Our blog

Calling Parents! 

We have launched our new blog series and we’d love to get our families and parents involved and hear your stories in Leith. 

If you’d like to volunteer and write for us, then get in touch with us at info@dbfc.org.uk 

We have some suggestions on topics you could write on, but we welcome any of your ideas! 

  • Your staple of favourite lockdown recipe
  • Easy at-home craft ideas 
  • Lockdown schooling tips or honest reflections 
  • Where to walk in Leith 
  • Having a baby during lockdown- your experience 
  • Mental Health Coping Strategies 
  • What you have been involved with a Dr Bell’s 

 

 

Benefits of getting involved: 

1.Gain writing experience for your CV

2. Get involved with Dr Bell’s and the local community

3. Learn new skills 

Mental health awareness week 2021: nature
By Nicola Crombie Dawson

Childcare Practitioner, Dr Bell’s Family Centre

There is a wealth of information out there on the benefits of getting outside and the last year of lockdown has allowed more people than ever to access the outdoors on a daily basis.

However, it turns out that it is not just being outside that’s important but how we connect and interact with nature which influences our mental health. Some of the benefits of being in nature include improved mood, reduced feelings of stress/anger, improved self-esteem and confidence. Connecting with nature in an urban area can feel like a real challenge at times, however you don’t need seek out challenging hikes to feel the benefits.

Whilst considering how we support children outdoors at Dr Bell’s, I became familiar with the Mental Health Foundation (mentalhealth.org.uk) which has some fantastic tips on how to incorporate connecting with nature into our daily lives.

As adults we are often rushing to get from A to B with our children in tow and we don’t always stop to appreciate our surroundings.

During Creche sessions we ensure we spend time outdoors with the children as much as we can. As soon as we leave the building with our children we spend time exploring our natural environment – nature is ALL around us.

The calming sounds of nature can be very relaxing and is often used to relieve stress. On our walks we listen to the birds singing, looking to see if we can spot the vocalist. The sound of rainfall can be soothing and we try to take the time to pause and listen (particularly if you are in a nice snug room).

Take in nature’s scents – smells can lift our mood, relax us and make us feel grounded. Growing up I loved the smell of freshly mowed grass and used to pick my neighbours roses to make perfume with my friends. You can experience the aromas of nature by collecting some fresh flowers when out for a walk and displaying them in water at home (just make sure you leave plenty for the bees and butterflies!) or grow your own herbs on your windowsill.. Lavender is great for relaxing and pine is shown to lower depression and anxiety. Essential oils can also be added to your environment to stimulate your senses and often we add these to our homemade playdough in Creche.

Nature is also captivating to look at and we can benefit so much from taking in its beauty. At Dr Bells we incorporate a nature hunt into any outing with the children. We spot and count the different coloured flowers, leaves on the trees and talk about the season changes on the environment. The children respond really well and join in often leading the conversation about the world around them. Why not seek out some greenspace in your community? – a patch of grass, a river, flower beds, wild flowers and even the weeds in the cracks in the pavement can be beautiful.

Get hands on with nature – our children love to feel the differences in texture on our outings – the rough tree bark, spikey grass, soft flowers.  Our children love to lift rocks and look for bugs, play in the mud and dirt helps create happy and relaxed moods as touch stimulates the brain.

Protection of nature – Taking care of our community can be a really great way to feel good and teach our children the importance of their own actions and choices on our environment. Think about recycling your food waste and packaging, walk where possible rather than drive, clean up your local community. Taking care of nature can help you feel that you are doing your part which can help you feel more positive all around.

Find a few minutes in your day to pause and look, listen, smell, touch or taste your natural surroundings and feel your mood lift.

Let us know how you’ve connected to nature this season #drbells #connectwithnature #mentalhealthawarenessweek

 

part 1
By Nicola Crombie Dawson

Childcare Practitioner, Dr Bell’s Family Centre

We know spending time in natural spaces alleviate symptoms of stress, poor mental health and improves overall feeling of wellbeing. So, how do we make the most of our time outdoors with young children?

