Tag Archives: Child development

Letter to the reception class teachers I work with

This is a letter I sent today (email actually!) to the excellent early year’s teachers I work with. I am posting it on my blog as it is also for all those other reception class teachers who feel deeply depressed after reading Ofsted’s damning report and recommendations on the reception year.

Dear all, I am working with each of you in your schools. This week there has been a very depressing Ofsted report about reception classes and teaching and the emphasis on reception classes needing to prepare children better for YR 1- e.g. more formal.

I know you are all excellent early years teachers, I see your work each week, and I am really impressed at the dedication and commitment you all make to excellent early years practice.I know this is not really my role But I wanted to take the opportunity to say Thank you for the amazing jobs you are all doing, thank you for your dedication to the children you work with, thank you for allowing the children in your classes to play and discover and be curious and to learn though this. Thank you for committing yourselves to making a difference to these children.

We all know Ofsted are wrong in their suggestion, we all know that early years children learn best through play, through having their learning scaffolded and supported by trained, early years staff.

I know that reading the Ofsted report is deeply depressing and must make some of you wonder why you are still doing the job. That is why I am mailing you, to thank you and encourage you. As I am not sure, you get that enough.

There is another report, which does have hope and which is based on early years practice, research and evidence. If you want head teachers reading something useful this might be a useful link for them!

Have a restful weekend

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How do we help children have a good wellbeing?

 

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Wellbeing is a term we hear a lot about for adults and young people, but we don’t hear so much about it for young children. We know that the rates of teenage mental health problems are rising alarmingly, we are aware that children and young people are feeling increasingly stressed and distressed. I passionately believe if we can help young children to have a good wellbeing then we are setting them off on a great start in life. To help children have a good wellbeing we need to be intentional about it.

One critical aspect of a child having good wellbeing is by them knowing that they are loved, they are loved for the unique and precious individual that they are. Parents and Grandparents clearly have a crucial role in letting children know that they are unconditionally loved, but I also believe that Key workers, Ta’s, children’s workers also have a role in showing children that they are loved and wanted. We show this through the words we use, the way we hold children. Part of my job is as a nurture consultant; I have seven children and schools that I support throughout the year. Every time I see one of my nurture children I ensure I show delight in seeing them that day, I smile at them, I look them in the eyes and tell them how lovely it is to see them today, how much I have been looking forward to our time together.

If you work with children, think about how you welcome them each day. By showing warmth in your smile and your words, through noticing how they look; maybe they have a spiderman hat on or a new hair band in their hair. Through seeing things that are important to the children and telling them how delighted you are to see them, this helps a child to arrive feeling wanted and loved.

In my new book Promoting Young Children’s emotional wellbeing, I explore a few essential ways we can further help to embed this. Below are a few examples:
Playing outside– there is so much research showing the need for children to spend quality time being outside. Giving children opportunities to explore, discover, climb, run. As parents we can do this by taking walks each day, going to the park, going to a field. Playing bubbles outside is a joyful and cheap activity to do with children outside.

Sensory play– giving children the chance to explore with all their senses, children learn through exploring and using all their senses. A very simple example of sensory play is play dough; you can buy this very cheaply or make your own ( there are many recipes on Pinterest)

Using emotional language– We need to help children understand their feelings and emotions, by using emotion language and giving them an emotional vocabulary we are enabling them to understand their feelings and also other peoples. From babies we can start to talk about their feelings e.g when a baby is crying to be fed we can respond with gently saying ‘ it’s ok I know you are feeling hungry, I am going to feed you now’. With a toddler who is crying because their parent has left them at nursery we can say ‘ I can see you are really sad that Mummy has gone, she will be back later I am here for you now” .
Un-rushing & stillness– Our lives are often very busy, and our children’s lives are often busy too. We need to help children to find times to rest, to experience moments of stillness. Are there spaces in your setting or your home where your child can lay back and relax or daydream?. You can also use Yoga and Mindfulness with young children both of these practices help children to find stillness. CBeebies have a children’s program called Waybuloo which teaches different yoga poses.

Being creative– creativity is an essential part of wellbeing.We need to give children the space to be creative and to be creative with them. Find times to sing and dance with your children, dancing and singing together with your toddler can be a joyful experience. Giving children the opportunity to experiment with paint, chalks, making things with cardboard boxes, these will all help your child’s wellbeing.

Be co-explorers – Children have a passion for learning and discovering, they need adults around them who want to learn and explore with them. I believe one of our roles as adults is to be a co-explorer and adventure with our children. Children are great at becoming fascinated in something, this might be the snail and sticks on the road as you are walking to the shops, or it may be a fascination with dinosaurs. As adults, we can show interest and delight with children and learn alongside them.

Our wellbeing -And finally, if we are going to help children to have a good wellbeing we need to pay attention to our wellbeing. We need to take care of ourselves; we need to ensure we are eating well, exercising, having rest and doing things which make us happy.
I explore all these themes more fully in my book, this is available from Tuesday 21st March, it can be ordered from Jessica Kingsley Publishers.

