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On Thursday, 8 September 2022 the Kidzrus family gathered at Swinton Masonic Hall for our second annual training day.  It was a great opportunity for colleagues to take on board new learning concepts, to review skills and to share best practice.

The day started on arrival with coffee and croissants during which team members from each setting were able to re-connect and chat informally.  In her formal welcome from our Director, Nicola Fleury she stated “Today is all about YOU, we have some wonderful sessions to share with you, some of which will involve group work and sharing your knowledge and experience, however much of it is about Kidzrus Team being together. For many of you this will be the very first time you have met one another but we want to assure you that there isn’t one person in this room that is any more important than the other as we all matter, we’re all part of a team and we’re all equal.”

The business of the day started with a presentation by Kaomi James, Acting Manager and Jessica Townsley, Pre-School Leader and Senior Practitioner from our Media City setting talking about the benefits to mental and physical health of yoga.  It helps emotional regulation, reduces feelings of anxiety, enhances concentration and memory, strengthens flexibility and improves self-esteem.  

Kaomi stated that positively impacts on physical health and the results for physical health can be phenomenal for us as a nursery group as it allows us to teach our children from such a young age to be conscious of their thoughts and feelings, by allowing them to express their emotions in a positive and controlled manner. 

In short, they told us that we can capture our children’s interest and attention by using yoga poses and adapting them to a chosen theme such as dinosaur, farmyard, garden or space and then went on to share with us some of their shapes and moves.  Kaomi and Jess also shared some great resources for practicing yoga such as Cosmic Kids on You Tube, as well as books and stories that work so well at circle time.

Kaomi and Jessica gave us some top tips for practicing yoga within our settings.  We need to consider how we can change our environment to make it feel a calm and safe space to play?  

  • Turn down the lights
  • Play calming music
  • Practice yoga indoors and outdoors in the fresh air
  • Allow our children to be part of the process and promote independence
  • Let them collect their own mat
  • Encourage them to take off their shoes and socks
  • Give them time and space to lay down or be seated – be present in the moment before starting.

The main message from Kaomi and Jessica is to incorporate a variety of research tools and resources and be confident – don’t over complicate things and just have fun!

Our colleagues were then invited to play the first of three games of bingo with numbers called out expertly by Darren Matthews.  The prize for a line was a crate of mark making resources and this was won by Katie Shaw from Swinton Forest School and Nursery.

We were extremely fortunate to have input from guest speakers; Willow’s mummies, Rhonda Morgan-Farrell and Lisa-Morgan Farrell along with their friend and colleague, Fatmata Kumara (Registered Nurse Mental Health and Global Case Manager at BUPA).  

Rhonda opened their presentation by speaking with great passion about her own life experiences and the reasons why she wanted to work with children… to make a difference!  Her first role working with children was on placement within a children’s home and she advised that young people she worked with back then still reach out and contact her as adults – what an impact she has made on their lives!.  “What a difference you make – you never know how much impact and influence you play in that child’s life” she said inspiringly to us as early years educators and professionals. 

Rhonda’s presentation was intimate whilst being extremely open and honest as she shared with us her experiences of outreach working with children, on placement on the streets and lanes of Bradford with street workers, with Women’s Aid.  She openly posed the question to all of us “Don’t you find it unbelievable that somebody would want to hurt someone… a human being?”.  

Rhonda then went on to discuss her work with the Freedom Programme; a precursor to Salford Survivor Project alongside her mother, Tricia Grinder.  Notably, the late and great comedian Victoria Wood was a positive supporter and Patron. Rhonda then returned to live and work in Manchester; in a bar on low pay but had a great time even though the pay was low and the hours long.  

Next, she returned to her working with BUPA where she works all manners of health and support including mental health as well as those with additional needs. She then went on to talk about how all her experiences and exposure to so many living in difficult circumstances and being exposed to negativity in the world of work impacted on her own mental health.  

Becoming mother to a delightful little girl, Willow made her overprotective and claimed that our colleagues at Media City will vouch for that.  Rhonda spoke about her initial search alongside Lisa, Carl and Simon (Willows daddies) for high quality childcare and safe  and said some of settings made them feel that uncomfortable that they couldn’t wait to get out of the building… that is until they came to Kidzrus at Media City.  She spoke lovingly and emotionally about the connection that they had as parents with our team and how formed a relationship of trust and reassurance, which is of paramount importance.  Rhonda noted that team members from each and every room had a great impact on Willow, and she is now a funny, engaging, bright and happy little girl who has just made the journey to ‘big school’.

