ACE’s – Show your hand

How Stramash Outdoor Nursery uses ACE awareness to support children & families living with ACE’s 

In our previous ACE’s blog we discussed how a grass roots movement is on target to make Scotland the first ‘Fully ACE aware nation’. We are a part of a much wider network of health, education, legal, social and care workers, parents and people who are using this knowledge of ACE’s to better support our communities and do the very best by Scotland’s children.

Outdoor nursery provides a unique environment for learning and play. We believe it also provides unique opportunities for mitigating the effects of ACE’s – adverse childhood experiences as discussed in this post here >>Smokin’ ACE’s

A problem shared…

In our original post we discussed what ACE’s were and how it is ‘Toxic Stress’ – living with stress (as a result of ACE’s) and feeling that you cannot tell anyone (that you must cope with all this alone) which has the most detrimental effect in terms of health.

Today i’d like to dig a bit deeper into how Stramash has begun to integrate ACE awareness to act as a ‘childhood equaliser’ to further mitigate the effects of ACE’s in our young people and their families.

How?

Approach and ethos – non outdoor specific

  1. We prioritise relationships – we are reliable, emotionally stable and available adults caring for children and supporting families
  2. We keep communication open – no judgement, flexible family centric care, consistent approach. We organise family events and stay and play sessions to regularly reinforce our Stramash family bonds
  3. We don’t do blame, shame or punishment and seek to understand behaviour as communication (always as separate to the child)
  4. We support children in directing their own learning – increased engagement develops self motivated learners via more immersive activities which provides higher levels of wellbeing – http://wels.open.ac.uk/research-project/caren/node/939
  5. We further our understanding of child development, neuroplasticity and child psychology to provide a nurturing, safe and developmentally supportive setting for all our children
  6. Joined up services – where possible we seek to have good and responsive relationships with all members of a child’s team – be they family, social or care workers, their medical and health professionals and later their school teacher. We share relevant information to deliver best outcomes for our children, ensuring a consistent approach and so no valuable information is lost.

Outdoor Specific

  1. The natural world for mindfulness – a stimulating yet nurturing and calming environment leads to reduced feelings of stress which provides an opportunity for cortisol levels to decrease. We understand that it is the body remaining on ‘high alert’ for extended periods of time which causes ongoing health problems from ACE’s. We are exploring the possibilities of developing mindfulness as a practice & this is an ongoing area of development within our settings.
  2. Our sites give access to a variety of natural materials, spaces and play opportunities and are designed to provide a choice for children to access what they want/need, when they want/need it – this might be a quiet space to sit or room to rough and tumble play with their friends, loose parts to build and create or somewhere to climb and challenge their physical bodies. This variety provides choice, which raises self esteem, develops a child’s sense of self and increases wellbeing.
  3. Space and bespoke support to develop effective and positive self regulation methods of stress responses, in a way that does not undermine the child or their emotions
  4. The opportunity to be active all day – shown to reduce cortisol and the negative effects of stress on the mind and body
  5. We offer appropriate challenge and opportunities for risky play – increasing children’s confidence, problem solving abilities, self esteem and resilience

 

Cameron is the Team Leader at our Fort William site, they hosted a screening of Resilience and a discussion on ACE’s after. Here are his thoughts:

“I would say being ACE aware and acting ACE aware really boils down to two things.  

  1. Putting relationships at the heart of what you do
  2. As a professional continuously developing your knowledge of child development,  brain development, and trauma to broaden your own personal skill set.

I always tell families that are thinking about Stramash I want you to feel like your signing up for a community rather than a nursery.  By creating a community feel it gives children, staff, and parents a shared purpose and sense of belonging.

Stramash is very lucky to have a diverse and experienced staff team (our greatest asset!), but one thing I’ve particularly enjoyed about working with Alastair (Elgin and Tornagrain Team Leader) is learning about the Gaelic connection that is in all Scots to the land and place they are in.  I hope that at all our Stramash locations, the nursery community feels that same connection.

Essentially,  I think that is what makes outdoor learning special and so important to ACEs in general.  Our school years for many people can be an intimidating time and many of us have difficult memories of our experience there.  Learning in the outdoors is an equaliser for many many reasons. In terms of ACEs talking over a fence is more neighbourly and easier for most people to do rather than across a desk or in an office.  For children it’s that shared experience through good weather and bad we are in it together always there to greet them with a smile and a cuddle if needed.

What both situations do is allow us to build positive caring relationships with parents and children in a way that is approachable for all. If we could all greet each other with a smiley face and a compassionate ear we would go a long way to combating ACEs in our nation,  but as professionals we owe it to our children and families to do more. For example this year in Fort William we are working with Highland Psychological service to make our provision more nurturing. We have undertaken brain development, attachment, nurturing principles training already and with more sessions planned. This is an investment by Stramash not only in our staff, but also to build the outcomes for our current and future children.  

Stramash everyday are giving children the opportunity to play and learn outside while being supported by a caring, loving, and professional staff team. Through the outdoors we give them positive steady relationships and through our approach to risk allow them to build self-esteem and confidence in a place that they feel belonging to.  What better way to give a child the skills to say I can do this and I know where to go if I need help. A Maya Angelou quote that came across me via twitter this winter was “do the best you can until you know better, when you know better do better” that I think is Stramash in a nutshell. Never accepting that we are perfect but always looking to be better and do better for our children and families.”

 

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