Early Years Seminars – Phase 1

A series of ideas forums for professionals working with children, families & practitioners in the early years sector.

“Early years practitioners are enthusiastic and idea-rich but time-poor. Let’s host a series of events – like mini conferences – where they can access a variety of ideas and researched supporting materials in a limited period of time whilst also gaining vital networking opportunities.”

Woodside One Neighbourhood Nursery are launching a free series of seminars (mini conferences) to meet the professional interests of Norfolk practitioners. These seminars will be free to access and the initial phase (November 2017 – February 2018) content has been informed by a small-scale study of continuous professional development experiences and wishes of serving practitioners. Feedback will be sought at each event to inform future speakers and exhibition spaces. If you have an area of expertise you wish to share or an area you’d like covered, please contact us to discuss a potential presentation!


Early Years Initial Teacher Training (EYITT) – Week 1

In the past year, I have encountered more politically passionate practitioners than I have in my entire career. Not just policy-makers and researchers, but practitioners working at grass-roots levels who are using social media and cluster forums to instigate change. I do not believe this is a negative development; to the contrary, the more experienced and knowledgeable practitioners’ voices we have, the more effective we shall be in shaping future policy and defending the rights and needs of children whom we are advocates for.

In January the “More Great Childcare” (Truss, 2013) document was published, inciting lively debate, discussions, changes and actions within the sector. Parents, professionals and policy-makers engaged over emotive issues such as ratios and professional recognition. The Early Years Professional Status (which you may remember I had campaigned to save at the University of East Anglia last year) was replaced as the “gold standard” in favour of Early Years Teachers. The new set of standards have also created discussion within the sector, due to the recent clarification that EYTS certificates will not be issued to existing Early Years Professionals due to the disparity between the standards.

Regardless of this, as my original professional development plan had detailed EYPS as a vital post-graduate step, I sent for an application to my nearest Early Years Initial Teacher Training (EYITT) provider.

I was interviewed, accepted and booked a hotel for my first two “Preparation Days”. At the beginning of September, I joined a colleague of mine on our first day as part of a mixed pathway group of practitioners from a wide variety of settings (both geographically and in terms of the provision itself). This was enjoyable as a networking event and by the second day I had set up a social networking forum to enable the EYT students within my groups to connect and support each other despite the distances between us. So far, I have uploaded key early years documents and a weekly news collection to encourage everyone to engage and to share information. I look forward to my third “Preparation Day” in January, in the meantime I’ll be reciting the standards in my sleep and documenting all of my “leadership” evidence.

If there are any fellow EYT students reading this, please do not hesitate to get in contact – whether by Twitter or email as I’d love to add you to our student network!
As always, comments are welcome in the box below.

Truss, L. (2013) “More great childcare: raising quality and giving parents more choice.” Accessible at: https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/219660/More_20Great_20Childcare_20v2.pdf

Pop culture in eduction: why every EY teacher should make time for cartoons

Have you ever been asked by a child to draw a X-Wing?

Or asked to make a utility belt that Bruce Wayne himself would be happy to wear? 

How about a philosophical discussion about diversity and empathy using Bruce Banner’s alter ego as the focus?

The scenarios above are a small selection of genuine examples of my experience as a practitioner in the past year alone. Much is made of dynamic responses to child-initated play and queries, but do you feel your professional training has prepared you to use the characters and fantasy environments of today’s pop culture? They permeate every facet of childhood; from lunchboxes to action figures to books to television to socks; superheroes, fairies, magical ponies and more are as much a part of children’s lives as we are. Often they provide key social learning conversation starters (why does Bruce Banner turn in to The Hulk when he’s angry, is he Marvel’s answer to Bombaloo?) and opportunities for reflection without suffering a traumatic event (a child once asked me whether Alfred was Batman’s new daddy; a study in mortality and family bereavement within a safe and familiar format – cartoons).

This even applies to children who do not watch television or read books about these pop culture icons, the mere fact that their friends embody those characters during role play or delightedly discuss their lunchbox characters during lunch means they will need extra support to engage fully with their peers. As practitioners who aim to cultivate an inclusive care and learning environment, it is our duty to utilise the expertise and interests of our children to foster their sense of individuality and “ableness” – whether that means adapting nursery rhymes (“The Daleks on the bus go EX-TER-MI-NATE”), creating literacy toolkits that Bob The Builder would envy, allowing monsters to destroy cities in the small world area (“it’s alright, Iron Man will fix it… with robots”) or holding up the moral decisions of fictional characters to incite thoughtful consideration for others (“and what would Buzz Lightyear do?”).

