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Are you a Sparkly Thinker?

At a recent conference about children’s thinking the presenter, the acclaimed author Marion Dowling, made a comment about why it is so important that we should understand children’s thinking processes and how we can then use this in our work. As she stated – “we can’t compel children to engage”. I’m sure every practitioner can empathise with this, having sat in front of a group of children with a book and knowing that not every child is listening!

Marion then went on to describe a situation she had observed in a reception class, who had been learning about Goldilocks and the three bears. When it was time to review their learning the teacher didn’t fire questions at the children but chose to dress up as ‘Mrs Locks’ who had lost her daughter ‘Goldie’.

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Young Children’s Personal, Social and Emotional Development by Marion Dowling


This is the second edition of a book first published in 2000. What a lot has happened since then, with the Laming report, Every Child Matters and the EYFS. Despite this I think Marion Dowling has written an incredibly relevant book with the bonus of being in an easy to read format.

In this book she deals in detail with topics you would expect to find, such as confident children, becoming independent and emotional well being, as well as a refreshingly large chapter on outdoors and how this promotes all round personal, social and emotional development. All the chapters are well referenced and grounded in real experience of nurseries and early years settings. Each chapter concludes with a short summary, practical suggestions and professional questions. It is the latter which I found the most thought provoking. Some typical examples are: what aspects of my behaviour offer a positive role model for young children? How do I help all my children to adopt mastery patterns of behaviour? And what do I do to take care of my own spiritual life?

This last question comes from Chapter 7, entitled Young Children’s Spirituality. I was initially concerned when I saw this chapter that it would be about the deep and troubled waters of religion, but in fact it investigates “appreciating the journey through life in the deepest sense, particularly special moments and recognising our own inner resources to help us cope with the journey”. Something we could probably all do with from time to time! She explores feelings of transcendence; search for meaning and purpose; creativity and a sense of awe, wonder and mystery, with perception and conciseness.

The concluding chapter, however, is the one which raises this book from the ordinary to the extraordinary. Entitled Some Important Ingredients, the first half is about “powerful ways of supporting children’s personal development through book, storytelling and fantasy play”.

The second half of this chapter is simply entitled Yourselves. Most literature and research agrees that the practitioner is the most valuable resource, but how often are the qualities of this ‘resource’ discussed and detailed? Marion Dowling has been able to do this sensitively and realistically, discussing qualities such as flexibility, empathy and optimism. Anyone who has worked in early years settings will recognise the situations she discusses and what is required of the practitioner in these circumstances. For example, under ’emotional maturity’ she raises the issue of family break-up – “Natural  responses are to feel disturbed, upset, angry and frustrated. It is not easy to handle these emotions but practitioners need to learn the importance of remaining outwardly calm and in control, being able to cope with complexity”. Good advice indeed!

In this book Marion Dowling has captured the essence of what a good quality childcare provider should be doing to foster a child’s personal, social and emotional development. It is a well researched book which covers theory and then puts it into practice. The professional questions are thought provoking and captures the current move towards professionalism in early years. However, for me the most outstanding parts of this book are the chapters on spirituality and the qualities of a high quality practitioner, which makes this book essential reading for practitioners and those employing them.

** NOTE: Look out for the new, 4th Edition, published August 2014, reviewed here**

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In the News

Teachernet – a great source of free Early Years material

*** Unfortunately the Teachernet website is no longer available. You can find some of the resources in the Government’s Web Archive here ***

Did you know you can get a lot of the Government’s publications free, online, from Teachernet?

These can either be downloaded or posted out to you (no postage either!) with the only caveat being that quantity is restricted. Why would you want more than one copy of Letters and Sounds or the EYFS? Certainly, as a trainer, I find that after a few sessions the EYFS cards become battered and covered with my notes and circled areas when clarifying points.

By having several copies at nursery or in your setting, staff can browse, cut out, display and discuss the publications. They could even take a copy home to read at their leisure. The EYFS is such a broad document that it deserves being studied area by area and by having spare copies practitioners can do this

The other interesting thing on the excellent teacher net site is that you can view and download thousands of documents, again all for free. These vary from newspaper articles to white papers to Sure Start magazines. I have spent many hours just viewing items which looked interesting, but which I would never have known about otherwise, and have subsequently ordered documents.

