional, personal or psychological, and can be predictable or unpredictable. Some transitions can be deeply traumatic such as loss of a loved one, seeking refuge in another country because of war or disaster, or being taken away from family and being placed into care. These kinds of transitions need sensitive and planned support. But all children experience the ‘vertical’ and ‘horizontal’ transitions of moving through education systems or transitioning between learning environments and activities, and these kinds of transitions also need sensitive support.

Birth is the first major milestone where a child goes from being at one with mother inside the womb, through the dramatic experience of being pushed out into the world.  Babies don’t really feel physically separate from their mother for quite some years after being born, and the awakening of being a separate individual and self-awareness happens gradually during early childhood. The child’s main attachment figure becomes the ‘secure base’ though which the child feels safe enough to go off and explore the world.

Transitions - Child climbs across stepping stoolsLearning to use and challenge the physical body can be the first experience of ‘separateness’ and ‘self-awareness’ and this can be supported by lots of outdoor physical play.  But despite the gradual experience of ‘separateness’, little children can have waves of sadness and loneliness that they can’t name or understand. Adults can help by learning to recognise these feelings and use such moments to help a child find words to express those big emotions.

When a main attachment figure leaves a child for the first time, it can be a big experience of painful and scary transition for both child and adult.  Those difficult first days of going into child care or nursery are a challenge for all involved.  Some children seem to sail through it all, others are distressed and fearful for days or even weeks.  Children can continue to feel fearful when starting each new situation such as nursery, school, groups and clubs for many years after their first experience of being left with others.

Attuned Staff

Transitions - Adult catches childHaving a staff team of sensitively-attuned, attachment informed and warm individuals is an enormous help for child and adult in this process.  Also having the possibility to ensure that the care of each child is as consistent as possible goes a long way towards helping children and parents manage those transitions.  Staff also need to recognise that children and adults need time and patient support to learn to cope with big changes like starting nursery, school or a group like Forest School.

Outdoor Space

Transitions - 2 children walkingAnother great asset to supporting children through transitions is having an easily accessible outdoor space. Outside is often experienced as a social space. Children and adults might feel more relaxed if they are dropped off in the garden or outside play area. Invite Mum or Dad or Grandparent to stay and be in the garden if they would like.  Have a bench or visitors chair tucked out of the way where whoever sits there can observe and be observed by the children, without feeling like they are intruding on the child’s play.  The adult can maintain their role as the ‘secure base’ for as long as needs be, until both adult and child have built up the relationships with staff and feel safe and secure.

Starting nursery is the first major ‘vertical’ transition and from thereon follows a whole host of ‘horizontal’ transitions.  These are the transitions between activities and spaces that happen daily.  For some children, these are a breeze, but for others, especially anxious children, these are truly painful experiences.

Changing locations and activity can be a painful experience for anxious children or children with specific learning needs. In Nature Nurture we help create a safe ‘bridge’ from one place or activity to the next through song.  Each transition has its own song that remains consistent.

Outside, children learn that there’s a journey between spaces. In Nature Nurture, we mark journeys with a song.  We start singing when we are ready to set off for the next space, and repeat the song until we get there.

Transitions - Child carrying flagOur older children have a flag that accompanies us on our journey.  Children put their names or a picture on the flag at the start of a programme of Nature Nurture.  The flag is carried by a child or an adult depending on the needs of the group. The person with the flag leads the way.  The flag is planted somewhere conspicuous once we have arrived in the next space, and the children use it as a point of reference.  They can go wherever they like as long as they can see the flag.  When it’s time to move on again, we call ‘find the flag’ and the children race back in the hope of getting there first.

Some anxious children need transitional objects to help them move from one place to another.  Many children need to bring toys from home, or need to make or collect something from their outdoor play to give to someone important at home. These objects, no matter what they are, are immensely important for the wellbeing of the child and should be acknowledged and respected.

If you are interested in more ideas and strategies to help children cope with transition through outside play, look out for a short online training course coming soon. Produced by Salugen, it is entitled ‘Supporting Transitions Outside: how Outdoor Play can Help Anxious Children.’

Let us know if you are interested in another screening of the Resilience documentary

There has been a lot of interest in the Resilience documentary screening planned for 10th June, 2018 at Newton Dee in Aberdeen. Unfortunately, it is now fully booked. However, if we can get enough expressions of interest, then we will put on another screening later in the year. To record an expression of interest with us, please complete the form below.

Resilience, the biology of stress and the science of hope.