Recent additions to planning (italics indicate further development):

  • A trip to the local museum after a child brought dinosaurs in a bucket to school after reading Harry and the Bucketful of Dinosaurs (a dinosaur swimming pool in the water tray, dinosaur bingo and dinosaur dancing books)
  • The recreation of a zoo (complete with “really tall” fences) in the sandpit after a child watched Madagascar (the addition of a “Move it, move it” CD to the music box, fluffy dressing up fabric, discussion about what “the wild” is and an explosion of geographical interest supported by atlases and videos)
  • Planting seeds and hunting for fairies in the garden after a child saw Epic at the cinema (talking about keeping our trees and woods safe, making tiny clay pots for fairies, measuring height and discussing growth, a “small” natural materials collection including acorn hats for the small world people, creation of hot air balloons and wings for small world people, visiting the woods and beach – what kinds of fairies live on a beach?)
  •  Inventions and self-made role play items due to the high level of interest in both Iron Man and Batman (robot suits, play dough machines, Lego robots, reading The Iron Man by Ted Hughes, building Bat Caves, making workshops, adapting the Cozy Coupe, capes and utility belts, superhero phonics, special recognition for “super kind person” and “super inventions”  at story time, talking about good deeds and real life super heroes including daddies who make the most bubbles at bath time, grandmas who make “super biscuits”, mummies who draw the best ponies and aunties who are police officers who keep us safe)

Whilst Waybuloo may not be the height of cultural artistry, a skilful practitioner can use the child’s expert knowledge to provide meaningful learning opportunities which ensure that the curriculum adapts to the needs of the child; whilst valuing their interests and supporting their independent learning. In the same way that we aim to create partnerships with parents and carers, so we should aim to utilise partnerships with pop culture to enhance our practice and relationships with children.

To that end, if you make one commitment to continuous professional development this week, let it be to watch or read something your children are really interested in – you may find yourself a part of the superhero fan club.

If you have any experiences with utilising pop culture as a positive aspect of your practice, please comment or contact Kate.

Talk About, the project all Norfolk settings are talking about

The Talk About project provides early years speech, language and communication needs (SLCNs) support in Norfolk.

Following on from the success of the Norfolk based project Every Child A Talker (ECAT), Talk About is a collaborative project which is currently funded by Norfolk County Council. If the project is successful in its aim to raise the quality of speech and language practice within Norfolk’s early years settings, the council may decide to continue funding the scheme. It has been developed and managed by a team of experts at Norfolk Community Health and Care NHS Trust’s Speech and Language Service and provides training for staff who work in a range of early years settings (nurseries, pre-schools, playgroups, reception classes) to assist practitioners in identifying and supporting children (aged 3-5 years old) who are experiencing difficulties in developing their speech, language and communication skills. As professionals we know that speaking, listening and interacting well with others are fundamental skills which are the building blocks to enjoying and achieving in both the early years and in later life. The early childhood years are a critical period for the development of these skills and the best time to implement interventions to support children who are experiencing difficulties.

Since pledging my setting to the project, I have taken on the role of Early Language Lead Practitioner (ELLP) alongside another practitioner from my setting. One of the benefits gained from joining is the abundance of free training offered by the 10 speech and language therapists who form the core group leading the project. Between myself and the deputy ELLP we have attended a range of courses including:

  • Hanen Teacher Talk
  • Every Child A Talker (ECAT) Monitoring
  • Signalong
  • Working with Selective Mutism
  • Early Language Development Programme
  • Expressive Language and Vocabulary Difficulties
  • Speech Sound Difficulties
  • Attention and Listening Difficulties
  • Difficulties Understanding Language
  • Working with Autism and Social Communication Difficulties
  • Working with Stammering
  • Working in Groups to Support Children’s Language
  • Elklan: Speech and Language Support for Under 5s (10 week, level 3 course)

All of these courses have ranged from 3 hours to a whole day or even 10 weeks. Needless to say, it has required some flexible working and attendance of courses outside operating hours. The Elklan course is the longest and most in-depth (completion of a Level 2 or 3 portfolio is recommended at the start of the programme), I intend to write a short review once the final session is complete. Next week will be the penultimate session and I dare say that I will be saddened to finish, despite the Monday evening session time!

The Magic of Ros Bayley’s Beat Babies

An e-mail from Lawrence Educational today reminded me that this draft post has been languishing in my “to do” pile for some time (ever since the sad passing of the great Ros Bayley, in fact).

The e-mail concerned the release of the last “Ros Bayley” Beat Baby and read:


The Beat Baby range has been close to my heart and ever-present in my practice for several years, so it is with happiness that I present my own Beat Baby:


Complete with pocket for storing notes/snacks and a magnetic tail for “hanging about” or curling up in to a ball.