One example of this is the invaluable ‘information sharing:Practitioners’ guide’ published by the Department for children, schools and families. I have often had practitioners say to me that “we can’t say anything without consent”. Under normal circumstances this would be broadly true, but this booklet explains very clearly when you can, when you can’t and when you should share information. The other area it covers is what constitutes consent and who can give consent, which is an especially sensitive area where is child is going through the adoption process or is being taken care of by grandparents, for example. I feel this would be an enormous help to practitioners and particularly setting managers who want to make sure they make the correct decision on information sharing.

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What is the Purpose of an EYP Network?

As more and more practitioners achieve Early Years Professional (EYP) Status it will be essential for newly registered EYPs to continue to expand professional expertise. The EYP network can be an excellent way to achieve this.

In Cheshire there is a thriving and growing network, led by Alex Sefton and Kim Kellock, where EYPs have already reaped the benefits of meeting and discussing issues with other professionals. The monthly, full day meetings are held at children’s centres around Cheshire and are normally organised around specific training requirements, suggested by members of the group. These have included schema, learning journeys, Masters degrees and the Early Years Foundation Stage. The day is concludes with a guided tour around the children’s centre.

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Recommended Resources

How Children Learn Book 1 by Linda Pound and Kathy Hughes

This is an amazing reference book – clear, concise and very enjoyable to read. I actually took my copy as holiday reading and thoroughly enjoyed it!

It is a book about educational theorists who have shaped the way we view children’s learning over the years, compiled in chronological order. The reader can appreciate how one theorist has built on, or disputed, the works of previous theorists. So we can see how Chris Astley has built on Piaget’s work on schema, for example.

If that sounds as dull as it comes – don’t worry, it isn’t! The authors have written in an easy to read format with plenty of cross references and further reading for when you want to find out in depth about a particular theorist.

I think this book would be excellent if you are just starting on a course and need to know about who the educational theorists are and their areas of interest. Unusually I would also recommend this book to any experienced practitioner who just needs to brush up on their knowledge – or rekindle the flame that first inspired them to find out about how children do learn.

You can get more information from Practical Pre-school.

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Nobody, Nowhere by Donna Williams

This book will almost certainly make you think about autism in a totally new way. Donna Williams had a very difficult childhood which she has documented with extreme frankness. It is written in separated paragraphs which I initially found broke the flow of the writing, but as I got used to it, and read the content, I realised that this is possibly how the author actually compartmentalises her life. Similarly there are huge sections written about minutiae and a few lines about massive events.

Importantly this book gave me an insight into how a child with autism might view the world, consequently making me empathise more when working with children. Behaviour that, at first glance, seemed irrational or combative made more sense when armed with the knowledge from this book.

 

This excellent book is available from Amazon

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The Jumbled Jigsaw by Donna Williams

This is the second book I have read by Donna Williams and I am just as impressed, though for different reasons.

The first book I read was Nobody, Nowhere and is her autobiography (see earlier article) whereas this one is a text book which covers the very many and varied aspects of autism and its manifestations. I found this immensely thought provoking, particularly the parallels and differences between autism and aspergers.

It has been a book which I have dipped into and out of, not least because there is an awful lot of medical references which I have had to go and look up! None the less it is extremely informative and an excellent addition to the bookshelf for anyone interested in this area of child development.

It is available from Amazon

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Letters and Sounds

Are you able to fit ‘Letters and Sounds’ into your daily routine?

The Rose review of early reading was completed in 2006 by Sir Jim Rose and one of the recommendations was for high quality phonics work. ‘Letters and sounds’ is part of the government’s response to this. Essentially it is a series of activities which meet the criteria identified in the review as being essential to reading phonically as opposed to other methods – picture clues, for example.

The myth is that nurseries have to use ‘Letters and Sounds’. The DFES standards website is categorically clear about this – you do not have to use it if you already have a high quality phonics programme operating successfully. The question then becomes – what would Ofsted call a high quality phonics programme in lieu of Letters and Sounds?

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