Pine cone and feather dream catcher craft

Pine cone and feather dream catcher craft

You will need:

  • Pine cones
  • Feathers
  • Wreath piece (you can create your own, but we purchased ours in Hobbycraft)
  • Natural string
  • Scissors

Instructions:

  1. Take your wreath, tie the string to the wreath and then wrap the string around the wreath creating nice shapes and tying off at the end. This should give you the main part of your dream catcher.
  2. Cut 7 pieces of string to varying lengths. Attach the pieces of string to the feathers and pine cones. Our pine cones had a little ‘tail’ we could attach the string to. If yours don’t, you might have to use glue to attach it in place.
  3. Tie these to the main wreath, so they hang down at the bottom.
  4. Voila! You are done!

We want to encourage sunny winter walks in the park with this craft. Finding feathers and pine cones can be fun and you could also add leaves or anything else the children find!

Blue monday

Blue monday

January 20th – argh! Christmas is over, you can’t get into your new jeans because you put on a half a stone; you’ve maxed out your credit card; it’s still 10 days till payday, and to top it all, it’s freezing and the trains are cancelled due to a snowflake on the line!! This has got to be the most depressing day of the year!!!

Or so the media would have us believe! Since 2005, the third Monday in January has been dubbed ‘Blue Monday’ by newspapers, TV shows and magazines alike; the day when we in the Northern hemisphere feel at our lowest ebb.

What is Blue Monday?

It’s really a marketing gimmick, dreamt up by Sky Travel to boost sales in a 2005 press release, which has really captured the imagination. The company claimed to have calculated the most depressing day of the year based on several factors, including the:

  • Weather (W)
  • Delays or monthly salary (D)
  • Travel time (Tt)
  • Time sleeping (ZZ)
  • Time relaxing (R)
  • Motivation (M)
  • Time packing (P) and time preparing (Pr) (presumably for a holiday!)
  • Debt (d)
  • Stress time (St)
  • Time spent on cultural activities (C)

They even invented some equations to convince us that this day really would be the most depressing!

For the unobservant mind (and that might be many of us in January), they may look effective, but they’re just a pretty distraction to the more perceptive.

Just a bit of fun or a self-fulfilling prophecy?

Obviously Blue Monday is a marketing success – it got lots of people talking about Sky Travel and thinking that they really needed a holiday. But on a deeper level, it also has us asking ourselves if there isn’t some truth in the suggestion that people can feel more depressed at certain times of the year for a variety of reasons. Some have even suggested it is a self-fulfilling prophesy.

So, we’ve listed a few potential things that may cause upset at this time of year, and given you some suggestions of how to chase those blues away…

Mental health and SAD

There is well-documented evidence that some people do actually feel more depressed during the winter months, and the NHS website lists Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) as a type of depression that “comes and goes in a seasonal pattern.” Also known as ‘winter depression’, most people who suffer with it, have symptoms that are worse in the winter months than in the summer. It can be a debilitating illness with symptoms that include:

  • persistent low mood
  • loss of pleasure or interest in normal everyday activities
  • lethargy (lack of energy)
  • feelings of despair, guilt and worthlessness
  • irritability
  • sleeping for longer than normal and during the day
  • craving carbohydrates and gaining weight

No one really knows what causes SAD, but theories suggest that the reduced exposure to sunlight may affect the functioning of the hypothalamus, which affects the production of hormones (melatonin and serotonin), and can disrupt a person’s body clock. Symptoms can be severe and have a significant impact on people’s day-to-day activities, but treatments are available so you should see your GP if you feel that your mood is deteriorating and that you cannot cope.

Debt

After Christmas, many of us are faced with credit card bills and overdrafts we’d rather forget, and for many, this causes stress. Household financial debt (excluding mortgages) was recently revealed to have risen by 11% in the last recorded 2 years, according to the Office for National Statistics1. It reported a staggering £87bn in loans, credit cards, hire purchase agreements, overdrafts and arrears, which equated to approximately £9,400 per household (a rise of 9%).