It is certainly true ‘there’s no such thing as bad weather, only unsuitable clothing’ but what happens when you have a child who is resistant to going out into our unpredictable Scottish weather? At home I have two very different children – one who brings me her shoes as soon as she opens her eyes in the morning and the other who acts like he is allergic to fresh air (he is not!).

The solution? Come rain or shine we layer up with warm clothes and set out on a new adventure every day. We are very lucky to live beside a large green space, however, all the activities I mention can be adapted for your own garden or community space.

Remember – every child is different – follow their interests (and yours!). My daughter LOVES water and will leap happily into every puddle she sees (Thanks Peppa Pig!). To extend her play (and learning) we add washing up liquid/bubble mix to a shallow puddle and SPLASH to make the biggest bubbles we can. Even my son can’t resist and takes a turn! To respect the environment, we always ensure we splash out the puddle (seeing how far we can get the water!) so no animals ingest the added ingredients.

My son’s favourite activity is one we repeat each season – our nature word activity. There is always something new to be discovered when you are exploring the outdoors and this is a great way to exploring your community across the different seasons. We start by writing our chosen letter or word (for example -the name of the season or the child’s name or initial) in large font on a sturdy piece of cardboard (we always recycle this – a finished cereal box turned inside out, an old delivery box, the lid of a shoe box etc) and then use double sided sticky tape or glue over the writing. Once outside, we look for natural materials that fit on each letter of the word and stick them onto our cardboard. If its raining heavily we collect the materials on our walk and bring them home to glue/tape to our cardboard. This really helps the children understand the curves and lines in the letters of their names/words which is a great skill for emerging writing.

Chalk is the perfect accompaniment to any walk and no matter the age of child they can participate. We have a few go to favoured activities using chalk – one which my son discovered accidently when his sister stood on his chalk one rainy day. We keep the end of the chalk which becomes too short to use and lay it on the wet ground one colour at a time. We stomp (like dinosaurs) to break up the chalk and use our wellies to move the chalk around the ground to make patterns. The children enjoy the way the wet ground changes the texture, movement, and the colours of the chalk. We discuss how the colours change when mixed together and look for shapes in the patterns (much like cloud spotting). My son loves the fact he can make rainbow puddles!

 

Our other favourite chalking activity is our movement course. My son uses his chalk to draw straight, wiggly, curved, zig-zag lines as well as instructions for actions (skip, hop, jump), which my daughter and I have to then navigate. This is great for children to use their creative skills, fine motor skills and work on their numeracy and literacy skills. My son’s courses have become detailed with added sharks and dinosaurs if you fall off the lines and our gross motor, balance and communication skills get quite a workout! This can be adapted for younger children with adult support by marking out some of the course and showing the child how to follow.

I hope sharing some of our family favourite outdoor activities has helped with some ideas to keep your families daily exercise playful. 

We would love to hear about your favourite outdoor activities especially those for rainy days! You can get involved with our #CreativeWalkChallenge for the 28 Days of February by tagging @drbellsfamily in your walking pictures with us on social media. 

part 2: Snow days
By Nicola Crombie Dawson

Snow tends to bring out our playful side (demonstrated by my midwife friend making snow angels at 530am after finishing her 12-hour shift). So, after a day or two of light snowfall the kids were not the only ones to wake up excited at the few inches of snow that had fallen overnight in Edinburgh.

We often sit and watch the wildlife in our garden and most commonly see cats, squirrels and a variety of birds (although a rather large fox occasionally does come for a visit!) and this morning we were pleased to spot a few animals had left their mark in the snow. We followed the prints to see if we could spot the start and the end of the tracks and discussed what animals we thought might have been in the garden. This activity was great for encouraging speech and recall memory (thinking about the animals that we normally see in the garden) and led us onto a fun indoor activity which we could then try out in the garden.

Using cardboard from our recycling bin (today’s choice was the box the cat food came in) the kids drew around their feet with their wellies on. They then drew a footprint design (it can be helpful to look at different animal footprints or encourage freedom to create their own). My son (6) was able to complete the task himself and I supported my daughter (2.5y) to draw the outline and she enjoyed choosing colours to create her design.