I am also discussing these in a workshop in Bath at Castle Farm Cafe on Thursday 6th April at 7pm,  book tickets on their website.

Children who take toys into school- are they transitional object?

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It’s a few weeks into the new term, I have now met all my new nurture children and their staff. It is common for new children starting school to bring something with them from home, often a toy, sometimes a bit of a blanket or a scarf, this is the case for several of my new children. Some schools allow this for a week or maybe two but then want it to be stopped. Many teachers feel that bringing toys and items from home is a distraction, can cause unnecessary disagreements between children and fear they might be damaged.

I understand these concerns but for some children, there is another reason for bringing something in from home, it is comforting, it helps them to feel safe, it is a connection between home, their carer and school. Donald Winnicott in 1953 introduced the term transitional object for items that children use to help them cope with changes. Some children have one object that they take everywhere, e.g a piece of blanket or one very loved, old toy, for other children it is about taking something from home, which acts as a physical link to home.

Early years settings are often really good at understanding the importance of a transitional object and the comfort this provides to children. I think it is really important that this knowledge of child development and good practice from early years settings is shared with staff in schools.

While we are helping children to transition into school we can sometimes forget that for some children this settling in process, helping them to feel safe and secure can take a while, this does not always happen in the first few days or weeks. Some children still need their transitional object to help them feel secure, this doesn’t have to be on them all the time, it could be in a pocket, on a shelf or in a drawer. The very knowledge that they have something with them from home in school can often be enough to help them feel safer and secure.

There will be some children who are still arriving at school and are deeply upset and distressed at leaving their parent, I often suggest for these children that they are allowed to bring in something to school which reminds them of their Mum or Dad e.g a small scarf which smells of mum or a small lego man that they play with Dad. I encourage the parent to explain to the child “I know you are feeling sad that I am not with you at school,  have this scarf to look after for me, when I pick you up you can give it back to me, I will be thinking of you today” the parent can also have something of the child’s e.g a toy that they will look after until the child comes home. The object from home can be kept in the child’s pocket or in their drawer, when the child is feeling overwhelmed or sad they can feel the object and remember they will see their parent soon.

I have been having conversations with the staff working with my new children about the importance of transitional objects and encouraging the staff to recognise that some children still need this.

Exploring creativity

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I have recently started a new chapter in my book, this one is exploring how creativity is an important aspect in developing children’s well-being. Often when I start writing a new chapter I will first go for a walk, I find the space of outside helps me to clarify my ideas and how to start. On Sunday morning I got up early and went for a walk along the beautiful valley at the back of our house, the start of this walk is down an old lane called Stoneage lane, it leads to the bottom of the valley, on the edge of woodland along the cam valley stream. This is such a beautiful space and one I have walked many times over the years of living here. Being outside, being in nature allows me to think far more clearly and creatively.

What I love about writing new chapters is the time I spend reminding myself and looking up the latest research on the subject. As part of the research for this chapter, I have been looking at the neuroscience evidence for the development of the brain and the link with creativity. I was reminded today that in the last trimester of pregnancy the sound-processing parts of the brain are developed and the baby is able to hear and recognise the sounds and rhythms of voices and music. I also learnt that Neuroscientists have now found that the brain has specific and specialised areas that respond only to music and that these areas stimulate emotional responses (Sousa 2006). This isn’t really surprising but it is a reminder of how important creative processes are to our development.

Sadly encouraging children to be creative is happening less and less in schools, there is an increasing emphasis on more academic subjects, and an increase in testing. The current education secretary Nicky Morgan has warned teenagers against taking creative subjects as this will disadvantage them in the future. This view has, of course, been challenged by many people.

I have been thinking, if we are going to encourage creativity in children it is vital that the adults working with children are comfortable and at ease with being creative themselves. So often as adults we can be gatekeepers to children, particularly younger children. If our experience of creativity is negative, if we feel that we can’t do it, or feel awkward about it then this is often picked up by the children we are working with and can discourage them.

The other challenge with allowing children to be creative is the adults who need to be in control, I have often seen adults who are quick to tell children where to stick things, how something should look, instead of allowing children to try it out, create, be curious and discover for themselves. Sometimes this comes out from adults need to be in control, but I also wonder if at other times it is about adults not allowing themselves to develop their own creativity, instead trying to express this through the children. Curiously I have particularly seen this in some senior school art teachers; the best art teachers I know are those that are also developing their own artwork outside of work and don’t feel frustrated by what the children are making.

I believe that creativity is soul enriching, allowing ourselves to be creative , it doesn’t matter how, it could be through drawing, dancing, singing, gardening, cooking, knitting or writing; but by allowing ourselves to be creative, allowing ourselves to use these parts of our brain will help to increase our well-being.

 

Sousa. D (2006) How arts develop the young brain

Image-Stoneage lane. Tunley

Choosing to be bold

 

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There have been various moments this week when I have been thinking about boldness and how sometimes we need to be bold. We need to step outside of our comfort zone and safe place to discover something new, sometimes this enables us to do something that brings us joy and sometimes this can be scary and feel uncomfortable.