Sunday 1o June is an important day for Nature Nurture; we’ll screen the documentary ‘Resilience, the biology of stress and the science of hope’ and we’ll launch our new training and consultancy company, Salugen Ltd.

One hundred people have booked places to see the screening.   This documentary is all about the long lasting and global impact of adversity on  developing individuals.  This topic is dear to our hearts in Nature Nurture and Terri will give a short introduction to Nature Nurture and Adverse Childhood Experiences.

If you would like to book training in Nature Nurture approaches, promoting resilience through outdoor play, or supporting children’s behaviour through outdoor play and learning, please contact us through https://salugen.uk/ or email office@naturenurture.org.uk

If you would like us to come and advise you on your outdoor learning and play practice, book a 1/2 day or whole day consultancy through https://salugen.uk/ or email office@naturenurture.org.uk

If you are interested in becoming a volunteer, please email office@naturenurture.org.uk

Climbing

Image of child jumping of log

How do you feel about young children climbing?

Opportunities for children to test and challenge themselves are crucial parts of healthy development.  But that’s not to say it’s always easy to watch a small child totter on a narrow surface or climb higher than you can comfortably reach.  Those ‘heart in your throat’ moments are the natural response of a caring and responsible adult.

It can help to understand why these experiences are so important when you are trying hard to feel as courageous as the child you are keeping watch over.  And of course, it is important to help children learn to keep themselves safe.  But sometimes it’s those risky experiments that are a key aspect of helping a child learn to risk assess for themselves and to become aware of their own strengths and limits.

So why is it important that children climb?

Children need to move to feel well and to develop healthily.  They need to run, jump, dance, roll, swing and climb.  This movement helps them make vital body-brain connections that will form the foundation of all academic learning, social interactions, self-Child climbing in a holly treeawareness and self-esteem, emotional wellbeing and self-regulation….phew, to name but a few!

But what development does climbing support specifically? The most obvious is physical development.  When climbing children need to balance, stretch, pull themselves up, lower themselves down, judge distance, perfect hand to eye and foot to eye coordination as well as help them make physical connections between left and right hemispheres of the brain.  As children climb using alternate feet and hands, they are not only gaining an enormous amount of pleasure and thrill, they are forging the connections in their brain and body that will support them in reading, writing and maths. Did you know that not only muscles, but also tendons, nerves and even bones are developed through activity like climbing?

Then there’s sensory integration.  Balance and movement or vestibular and proprioception sensory systems, together with touch, form the foundation for all other sensory experiences.  To have a healthily integrated sensory system, children really need to haveThree friends climbing on a rock practiced and tested their vestibular and proprioceptive systems.   Sally Goddard Blythe brilliantly describes balance as the ‘art of not moving’.  Do you remember being a young child and having that super scary yet thrilling feeling of maintaining balance on a wall or a branch?  Proprioception gives you that deeply satisfying feeling in your body when you’re climbing when you stretch or pull.  Do you remember pulling yourself up onto the next branch of a tree and that fantastic sensation of deeply stretching your muscles.

Endless studies have demonstrated that physical play contributes to physical, mental, emotional and social health and wellbeing.  Children climbing together learn to collaborate and problem solve together. They also learn to empathise with each other, give each other encouragement, and celebrate achievement together.

Risk

In Nature Nurture we conduct risk benefit analysis.  That means that as well as doing a general risk assessment of activities such as climbing, we also highlight for ourselves the benefits of such activities and ensure that the benefits balance or outweigh the risks.  Because of that, the children in Nature Nurture have the opportunity and time to experience a wide range of movement and active play.  When climbing trees, we tell them, ‘yes you can climb that tree, let’s Climbing on the roof of a barrel houselearn how to do it safely’.

 

Finally

Next time I’m watching my 20-month granddaughter climb up on to a fence or branch, I will hold myself in check and do my very best not to let her experience my anxiety.  She is fearless and I must learn to trust her to set her own challenges.  I need to be ready if she needs me and asks for my help, but I need to give her the message, loud and clear, ‘I think what you are doing is fantastic and I know you can manage this’.

So, try and take a deep breath and enjoy children’s joy as they take care of some pretty vital learning in their outdoor play!       Child enjoying being up high on a log

Nature Nurture and ACEs

 

Nature Nurture, Resilience and Adverse Childhood Experience (ACE)

Authored by: Terri Harrison Nature Nurture, Resilience and Adverse Childhood Experience

In the beginning….