Once they were happy, I used scissors to cut round the shape and put a hole in each side to add some strong wool (string, ribbon, twine etc) allowing the footprint to be secured to their feet once outside.

Once we were layered up, we headed to the garden and investigated the footprints we had spotted from our window. We compared them to our own footprints in the snow and then put on our monster/animal feet and made our alternative tracks. As a happy addition, the felt tips we had used to colour our feet left beautiful prints on the snow.

The white snow is a really beautiful canvas for colour and today for the first time we tried using green food colouring and water in a spray bottle to create some snowy art.

It was successful; however, I learnt a few helpful lessons in the process (a good reminder that activities do not need to be perfect to be fun!). You need a lot of food colouring in the water for it to be a strong colour (next time I am going to try using natural colorants such as spinach, turmeric etc) and a fine spray bottle works much better. My daughter loved spraying the bottle and the motion is great for strengthening the hand muscles she will use later when holding a pencil to write.

Unstructured opportunities to play are important for our child’s development and the kids spent lots of time in the snow today playing freely and enjoying the physical challenges the snow added to their usual play space. They found different ways to navigate their play equipment, made a snowman and enjoyed how the rainbow colours from the bubbles we had taken out with us, looked against the white landscape. We have left the bubble mixture bottle out in the snow and tomorrow we will see if we can make some frozen bubbles. More to follow on that experiment next time…

 

part 3: Spring Bubbles!
By Nicola Crombie Dawson

After our frozen bubbles experiment was a flop in the snow last week (you need much colder minus temperatures I think!) and the temperature started to rise I was keen to recreate one of the children’s favourite outdoor activities from last year’s lockdown.

I’ve yet to meet a child (or adult!) who doesn’t love bubbles and our activity allows the children to get involved with the preparation as well as the activity itself. 

First, we took an old plastic bottle out of our recycling (wide neck bottles work best for smaller children – we used a popular sports energy drink bottle). I then used scissors to cut off the bottom of the bottle (the area it would normally stand upon). The kids choose an old sock (finally a use for the ever-mounting pile of Daddy’s odd socks!) and carefully pulled it over the cut edge of the bottle (adult supervision needed if the plastic bottle is sharp after cutting). We secured it on with the elastic band but that’s not a necessity. At this point, you can decorate your sock bottle if you wish however my children are always keen to get to the main event. 

Using a bowl we mixed washing up liquid and a little cold water (there are no exact amounts here just experiment a little) and dipped the sock end of the bottle into the liquid. When the child (or adult as I couldn’t resist!) blows into the bottle, a long wavy bubble snake will appear out the end. A couple of blows into the bottle will produce a good-sized snake which will eventually float away! You can add some paint or food colouring onto the end of your sock to make rainbow snakes too! The kids love this activity and when done outdoors the wind can carry the snake high and far. 

There is increasing evidence that spending time outside can help children to be less anxious and improve self-esteem and I’m always on the lookout for activities that support their current interests. Whilst out chalking on a dry day my son starting tracing around his feet to make footprints (an idea which was born from his love of the invisible boy in his favourite show at the time). It then sparked my daughter’s interest as she lay on the ground and her brother drew around her. They spent a long time colouring in their silhouettes (great use of fine motor skills, patience and turn-taking) and my son added details such as his heart and facial features. Afterwards, they drew around my body and decided to turn me into a monster (amazing use of imagination and creative thinking). 

Spring is in the air this week and all around we can see signs of nature peaking through the previous snow-covered landscape. This gives a great opportunity to go for a walk and talk to your child about how their environment changes with the seasons (lighter nights, spring flowers, festivals and celebrations). A great way to engage your child with their natural environment is through a scavenger hunt, whether looking for/collecting one particular colour in nature, various colours or seeking differing textures. We choose a nature hunt online and set out in our local park. This allowed the children to explore their environment and view it in a new way. We often recreate this by playing I-spy if we are in the park for unstructured play. 

Being in nature is not about planning much or organising too many structured activities. Most importantly, it’s about encouraging your kids to get outside to explore and experience all that nature can offer.

We would love to hear about your favourite outdoor activities especially those for spring days! You can get involved by tagging @drbellsfamily on social media in your outdoor pictures!