At the beginning of the week, I met with a friend, Julia. She was telling me how she has been offered a job in the Congo with the UN. I love her passion and her courage. I find her belief and determination to be involved in justice so inspiring. I was struck by how taking this job is a bold move, it is to an area she has never worked before and not an easy place to be. Another friend, Jenny, has been bold this week; over the past year, she has been treated for breast cancer and has spent this weekend running the Palestine half marathon. She was raising money for breast cancer services for women in Gaza, as the cancer service in Gaza is massively inadequate. This year has been really tough for Jenny, but again she is a bold woman, who has come through treatment and has continued her passion of running. She chose to raise money for something she passionately believes in, the act of running for Jenny brings her joy but she says the act of asking for donations makes her feel deeply uneasy and uncomfortable, so again an example of being bold.

At the start of this weekend, I helped organise a poetry event with Ian Adams and my husband Iain Cotton showed some new artwork. Somebody asked the question to Ian if he was able to earn money from making poetry, which made him laugh, as this is very very hard!. What struck me while listening to both men talk about their work and creativity was that the very act of choosing to be creative, of choosing to do something that brings them joy, but also choosing to do something which puts them in a place where others will make a judgement about their work, is bold, and at times that can be uncomfortable.

Over the last few months, I have been working on a project developing a children’s story book about living with a parent with Bi-Polar. This is a subject which is very important to me for both professional and personal reasons. I asked two work colleagues this week to look at a draft. This felt so scary, I have huge respect for their knowledge and expertise in working with vulnerable children. I realised as I sent them the draft their opinion really, really, mattered. If they thought it wasn’t very good then I wouldn’t go forward with the project, but I knew that I needed to put myself in this uncomfortable position if this project was to move forward. For me that was a bold move, thankfully their feedback was good and really helpful!.

To be bold can be scary and it can be uncomfortable but it can also lead to some great things.

 

Image of a  finger labyrinth carved by Iain Cotton

 

 

Working with Children and Animals

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Over the years of working with young children, I have loved seeing their joy and delight, at the wonder and at the awe of the world around them. I believe that children have a natural sense of wonder, curiosity and delight; we often see this more when they are outside and with animals.

I was reminded of that last week when I was taking a walk with a small boy and a dog, this boy usually has limited speech and it has been hard to find out what the boy enjoys, but this week I discovered the boy adores dogs! In the short walk, we made some wonderful discoveries, had a great time climbing trees, watching the dog sniff everywhere, played in mud and with puddles. The extension of his language and communication was amazing. I discovered so much more about what he likes, what he is good at and what makes him happy. We discovered that dogs are very happy most of the time and wag their tails to show us, we discovered that dogs will eat all the biscuits in a little boys pockets if given the chance, we discovered that branches on a tree are quite bouncy when you stand on them, we discovered that dogs and little boys love running together. Going on this walk reminded me of how much more we can learn about children when we give them the space to explore and discover. It also reminded me of the powerful impact animals can have on children. I saw a whole new side to this little boy, through seeing him with a dog. I saw a gentleness, a curiosity, a delight and I heard some fantastic words from him. It’s encouraged me to think about how we can give children opportunities to be with animals.

How long do we expect children to sit on the carpet in school/ nursery?

How long do we expect children to sit?

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It’s a new term and I am back into schools, in reception classes. I have been struck once again by the need our school system has to make children sit down on the carpet. My gut feeling has always been that this is unnecessary for young children; more than that, it is unhelpful and unrealistic. This week I have seen 4 and 5 yr olds sitting on the carpet for over 30 mins; this is too long.

This week I read an article by Angela Hansom, who is paediatric occupational therapist in America- http://wapo.st/1xlsgMV;

she advocates that children (specifically those under 7) need at least one hour a day playing outside. She goes on to explain how children need “rapid vestibular (balance) input” every day. She describes this as the opportunity to go upside down, spin around in circles, and to roll down hills – all wonderful examples of outdoor play. By enabling children to do this, their balance system will develop effectively. Until this is effectively developed she argues children are not able to sit and concentrate. I found this really fascinating, for how often do we hear children being told by teachers, early years workers, and from parents not to roll down the hill, and not to hang upside down on the bars?

I regularly see children who really struggle to sit still, who fidget and roll around on the carpet. I see other children who are labelled as being naughty because they won’t comply with the rules of sitting for an extended period. My question is always why are we asking young children to sit on the carpet? What is the child telling us through their behaviour? how are we listening to children about what their needs are? Some of the best early years practice I have seen is from those practitioners who really tune into what the children are telling them and what children need; who have very limited times when the children are sitting on the carpet. We need to ensure that we enable children to play and learn through play and exploration, especially outside. We need to allow our children many opportunities to spin , roll, balance and hang upside down, and most of all we need to make sure our young children are not sitting on the carpet for too long.
our young children are not sitting on the carpet for too long.