Debt in itself is not always bad; most governments around the world use borrowing to fund their policies, but the problem comes when you feel that you cannot pay back what you owe, or when you begin to “rob Peter to pay Paul” as the saying goes, which can lead to debt repayments spiralling out of control.

Many people avoid talking about debt and it has been shown to be a major factor in relationship problems, but help is available and it’s best to seek help early if you feel under pressure. Solutions can range from simply creating a monthly budget, to more formal solutions such as debt management plans, individual voluntary arrangements (IVAs) or bankruptcy, but in the majority of cases, if help is sought early enough, this can be avoided.

The first step is to seek advice from either the Citizen’s Advice Bureau or other specialist debt management charities such as Stepchange or the National Debt Line, all of whom offer free advice.

The weather and that ‘stuck in a rut’ feeling
None of us can change the weather, and we often feel stuck in a rut if we feel we lack control of our lives. The best advice here is to try to reframe your feelings about the things you cannot control and focus instead on the things you can control – like your emotional state. Instead of focusing on negative things, make a list of all the things you can control. Think about what you’d really like to have, do or achieve, and then set yourself some SMART goals about these, breaking them down into small, achievable tasks and you’ll soon see things improve.

Resources and more information

References
Office for National Statistics

Ways to boost your mood

1.  Put on your favourite song and dance to it

2.  Try some meditation, mindfulness or yoga

3.  Go for a walk and get out into nature

4.  Exercise

5.  Visit friends

6.  Volunteer at a local homeless centre or senior citizens centre

7.  Start a new hobby

8.  Stroke your cat, dog or other cuddly pet

9.  Declutter your house

10.  Read an amusing book

Whether Blue Monday is real for you or not, don’t ‘do nothing’. Take some positive actions to help yourself, and that will, in some small way, start the process of feeling better.

Cervical Cancer Prevention Week

Cervical Cancer Prevention Week

Cervical cancer is not something that many people talk about, yet around 3,200 women (9 people per day) are diagnosed with the disease in the UK every year1. Whilst incidence rates have been falling since the early 1990s, in the last decade, rates have increased again by around 4%, especially in the 25–29-years age group. Sixty-three percent of those diagnosed will survive for 10 years or more, but there are still 852 deaths per year and since 99.8% of cervical cancers are preventable, many women are dying unnecessarily1.

January 20th to 26th is Cervical Cancer Prevention Week, when leading cancer and healthcare charities come together to raise awareness of the disease and how people can reduce their risk. This means:

  • Encouraging people to attend cervical screening sessions when invited
  • Disseminating information about the symptoms of cervical cancer and when to get help
  • Encouraging the take up of HPV vaccinations for 11–18-year-olds
  • Promoting sites where people can find help and support

Nurseries and pre-schools are ideally placed to spread the word to those who could potentially be most affected, and to help save lives, due to the predominantly female workforce and regular contacts with young women.

What is cervical cancer and what causes it?

The cervix (neck of the womb) is part of the female reproductive system and is the lower entrance of the womb, leading to/from the vagina. The cervix is a strong muscle that allows the flow of menstrual blood from the uterus into the vagina, and during intercourse, directs sperms into the uterus. Normally, the entrance is very narrow, but during labour, it dilates to allow for birth.

The cervix has several layers, and the area most likely to become cancerous (the area around the opening) is known as the transformation zone.

The main cause of cervical cancer is a persistent infection of the human papilloma virus, known as HPV, which is a common virus, usually cleared by the immune system. In some cases, the virus causes changes to the cells in the cervix which can become cancerous if left untreated.

 

Who is most at risk?

Younger women, especially those in their 20s, are most at risk although trans men can also develop it if they haven’t had a total hysterectomy.

What is cervical screening? (smear test)

The National Health Service Cervical Screening Programme (NHSCSP) was introduced in the 1980s. All women and people with a cervix, aged between  25 and 64 should be invited into the programme by letter. The time between screenings will depend on age and any previous abnormal tests.

A ‘smear test’ takes about 10 minutes and involves taking a small sample of cells from the cervix which are then tested to see if there have been changes. Results are usually received within 2 weeks, by letter. If abnormal changes are found, then further investigation and monitoring will be undertaken to help prevent any changes developing into cervical cancer.

