How Circles for Learning can be used to build resilience in children and young people.

What is Resilience?

Resilience is the capacity to bounce back from adversity. Protective factors increase resilience, whereas risk factors increase vulnerability. Resilient individuals, families and communities are more able to deal with difficulties and adversities than those with less resilience. (Building children and young people’s resilience in schools UCL Institute of Health Equity.)‘Resilient children are better equipped to resist stress and adversity, cope with change and uncertainty, and to recover faster and more completely from traumatic events or episodes.’ (Newman and Blackburn, 2002)


Why is it important to develop resilience?

We are born with the capacity for resilience. But resilience is not something we have or don’t have. We work on it throughout our lives. And we need to start as early as possible. Parents are the most important people to help build their children’s resilience. Children learn a lot by watching their parents. When parents cope well with everyday stress, they are showing their children how to do the same. The Marmot Review recognised the important role of schools in building resilience, and recommended a policy objective that ‘schools, families and communities work in partnership to reduce the gradient in health, wellbeing and resilience of children and young people’. Successful approaches for building resilience in schools tend to increase protective factors, decrease risk factors or both. Resilience makes a big difference in people’s lives. People who respond to hardships with resilience are: healthier and live longer, happier in their relationships, more successful in school and work, less likely to get depressed.

Children learning

What works to improve resilience?

To develop resilience we need both outside support and internal strengths. Circles for Learning supports the development of both by creating a secure space for children to observe, talk about and explore the development of a baby with its mother/father. It creates a safe space for thinking and questioning, develops emotional literacy and secure relationships. It supports an ethos of sharing and thinking and problem solving together within the class and develops the relationship between the class baby and the children. Circles for Learning naturally leads to a wide range of questions raised by the children which can be explored with the support of their Class Learning Guide/teacher. These include problem solving and thinking skills, positive thinking and strategies to manage stress. It supports self regulations and understanding how to get yourself in the Learning Zone. By observing and talking about the interactions between Mum/Dad and baby children naturally develop their emotional literacy and start to explore feelings emotions and their link on behaviour.

Mum and baby

Protective factors that increase resilience?

Positive achievements:

Circles for Learning uses the baby observations to engage children in thinking about how they learn and what strategies they need to be a good learner. It helps children and young adults understand that learning is not static and that it is continuously growing and developing. Circles for Learning has a wealth of material for teachers to use to explore the 7 dimensions of learning. (As identified by Bristol University in the Effective Life Long Inventory/ ELLI project.) Circles for Learning is unique in that it is a resource that is suitable to use with the whole class and so is completely inclusive, nor it can be used with small groups. It uses the knowledge, understanding and skills of all the children in the class to help create a classroom community that has a language and understanding of learning and that celebrates difference.

Confidence and understanding in Teaching Staff:

Staff training to be a Learning Guide and facilitate the Circles for Learning work covers a range of areas including: Attachment and its implications for Learning, Emotional Barriers for Learning, Developing Emotional Literacy, building resilience, developing social and emotional competencies, understanding how we develop a sense of self, developing empathy and developing the 7 dimensions for learning. Through this and the work on understanding infant observations teaching staff develop the confidence to lead Circles for Learning within their school as well as the confidence to support the emotional wellbeing of children within their class.

Caring relationships:

Circles for Learning is focused on the relationship between mother/father and baby and through this helps children and staff explore the importance of relationships to their own learning and development. It allows children to explore the importance of caring relationships on their self esteem and confidence and learn skills to develop and maintain friendships. Children and young people see that within school that they have a variety of people that they can call upon if and when they need help. The work promotes co-operation and group problem solving and creates a caring and supportive ethos within the classroom.

Co-operative learning strategies:

Through the work of circles for learning strategies are taught to support problem solving, thinking skills and aspects of positive psychology. This enables children and young adults to explore and use these in a safe and contained space so that when the need arises they have a range of positive tools to use to support themselves and others deal with difficult and stressful circumstances.

Emotional and Psychological wellbeing:

During the Circles for Learning observations children will watch and experience how the baby seeks reassurance and support from their parent to manage the world around them. This will be something that their Learning Guide/Teacher will explore with the children. Through this work the children will be able to explore strategies to support their own self regulation, deal with stress and cope with situations in a positive way. These skills are life skills which they can then call upon as and when they need them.

Support Transitions:

The children will be able to experience a child separating from their parent and discuss the feelings and emotions of this with the adults involved. They will be helped to think about the experience of the baby by their Learning Guide/Teacher and in so doing will extend their ability to empathise with another. This work will lead them into discussing their own ways of coping and will enable them to be supportive of each other during times of transitions. It will also be useful in helping children and young adults recognise what they need to support their own transitions in life.

Promotes engagement in Learning and school life:

Watching a young child start to explore the world and learn how it works is a very exciting opportunity. Children get to watch learning unfold and can then explore how they themselves learn best. This interest in the beginning of learning engages the most hardy child and young person. The conversations that then occur between the class group support the development of supportive relationships, an understanding of difference and enable the class teacher to get to understand the learning of their children and young people in greater depth. Children get to explore the 7 learning dimensions through a range of exciting activities and this in turn supports the development of a language for learning within the classroom.

Peer support:

Observing and talking about the learning, relationship and way the baby grows and develops allows the children to create a close and supportive class ethos. It develops emotional literacy and supports the understanding that all of us are different and experience the world in many different ways. This way of working and being together allows children to become more understanding of each other to develop empathy and in so doing understand the importance of supporting each other. Problem solving is explored during the sessions and different points of view are experienced. Group cohesion is strengthened and in so doing children and young adults start to learn the skills of supporting each other as well as experience being supported by each other.

Participation and contribution:

The observation aspect of Circles for Learning involves the children and young people responding, observing and discussing their observations. This is led by their Learning Guide/Teacher. This group participation thinking and exploring supports the children and young people’s development and co creation of the work.

Raising awareness in parents:

Sharing the work children have observed and undertaken with parents allows school to support parents understanding of the importance of building resilience with their children. It allows parents to see how they can support this in a variety of ways outside of school.

Baby and Children