When Daniel and I first established Nature Nurture in 2009, our aim was to promote resilience in vulnerable children. We have studied hard to develop our understanding of what resilience is and how it is promoted through play in nature and attuned, nurturing interactions. We’ve had remarkable successes with children who many others had given up on. We have also discovered exciting research and heard from truly inspirational individuals along the way.

Nature Nurture, Resilience and Adverse Childhood Experience - Woodland fishing

Studies

One of the studies we found right at the beginning of our journey was Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE), conducted from 1995 to 1997 by the US health organisation Kaiser Permanente and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. This study and subsequent film ‘Resilience, the biology of stress and the science of hope’ have become the springboard for further studies and a global movement recognising the impact of adverse childhood experiences. ACEs have been shown to shape health, wellbeing and behaviour across the life course of an individual. Further studies across many countries have helped in the reformation of communities and institutions such as schools, prisons and hospitals.

In Scotland, this movement has been championed by Dr Suzanne Zeedyk and the organisation Connected Baby. There have been numerous showings of the ‘Resilience’ film across Scotland since its release last year. There are still plenty of opportunities to see the movie as well as listen to Suzanne Zeedyk and (The ‘real’) David Cameron speak about the movie’s relevance in Scotland. Nature Nurture, Resilience and Adverse Childhood Experience - Fun with friends

Our ongoing commitment

In Nature Nurture we remain committed to children who have multiple adverse childhood experiences. We have discovered that playing freely in nature with closely attuned interactions fosters the development of each child’s resilience. We can’t change the adversity that these children have experienced, but we can give them the inner fortitude to keep themselves safe and make healthy life choices in the future.

Nature Nurture, Resilience and Adverse Childhood Experience - Lighting the fire

…and finally

If you are interested in providing Nature Nurture approaches for children who have experienced adversity, we can provide you with training, guidance and some key advice to get you started. Contact us to find out more.

 

BUILDING RESILIENCE THROUGH PLAY IN NATURE (part 3)

In this final post exploring the theme of facilitating the growth of children’s resilience, we will focus on the key areas of building confidence, participation and self- agency, helping children to develop a positive outlook and encouraging a feeling of responsibility and wish to participate.

Building Confidence, Talents, Interests and Self Agency

Many children experience a sense of freedom when playing outdoors.  They feel free to follow their own interests, to take the time they need to repeat and perfect skills or experiences and they often have the opportunity to encounter novel, positive challenges through outdoor play.  The opportunity to repeat and practice without the pressure of time constraints or intrusive adult agenda can give a child the means to develop new skills, talents and interests.  Children often play collaboratively when they are in outside spaces and through the support of friends a child may discover a new levelof confidence and motivation to try again.  Adults can support a sense of self-agency by standing back and facilitating this kind of collaborative play and individual exploration. It gives children the message that ‘we believe you can solve this by yourself, but we are here if you need support or advice’.

Developing a Positive Outlook, Positive Values, Hope

One of the most frequently occurring themes that appears in resilience study is the theme of ‘hope’.  If we consider the quote by Nietzsche, we can start to understand that having the ‘why’ to live for is the key to becoming resilient.

‘He who has a why to live for
can bear with almost any how’
Friedrich Nietzsche

Spending time in nature can calm and soothe the soul.  It can also inspire and invigorate.  Children who have the chance to be awe-inspired by natural beauty can be moved to discover the ‘why’ in their lives.  Caring for nature and other people can be the first step towards developing life-long positive values.

Encouraging Responsibility and Participation

Many children develop a ‘learned helplessness’ through not being trusted to have a go, make mistakes and learn from their mistakes. Mistakes are often considered as a form of failure.  Some parents and practitioners are also fearful of risk and children pick up the message that ‘you’re not able and competent’ from adult fear.  To help children become resilient we need to encourage them to dare to face challenges and to view mistakes as learning opportunities.

Risk benefit analysis in outdoor settings is the most enabling approach to risk assessment.  Children from an early age can be involved in this process, identifying why doing something or being somewhere is beneficial, what are the risks that we should watch out for, and how we can reduce the risk or impact of risk.  Children in Nature Nurture take great delight in conducting risk assessments for their peers and figuring out safe ways to do things.  That is an important responsibility that we can give to our children and through this trust they can thrive and grow.

Conclusion

None of us are resilient all the time, but everyone has the capacity to become more resilient.

Play in nature gives us the peace, time and stimulation to build our own resilience and to support the development of resilience in the children for whom we care.

More time for play in nature will help ensure that each of our children will become confident individuals with the bounce back they’ll need in life in the future.

