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Therapeutic Thinking in the Early Years and Key Stage 1: The Brook Infant School and Nursery

‘The children are at the heart of everything here, we wanted to do what’s best for them’

Hannah Witham 


The Brook Infant School and Nursery is sited within Crawley. 

It is a two-form Infant School with a private nursery taking children from aged two. It has places in school for 180 children and the nursery has capacity for up to 54 children each day (currently 117 on roll). The school is in a modern building that opened in 1999.

The school has less than the national average Pupil Premium numbers.   The proportion of children who have SEN and or/disabilities is below the national average.

The Inclusion Manager, Jack Sexton and Teacher, Hannah Witham talked about rolling out the Therapeutic Thinking approach following their attendance at the 3-day training delivered by Angela Wadham. 

Why did The Brook want to take part in Therapeutic Thinking training?

We spent a long time exploring different approaches to find the one that was right for us and our children, an approach that would allow us to develop and grow.   We had questioned how we could teach children about their behaviour if we didn’t start with teaching them about their feelings. 

We were already using Zones of Regulation and Growth Mindset and felt like we didn’t have huge amounts to change, we just wanted something to complement what we already had in place and Therapeutic Thinking seemed to tick the boxes.

What are the actions so far and how have they impacted?

We started by thinking about our school values and how Therapeutic Thinking could support these.  We used the Therapeutic Continuum to audit provision and then decided what we wanted to keep and what we wanted to change. 

We removed our whole school celebration assembly and now the ‘Sparkly Fish of the Week’ are invited to a 1-1 with the Headteacher to celebrate.    We removed the rainbows and raincloud behaviour system but continue to use stickers.  These are now used as rewards, not ‘bribes’ which has proved meaningful for the children.  After some initial anxiety from staff regarding a change in systems, staff now feel confident about what to say and how to use educational and protective consequences to support behaviour.   Staff work well as a team and if they see a child struggling there is not a hierarchy, which means all staff are confident to step in and support.

‘If you make a wrong choice at playtime, you can go to The Nest to

   learn how not to hit’

                                                                                                                        Y1 child

INSET and staff meetings were used to train all staff, including MMS and Office Staff, in the approach and to allow opportunities for discussion and reflection.

We wanted to ensure all of our children, from the very youngest, had the tools to express how they were feeling and to understand how others might feel.  In Nursery, we added a mirror with visual feelings cards.  The adults use modelling to demonstrate and explore feelings and strategies to support them.    After using the mirror and identifying they felt angry, a child in Nursery asked the adult what they do when they are angry, and this allowed an opportunity for the adult to model and explore this further.

‘People might hit because other people might have made them angry’

                                                                                                              Y1 child

We introduced ‘Emotion Stations’.  Children use these to ‘check in’ throughout the day.  Staff can then respond accordingly.  This has reduced the amount of time spent dealing with playtime incidents as children feel that they have a tool to express and share how they are feeling.

‘We do it every day quite a few times.  We put our name in a pot to show how we are feeling.  Adults check and tip them out’

‘If you are feeling happy you put your counter in the green pot’

‘If you are in red zone, you could rip up paper or scribble or you might want to fiddle with something’

‘When I am angry I play with the Simple Dimples or a stress ball, you can move them around and they help you calm’

                          Y1 children

These link well to Zones of Regulation, which we use to support children to identify tools to support wellbeing.   Children are encouraged to come up with their own strategies. It was important to us that children understood we were not suggesting giving them all the same, but what they needed as individuals.  In our ‘Calm Corners’, which children can self-initiate use of, we have included a range of visual prompts, mindfulness activities and fiddle to focus items.  One child was able to express that she was sad as she didn’t like the heavy snow so asked to go into The Nest to ‘calm and play’.

‘The best bit is the calm corner.  There are fiddle toys if you are feeling upset, you can play with them.  My favourite are the Poppits’

 Y1 child

In order to broaden emotional vocabulary, we have introduced an ‘Emotion of the Week’.   This is shared in assembly through stories, songs and discussion.    We encourage children to think about what this might look like, how it might be demonstrated, how it might make them feel (including physiological signs) and to identify related vocabulary.  Children have been heard to make comments such as ‘I knew I was in the red zone as my tummy felt funny and my head fuzzy’. 

‘My favourite word is delighted’

                                     Year 1 child

The approach has also supported the development of emotional vocabulary and the use of a shared language across the school.   Staff have useful scripts and visuals on lanyards.   

We have shared mental health resources, including those we use in school to support parents and carers to ensure consistency.   A parent has reported that their child used the breathing techniques learnt at school whilst in the car.    Another advised it has changed her understanding of how her children may be feeling and why, and as a result her approach. 

What are your next steps going to be?

We plan to coordinate peer observations so that all staff have the opportunity to see what is happening around the school. 

We will continue to communicate the approach with parents through newsletters and plan to organise workshops.

We are not there yet; it is a journey!

Top Tips

  • Ensure all staff are involved to empower people and ensure there is no hierarchy when it comes to supporting the children.
  • Take time to reflect and unpick what you want the approach to look like for your setting.
  • Emotions are key- start to develop emotional literacy from a young age so that children can understand not only how they feel and what they need but how others might be feeling and what they might need.

Links to West Sussex Inclusion Framework

Within Aspect 3: Personal Development, Well-being and Welfare

3.1 Social and emotional well-being and self-awareness

There is an open and supportive atmosphere that promotes self-awareness and allows children and young people (CYP) and staff to reflect on their own emotional needs and triggers.

CYP are given opportunities to share their feelings and emotions, and these are acted upon by the adults within school.

Staff at all levels understand CYP’s behaviour in context, in terms of communicating or attempting to address unmet needs. Staff understand their role in co-regulating and developing CYP’s capacity to become independent, regulate their emotions and manage their behaviours effectively.

Staff understand the link between emotional regulation and readiness to learn.

Strategies to support CYP’s social and emotional needs, including those derived from a therapeutic thinking approach, are embedded within the classroom and used consistently across the school. CYP see these tools and structures as useful and purposeful tools.

Aspect 3.2 Respecting each other

Positive relationships support all members of the school community and shared values are understood by all.

All children and young people (CYP) feel individually valued and known.

Systems and procedures for celebrating success are highlighted within the positive behaviour policy or equivalent, which is informed by a therapeutic approach and consistently used across the school.

Last updated 23 November 2022

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