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Be Like A Tree – Keep Growing

Our eldest daughter reading ‘The Happy Newspaper’ during lockdown

It’s been a long time since my last blog post, in fact it’s been a whole global pandemic since the last time I put pen to paper (well, fingers to computer keys!)
I thought about blogging many times during these last two years, but with everyone’s experiences being so different, it felt impossible to write something that hit the right note. For some, working from home and no commute meant that they had more time for family. Others found it lonely and isolating; not seeing anyone apart from the odd meeting held over Zoom.
As a family, we felt incredibly lucky to have access to green open space on our farm, whilst others were not so fortunate.
According to data released by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) in April 2020, 1 in 8 households (12%) had no access to a private or shared garden during the Coronavirus lockdowns. This was a staggering 3.3 million people locked away in their homes for days, weeks and months on end. A rather sobering statistic, especially when we recall the gloriously warm and sunny weather bestowed upon the country in the Spring of 2020.

Walking alpacas during the spring of 2020

In my last blog post, I wrote about Nature Deficit Disorder, a phrase coined by Journalist, author and co-founder of the Children and Nature Network, Richard Louv. The phrase was first introduced in his 2005 book, ‘The Last Child In The Woods‘ in which he wrote that human beings, especially children, are spending less time outdoors, and the belief that this change, results in a wide range of behavioural and mental health problems.
I’m sure it doesn’t take a lot for us to join the dots and link lockdowns with an increase in mental health issues.

‘The Happy Newspaper’ and Charlie Macksey’s book ‘The Boy, The Mole, The Fox and the Horse’ – Recommended reading from our children’s primary school

This week (7th-13th February) marks Children’s Mental Health Week and with Covid-19 finally retreating into the horizon (keeping fingers tightly crossed for that one), it seemed like a good time to get back to the blog. The Duchess of Cambridge, who is Royal Patron of Place2Be, that launched the campaign in 2015, was quoted this week as saying, “A child’s mental health is just as important as their physical health.”
I would agree with her 100%. Just because we can’t see it, doesn’t mean it’s less important. No one would be expected to carry on walking around with a broken leg, so we really shouldn’t expect anyone to continue on with anxieties, depression and poor mental health without support and help.

A yoga session with the alpacas during lockdown

Worryingly, 1 in 6 children and young people now have a diagnosable mental health condition, and 50% of people with lifetime mental health problems first experience symptoms by the age of 14. Now has never been a better time to shine a light on the importance of children’s mental health and breaking the stigma of mental health problems. It comes as little surprise that ‘Anxiety‘ was voted 2021 Oxford Children’s Word of the Year, followed by ‘Challenging‘ and ‘Isolate‘.
On the flipside, 85 teachers were asked for the word they would vote for, and their top choice was ‘Resilience‘, followed by ‘Challenging‘ and then ‘Wellbeing.’ It’s clear that teachers in particular are working hard to provide their students with positive direction and encouraging them with assuring language in the classroom.

Artist Charlie Mackesy’s illustration for Children’s Mental Health week

This year’s Children’s Mental Health Week theme is ‘Growing Together’, with the campaign encouraging both children and adults to consider how they have grown and adapted to overcome setbacks and challenges, and how these can lead to new possibilities and potential. The Coronavirus pandemic has certainly given us all many different obstacles and challenges to overcome in the last two years, and even though things may have been overwhelming, together we can keep going and help one another get through the hard times.

I was incredibly fortunate in 2020, that despite the restrictions and lockdowns, I was able to start offering Alpaca Assisted Interventions to students from Red Balloon; an alternative school for young people to help them re-engage with education, with a focus on interests and well-being, as well as curriculum subjects.
After completing my CEVAS (Countryside Educational Visits Accredited Scheme) course in late 2019, I had hoped that our wonderful, gentle alpacas would be able to spread their joy to others…and they didn’t disappoint! I’m not a trained therapist by any means, but it was clear to see how these animals and the quiet nature of our farm and wildlife brought therapy to the teens that visited. In an environment without judgement or pressure, they were free to be themselves. One student who came to visit for many sessions, is now several months into a college course, having now left Red Balloon. I feel so proud of how far they have come, and how they overcame adversity to take such brave steps.

There is a quote from the Children’s Mental Health Week campaign that has made an impression on me. It is by Joanne Raptis:

“Be like a tree. Stay grounded. Connect with your roots. Turn over a new leaf. Bend before you break. Enjoy your unique natural beauty. Keep growing.”

I think we could all learn to live like a tree.

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