After an extremely difficult few years, Claire Simpson is starting to smile with confidence once again.
The source of the smiles is clear to see. Shouting and laughing, a group of 15 rosy-cheeked children are busy running round the hall and later on will be waving around some brightly-coloured scarves, pretending to be belly dancers before settling down to some magical tales taking them to a far-away world.
In January Claire qualified as a Relax Kids coach, a nationwide scheme set up ten years ago which uses a combination of themed storytelling, touch and visualisation to help children cope with stressful situations.
The scheme is something which Claire is passionate about, and her discovery of it came as she emerged from a very difficult period in her life.
In 2005, a mum with two young children, she was widowed at the age of 31 when her husband died in a road accident along the A285. They had just moved to the village to help her parents run the village shop.
“Obviously it was a massive shock for the whole family and the community. The village was incredibly shocked as well,” she explained. “It took a long time to get my confidence back and go back into the shop and I would like to say the village has been amazing for the support they have given, not just to me but my parents and generally.”
And it is thanks to the community’s support that Claire is now looking ahead to a bright future.
Having worked for many years with children, which included a prep school and early years, two years ago she saw an ad for a post at Boxgrove Primary School. Both her children were pupils there so it seemed a good step. Hearing the news she had got the job was a real boost, heralding the start of a new chapter.
A speech and language coordinator, Claire works part-time with the early years team in Year 1. She was then put forward to train as a learning mentor, helping children overcome barriers to learning stemming from problems at home or in class.
“I feel very privileged to be able to be giving something back to other children who are having difficulties,” said Claire. “Talking to children and giving children that time is something that is really invaluable and in this day and age I don’t think everybody has time to do that with their child.”
Looking for something else which followed the same focus as her work at the school, Claire then discovered Relax Kids.
The sessions start off with energetic games but by the end the adrenalin gives way to simple breathing and stretching and positive affirmations. And Claire says that as well as helping to calm youngsters it also helps them cope with any problems in literacy, helps their social skills and improves their self-confidence as well as giving them the confidence to be creative and be an individual. It provides children with lifelong coping strategies and tools which can be used in many situations.
“Children’s lives are very busy. It’s quite stressful and what is so brilliant about this is that the programme starts from nursery children and goes right up to secondary level school, so goes right across the board.”
As a result, Claire has built links with schools and groups such as PACSO which are keen for children to benefit from the award-winning scheme.
“It’s such a wonderful thing I want to shout about it,” says Claire, who now runs weekly sessions at Boxgrove Village Hall.
“I’ve been quite lucky, I’ve been into schools who have been supportive of it and it can be used in PCSHE classes which are about becoming good citizens in today’s society. It gives them those tools.
“It’s very child-friendly and what I also like about it is it can be done by all sorts of children, it’s very inclusive.”
While it is making a difference to children’s lives, the scheme has also given Claire a new focus and helped her through a tough period in her life.
“It’s given me the confidence that I can do things and it has helped me with my confidence as well. I just love working with children, it’s what I have always done, there is nothing better than the children running around pretending to be a belly dancer. It’s a nice way to spend your time and seeing children’s reactions – it’s very precious.
“It’s helping me move forward with my future as well. There are so many children out there who are so young and have had such tragic things happen to them, and it’s great to be doing something to help others.”
n Email firstname.lastname@example.org for details of classes and see www.relaxkids.com for more details about the scheme.