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!

At the Seaside – Professional Reflections

My favourite activities at the pre-school in recent weeks have been our trips to the beach. We are lucky in our geographical location that we have a beautiful beach with a variety of natural resources on offer (for example, chalk and rock pools) within easy walking distance. We aim to extend children’s interests beyond the confines of our setting as often as possible when appropriate (in response to child-initated ideas).

The children’s interest in beaches has been sparked by the sudden improvement in weather (although one child noted “it’s [the sea] still very cold… Only for silly swimming.”) and the addition of a seaside themed natural materials basket. As always, I am humbled and awed by the vast number of ideas and experiments children come up with whilst exploring such simple things. By the end of the first morning we had children: requesting different colours of paper and wooden boards to draw on using the natural chalk, creating “castles” with the pebbles, adding sand and water to a shallow tray to make a lake for boats made of driftwood and seaweed, creating paper beach clothes for the small-world dolls (so they could go swimming), making lots of lovely sounds with the pebbles and sticks, taking the natural chalk outside to draw on the ground, crushing the natural chalk to make a lovely tactile material (which when water is added to becomes “milk” and “hot chocolate”), etc.

It was then that we decided that the best way to really explore our local environment would be to organise an impromptu trip to the beach. Full-waterproofs were donned (staff and children!) and we discussed beach safety before setting off down the gangway towards adventure. We spent far longer down the beach than originally anticipated (why prematurely halt such engaging and meaningful experiences?), so the return to the setting was hasty, however the enthusiastic communication heard between parents and children during collection time validated every practitioners’ belief that what we do is one of the most important jobs in the world. After answering the children’s curious questions on the beach, we utilised several books to help us explain tricky concepts such as erosion (“where does chalk come from?”, “will that house fall off the cliff?”); tides (“what makes waves?”); ecosystems (“that seagull is eating the crab”); natural occurences (hermit crabs “moving house”), etc. in a familiar visual format.

In the next few weeks, I will be collating the books we have utilised and giving each a short review. I hope you will find these as useful and inspiring as we have!

Give a child a typewriter and they will create worlds

I had a wonderful conversation with my grandparents a few months ago, about the types of things I liked to play with as a child. We chatted about paint, paper, notebooks and huge canvases (plentiful in a house full of artists and teachers) before moving on to things children find in the garden and the beliefs children have (fairies, mythical creatures, etc…); as a professional the conversation gave me the opportunity to consider whether the resources within my setting instigated the sort of quality play I wanted children to experience. One of the items I remember very vividly from my childhood was an old typewriter. My grandfather had an electronic typewriter for his work and I remember watching it in absolute wonder (being a bookworm I adored the idea of creating a book as much as I enjoyed reading them). In response to my interest (and to save the electronic typewriter from the over-zealous toddler, I suspect) my grandmother found a typewriter complete with black and red ribbon and reams upon reams of computer paper for me. Upon recollection, my mother states that the typewriter hardly went a day without being used for creating stories, invitations, bills, menus, newspapers, lists, messages (at one stage my sister and I became preoccupied with telegraphs) and other written communications.

In the setting…
A few weeks ago, my grandmother informed me that she had bought an old typewriter (with black and red ribbons, no less!) for me, at auction for the princely sum of £3. Since installing the typewriter (after a grand unboxing) at a table with a variety of different types of paper and stationery items, I’ve been able to observe literary behaviours unseen in some children using the computer or normal mark making table/tools within the setting. Children who thus far had no interest in writing have spent upwards of ten minutes carefully tapping away (bearing in mind that they are 2-5 year olds!) and children who previously wrote their names and various letters upon hand-written notes have been writing stories and messages. With the help of a practitioner, children have been requesting assistance in typing such words as “crocodile” and “monster” alongside favourite nouns such as “mummy” and “daddy”. Practitioners and parents/carers alike have had a go at typing, providing excellent role models and illustrating the enjoyment that can be had from expressing yourself upon paper (even if it is just to say “cheese sausages milk” – child’s snack time wishlist!)
The typewriter has also reinforced mark-making with pens, pencils and chalks as children patiently wait for “the ding” to tell them it’s someone else’s turn (a fantastic built-in turn-taking mechanism!) and name recognition has improved dramatically as children search for their name on a “turn-taking” list and urge practitioners to cross names out as children take their turn.
Although it has only been a few weeks, interest hasn’t waned and the children’s enthusiasm for reading (and creating things to read) has spread across all the areas of provision. As a setting that focuses mainly upon child-initiated learning, this addition of a springboard item has set off an explosion of fantastic ideas that I cannot wait to follow up (and possibly blog about)!