Why are women still not being diagnosed?

One of the main reasons women often give as to why they have not had a smear test, is that they are too busy with their work and their family to make time; they often put everyone else’s needs ahead of their own. Smear tests do not take long but delaying one may impact on your ability to receive early investigation and/or treatments, and in some cases, it may be too late. Research by cancer charities has also shown that women do not understand the symptoms of cervical cancer and many find the process embarrassing.

What are the symptoms?

Symptoms are not always obvious and there may be no symptoms until the advanced stages, which is why it is important to take part in the screening programme.

The first symptom is usually abnormal vaginal bleeding, especially during or after sex, between periods or after the menopause. Vaginal bleeding can occur for many reasons so you should visit your GP early if you experience this abnormally. Other symptoms include pain or discomfort during sex, an unpleasant vaginal discharge or a pain in your lower back or pelvis.

If the cancer spreads to other organs or tissues, then more severe symptoms can be experienced including constipation, weeing or pooing more than normal, severe pain, incontinence, blood in your urine or severe vaginal bleeding. You should see your GP immediately if you experience these symptoms.

Vaccination

There are currently are 3 licensed HPV vaccines in the UK that protect against HPV. They are Gardasil, Cervarix and Gardasil 9. According to the NHS website:

“From September 2019, all 12- and 13-year-olds in school year 8 will be offered on the NHS the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine. It helps protect against cancers caused by HPV, including:

  • cervical cancer
  • some mouth and throat (head and neck) cancers
  • some cancers of the anal and genital areas
  • It also helps protect against genital warts.”

A second dose is normally offered 6 to 12 months after the first (in school year 8 or year 9) and it is important to have both doses to be protected. If people miss the first dose, they can still have the first vaccine up to their 25th birthday. Importantly, this is now being offered to boys as well as girls.

How to get involved

There are many ways to get involved and nurseries are well-poised to raise awareness in the target audience. Initiatives should be aimed at the health of your staff and parents rather than children, so why not?:

  • Hold an awareness event
  • Wear pink for the day and share your reasons
  • Fundraise for a cancer charity
  • Promote the importance of attending a smear test
  • Hold a drop-in session for parents to get some information or advice
  • Use your social media to spread the word of what you are doing and why
  • Allow staff time off to attend cervical screening
  • Join the #SmearForSmear campaign run by Jo’s Trust charity to help get rid of the myths around smear tests.

Useful information

References

Wellbeing of staff

Wellbeing of staff

Last year, we published an article on “How to improve the wellbeing of your staff”, focusing on ways that you could promote their physical, mental and emotional health. In Ofsted’s recently introduced Education Inspection Framework, the wellbeing of nursery and other education-establishment staff is specifically mentioned as one of the criteria that inspectors will look at under the “Leadership and Management” section.

Extracting the staff wellbeing parts, settings who want to obtain ‘good’ or ‘outstanding’ judgements, should meet the following targets.

To be judged “good”:

  • Leaders engage with their staff and are aware of the main pressures on them.
  • They are realistic and constructive in the way they manage staff, including their workload.
  • Leaders protect staff from harassment, bullying and discrimination.

To be judged “outstanding”, settings must meet all the ‘good’ criteria, plus:

  • Leaders ensure that they and practitioners receive focused and highly effective professional development. Practitioners’ subject, pedagogical content and knowledge consistently builds and develops over time, and this consistently translates into improvements in the teaching of the curriculum.
  • Leaders ensure that highly effective and meaningful engagement takes place with staff at all levels and that any issues are identified. When issues are identified – in particular about workload – they are consistently dealt with appropriately and quickly.
  • Staff consistently report high levels of support for well-being issues.

But what does this really mean in practice? And what can your setting do to ensure it is on the right path when it comes to staff wellbeing? Here are 5 things to consider:

 

Policies and procedures

Good governance starts with having clear ideas about how things should optimally be run. This is where your strategies and policies come in. For example, does your setting have a clearly written staff wellbeing policy or strategy, which outlines what staff can expect in relation to their own wellbeing? If so, are your provisions adequate, and how do you know that they are being adhered to equitably across the board? If not, what are you doing to improve this?

