Experience nature’s soothing power
Relax, revive and restore are the objectives for those who attend our sessions for families with SEN children.
Families who attend regularly notice development of awareness and appreciation of the therapeutic benefits, delivered for themselves as much as for their children, through attending family sessions within the tranquil, ancient woodland where the paths are made by the animals that live there.
The smiles on the faces of both children and adults, the more relaxed postures of the children, the quiet focus, the improved listening, the reluctance often to go home. These sessions provide, quite simply, life-enhancing experiences for both the children and the adults. Here’s a glimpse into what parents have shared with us.
“I can’t believe the change in xxx by the end of each session, it’s so heartwarming to see” (2022)
“I hardly ever see the gentle, loving side of him that he’s just shown towards me, it makes me quite emotional” (2022)
“I feel so much better in myself after being here, never mind the children!” (2022)
Scientific research proves that just 2 hours immersing yourself in nature delivers tangible wellbeing benefits and that is exactly what both adults and children experience at our monthly sessions delivered in a tranquil ancient woodland in East Northants between Thrapson and Corby.
Quite often, when new families attend their first session their child’s behaviour can be challenging.
Sometimes a child who is new to the woodland will kick, scream, even hit out at the suggestion they take a walk up the woodland track to the area where the sessions are based. We understand the challenges for some children of going somewhere new but also, importantly, the anxiety of the parent trying to navigate the situation.
Using gentle support and encouragament we find ways to lower anxiety driven behaviours to enable the emotional regulation needed to cope with the situation causing distress.
We support the anxiety of the parent/carer too and spend as much time as it needs to reassure them that we are there to support them just as much as their child/children.
Our family sessions are as much about the parents as the children, providing opportunities to experience deeper relaxation than they might usually experience on a trip out. In the woodland there is something present but unseen that is very soothing and healing, helping contribute positively to the family dynamic.
When we all gather around the camp fire towards the end of a session I can see by looking at the faces of those taking part that some quality nature connection time has worked its magic.
Cultivating calmness within
Spending a few hours of quality time playing, away from tech, connecting with nature is key to cultivating feelings of calmness and happiness within the children.
The tranquility of the 20 acre ancient woodland setting, completely fenced and surrounded by fields, helps lower underlying parental anxiety too.
The fact that there are only a small number of families attending at any one session helps nurture a sense of being part of a supportive community, for them as much as their children.
There are also no distractions to pull the children’s attention away from the simple pleasures of making their own fun in nature. No gift shops, ice-cream/sweet vendors, playground or petting zoo, Just the simple pleasures of enjoying what mother nature has to offer, which she does so in abundance whatever the season and the weather.
The sessions can really help boost positive family dynamics through supporting everyone to have a calming, relaxing, nature-fun-filled time.
A very typical comment during sessions is –
“I don’t often see him/her being like/doing that..!”
Why not come along to a session and experience the benefits for you and your child/children.
Find out more about our SEN sessions
Who leads the sessions?
Our sessions are led by Susan Collini who is a Forest School Leader and Solutions Focussed Therapist and Wellbeing In Naure practitioner/trainer, supported by a team of volunteers who have been DBS checked (enhanced).
The sessions are run on Forest School Principles, where the needs of those taking part are supported. We don’t just limit with support to children but include the adults too because we want the parents/carers to relax, recharge their batteries and hopefully restore their equilibrium.
Support provided at sessions
Our team of volunteers are on hand to support everyone at the sessions rather than do activities with the children. The role of the volunteers is to be aware of what is going on and when it is appropriate to move in to support and when to leave families to do their own thing.
Having volunteers to support the children, when needed, can also take the heat out of habit-driven confrontational situations between children and parent/carer. Children know so well how to press their parent/carer’s buttons, do they not?
The privacy and security the woodland venue helps parents relax, be more able to let go a little and allow themselves to stand a little outside the family dynamic rather than just being bowled along inside of it all the time.
Having an opportunity to talk with myself, a volunteer or each other can, for some parents/carers help them recognise, that maybe it’s not only their child who needs support.
“Having the opportunity to chat with Susan and other parents who just ‘get it’ is so helpful and makes me feel less isolated” (2022)
Feeling you are on your own is a lonely place but having the opportunity to be listened to, without judgement, can hep people release what needs to be and can be the catalyst for deeper acknowledgement of the need to nurture themselves. Enhancing resilience in parents/carers is so important.