The overriding moral of Rhonda’s presentation was that we should all be kind and non-judgemental in life and to treat everybody with respect; no matter who they are or where they are from.  

Rhonda then passed the microphone to her wife, Lisa-Morgan-Farrell who spoke to us in her capacity as a Mental Health First Aider, and part of that role is to support colleagues during a mental health crisis.  She rightly noted that it is as important to care for our mental health as it is our physical health.

Lisa knows from first hand our work in childcare and early years education and that it is also extremely important that we care for ourselves and each other to enable us to give the very best of ourselves to the children that we support.  She asked us to recall emergency instructions on an aeroplane are to fit our own oxygen mask first before helping others and that we must apply that principle in all aspects of life.

Lisa asked whether any of our team are MHFA trained, and we are extremely pleased to confirm that the Kidzrus Group currently has five; Anna Sharples and Laura Shaw at our Forest School and Nursery, Kaomi James at Media City, Charlene Kenyon at The Lodge and Jess Page at Monton.

She discussed that wellbeing and mental health is so important; even more so having come out of unprecedented times of the pandemic and lockdowns.  We can do this in work by spotting the signs and changes in colleagues’ behaviour, by asking twice, by listening and by being aware of signposting services.  People may not want to speak to someone close by to them but may well need to reach out for some support for mental health to such agencies as MIND and the Samaritans and the Shout text service.  Lisa told us about the Time to Talk Day on 2nd February annually and we will add this to our wellbeing calendar for colleagues so that we set aside some time to have a brew and a chat with each other.

Lisa gave us an insight into a number of mental health conditions and symptoms including anxiety, bipolar and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder before adopting the role of Quiz Mistress for a Mental Health Stigma Quiz.  Our colleagues participated willingly and were surprised by some of the correct answers, as they were in most cases higher than we previously considered.  Our team members from Swinton Forest School and Nursery were the winners and recipients of a much-appreciated prize.

Fatmata Kumara was the final speaker on mental health and wellbeing for children and adults.  She asked us to consider what mental health means and its importance in a child’s safety and wellbeing as much as physical health.  It can impact on all aspects of life including educational attainment, relationships and physical wellbeing and can change over time dependent on degrees of seriousness and circumstances.  

Fatmata then went on to discuss a range of statistics and alarmingly one in six children aged between 5 and 16 years are likely to suffer with mental health, in the last three years there is a likelihood that mental health cases in young people will increase by 50% and five out of thirty children are likely to have mental health issues.  These figures are staggering!

It is important for parents and guardians to start as early as possible working on their child’s mental health so that they reach their potential, and as parents they can meet those needs frequently.  If we give children what they need now in early life then their future will be full of possibilities.

Fatmata discussed who is at risk, how and why as well as how we, as adults, are best placed to support them by knowing the warning signs and symptoms.  She told us that a person’s mental health changes continually and provided us with some tips for supporting children and young people before joining Rhonda and Lisa for a Q&A session.

We would like to thank Rhonda, Lisa and Fatmata for taking the time to deliver such open, honest, insightful and inspiring presentations to our team members.  We will use the information provided going forwards at our staff meetings as mental health is aways an item on our agendas.

After a short coffee break Gemma Fletcher, Area Manager and Natalie Jones, Manager at our Forest School and Nursery alongside Darren Matthews, Quality Manager on the theme of ‘Safeguarding Children – Everybody’s Responsibility’.  The aims of the session were to discuss and raise awareness of they types of abuse, to recognise the signs and symptoms, to be able to identify additional factors, what to do if there are concerns and how to report those concerns.

Colleagues were asked to consider who is involved in a child’s life and in small groups they were able to list anyone that may participate.  The role was reinforced that they play in ensuring and promoting the safety and welfare of children and young people, and that everyone working with children has a statutory (legal) responsibility to ensure and promote the safety and welfare of children and young people.  The primary aim of our work is to create a culture of vigilance that includes whistleblowing, providing information and communication by mindful staff that hold safeguarding at the forefront of all that they do.