For more information, please contact Terri Harrison.

BUILDING RESILIENCE THROUGH PLAY IN NATURE (PART 2)

Gathering Community Resources
Young children can learn so much from ‘experts’ and people who are there to help us in our local communities. As early years practitioners, one can’t be expected to know everything and to have confidence in all areas of learning and play. It can be enormously beneficial for children to experience that we are all on a learning journey and we all can benefit from help of others. Everyone can become more resilient through learning to ask for help when we need it and through looking for opportunities to learn from others. In your local community, you may have Forest School experts who can advise you on woodland spaces, craft activities, games and identification skills. They may also be able to lead sessions with your children for you. Local farmers are a great resource who may be willing to invite you and your children to see lambs, sheep shearing, or harvesting. If you have a local care farm, children may be able to help feed animals and get up close enough to touch them safely. In Nature Nurture we have also invited local outdoor crafts people to come and show us their skills. We’ve had the pleasure of welcoming greenwood workers, basket makers, artists, musicians and storytellers help us to make beautiful things outside and to be creative in our natural surroundings. If you are lucky enough to have an outdoor space you wish to develop and have the resources to invite landscapers or builders in to help you, involve the children too. Let them watch workmen and talk to them about what they are doing and maybe they can also help out imitate what they see in their own play.

Developing Self-Regulation
Resilient individuals are not overwhelmed by their emotional states and can manage their emotional responses. This is something infants begin learning in the first hours after they are born when they are soothed by their carer. We continue to learn this throughout our lives, but early childhood is vital in the development of self-regulation. Outdoor spaces in nature are ideal places to support the development of self-regulation. If you think about what happens when you go for a walk in a natural space when you are feeling tense. Most of us start to experience a calmness. Our breathing changes and we can develop a better perspective on our problem. This is also true of children, even when they are highly stressed or anxious. But of course, it’s not enough to send children outside to ‘sort themselves out’. A child needs the help and support of a caring and attuned individual to help achieve the calm they need to regulate their emotional state. As Dr Stuart Shanker points out in his book ‘Self Reg’ adults are very good at telling children to ‘calm down’, but when do we explain to children what that state of calm is and what it feels like? Being outside can give you opportunities to notice when children are in a calm state and point it out to them. Say to the child ‘you look calm, what does it feel like?’ This is the first step towards helping a child to manage to regulate their own emotional state. Once a child knows what ‘calm’ is, you can start to teach strategies like finding a quiet space to be alone and breathing deeply to help the child manage her big emotions. Tools such as ‘Emotion Works’ give us a curriculum through which we can help the child to name the emotions he experiences, think about what they feel like in the inside their body, understand what triggers those emotions as well as what helps them feel better. You can access these tools as well as practice example and helpful advice at www.emotionworks.org.uk.

We can model self-regulation by managing our own stress levels in front of the children. Being outside helps us as much as it helps the children to achieve a calm, alert state.

Show children how you can take three deep breaths when you are feeling tense and how you can have ownership of your own feelings by expressing them in constructive ways. We can also show children how we take responsibility for our own actions and feelings by admitting when we make a mistake and apologising when we become aware of hurting someone’s feelings or when we have misjudged a situation.

Developing Thinking Skills, Creativity and Imagination
Natural spaces for play outside are the most stimulating, challenging and calming spaces and are therefore ideal for developing thinking skills, creativity and imagination in early childhood. These are important skills for resilient individuals. Someone who has the concentration, perseverance and creativity to solve problems and to manage difficult situations is more resilient than someone who can become frustrated, agitated, confused or overwhelmed when faced with a challenge. I think the best places to develop thinking skills, creativity and imagination are outside places. As Margaret McMillan said: “The best classroom and the richest cupboard is roofed only by the sky”.

Bruce D. Perry, M.D., Ph.D. is an American psychiatrist and neuroscientist who is an expert on child trauma and neurodevelopment. He and his colleagues run the Child Trauma Academy that can be accessed at: http://childtrauma.org/

He writes about learning as ‘Experiences – repetitive, consistent, predictable and nurturing experiences – are required to express the underlying genetic potential of each child’ Bruce Perry (2000). Central to every child’s healthy development is the opportunity to act on her natural curiosity. We can support this development through fostering natural curiosity in outdoor settings. Play in nature provides all the stimulus a child needs to realise their potential. Play always brings pleasure, without pleasure it’s not play.