“Good teaching is one-fourth preparation and three-fourths pure theatre.”

Gail Godwin

As far as I am aware, the “Take Home Beat Baby” is the only one to sport sparkly fur. I chose this particular style to reflect the way in which I wished to introduce the Beat Baby to the group of children I taught at the time: an emergency landing in the garden. Carefully prepped in a papier-mache shuttle complete with parachute, I threw the Beat Baby into the garden whilst the children were occupied having a story and another practitioner pretended to be taken aback by “something” happening in the garden (this amused passersby and parents arriving early, what is early years without a sense of fun and magic?!). The children rushed out to view the strange object whilst I ran around the setting and in through the back door, awaiting the moment that the children would come to fetch me (and the stepladder) to retrieve the creature. Sure enough, they came running with the same enthusiasm they intone when they spot that Father Christmas has arrived during snack and I became an emotional chameleon reflecting their surprise, awe, excitement and concern (“what could be in there…?”). Carefully, the UFO was lifted from the tree and the shuttle taken inside for inspection (after I had assured the children that “no, it’s not a bitey alien”).

My Beat Baby is a bit of an unknown quantity, with no name (a la The Good, The Bad and The Ugly – perhaps!) and no particular gender. This was not immediately intentional but once I had seen the positive way the children related to and identified with this inanimate, fluffy toy I realised that those details were unimportant – what mattered to the children was that the Beat Baby was “adopted” by me  and therefore a part of school life. This meant that the children who disliked the soft teddy bears in the reading area (“they’re girl bears… for girls!”) saw Beat Baby as different to the other soft toys, providing a sense of emotional engagement with the activities.

This sense of theatre, ambiguity and excitement was vital in establishing a sense of wonder around the resource. We established Beat Baby as an “alien tourist” of sorts, with the children acting as its expert guides in everything from snack time to the local beach. We found that children’s communication skills and self-esteem were greatly improved through caring for Beat Baby and centred music and movement sessions around Beat Baby’s “sleep schedule”.*

The setting was so enamoured by the Beat Baby that we purchased Beat Babies for each member of staff as a professional present (linked by favourite colours, of course!) to support the special activities favoured by each staff member (music, dance, drama, cookery, singing, gardening, etc.) giving each of their Beat Babies particular personalities (including likes and dislikes).

Then I focused upon parental partnerships and home links using Beat Babies that could go home with children (at this stage, we had run out of Beat Baby beds in the setting!). These Beat Babies had their own individual bags (photograph to follow) full of items that they would need for an adventure, the recipe for Silly Soup (L&S) and a manual (to prevent Gremlins-style problems):


This is by no means an exhaustive account of all the activities we involve our Beat Babies in, nor does it include the list of children that have been delighted, comforted and enthused by them. Instead, it is a simple anecdote which I would like to end by humbly thanking Ros Bayley’s most versatile brain-child: you have supported generations of practitioners in reaching children who couldn’t be reached, you have been launched from parachutes and have joined families on adventures (from flying Cessnas to walking the dog), you have encouraged children to use their voices and you reflect the diversity of our early years settings in your myriad colours, shapes and sizes.

Perhaps there will be a follow-up post, detailing the different ways in which a Beat Baby can be utilised within an early years setting, but I think first I’ll order myself an “Outdoor Beat Baby” and find a way to integrate him theatrically into our Forest Schools sessions…

Beat Babies and Ros Bayley’s resources can be found at: http://www.lawrenceeducational.com

*Note to all new Beat Baby owners: your Beat Baby may be quite sleepy and require special songs to wake up or go to sleep.

Speech and Language in the Early Years INSET

Speech and Language in the Early Years

In Setting Training Agenda – 2012

The aim of this training is to support and develop practitioners’ understanding of children’s speech, language and communication development, knowledge of normal patterns of development, monitoring practices, effective multi-agency working, fostering parental partnerships and best practices when working with children with communicative difficulties.

10am -12pm Introduction
Why is communication so important?
Language Acquisition Theories
Contemporary Research-based Approaches to Communication
Types of Communicative Difficulties and Impairments
12-12.45pm LUNCH
12.45-3.30pm Practical Application of Theory
Augmentative and Alternative Means of Communication
British Sign Language, Sign Along and Makaton
The role of Early Years Practitioners, Speech and Language Therapists (SALTs) and other professionals


Full slides and supporting materials (speaker’s notes, appendix, handouts, activity outlines) to follow.

Patricia Kuhl’s The Linguistic Genius of Babies video can be found here.

Charles Limb’s Building the Musical Muscle video can be found here.