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Viewpoint

Valuing children’s abilities

I was reminded last week just how clever, adaptive and creative children actually are.

Let me start at the beginning. In schools all over England, young children (and some VERY young children) are being given words to remember, spell and write. They are then tested on these and measured against a set of standards.

Now, in my experience, having a set of pre-determined scales poses a number of problems.

First of all, where do you pitch it? So low that everyone passes with flying colours – a little bit pointless, if great for self-esteem.

So high that most children will be set up to fail, which has to be morally, ethically and in terms of PSED wrong.

Therefore, it has to be a middling average, in terms of reading ability. There has not been any account made for children’s unique life experiences, their culture or their existing knowledge.

Even if we, as adults, have been there with the children, their experiences of the same event may be very different indeed. I’ll never forget the big trip to Chester Zoo, on the coach, great adventure, picnic lunch and the only memory my son has of the whole day is seeing the elephant weeing! So how can we possibly extrapolate their experiences and put them into a standard test?

On top of all that, children are exceptionally good problem-solvers, adapters and makers of meaning, even if something seems non-sensical to us.

For example, one of the measures, or tests, of their reading ability is to de-code ‘nonsense’ words. These are phonetically possible, but are not encountered as regular English words. The activity in this particular classroom last week was to identify the nonsense words, and then say them.

However, there is one little lad in the class who had early life experiences in Hong Kong, and also supports Everton football team. So when he came to the word ‘Chang’ he didn’t identify it as a nonsense word.

Why?

Because it is a common Chinese surname, a brand of beer common in Hong Kong and sponsors of Everton. So he has seen and used the word often and it makes perfect sense to him, in a number of different contexts.

As a test of identifying ‘nonsense’ words, this is clearly not working. As a test of de-coding the word, again, not working – he could read it on sight (at a hundred yards on a football shirt!). But as an example of his cultural, community and knowledge of the world – excellent!

But he got the test ‘wrong’ because he didn’t identify it as a nonsense word.

So before we try to show how we, as adults, are more intelligent than children, let’s just take a moment and remind ourselves how clever, inventive, creative and knowledgeable our children are first.

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Men In Childcare Podcast

Men in Childcare – Interview with Nige Graven

Nige Graven v2Nige Graven is an Outstanding Childminder, based in Knutsford, Cheshire with his wife Sarah Neville.

In this podcast Nige explains how he came into childminding and some of his experiences whilst looking after children. We discuss the increasing lack of support for childminders and Nige tells one of his trade-mark jokes!

Find the Knutsford Childminding blog here. and their company site here.
Their Twitter account, @knutsfordchildm, is here.

The Childminding Forum, which is mentioned in the podcast, is here.

Enjoy!

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If you enjoy the podcast, please leave a review on iTunes too – it helps to promote the podcast and get it to reach a wider audience.

 

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Articles

Get Packing!

For some reason in the last few weeks I have either been doing lots of work with, or talking to, practitioners working in ‘packaway’ settings. These are settings that have to be packed into boxes and cupboards at the end of each day or each session, usually so the room or space can be used by someone else.

Although some of these are small settings, such as pre-schools, some are much larger, consisting of several rooms and outdoor areas. This can turn ‘tidy-up’ time from a quick check for any lego left out or toys in the garden into a huge logistical job where everyone needs to know their role inside out.

However, I do think that there are some great benefits that only those who DON’T have to heave boxes in and out every day can appreciate.

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Articles

On Your Marks!

Michael Jones Mark MakingI was very excited to hear that Michael Jones (well-known for his prowess in the speech and language world, via his blog Talk4Meaning) had a new book out about mark making and early writing – called On Your Marks!

This is a very different book to his other writing, as it is an activity filled, practical ideas based book. The first notable feature is that each page (the ‘ideas’) are all photocopiable, which is made easier as the book is spiral bound, with a landscape layout. Next you will notice how the chapters are organised in a very logical fashion – even starting with the types of paper you may use – moving onto big movements, fine motor skills and ‘handedness’.

Much is made of mark making as a process rather than product, so there is plenty of advice about taking photos during the activities, as well as displaying the final product.

Some of the less common good ideas are discussed too, such as how moving to music improves gross motor skills (essential for producing body movements for writing later on) and how the way we visually scan a page depends on cultural writing norms, affecting the way that we teach children.

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Guest post

Supporting children with Autism

I’m delighted to announce that Mrs M (author of A Slice of Autism: What’s normal anyway?) is starting a new series of blogs for me here. The first one focuses on behaviour, particularly with respect to school and parent partnership. You’ll find plenty of sensible, reliable advice, written in Mrs M’s very enjoyable style.

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I have been privileged to spend many years of my career working within the primary education sector and early years settings to support staff who work with children on the autism spectrum. It can be one of the most rewarding jobs and yet also one of the most challenging too, as each individual child on the spectrum is unique, and therefore they all have such different needs.