Natalie and Gemma highlighted the need to monitor attendance and the importance of whistleblowing as well as confirming how we know that what we do works well.  They then went on to discuss the four types of abuse and asked our team members to match up the symptoms.  

Gemma and Natalie then introduced several neglect Case Studies that colleagues were able to discuss at length and agree on strategies for appropriate reporting and referral for additional support.  In recent times, due to lockdowns and the cost of living crisis there has been an increased presence of unintentional neglect, and our teams were asked to consider circumstances that may cause a child to be exposed to unintentional neglect.

Colleagues were then asked why is it important to get safeguarding right and the case of Star Hobson was raised before watching a news interview with her aunt.  

It is of paramount importance that our colleagues are familiar with what to do when they are worried about a child in a PVI setting and when allegations are made against staff in PVI settings.  Natalie and Gemma brought the revised flowcharts recently issued by the Starting Life Well Team at Salford City Council to attention and discussed what we actually mean by support.

Following this aspect of Safeguarding review Darren Matthews discussed additional factors that have been raised in recent Cluster Meetings and Safeguarding Network Meetings with the Starting Life Well Team at Salford City Council.  These are also concerns that our colleagues must have skills, knowledge and understanding of to ensure best practice and also in the case of inspection by Ofsted.  These include Prevent, FGM, the Toxic Trio (Domestic Violence, Parental mental Illness and Parental reliance on substances), County Lines drug dealing and cuckooing, Child sexual exploitation, child trafficking and online grooming, disguised compliance and abuse linked to faith or belief.  Additional training and information will be provided at individual setting staff meetings and training sessions.

Natalie and Gemma asked our team members to discuss how, as practitioners they promote a safe environment.  They then looked at a number of illustrations to spot the hazards and fed back their findings to confirm best practice.

The overriding message of the session was that each and every one of us is the voice of the child.   

Following a lovely buffet lunch beautifully prepared and served by our cooks Helena Tomlinson from Media City and Ivana Matejova from Monton our team members played another game of bingo – this time it was two lines, and the prize was a crate of wellbeing resources for colleagues to enjoy in their setting.  The worthy winner was Sue Thompson from Media City.

The afternoon session was a hands-on affair led by Debbie Moss, Manager and Charlene Kenyon, Deputy Manager at Kidzrus The Lodge.  They expertly gave some tips and guidance on tuff tray activities, firstly by recalling that learning through play is the focus of the Early Years Foundation Stage 2021 and that tuff trays are provided as a focused area of play, based on children’s  interests and what we want them to learn.  They provide our cohort children an opportunity to discover independently and fosters their creativity and imagination.

The list of what we can use in tuff trays is endless – paint, ice, ribbons and materials, natural resources, gardening and planting, water, gloop and pouring liquids as well as numbers and shapes as well as words and other literacy resources.  We must give due consideration to food and skin allergies and intolerances and avoid food play for health and safety considerations so that means no cereals or yoghurt as the children often try to eat them from a dirty tray.  Lentils and rice are appropriate foodstuffs to incorporate into tuff trays.  The underlying message is to make tuff tray play exciting and interesting yet manageable to both set up and tidy up.

Debbie and Charlene’s top tips for tuff trays are:

  • Plan ahead based on your children and their current interests and fascinations
  • Allow children to have time to play and explore
  • Have an intent but don’t worry too much if the children take the learning on a different route
  • Follow children’s lead in the moment – they will learn something
  • Ensure that staff are present and interacting with the children and tuff tray to achieve learning
  • Re set the tuff tray for the afternoon cohort and keep it in situ for sometime so that all children can experience it
  • Involve the children to tidy up to promote responsibility and independence
  • Tuff trays come in all shapes and sizes – they aren’t all round so consider using wellie trays, cutlery trays, tea trays etc
  • Tuff tray play can be solitary and can also promote group play and interactions and support children in sharing resources

Colleagues from each setting were invited to participate in a group task whereby they created two tuff trays: one for under two’s and the other for children aged two years and above using a range of trays and natural resources.  This activity captured the imagination of all colleagues and gave them an opportunity to interact and share thoughts and opinions as well as best practice.  On completing the activity Debbie and Charlene toured the room and discussed the intent, ways of implementation and impact of each of the tuff trays designed by our team members – each having extremely positive and pleasing results.