The culture in your setting

What do the people who work for you say about your setting? It is an enjoyable, empowering and supportive environment, or do they feel pressured to work overtime, feel powerless, or fear for their jobs in a culture of blame?

We all know which culture we would prefer to work in, but sometimes, everyday work pressures can lead to a very different practical culture being developed. Ask yourself some searching questions here about what is expected of staff both in their written contract and in the often-unwritten culture that has developed? Do your leaders set a good work-life balance example, and are there opportunities for staff to raise concerns without recriminations?

Opportunities for further education and staff development

Bill Gates once said, “As we look ahead into the next century, leaders will be those who empower others”. He was right. Helping to empower your staff will ultimately help your setting to succeed on levels that you cannot yet imagine because it will allow staff to feel valued, make informed choices, and to ultimately find solutions to their own problems. Education empowers people as does encouraging life-long learning, CPD and trust. Studies show that CPD increases job satisfaction and contributes to good health and wellbeing. So, are you allocating time and resources to do that? If not, why not?

Supporting and helping your staff

What do you do if your staff have a problem – be it a personal problem, mental health or physical health problem? Do your policies and working arrangements allow for emergencies or flexible working patterns, and what sources of information and help do you offer if issues do arise? We all know that some employers are more flexible and understanding than others when it comes to these things, so ask yourself bluntly – would you like to work for you?

Audit your approach

A few years ago, it seemed that ‘audit’ was almost a dirty word since anything and everything that could be audited, was being done. This led some institutions into a culture of box-ticking and meaningless surveys and reports. However, done well, auditing your practice gives you the information you need to continue going forward and improving with each step, and should be seen like a satellite navigation system that is continually feeding back your position so that you can be certain you are in the right place, heading in the right direction.

What does this mean in practice?

If you are unsure about what some of these things mean in practice, it might be useful to download a recent staff wellbeing report published by the National Centre for Children and Families. It outlines 10 steps to help support staff wellbeing, and although written initially for schools, much of the content of the report is also relevant to nurseries.

It offers several suggestions for improvements, including:

  1. A dedicated space for staff to take time out
  2. A culture of openness and support talking about mental health
  3. A lead person responsible for mental health
  4. Introduction of a staff wellbeing survey
  5. Consideration of working hours

These are just a few of the suggestions, but it also includes some case studies to show how different schools have improved their staff wellbeing by following some of the advice.

Other ideas that fall into similar categories include:

  • Stress reduction techniques such as relaxation or mindfulness classes
  • Encouraging appraisal systems that are focused on praise rather than fault-finding
  • Instigating team building and teamwork opportunities
  • Offering initiatives which recognise and praise staff
  • Robust staff induction programmes
    Buddy schemes or counselling services for help and advice
  • Using language to promote wellbeing as a normal concept within the work environment
  • Encouraging an open-door policy
  • Provision of occasional free lunches, fruit or other low-cost perks
  • Regular consultations with staff and ‘staff voice’ initiatives
  • Healthcare plans or private health insurance
  • Mental health first aid training
  • Perks such as gym memberships or wellbeing workshops
  • Encouraging a can-do attitude and growth mindset

Staff wellbeing matters, so make sure you are looking after your staff well.

Yoga, meditation and mindfulness for toddlers

Yoga, meditation and mindfulness for toddlers

In a busy world, where time always seems to be ‘of the essence’, we are all straining to be effective parents, productive professionals, and happy to boot, it’s no wonder that sometimes our patience snaps and our tolerance wanes. But who then is at the end of our frustrated outburst or our annoyance? It’s often our children or the children in our care.

Now the question here is not about us controlling our own outburst or exasperation, (albeit desirable) but rather, what are we teaching our children when this happens?

Children learn by copying. They observe, they copy, and then learn from their own experiences of copying what we do – good and bad. So when we all push ourselves to the brink of collapse (often physically and mentally), with no time or space to breathe easy or release our tensions, children will pick up on this, and eventually try to emulate us. They think it’s important to get everything ‘right’ and to be ‘perfect’. And we all know what an elusive and impossible master that can be!