“You made me feel really listened to and that has prompted me to realise I need to recognise my needs as well as those of my child.” (2022)
A typical sessions goes like this
We start by gathering around a log-circle to have a quick chat about what nature connection options they might choose to engage with during the session.
We encourage famlies to allow the children to take the lead in choosing what they would like to do, which can sometimes surprise and sometimes frustrate the parent/carer too.
If a child wishes to sit in one place, not seemingly doing much for the duration of the session, then we’ll spend time supporting the parent that it’s okay to let them do that, rather then feeling they should be pushing the child to ‘do’ something.
Often children will choose to engage with what their parent/carer might initially feel is too basic, such as enjoying being tickled on the arm with soft grasses, or running their fingers through a wood chip pile, perhaps piling up pieces of wood, or even playing in the mud (very popular with many when it rains). Some parents initially feel they should be ‘doing’ something as a family. However, ‘just being’ as a family and allowing nature to fill up their senses can be far more rewarding and deliver more profound experiences than they ever would have imagined.
Allowing nature to gently soothe and heal may seem fanciful to the uninitiated but ask any family who have attended the sessions for a few months and they will tell you otherwise. Heading out into the wood to set up a family base camp, safe in the knowledge that ‘stranger danger’ is something they don’t have to be concerned about, can be a revelatory experience.
A family at a recent session were just relaxing in hammocks, being still and quiet, when they became aware of a deer peering at them. The excitement of that experience was very evident when a usually very reserved child shared the story with everyone during circle time at the end of the session. That deer encounter had quite a profound effect on the child who became excited to share her experience with other children and was then seen playing ‘tig’ with others at the end of that session. Remarkable, considering that child spent most of previous sessions stuck to her mother like glue.
For the children
Each child is supported to engage with nature at a level they feel comfortable with. This may mean the child chooses to do very little, but that’s absolutely fine. Once the child feels ‘ready’ they will engage more. If they are pushed too early they may well shut down and become dysregulated.
We provide a range of activties to engage children, offered with practical, creative or purely sensory starting points in mind. So whether your child expresses a wish to build a den, get tickled with long grasses, go on a scavenger hunt, sit under an tree and listen to a story or help with gathering and chopping wood for the camp fire, we can help create that experience for them on a level that is ‘appropriate’ for them to engage with.
For the adults
We aim to get to chat with each parent/carer during a session, when opportunity allows, gaining a little insight (without prying) into the challenges faced day to day. We cannot change the situation being lived but we can, with the help of mother nature, provide a ‘safe space’ to share and perhaps a little supportive guidance to help them build resilience for the challenges they face in in relation to the child/children they are supporting.
After the first session or two we try to encourage parents to ‘stand back a bit’ to help the children find their own level. The gains of consciusly doing so can deliver benefits to both parent and child that can enhance the wellbeing of both.
Learning to ‘stand back a bit’ can feel uncomfortable for parents/carers to begin with because they don’t realise they act out of habit. When a child, habitually, looks to someone else for help with everything, rather than gaining confidence to trying out things for themselves, they can become prone to avoiding learning valuable skills and scenarios for life.
It’s natural to want to protect your child but it’s also necessary to know when protection is unhelpful to a child’s development. To give you an example – in the rough and tumble of the woodland environment there are plenty of nettles and thistles. If parents rush to clear every risk, however small, that presents itself, the child will not learn about managing risk for themselves, but rather reinforce anxious thoughts, emotions and behaviours. Encouraging chldren to manage ‘appropriate’ risks themselves can be wonderful for their development.
Children need to be exposed to risk, if they are to learn to make decisions to keep themselves safe. Teaching a child to assess risks (appropriate to their age/cognitive abilities), whether physical, emotional, or social is an important aspect of building self-confidence and self-esteem. I’ve seen some wonderful learning in children through them being prepared to take risks at our sessions, providing gentle ‘keeping safe’ lessons learned through interacting with a calming natural environment that lowers anxiety levels naturally.
Encouraging parents to stand back a bit also provides opportunity for exchanges with other adults about their ‘situations’. Everyone is so supportive of one another because everyone has ‘been there’ one way and another. It helps to talk and parents/carers feel less isolated when they are provided with opportunity to share how things are, realising they are not alone in feeling the way they often do. Sharing with others within a supportive environment is just so therapeutic, on a gentle and mutually supportive level.
So, why not find out more and consider coming along yourself with your family to our long-running, very successful woodland sessions for families with SEN children. We look forward to meeting you.