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How do you encourage children to be globally empathetic?

Last week I retweeted a friend’s intention to “Live Below The Line” in aid of the charity International Service. She hopes to raise £800 by living on just £5.74 a week – calculated using poverty baseline of $1.25 a day – including all of her food, drink and travelling costs. You can read about her experiences and inspiration here; if you’re feeling particularly altruistic today, you can support this worthy cause here.

“It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.”
Frederick Douglass

But what does this have to do with early years education, aside from the obvious concern that children in developing countries have yet to access quality early years education universally? Within the foundation stage, practitioners are encouraging children to empathise with and to give consideration to others’ feelings, needs and wishes. Usually this is an informal process, using everyday events as “learning opportunities”; occasionally fraught with tears (“but I WANT that fire engine!”) it can be an emotionally exhausting process as you filter and reflect the behaviour you want children to replicate independently (“he’s sad because I hit him… That wasn’t kind, was it? Sorry.”)

However, outside the realms of everyday events are what I believe to be the situations for which we most require emotional intelligence. Things like abject poverty, war and injustice. We want our children to grow up to be resourceful, resilient and knowledgable adults; who will do a better job of taking care of the world and the people in it than previous generations. In the grand scheme of things, that’s what we do as practitioners: we’re trying to create a better world.

In the next few months, I will be introducing the tricky topic of poverty through philosophical discussions with children and encouraging them to consider the difference a donation of chickens to a poverty-stricken family across the world would make. This will be timed to coincide with a delivery of “live” chicken eggs which will hopefully hatch successfully and provide a talking point for children, parents, carers and staff. Already the foundations of such discussions have already been laid; for example we discussed why the bears in Goldilocks and the Three Bears were so cross upon finding their porridge had been scoffed by the cheeky girl who broke their chair and had a sleep in one of their beds. We talked about whether the bears had any more porridge, whether the chair was fixable and as one child thoughtfully stated “what if they don’t have any pennies for chairs? Chairs are a lot of pennies and they can’t share two…” We also talked about whether Goldilocks had any food at her house, or whether she even had a house to begin with! One child noted that they had seen a homeless person on a recent trip to the shops “…and Daddy gave him a sandwich” which extended the conversation from the story world to the local community. We even touched upon the concept of finite money when visiting out local farmers shop; each child was given some pennies to take care of to help pay for the shopping and “when all the pennies are gone, that’s it.” Even the smallest children understand that the amount of pennies directly relates to the amount of fruit or vegetables we can buy – to date there has never been an upset over “but I want ….!” which we attribute to the honesty and transparency we approach the concept of money with.
These familiar stories and scenarios will lay the groundwork for lateral thinking and empathetic understanding as the children grow up. As adults, our job is to explain the world in a developmentally appropriate manner. At some recent training, I noted that a contributing factor in the development of children’s fears or upsets is the unknown. Of course, there is a need for sensitivity and understanding – some horrific things do not belong in the childhood conscious – but for the most part, with a carefully worded explanation or appropriate reassurance most topics can be conveyed and understood. An example of this could be Remembrance Day. In the town where my setting is situated, there is a prominent memorial and services are held to mark the day. It is inevitable that at some stage students will see wreaths, people paying respects or ceremonies and it is their right as a child to question “what?”, “who?”, “where?” and “why?”