What can we do to redress this balance and teach our children that it’s ok to just ‘be who they are’; to spend time sitting quietly with their own thoughts; and to experience the world in a different way? We suggest trying yoga, meditation or mindfulness.

What are they?
Yoga is an ancient form of physical, mental and spiritual practice about revealing the true essence of our being. It originated in India thousands of years ago, but is not considered a religion; it’s rather a philosophy, in which the practitioner uses certain techniques such as controlled breathing, stretching and poses to understand themselves and the oneness of all things better. There are different branches of yoga that put emphasis on different techniques.

Meditation is one branch of yoga in which you quieten your mind and just observe what is left when you remove all the ‘mind chatter’. It is a simple practice that you can do almost anywhere in order to clear out the clutter in your head and find an inner calm.

Mindfulness could then be said to be an extension of meditation in which, having quieted your mind, you then take control of your thoughts and your attention to focus on the moment; observing and experiencing it fully. The Greater Good Center at Berkeley, have an easy-to-understand definition:

“Mindfulness means maintaining a moment-by-moment awareness of our thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations, and surrounding environment, through a gentle, nurturing lens.”

Benefits for children

These practices have been shown to have many benefits for adults and children, including: 1,2,3

  • Boosting the body’s immune system
  • Increasing suppleness and strength
  • Reduced negative emotions, anxiety and stress
  • Changes in areas of the brain linked to learning, memory, emotional-regulation and empathy
  • Improved sleep patterns
  • Reduces behaviour problems and aggression
  • Increased sense of self

How to start meditation, mindfulness and yoga with children

Unless you are a practising yoga teacher, you might think it is difficult to start helping children to meditate or learn yoga, but you’d be wrong. Of course, there is a place for having a dedicated yoga teacher to come into your setting and share their experience and knowledge with your children, and if you can arrange that on a regular or one-off basis, then that will be a great way to start.

But there are also many simple ways that you can use to introduce these practices into your setting. Here are 3 short exercises to get you started.

Yoga: move and pose

One way to engage toddlers in stretching their bodies and beginning yoga poses, is to get them to pretend to be animals. Many yoga poses themselves are based on characteristics observed in animals. You could ask the children what kind of traits they think certain animals have, such as a cat (suppleness), a tiger (strength), a snake or cobra (curling and twisting) and then ask them to show these traits with their bodies. You can then build these into the real yoga poses.

Meditation: breathing

Ask the children to sit or lie down quietly and focus on their breath coming in through their nose, filling their tummies so their tummy rises up; and then blowing out through their mouth. You can do this to slow counts; in for four counts and out for four counts. Remind the children that their tummies should rise up like a balloon when then breathe in and go down/deflate like a balloon when they breathe out.

Mindfulness: focus

Ask the children to sit or lie down quietly and try to listen to every sound in the room. Guide this by pointing out different things e.g. a fan, the hum or a radiator of the ticking of a clock. Just spend a few moments really listening to and focusing on each sound, then move on.

You can do the same with areas of the body. Get the children to listen for their heartbeat and then to sense how their feet feel, or how their hands feel on the floor etc. The purpose is to get them to consciously focus on individual things one at a time, without judgement.

Continuing and building on your practices

Once you have run a few sessions, expand on your practice by either inviting a yoga teacher in, or researching and building on things. One of the best ways to help children is through stories and children are naturally drawn to stories, and they often want to act out or physically engage with them. The website kidsyogastories.com has some great information and resources especially designed to help teach yoga and mindfulness to toddlers. You can even start with the babies in your setting too.

 

References
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For more resources and ideas, visit: www.parenta.com/ymm-resources

 

Top tips

  1. Start slowly
  2. Lead by example
  3. Use some guided meditations to start with
  4. Connect to ideas/concepts they understand – e.g. cats stretch, snakes curl, trees stand still
  5. Do not expect children to be perfect meditators – just plant the seed and let it grow.

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