Nurture Groups were established by the educational psychologist, Marjorie Boxall in London, 1969. The principles were simple – many children arrive in our schools unable to make trusting relationships with adults or to respond appropriately to other children. A lack of early nurturing – of being loved, cherished and attended to – meant they were not ready to learn and to meet the social and intellectual demands of school life. This ‘failure’ was further damaging their fragile self-confidence and self-esteem.
John Bowlby, the author of Attachment Theory, studied children’s behaviour and explored the relationship between babies and their primary caregivers. In order for a baby to develop a secure attachment they must feel confident that both their physical and emotional needs will be met. As children grow up it is this relationship that will encourage resilience, confidence, self-esteem and self-regulation of emotions.
Attachment Theory demonstrates how and why learning can be affected dramatically if attachment has been disrupted or distorted. The types of challenging behaviour teachers are all too-familiar with: panic, anger, fear, self-loathing, attention-seeking, clinging etc can all be understood in the context of a pupil’s early childhood and how their attachments have developed.
I have been working in partnership with an Edinburgh School for nearly a year, supporting a number of older pupils with Social, Emotional and Behavioural Needs; working alongside teachers, parents and outside agencies. Our latest venture has been establishing a Nurture Group – the SMILE Classroom – to meet the needs of an identified group of P1 pupils. This will run alongside a Parenting Group run by Barnardo’s Family Workers.
The Nurture Group Network Training which I attended recently left me truly inspired. It is going to be a winding and challenging road but one which I hope will make a real difference to the children and their families. Personally, it is a welcome return to working in the early years; I worked in the pre-school of a nursery for 5 years during the holidays when I was a High School and at University, but I never taught below a P3 during my 7 years in mainstream school.
And so I found myself in school during my half term setting up the SMILE Classroom alongside my colleagues. It is a classroom with a difference, a ‘safe base’, a kind of half-way point between home and school. There is a living area – sofas, carpets, cushions and story books. A kitchen and dining table – we will eat breakfast together every day and the children will take turns to set the table and make the toast. A work area – the children will have individual learning targets as well as engaging in structured pair/ group work. A role-play area and of course space for a wide variety of play experiences: play dough, construction, drawing, painting, jigsaws…
This evening I revisited the profoundly moving Channel 4 Documentary – The Nurture Room – which follows 3 Glasgow school children and their journeys as they enter Nurture Groups. As a Council, Glasgow was streets ahead in recognising the need for early intervention to make a difference to the lives and aspirations of our most challenging pupils. In a world of ever advancing technology, The Nurture Room reminds us of the value of play and the importance of the dynamic interaction between people to enable children to develop emotionally and cognitively.