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.

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

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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.

Closure of the UEA Early Years Professional Status programme

The Early Years Professional Status training programme delivered by the University of East Anglia is scheduled to cease operation by 2013.

The University of East Anglia (UEA) confirmed that the EYPS course would shut as it is operating at a loss.The university states that running EYP training does not feature in its long-term plans for the School of Education and Lifelong Learning, describing a new focus solely on teacher training and research. UEA has shared £3.4m of East of England consortium funding over three years to provide fully-funded EYPS places with no tuition fees. In a statement UEA said, ‘In the current economic climate, it is important for the university to focus on activities that are viable and that embody the values and priorities outlined in our draft corporate plan for the next five years.Unfortunately, the EYPS course has not recruited enough students and is loss-making. In addition, while we recognise the importance of early years education, this course does not chime with the university’s long-term priorities and ambitions.’ The university said that three members of staff were affected by the closure decision and that 29 EYP students who enrolled in January will finish their 12-month course in January 2013 at UEA.

The University of East Anglia said, ‘In terms of alternative provisions in the future, we have told the consortium that we are very happy to liaise with other HE providers in the area to ensure they will have excellent input.’ The Eastern Leadership Centre is the lead organisation for the East of England consortium, with partners University Campus Suffolk, the University of Hertfordshire and Pen Green Research Centre. Emma Slaughter, service leader (EYPS) at ELC, told Nursery World magazine that fully-funded places for EYP training would continue to be provided in Norfolk and that she did not envisage a drop in the number of applications. Following UEA’s decision to withdraw from EYP training, she said, ‘We’ll work collectively to ensure that there is EYPS provision in Norfolk.We’re considering various options for venues, including using children’s centres, local authority offices and other education providers.’

The East of England region is recruiting now for places to start in September. The closing date for applications is the 4th of May.


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