Finding a voice

Gordon MacLean, our Early Years and Parenting Officer, talks about one of his most cherished memories working with children and their families outdoors.

When working with a new group I often start with a simple game so that we can all introduce ourselves. In this game we take turns to tell everyone our name and how we are feeling. Feelings can be an abstract concept for children, especially in the early years. To make this easier we ask the children to show how they are feeling by doing an action. This gives a visual indication of their feelings, even if they can’t put them into words.

To help the children (and adults!) feel more comfortable and to gain more confidence sharing in the circle, I ask everyone to tell us an animal that they like and to show us what noise or action it would make. When someone shares we all copy their noise and action.

During the first session with a new group, one of the children told everyone that his favourite animal was a cow. He raised his hands to the top of his head to form horns and gave a loud bellowing “Moo” noise. Everyone energetically joined in and copied him.

The practitioner I was working with was shocked. Ben* had been with the nursery for just under two years. He is an elective mute, who took the best part of a year to communicate with members of staff within the nursery and a similar length of time to interact with his peers. Even now, after the project, he does not show much confidence in social and group situations indoors. Having heard this I was amazed at how confident and bold he was in sharing with the group and shouting “Moo” at the top of his voice.

Over the following weeks the boy continued to grow in confidence. On the third session we were looking at half-eaten pine cones on the ground, I asked the group who might have been eating these. One girl suggested a fox, Ben suggested squirrels. We asked the group what a squirrel would look like when eating his lunch. Gleefully the boy crouched down and pretended to be a squirrel eating a pine-cone. The lead practitioner had a broad grin on her face when she saw this.

On the fourth week of the project I was again pulled aside by the lead practitioner. She told me that earlier in the session she had seen his mum smiling at her son. Apparently this was the first time that this had been seen. The pair were enjoying themselves hunting for fairies and building them a new home under a tree.

By the following week Ben and his mum could be heard laughing together whilst hiding in the hammock and then swinging on a rope swing we had put up together. Later that afternoon they were snuggled up together by the fire with hot chocolate in hand.

This was a very small glimpse of the powerful moments that we often have when working with children and their families. I was once again reminded of the strength of connection that can be made when spending time in nature.

*Names have been changed to protect the privacy of participants

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