The first will take place at Aboyne Primay School, Morven Place, Aboyne, AB34 5JN on Wednesday, 26th September at 4pm. The fee per participant is £30.00.
Nature, Play, Risk taking and making the learning visible
Exploring the importance of children internationally having access to play in nature. Play is a right of all children and is considered vital for mental and physical health, we will look at how play in a learning environment can be balanced with curriculum and children’s learning through meaningful documentation. The outdoor environment is often perceived as having increased risks for children with many children actively seeking and accepting challenges. We will explore children as capable self risk assessors, the value of some accidents and the over use of accident documentation. It is important that children are provided with appropriate hazards to build resilience as they explore the risks.
The second will take place at Credo, 14-20 John Street, Aberdeen, AB25 1BT on Thursday, 27th September at 4pm. The fee per participant is £30.00.
Learning Tracks – a documentation framework
Simple, meaningful documentation with and for children rather than about children. The voices of all children of all abilities are valued and used to plan experiences with children leading their own learning through their interests. Children and practitioners together document their ideas and thoughts in a community of learning, with these documents available to children so that they can reflect on their own learning. The learning and development is made visible to families through the use of keywords. This method of documentation is appropriate for adults working with children in both indoor and outdoor settings.
Change 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 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.
Learning 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.
Having 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.
Another 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.
Our 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.’
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.
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 email@example.com
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 firstname.lastname@example.org
If you are interested in becoming a volunteer, please email email@example.com
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.