Add to this the fact that many children’s challenges are hidden from the outside world and it becomes easy to see why people can focus on the things children with autism can’t do, their deficits if you like. Instead of us looking at the child behind the behaviour, we can find ourselves stuck in a cycle of negative reaction strategies that actually serve to aggravate the child even further.

boy's fascinatedMany approaches I have seen over the years tend to ‘treat the behaviour’ and focus on the child’s problems. But we should be taking the time to find out what makes these very special children tick, what their strengths are, how they learn, and how we can make reasonable adjustments to the environment in order to meet their needs.

So often children on the spectrum are treated like round pegs in square holes. Our environment and demands to conform to our view of the world can chip away at them and doesn’t take into account their individual needs.

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Men In Childcare Podcast

Interview with Jose Cortinas

JoseCortinas Jose Cortinas has worked for a number of childcare settings and this experience means he has lots of good advice for those of you who are thinking of joining the Early Years sector.

Hear about Jose’s college experience, some of his challenges and the benefits of working for a large organisation such as London Early Years Foundation (LEYF).

For more information about LEYF: https://www.leyf.org.uk/ and LEYF at Earls Court: https://www.leyf.org.uk/find-a-nursery/kensington-and-chelsea/earls-court-community-nursery/

 

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If you enjoy the podcast, please leave a review on iTunes too – it helps to promote the podcast and get it to reach a wider audience.

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Articles

The Ultimate Guide to Sustained Shared Thinking

My new online course on Sustained Shared Thinking is now available. You can get it at a special price here…
>> The Sustained Shared Thinking Online Course < <

 
I’m currently getting a lot of interest around Sustained Shared Thinking, which is very encouraging as I am a massive fan of this proven method of quality practice.

This guide will consider the what, why, how, when, where and who of Sustained Shared Thinking.

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Guest post

Spring thoughts

Spring is certainly in the air now. My poor daffodils have coped with snow, gales and hailstones – but have come out the other side bright and sunny.
It is a time of year for marvelling at nature and giving thanks in many ways, so Mrs M.’s blog this month is suitably Spring-like. You’ll she has had an amazing year, and I hope that you’ll join me in congratulating her on her achievements, (including her book publication) as well as anticipating the new things to come.

 

As I sit here writing this, the spring sun is piercing through my window and the birds are chirping away in my back garden. New life is popping up all around me, and I have to say that I am excited at what the coming months have in store.

Yet naturally this also makes me reflect on the last 12 months as it’s been a heck of a ride.

So I’m gonna sit down with a nice cuppa and reminisce…

Let’s see, well my son has settled into his new school. He is happy and flourishing there and as a result he is much happier at home. I can’t believe how calmer he is now, and his generalised anxiety is under control. Fighting for the school he now attends was one of the best decisions we ever made.

My two girls are happy and growing up too fast. They amaze me every day with how independent they are becoming. I am learning to let go of the apron strings a little with them (being a mum to teenagers is a much of a challenge for me as it is for them I think).

The hubby is happy in the new ‘man shed’ he’s been building that the bottom of the garden these last few months. I see less and less of him as his man cave grows ever bigger! He pops in every now and again for a fresh cup of tea and a biscuit. But as he’s reached 40 his passion for fast rides and adrenalin seems to have been replaced by tools and drill bits?!

And me…

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Viewpoint

Chasing the shadows away on ‘Lighting up Young Brains’

An interesting and sensible report was issued this week by Save the Children, entitled ‘Lighting up Young Brains’.

In this report the authors state one clear and unequivocal priority for Government: For every nursery in England to be led by an early years teacher by 2020.

This is based on previous research (EPPE) and on newly completed research (most notably Goswami’s work on children’s cognitive development). The tone of the report is measured and written in accessible language. There are only 3 sections: Children’s early brain development; the role of parents, the HLE and childcare in supporting brain development; and their priority for government.

My personal view is that is a document that invites discussion, based on research, with a clearly stated recommendation at the end.

However, it has caused an amount of debate on something that is not even contained in the report. For example, the BBC website states that children ‘can be “set back decades” if their brains are not adequately stimulated’ (an interesting time travelling trick if you are only three years old!). There has been much talk about ‘school readiness’ and how having an Early Years Teacher means that children will be sat at desks, completing worksheets, before the age of three.

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Guest post

How the long wait for a diagnosis affected my journey as a mum

This week the House of commons will be debating Autism Diagnosis Waiting Time (for details see here), so it seemed very fitting that Mrs M. should share with us her journey as a mum, waiting for a diagnosis. I thinks she shares some very good advice here and, as ever, gives a moving and valuable insight into how this can affect every facet of family life. 

I vividly remember all those years ago when I first became a mother in my early twenties, nervously holding this new little life in my arms. She was so tiny and vulnerable that I became completely overawed at how much she depended on me. I was meant to have all the answers. I was meant to know what her cries meant, what to do when she wouldn’t settle and how to relieve her colic. I was overwhelmed with it all in those early days settling in at home.

mum-and-babyHowever there was one thing I knew for certain back then; that I loved my little baby more than life itself and so instinctively I learned to know what she needed. I needed no guidebook or lessons to tell me what to do, it just happened naturally.

Then in my late twenties, we were blessed with another daughter and a son. Life had become full, crazy and yes at times a little chaotic – but we had such hope and dreams for the future.