After a short coffee break colleagues reconvened and were able to benefit from an insightful and informative presentation from our award-winning Forest School Manager, Natalie Jones and Forest School Leader, Naomi Connor about how they lead Pre-School learning at the Forest School around outdoor play.

Naomi introduced herself to all present and shared some of her experiences as a Level 3 Practitioner with more than twenty-one years’ experience in early years education and how she made the massive leap from conventional practice to becoming a Forest School Leader.  She answered many questions including when, why, where and what the training involved and the best way to obtain the training and qualification should any of us wish to make the massive leap and change in direction.  Some things became abundantly clear, her lovely enthusiasm for her role and absolute dedication to her children.

So, this part of the session wasn’t just an inspiring talk.  Natalie and Naomi gave our teams time to get creative.  On their tables they found a paper bag containing wonders of the forest and encouraged them to imagine that they are in a forest with a group of children, and these are items that their children had found.  They were allocated a very short time of 5 minutes to create something with them.  These were then reviewed, and team members discussed how they had used the resources and what they expected children to learn from the activity alongside their impact on progress.

Natalie and Naomi discussed the proven benefits of outdoor play:

  • Outdoor play can reduce a child’s risk of developing near sightedness (myopia)
  • Greater exposure to bright light which enhances health and mental performance
  • Increased activity levels and freedom to run, jump and climb
  • Opportunity for hands on learning
  • Outdoor play offers young children opportunities to learn new words and concepts
  • Reduces stress levels, promotes better moods, and improves concentration
  • Enhanced opportunities to learn social skills, overcome fears and develop a life-long connection with nature
  • Promotes a more active and healthier lifestyle
  • Encourages children to take calculated risks
  • Outdoor play lowers a child’s risk of behaviour challenges

Our Forest School ethos is to allow children to actively take risks and our team members don’t relay typical phrases that one would attribute to early years education including don’t splash in puddles! Don’t get dirty! Shall we go out later as it’s raining? Don’t pick that up! I’ve not brought my coat! It’s too cold! Get down now – stop climbing! Don’t bring that near me! etc. 

Natalie posed the question – what can you do indoors but not outside?  The answer is NOTHING!  Together with Naomi, she talked us through a typical day in the life of our Forest School as well as typical activities of climbing trees, taking care of the animals (chickens, rabbits and tortoise), learning about the environment and nature, fire pit cooking, whittling, exploring the forest and using tools and equipment.

They then introduced a group activity and asked them to think of different activities that they could carry out using allocated resources of puddles, sticks, mud, rope and rocks linked to all areas of learning and considering the cons of using them.  Responses to this activity were extremely innovative and prove that our team members have the skills, knowledge and understanding of outdoor play and will incorporate these ideas and activities into the learning experiences of our children going forwards.

Our colleagues were able to reflect on what they had learned and how they will embed this into everyday practice at the end of each session.  These thoughts will be used to improve standards of practice within the Kidzrus Group; to afford our children newer and more exciting experiences and opportunities.

Darren Matthews then called the final round of bingo – for a full house and the winner of a night’s stay at a spa and hotel was Jodie Reynolds from Media City.  Following on from that Nicola Fleury, Director alongside Gemma Fletcher, Area Manager and Natalie Jones, Forest School Manager introduced the first of what will be an annual award to a colleague for their Outstanding Contribution.  On this occasion the recipient was Laura Shaw from Swinton Forest School and Nursery for her sterling efforts in promoting strong and effective partnerships with parents and in using parents as a child’s first teacher to incorporate their knowledge into our daily practice.  

The training day closed with a team photo shoot; an ideal way to mark the occasion and illustrate what a remarkable team we are at Kidzrus.  As our Director, Nicola Fleury stated earlier in the day, our colleagues are our real asset and we thank them for their continued great efforts in providing exciting learning experiences and opportunities for our children.  She also said “ Without you all Kidzrus would not exist, it’s fabulous having all the resources and wonderful set ups in our nurseries but the real asset is YOU and I want you to know that we appreciate you all.”  

Staff commented on what a fabulous day was had by all and a wonderful opportunity to share best practice, develop our knowledge and meet our staff teams from other settings within our group.  All round a hugely successful day and one which we all benefitted greatly for the wellbeing of all the amazing children and families we care for daily. 



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