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

Coming Soon: Eggciting Education in the Pre-school

Coming Soon: Eggciting Education in the Pre-school

I’m currently working on a blog post about the recent experience my pre-school children had raising chicks. I’ll resist the urge to write “I’ll tweet about it!” and instead say that it should be published as soon as I can pull myself away from the delightful balls of feathers.

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!

“Autism and Me” – a documentary by Rory Hoy

Rory Hoy (18) produced a short award-winning film providing viewers with his perspective of the world around him.
Ordinarily, this might be described as any teen’s video diary but Rory shares his world with one crucial difference: he has autism. Rory highlights the absurdity of clinical language usage when attempting to describe the lens through which children and adults on the autistic spectrum experience life. He uses accessible terminology to instil meaning in his day-to-day experiences, which allows the viewer to understand and empathise with some of the challenges presented by things like: high noise levels, crowded environments, hypersensitivity, changes in routine and figures of speech (particularly poignant for those in early years settings).

It’s a wonderful, engaging film that deserves a place on every practitioner’s shelf and in every setting’s CPD toolkit.
 

 

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:

BEATBABYEMAIL

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:

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):

BEATBABYBOOK1BEATBABYBOOK@

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.

A is for Autism documentary

This short documentary is exactly 11 minutes long. If you only watch one video regarding autism today, I hope it’s this one. At my very first course on autistic spectrum disorder (ASD), the lecturer questioned our understanding and played this video. It is one of two films I always play when presenting training on ASD because I feel it gives a fresh perspective (that of children and adults who are on the spectrum) and hopefully enables practitioners to distance themselves from clinical facts to focus on the world-views of children with autism, to “empathise not sympathise”. Another reason I particularly like this film, is that it shows the variety of interests and day-to-day challenges faced by children, parents and teachers.

Perhaps, as part of World Autism Awareness Day (WAAD) you could share the film with other practitioners, parents and interested parties?