What is a Nurture Group?
A nurture group is a small group of children / young people usually based in an educational setting and staffed by two supportive adults. Nurture groups offer a short term, focussed intervention strategy, which addresses barriers to learning arising from social / emotional and or behavioural difficulties, in an inclusive, supportive manner. Children/young people continue to remain part of their own class group and usually return full time within 4 terms.
How do Nurture Groups actually work in practice?
Trained staff create an attractive, safe, structured environment usually within the context of an educational setting, with a number of areas and resources bridging the gap between home and school. Building trusting relationships are core to the approach. The children are carefully selected according to their individual, holistic profile of needs, particularly identified using the Boxall Profile and according to the establishment of a cohesive group. Individual and group plans are then formulated, with all targets thoroughly discussed with all involved including the pupil themselves. Staff then provide a variety of experiences, opportunities, approaches and resources to address these needs within a culture of trust, understanding and knowledge incorporating the 6 principles of nurture. Progress is closely monitored.
At the Phoenix Park Special School, we have a ‘Nurture Room’ that is run by our care workers.
Over the summer of 2011, we transformed one of the rooms in our school into a ‘Nurture Room’. We got a grant from the INTO Séan Brosnahan Memorial Fund to do this. The room was painted with paint donated by the ‘Dulux Let’s Colour Project’. One staff member travelled to the U.K. to attend 4 days of training on Nurture Groups and then all staff had some Nurture Group training.
We began our Nurture Groups in September 2011 and are very proud of it.
The Six Principles of Nurture Groups
1. Children’s learning is understood developmentally
In nurture groups staff respond to children not in terms of arbitrary expectations about ‘attainment levels’ but in terms of the children’s developmental progress assessed through the Boxall Profile Handbook. The response to the individual child is ‘as they are’, underpinned by a non judgemental and accepting attitude.
2. The classroom offers a safe base
The organisation of the environment and the way the group is managed contains anxiety. The nurture group room offers a balance of educational and domestic experiences aimed at supporting the development of the children’s relationship with each other and with the staff. The nurture group is organised around a structured day with predictable routines. Great attention is paid to detail; the adults are reliable and consistent in their approach to the children. Nurture groups are an educational provision making the important link between emotional containment and cognitive learning.
3. Nurture is important for the development of self-esteem
Nurture involves listening and responding. In a nurture group ‘everything is verbalised’ with an emphasis on the adults engaging with the children in reciprocal shared activities e.g. play / meals / reading /talking about events and feelings. Children respond to being valued and thought about as individuals, so in practice this involves noticing and praising small achievements; ‘nothing is hurried in nurture groups’.
4. Language is understood as a vital means of communication
Language is more than a skill to be learnt, it is the way of putting feelings into words. Nurture group children often ‘act out’ their feelings as they lack the vocabulary to ‘name’ how they feel. In nurture groups the informal opportunities for talking and sharing, e.g. welcoming the children into the group or having breakfast together are as important as the more formal lessons teaching language skills. Words are used instead of actions to express feelings and opportunities are created for extended conversations or encouraging imaginative play to understand the feelings of others.
5. All behaviour is communication
This principle underlies the adult response to the children’s often challenging or difficult behaviour: ‘Given what I know about this child and their development what is this child trying to tell me?’. Understanding what a child is communicating through behaviour helps staff to respond in a firm but non–punitive way by not being provoked or discouraged. If the child can sense that their feelings are understood this can help to diffuse difficult situations. The adult makes the link between the external / internal worlds of the child.
6. Transitions are significant in the lives of children
The nurture group helps the child make the difficult transition from home to school. However, on a daily basis there are numerous transitions the child makes, e.g. between sessions and classes and between different adults. Changes in routine are invariably difficult for vulnerable children and need to be carefully managed with preparation and support.