Nurture as a practice means relating to and coaching children and young people to help them form positive relationships, build resilience and improve their social, emotional and mental health and wellbeing. When used in school, nurture improves attendance, behaviour and attainment, and ensures every child is able to learn. A solid understanding of The Six Principles of Nurture is crucial for education professionals looking to implement nurture in their settings.
1. Children’s learning is understood developmentally
Children are at different stages of development – socially, emotionally, physically and intellectually – and need to be responded to at their developmental level in each of these areas. Responding to children ‘just as they are’, with a non-judgemental and accepting attitude, will help them to feel safe and secure.
Social, emotional and behavioural development tools such as the Boxall Profile®, help staff to assess and track a child’s needs and put strategies in place to support positive development.
2. The classroom offers a safe base
A classroom environment is inviting and nurturing for all. The classroom offers a balance of educational and social, emotional and mental health experiences aimed at supporting the development of children’s relationships with each other and with staff. Adults are reliable and consistent in their approach to children and make the important link between emotional containment and cognitive learning.
Where possible, predictable routines are explained and practised, and there are clear expectations and positive models of how all adults in school relate to children and young people, both in and out of the classroom. Consider whether your setting is a safe place – physically and emotionally – for your pupils, staff, parents and carers. How do you promote structure and predictability? It is also important that your classroom or nurture space has quiet zones and reflections of home.
3. The importance of nurture for the development of wellbeing
Nurture involves listening and responding; everything is verbalised with an emphasis on the adults engaging with pupils in reciprocal shared activities. Children respond to being valued and thought about as individuals. In practice this involves noticing and praising small achievements – nothing should be hurried.
Provision and strategies should be put in place that promote the welfare and wellbeing of children and young people, as well as staff welfare and wellbeing. Consider how achievements and attainments are celebrated, and what structures are in place to promote the pupils’ voice.
4. Language is a vital means of communication
It is important for children and young people to be able to understand and express their thoughts and feelings. It is also crucial for adults to understand the importance of their own language towards children and young people, and how this can impact them. Children often ‘act out’ their feelings as they lack the vocabulary to name how they feel. Informal opportunities for talking and sharing are just as important as more formal lessons teaching language skills. This enables words to be used instead of actions to express feelings, and imaginative play can be used to help children understand the feelings of others.
It is helpful to provide opportunities for pupils, parents and staff to express their views, and that adults model how to share feelings and experiences. Pupils’ voices should be valued, and language should be assessed, developed and embedded in all aspects of the curriculum at the appropriate level for the child or young person.
Consider how children are taught to recognise emotions and name them in your context. Are they taught to recognise early warning signs of anger or anxiety and use strategies to de-escalate? How do daily routines allow for conversation and sharing of experiences?
5. All behaviour is communication
People communicate through behaviour. It is the adult’s role to help children and young people to understand their feelings, express their needs appropriately, and use non-threatening and supportive language to resolve situations. Our first responsibility in dealing with difficult or challenging behaviour, after safety, is to try to understand what the child is trying to tell us.
The outward behaviour is often the ‘tip of the iceberg’, and so it is important to consider the immediate environment and what occurred just before the incident happened. School events, the time of year, and home circumstances can also give us clues. Adults need to be calm and consistent, and understand that children may communicate their feelings in different ways. Children and young people need to be encouraged to reflect on their behaviour, and understand how to express their emotions appropriately.
This does not excuse the behaviour, but helps us to ask why the behaviour is occurring. Given what we know about this child and their development, what are they trying to tell us? It helps staff to respond in a firm but non-punitive way by not being discouraged or provoked. Having a quiet area to help students to become calm, and giving them time before a discussion can often help, as well as recognising potential triggers and anxieties that could be avoided or reduced.
6. The importance of transitions in children’s lives
Children and young people experience many transitions throughout their lives, and on a daily basis; transitions from home to school, between classes and teachers, from breaktime to lessons, or moving from primary to secondary school. Changes in routine are invariably difficult for vulnerable children and young people, and school staff need to help the child to transition with carefully managed preparation and support.
Pupils should be included in the planning of support, as well as parents and carers where possible, and information should be shared at key transition points. Staff need to understand the emotions that may be triggered by both small and large changes, and children should be pre-warned or reminded about changes in routines, using visual timetables to emphasise this.
Consider periods of transition for your children; is there inexplicable behaviour just before the end of the day? Do staff feel frustrated by pupils who cause disruption as they move around the school? Children and young people may feel calmer if time can be made to discuss how they feel when things change, in an open and honest way, to help them put coping strategies in place.
These six principles help staff to focus on the social and emotional needs and development of children and young people, ensuring all pupils are ready to learn. They form the basis of nurture groups – a short-term intervention for pupils with social, emotional and behavioural difficulties which make it harder for them to learn in a mainstream class – and can also be applied through a whole-school approach.
Want to know more, or need help implementing nurture in your school? Take a look at our range of training courses.