My girls were happy carefree little things, full of laughter and smiles. However my little man worried me. Because even though he was hitting most of his developmental milestones he was hard work. Many aspects of his behaviour didn’t fit any checklists or tick boxes for kids of his age. He was a handful as a toddler and ran rings around me at times I have to say. And initially I dismissed my worries, thinking he would soon grow out of it.

However I was soon to realise that it was far more than just your typical boisterous behaviour that was testing my skills as a young mum. I didn’t know it all those years ago, but I was at the start of a new phase of motherhood. One that would turn our whole family life upside down, and my role as a mum would take a whole new road completely.

So fast forward to now – Here I am, older and wiser. I’m now in my mid (to late)-thirties and my son was diagnosed with Autism last year at the age of 10. After all those years.

Altogether it took almost 5 years on the waiting list for him to be assessed.

So I think that’s what makes my journey, and many other mums like me up and down the country kind of unique really. Because I can’t think of any other condition where parents have to wait so long to get the help and answers they need. And I certainly found that my relationship with not only myself, but with my son and my family was pushed to the limit because of it. Because I feel like my early thirties flew past in a blur of stress and uncertainty. I got lost somewhere in between there and now. Let me explain-

boy-waitingI doubted myself constantly because I knew deep down that my son had so many hidden challenges and for years I felt like no one believed me. I knew it was more than the terrible twos, threes or fours. And it certainly wasn’t middle child syndrome. I could see that my son was increasingly struggling with so many aspects of his life, but he wasn’t able to express what was happening to him inside. So instead he would play up, resist, fight or become upset at the smallest of things.

And eventually I began to feel like every instinct I was having as his mum was wrong because I felt like I couldn’t help him and people were judging me as a bad parent that couldn’t control her kid. So many thoughts were swirling around my mind-

Why didn’t people believe me?

Why did they think he was just naughty?

Why could he be good all day at school then the minute I walk in the room he would lash out?

Was it me, were they right, and was I too soft on him… Is that what the problem was?

And this went on year after year after year. I became exhausted, confused and tired. There are even occasions I can remember when I had been on the receiving end of one of his meltdowns after school, and I would keep it to myself because I felt so alone and just couldn’t face the criticism from people who thought he was just naughty. I felt ignored as all I ever seemed to do was make excuses for him, desperately trying to make people see what I saw.

Because you see I knew.

I just knew that when the day came for him to be assessed that everyone else would finally see what I had known all along. That my son was Autistic.

And then when that day did finally arrive I felt such a mixture of emotions that I just didn’t know what to think. I was relieved on the one hand but deeply saddened on the other as there was so much finality in those words – Autism. All I could think about was that it’s a lifelong condition, and the future seemed so uncertain for him at that point.

But in the months that followed his diagnosis I came to see that there was truly no need for me to be saddened by the label that he got that day. Because it hasn’t changed him, rather its changed how others think of him and that the key to his happiness.

Yes he has a label now, but it’s the right label. Not the ‘naughty’ label, or the ‘spoilt child’ label. And it has freed me of the shackles I felt for years too. I felt like I walked around with a ‘bad parent’ neon sign flashing above my head half the time as people stared at us in the supermarket. Or I was the ‘pushy parent’ when he refused to go to school and I had to fight for accommodations to be made for him.

But you see now the world can understand my son due to his ‘label’ of being Autistic, he is so much happier as a result. It opened doors that allowed us to get the right support for him. Thanks to his diagnosis now other people can now see how much he has to offer the world too. And that is why a diagnosis is so important for children like my son. Because otherwise he would have continued being misunderstood and labelled in all the wrong ways.

So the bottom line is that the long wait not only affected my son, but it affected me deeply, and there is no easy answer I’m afraid to say, it sucks! The waiting lists in the UK are appallingly long and I wish I could tell you otherwise but I can’t.
light-tunnelBut mums what I can tell you is this – please believe me when I say that there is light at the end of the tunnel. I learned that I had to believe in myself, and you will learn that too I promise! You are a good mum and your gut instincts are always right, just like we instinctively know what to do with our babies, nothing has changed just because they have grown up a bit. And please know that your opinions as a mum are 100% valid and worthy of being heard, no matter what labels your child has been given or how long you are waiting for answers.

And if there are any professionals reading this, please try and see beyond the labels, both my child’s and mine as a mum.

That mum may be labelled as a pushy parent, or come across as defensive in meetings. But it’s probably because inside she’s feel intimidated by you all sat at the table like you’re ready to interview her. She may have had years fighting a system that struggles to view things from her child’s point of view. She may have sat at meeting after meeting having to listen to all the things her child can’t do when she knows how much he is capable of if they could only see it. Maybe she’s worn down by judgements and feeling like her opinion isn’t valid. And maybe all she actually needs is for someone to say to her that they don’t have a magic wand to make it all better, but that they hold value in what she has to say and that they are really listening to her.

Because after all she is just a mother. A mother doing her best. A mother who held her baby in her arms all those years ago with such hope and dreams for the future. And no matter what labels her child is given she loves him all the more, more than life itself.

Read more from Mrs M. at her brilliant blogspot here and vibrant Facebook page here.

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