We can see from Perry’s learning cycle that curiosity and the pleasure of shared discovery drives the child’s learning, motivation and self-esteem. It is so easy to imagine this learning cycle outside, with attuned and responsive practitioners who can share in the child’s celebration of discovery and mastery through their play. Perry also warns that this cycle can be crushed by adults who express disapproval of a child’s curiosity or disgust about the child’s discovery. When a child doesn’t experience an adult as a secure base and is too fearful to explore and investigate the world around him, then his curiosity can also be killed. The presence of a caring and responsive adult is essential for the child’s exploration because she can provide a sense of safety from which the child can set out to discover new things. The attuned, respectful and interested adult also is a source of shared discovery. Shared discovery provides the greatest amount of pleasure in the learning cycle.

In part three the theme of building resilience through play in nature will be concluded. We will consider three more aspects of resilience: Building Confidence, Talents, Interests and Self Agency; Developing a Positive Outlook, Positive Values and Hope; and finally Encouraging Responsibility and Participation.

Remembering Ann Stevens

On 23 November, Nature Nurture lost a very dear friend.  Ann Stevens worked with us as a volunteer for four years. She was a retired primary school teacher and on the first day we met we could see that she was a hugely gifted practitioner.  Ann gave her time freely and worked with all our groups at various times over the four years.  She had a remarkable ability to see what a child needed and to respond with warmth, patience and love.

She had enormous energy and enthusiasm, and this was contagious. She loved to run about in the woods with the children and was always playful and full of fun. She was so quick to smile and laugh.  Ann was also an earnest student and was hungry to learn about the approaches and principles of Nature Nurture. She attended every training session we held for the team over those four years and read avidly in between.  She had a deep connection to, and love for, nature.  She loved to walk with her dear husband Dick and was so happy to have her lovely cottage in Dunkeld where she could retreat.

When I am asked “what do you mean by ‘nurture’” I always think of Ann. She had such a big heart and cared most dearly for every child with whom she worked.  She also cared for every adult in our team, and always had the right word, smile or a hug when we needed it.  Ann and I shared our pride of being grandmothers and frequently exchanged stories and pictures of our own precious children.

She gave out so much love to everyone she met and in turn was greatly loved by all the children and adults in Nature Nurture. It was with a broken heart that I took her husband’s message that she had lost her courageous battle with cancer. I was grateful to hear that she spent her last hours pain free and with her children and Dick close by her.

In her last few days, Ann spoke to Dick of her love for Nature Nurture and they both agreed that they would like to make a donation to our charity. On Monday Dick came to see us and presented us with a very generous donation.  We will use this money in a way that Ann would have wished and spend it on starting a new under 5’s Nature Nurture group in the Seaton area of Aberdeen.  We will call this project ‘Ann’s Group’. These pictures give a glimpse into Ann’s boundless love for Nature, Nurture and Play.  She will be sorely missed by us all.

 

 

Welcome to the new Nature Nurture Website

Greetings to you all and welcome to the new Nature Nurture website. This project has been several months in the making and we are so happy to finally reveal it to you all. The site has been set up as a platform through which people can learn about the Nature Nurture Project and its current ventures. In addition to this, we would like the site to be a dynamic space, regularly updated with our Nature Nurture Blog. This tool will be used to share our knowledge and experience of working with the Nature Nurture approach to promote resilience in vulnerable children. It will also be a space to share the latest research in resilience, the benefits of outdoor play, self regulation, nurturing environments etc., as well as provide useful resources for adopting and implementing child-centred practice and outdoor play.

The main page of the Nature Nurture website welcomes you with a brief summary of the project and its aims. From here you are able to access the ‘What We Do’ page, which goes into greater detail about the ‘Nature Nurture Approach’. Further down the main page of the site, you will see that it is divided into 5 sections we like to call ‘Green Areas’. These areas allow you to navigate deeper into the site to learn more about who we work with as an organisation, the impact that Nature Nurture has had on those who have attended the programme, the ways in which you can volunteer with the project, our continued fund raising to ensure the projects long term future and the different training packages we provide.

At the top of the site is a navigation bar which will allow you to jump to additional pages such as ‘Who We Are’, ‘Resources’, ‘Blog’ and finally our ‘Contact’ page. Over the coming weeks and months, more content will be added to the Resources and Blog, with the eventual aim of developing a dynamic library of relevant content which will be widely applicable to anyone working in early years and/or outdoor therapeutic ventures.

This blog post marks the first of many entries to come and we hope you will check back regularly to keep up to date.

Luke Harrison