Creating Space to Shine

When Clear Sky was set up with the aim of supporting children in times of difficulty through one-to-one Play & Creative Arts Therapy. When you go into a school as a therapist it can be challenging working ‘solo’, delivering the work with the child but not having any colleagues in the school who have a deep understanding of the process.

As a therapist meeting children you learn their unique stories and realise just how small their world is in comparison to adults. Every new experience they have is wiring up their brain to help them make sense of the world on really subtle levels. Even the way that someone looks at them, or a passing comment, can be difficult for them to make sense of as they try to navigate relationships in this world.

School is such a huge part of life for all of us as we grow up. As I started my own journey as a Play Therapist I recognised how hungry school staff were to have a deeper understanding of the children they were working with, to help them develop into their best selves.

Therapists have a short but intensive time and space to develop a relationship with a child. We have contact with the child for about 45 minutes per session, which is less than 3% of the time they spend with teachers and teaching assistants during the school week.

There is huge potential to share some of the skills that we use as therapists with school staff, to help children during the remaining 97% of their time in school. We realised that if we could do this effectively we would have a much better chance of helping more children with their emotional wellbeing. When you pair this with Play & Creative Arts Therapy in schools you are creating a culture of early intervention, positive mental health and inclusive support for all pupils.

This is why Space to Shine was created – to fill a much-needed gap in the skills and experience of the school staff who are working tirelessly with children, who often have complex needs, day in and day out.

Space to Shine Training

The Space to Shine training comprises of two parts – firstly there is a one day training which provides the first layer of learning for school staff. The training helps them to understand the needs of children in the context of relationships at school and how to understand behaviour as communication. It provides a simple three-step approach to increasing attachment security that can be used in all interactions with children.

Space to Shine+ is a mentoring programme, which builds on the one-day training, for small groups of staff to support them in the delivery of weekly play sessions to increase children’s emotional wellbeing. These play sessions are called ‘You & Me Time’ and focus on play and games that the child enjoys. In this space school staff are able to help develop a trusting and healthy relationship with the child through play. The staff build a relationship with the child and create a space that feels really safe, where children can experience feeling important and special.

With the combined experience of the Clear Sky team, we break down simple techniques used in therapy that can be implemented in schools in an efficient and achievable way. Our 10-step method guides school staff through safely and effectively delivering child-led play sessions to optimise attachment security.

We stress that what we teach is not therapy, but simply sharing some of the appropriate learning and knowledge that we have around child-led play and attachment to help children with their emotional wellbeing. We believe that any person who is open, reflective and empathic can do incredible things in the life of a child just by creating a safe space in which to play and develop a healthy, trusting relationship with an adult.

Research shows us that children need at least one adult in the world who is ‘crazy about them’, an adult who cares enough to show a child that they are special, important and worthy of good things. If a child does not have this at home, the next best place that they can have this secure relationship is at school. It is our aim to equip school staff with the right skills to be able to do this effectively.

Clear Sky ensure that these staff get full mentoring to ensure safe practice, and a space where they can reflect on what might be going on for the child and adjust their own behaviour accordingly. We have seen great things happen in the You & Me Time sessions for the children the staff are working with.

Feedback on Space to Shine from Staff

One example is of a 9-year-old boy called John* with downs syndrome. His staff member Sally* explained to us how he loved the predictability of the sessions, enjoyed knowing what would happen, what he could play with and when the sessions would take place. He would spend his time in the sessions playing games where he could experience winning and increasing his sense of self-esteem. Part way through the process he started to develop empathy for Sally, recognising that she was always losing in the games! John would say things like ‘never mind Sally!’ and encourage her to keep trying even though she wasn’t able to win in the games against John. Sally remarked that this was the biggest change she had seen in John and was astounded by how he had been able to develop these empathy skills just through playing in the safe space with her.

One staff member remarked ‘I’d never heard of anything like Space to Shine before. Being able to do this training and mentoring on Space to Shine+ has just been so amazing’. Staff have said that the training has helped them understand children on a deeper level enabling them to diffuse situations and develop empathy for what the children are going through.

We believe that all children should have a space in which they can shine.

To learn more about our professional training available click here. Select the Space to Shine tab for further information.

*Real names have not been used.


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