With schools closed during another national lockdown due to the ongoing pandemic and most learning moving to online platforms, these new teaching and learning methods present a steep learning curve for all teachers and practitioners, not least those giving nurturing support to vulnerable pupils. Since the very first nurture groups were introduced into educational practice, almost half a century ago, practitioners have adapted and developed the traditional working method of the “classic” nurture group structure in response to the needs of their pupils, and the availability of resources in their particular settings. These adapted nurturing structures were firmly based on the 6 principles of nurture, but also considered the unique conditions, resources and individual goals of their schools or settings. I would argue that the needs of the moment require us to employ similar creativity and initiative as those nurturers of the past, and to adapt our nurture practice to try to reach our students remotely.
The first principle of nurture – the classroom offers a safe base – is a good starting point for us to work from. Rather than being a physical place, such as a classroom or home, the secure base, as described in the literature, is actually provided through a close relationship with one or more sensitive and responsive attachment figures who meet the child’s needs and to whom the child can turn to as a safe haven when upset or anxious. In other words, the emotional connection created between adult and the child (teacher and pupil) is the secure base, and through this connection the child develops the deeper connection with their physical environment. By creating regular opportunities for connecting and checking in with your nurture pupils in online sessions, you will be continuing to develop the trusting relationship already established with your pupils in the classroom.
Just as the nurture classroom is always consciously planned and arranged “to create an educational experience that is rooted in feelings of emotional security”, so arranging your physical space where you will host online nurture sessions so that it looks homely, comfortable, safe, and will encourage secure attachment and promote the principles of nurture. Given that many of you will be hosting these sessions from your own homes, this may not be as difficult to achieve as it is in a physical classroom.
Here are my top 5 tips to help you create a nurturing online teaching environment:
1. Arrange sessions in advance, giving pupils clear notification of when sessions will occur and how long they will last. Providing this as a printable timetable, will allow for printing off and display in their homes.
2. Sessions should ideally take place at the same time each day. or on a named day if offering weekly sessions. This will help the pupil feel more secure and help them to establish a clear routine.
3. Arrange the room where you will host the session so that it appears comfortable and homely, using furniture, lighting and soft furnishings (cushions, blankets, etc). that convey these feelings. Including some familiar items from their regular classroom would be great if this is possible. Consciously include significant objects that may evoke interest and discussion, e.g., a toys/figures related to topics you will be exploring, books, items that are significant to you from your home, etc.
4. Make sure that the room and each of the significant items is displayed in the same way for each session to create a sense of familiarity and safety.
5. Create a routine format or structure that is used for each online session, e.g. greeting song/poem, followed by weather discussion, followed by show-and-tell, followed by nature exploration session, followed by drawing, followed by goodbye song/poem. These routines could follow a similar format to your classroom sessions to ensure that they are suitable for your pupils ages and stages and curriculum requirements.
Other resources that may help:
• Nurture Groups in school and at home, Cooper and Tiknaz (2007)
• Nurturing Success, Helen Sonnet (2008)
• Attachment in the Classroom, Heather Geddes (2012)