Provision: Cool place to be

Karen Hart, education writer
Monday, February 22, 2021

Welcome to the Greysbrooke Beach Hut – an inner sanctuary of calm where children can enjoy one-to-one time with teachers or enjoy small group activities which enable them to combat sensory overload. Karen Hart steps inside for a relaxing experience.

Karen Hart

We all know young children have days when just everything is upsetting – the sort of days when no matter what you try to engage them in, they just can't shake off the mood. This is not a great experience for children or practitioners.

To find a better way through these inescapable experiences many pre-schools are turning to the nurture room philosophy. Young children, and in fact children right through their school life, can sometimes really struggle with their emotions. There can be just so many of them, and the busy, bright, noisy atmosphere of the classroom or nursery, as lovely as this is, can on occasion prove too much for some children, leading to sensory overload. This is where the nurture room comes in.

Thinking about emotions

The nurture room philosophy started in 1969, through the observations of psychologist, Marjorie Boxall, who noticed there were a large number of children entering school with significant emotional, behavioural and social needs. Basically these children were just not ready for the demands of school life.

Nurture groups can now be found in over 1,500 schools in the UK, offering pupils from early years upwards the opportunity to think about their emotions and emotional responses to the often hectic experience of daily life in a calm and nurturing environment.

Reception teacher Clare Glandfield (right) collaborated with Gill Glassor at Two Thirds Design to create her school's nurture room

The benefits of nurture groups and having a dedicated nurture room in particular, are manifold. These include pupils gaining confidence, learning techniques for adjusting behaviour, finding it easier to make friends and socialise with others, an ability to focus and deal with the trials of life, and improved all-round academic achievement. All of these being skills that will stay with them through life.

At Greysbrooke Primary School, an Ofsted rated outstanding primary in Lichfield, Staffordshire, Reception teacher Clare Glandfield is a passionate advocate of nurture rooms, with first-hand experience of the many benefits they bring to her Reception pupils.

‘Our nurture room came about when we received some money for school improvements,’ she says. ‘We had a really small staffroom which was becoming free, so our head suggested turning this into a nurture room – something she'd been wanting for a long time.

‘The room was transformed by Two Thirds Design company, into this really beautiful, calm space. We call it ‘The Greysbrooke Beach Hut’, a good name as it has the feeling of a quiet, peaceful place to come to when you need a bit of calm.’

Ms Glandfield reports that the nurture room is used for both individual and small group sessions: ‘This includes working on a one-to-one basis with a trained Early Literacy support assistant, working on emotional/behavioural issues, sometimes with a trained LEGO therapist, or working together with other children, talking about identifying those emotions that cause problems,’ she explains.

‘It's about the unravelling of emotions, identifying those feelings that are often the real problem, especially for younger children.’

Tips for starting an early years nurture room

Although it's lovely to have a large room to use, practically, this is often not possible. What is important though, is that you have a dedicated space, separate from the rest of the practice so children can leave it behind and work on their emotions quietly.

Don't be tempted to fill your nurture room with brightly coloured toys and lots of stimulating bits and pieces. Instead keep things simple. A couple of beanbags or floor cushions on a rug with some soft toys and picture books for quiet time, plus a table and chairs and calming music is really all you need. Some pre-schools make little nest areas or provide a pop-up tent containing cushions and blankets, where children can snuggle up and feel peaceful.

If possible keep colours soft – although obviously, you'll have to work with what's available to you in many instances and won't be able to repaint a room. If this is the case, make the most of posters showing scenes of nature and natural landscapes, such as waterfalls.

It can be really useful to keep a range of sensory resources for children who find it easier to interact while keeping their hands busy, such as bubble wrap, or rain maker tubes, as Clare Glandfield suggests. These toys are also good for calming an overstimulated child, needing a little bit of time away from the buzz of the nursery.

Playing quietly together with a child on a one-to-one basis can instantly transform a child's behaviour in a positive way. Simple toys such as building bricks, rearranging a dolls house or just looking at books together work best.

Phase in time to talk about the child's feelings at the end of the session; can they pinpoint any incidents that made them feel angry or sad?

Finding a way for a child to record their emotions can prove effective in identifying what made them feel better. Creating individual child diaries can be a good place to start.

Opening a treasure chest

The nurture room has received a lot of parental support, with some parents coming to the teachers for help with problems they're experiencing at home – such as children showing signs of angry behaviour.

The school has been able to pass on the strategies it uses in its nurture room, such as breathing and yoga exercises, and this has proved really successful.

‘We track the progress we see, which is obviously important if we want to identify where the benefits are being seen the most,’ says Ms Glandfield.

Although nurture rooms can help children through all age groups, she identifies enormous benefits for Reception children, for whom labelling emotions and identifying the feelings that cause them problems, can be particularly difficult.

‘We really focus on this, to be able to pinpoint those emotions and identify the problem,’ she says. ‘I had a child with me this morning who was displaying real outbursts of behaviour – emotional overload. Talking quietly with them allowed their emotions to come back under control.

‘I keep a “box of distractions” in the nurture room including sensory resources, sand timers and LEGO. It's like a treasure chest. If you sit there playing while you talk, children feel calm and not under scrutiny, and there's no stigma attached to visiting the Nurture Room, with children looking forward to the half hour a week they spend there with me.’

The team feels it is lucky to have such a lovely space and its dedicated role makes all the difference:

‘Children know they can come to this place that is quiet and lovely with calm music playing. When the door is closed, staff know I'm working with a child – you don't want people coming in and out all the time.’

Miss Glandfield adds: ‘Covid has proved challenging to us in lots of ways, and if children are not in my Reception class bubble, then I'm not able to work with them, so I can only hope we get back to normal as quickly as possible.

‘I can't imagine not having a nurture room now. In a busy Reception class of say, 28 children, the sensory overload can be overwhelming and having a quiet, peaceful space, is just what some children need to bring them back to a clam and happy place.’

Ofsted's view

Ofsted wants to see children happy and succeeding in the early years and school environment, and nurture rooms are a good way of encouraging and demonstrating this.

For children spending regular, planned visits to the nurture room, Ofsted inspectors will be looking for a plan tailored to the individual child, but linked to the rest of the class, with records of progress in behaviour and overall mental well-being. You should also show that your nurture philosophy is being applied throughout the pre-school and not confined to the nurture room alone. Be able to explain the benefits of your nurture room and how you feel it's a worthwhile resource, be willing to discuss how a child's experience is shared with parents and carers, and be enthusiastic! A passionate approach to nurture goes a long way.

Sensory resources are an important part of what a nurture room offers

Useful resources

Information on the six principles of nurture groups:

The Boxall Profile Handbook: Nurtureuk

Ofsted - Supporting children through a nurture group

Two Thirds Design - Designers of Greysbrooke Primary's nurture room

Running a Nurture Group by Simon Bishop (Sage Publishing)

The Colour Monster by Anna Llenas (Templar Publishing)

The Colour Monster Goes to School by Anna Lkenas (Templar Publishing)

The Worrysaurus by Rachel Bright (Orchard Books)

How are you feeling today? by Molly Potter (Featherstone)

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