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Guest post

Quality story books reflecting positive images for all

Quality Story Books for the Foundation Stage reflecting positive images for all
By Fiona Greenwood

I was delighted to be contacted by Fiona to tell me that she’d been inspired by Kala Williams’s Early Years TV interview. Here’s what happened:

After watching Kala Williams on Early Years TV I became painfully aware of how few books we had in our Nursery which reflected diversity. It also made me think about stereotypes in children’s books and illustrations and I decided to spend some of our fundraising money on some good quality books.

As Kala had discussed, it struck me how few books there are which reflect Britain today so after searching the Internet I phoned my local Waterstones to help me in my quest.

They were incredibly happy to help and it was brilliant to see how many appropriate books they had for sale in their store. Vicky also ordered more for me and below is the start of what will become our new library. Some of these titles will also become our Core Books which the children will get to know extremely well.

I am Assistant Head at a predominantly white British Nursery School which made it so important for us to question the books we had and purchase new books which showed positive images of our whole society, not just of our immediate area.

This first list are great stories that depict black girls as the main character – not set in Africa – but here at home!
Look up! by Nathan Bryon
Billy and The Beast. by Nadia Shireen
Biily and The Dragon. by Nadia Shireen
Suzy Orbit Astronaut by Ruth Quayle
Ten Minutes to Bed Little Mermaid by Rhiannon Fielding
The Dinosaur Department Store by Lily Murray
Cendrillon by Robert San Souci is a fabulous Caribbean Cinderella. Imagine the discussions with this book!

Here are a few books where the illustrations depict diversity
Jack and the Flum Flum Tree by Julia Donaldson
When a Dragon Comes to Stay by Caryl Hart
Flotsam by David Weisz

The next few books kick stereotyping into touch for both boys and girls
Pink is for Boys by Eda Kaban
Not Every Princess by Jeffrey Bone
The Girls by Lauren Ace (This is a beautiful book)
Julian is a Mermaid by Jessica Love

And a few Early Years books about our environment in danger
World in Danger by Frankie Morland
Greta and The Giants by Zoe Tucker
A Planet full of Plastic by Neal Layton ( with multicultural images too)

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Guest post

Five Fantastic Faeces Facts

Five Fantastic Faeces Facts. (5 minute read, just for laughs)
by Jungle Jo

Yes that’s right, I’m going to talk about poop. Some of you may find it a bit disgusting and others like me chuckle about it. I’m surrounded by it every day with my animals and children so to do my job I need a crazy sense of humour. Like it or not poop is really interesting and super important for the planet. There are several names such as dung, frass, guano, droppings, pats, manure, pellets, scat, dodo, number 2’s etc. dozens to choose from. It all depends on the animal its structure, shape and what the animal eats. Whatever you want to call it here are some cool facts for you to chuckle about.

1. Animals eat poop including humans. Animals can eat it to hide the scent of their babies from other animals such as wolves eating their pups poop. Some animals like rabbits will poop a soft nutritional pellet overnight and eat it. So actually eat their own poop (imagine that). The first time they ate it, their digestion hasn’t completely absorbed all the nutrients so they don’t waste it; they just eat it a second time round. Cockroaches, worms and millipedes eat other animal poop which cleans up the planet but then they will poo an amazing fertiliser which in turn grows our fruits, trees and veg. Of course the dung beetle is the most famous poop eater of them all. Thank you very much poo eaters you rock.

Humans can use poop in our food products the most expensive coffee in the world has been eaten and excreted through a civet cat. There are drinks such as beer and even green tea which benefit from faeces. Finally shellac is the excretion from an insect which we use to coat many of those tasty crunchy coated sweets which we all love. Yummy…

2. Animals and humans can use poop to make houses. There are several species which can use other animals’ faeces to make a home or nest. Birds are great at using herbivorous animals poop. It has a great fibrous structure and dries solid. Using poop for your house can repel other animals; it can be shaped into many different structures both small and large. It can work as a great insulator. It can also become a wind block and rain proof once smoothed and finished off with a coating of your own dribble. Humans have used animal excrement for thousands of years. Normally horse or cow manure mixed with urine, hair, mud and straw. It has protected us from all of the elements and many countries still use it to this day. Remember that it’s super strong and thankfully over time the odour becomes weaker. Just remember to not light a match.

3. “Poo with a purpose” or a “very important poo” (VIP). Here I am backing up the point I make on the video. Spiders are not everybody’s best friend but I love them and own 4 tarantulas. Their poo is absolutely awesome. They do not poop like we do. Every living thing, plant and animal, as we know must eat and excrete. The spiders and tarantulas of this world are the perfect recyclers. They eat and then their excretion is their venom and their WEB. Yes their web is their poop. It is completely recycled into a liquid protein silk which they can use for their houses, to catch their prey, to dance on and generally show off their skills in remarkable patterns and orbs. If their web breaks they can eat the broken web to recycle it and remake their web again. They can poop a tiny silk pellet which they leave in their webs, if they don’t catch any more food they will eat the silk pellet to make more web. Oh my goodness, it amazes me. The Madagascan bark spider is smaller than your thumb nail and can throw its first single thread of web downwind 25 meters across. Spider silk, poo, web whatever you want to call it is super strong and super fantastic.

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Articles

Children’s Multicultural Books

I had the enormous pleasure of interviewing TEDx speaker and author Dr Brynn Welch on the last Early Years Summit. Dr Welch’s particular research interest is diversity in young children’s literature and having books where children can ‘see themselves’. It’s something she cares passionately about – so much so that she wrote her own book for her son, Ben, called ‘Bennie Goes Up, Up, Up‘.

The interview really made me think about the books that we provide for children and how it is so easy to choose books without thinking about the messages we are sending children subliminally. For example, you don’t have to be a star athlete or President – you can just be you enjoying regular activities. It also reminded me of something that Carmen Powell said in October 2019 when talking about her book ‘Matthew and the Magic Goat‘, that the main character in her story has a prosthetic limb, but this isn’t mentioned or play a part in the story. It’s simply part of his life.

Having books that reflect children’s own race, ethnicity, disabilities, family structures and every other facet of their lives is so important because it helps them to relate to the story and the messages about making friends, being kind or just reflecting their own experiences. Belonging and being part of the wider community is an essential part of self-esteem, self-worth, empathy, understanding, Theory of Mind and so much more – but is incredibly difficult if you can’t relate to the stories that are being told.

It is also important that children appreciate and value families that are different from their own, with different cultures, heritages, traditions and artefacts, especially if they are unlikely to experience this in their immediate environment. Books may be their only window onto the wider, multicultural world.

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Recommended Resources

Informative and beautiful sharing books

Penny Tassoni MBE is very well-known for her textbooks for Early Years practitioners and educators because she knows how to explain difficult concepts in a very approachable and accessible way.

She has now applied this same skill to an informative and useful set of picture books for children, covering sharing, making friends, tidy up time and children’s food. The books are designed to be read together by parents and carers with their children to help the children to make those all-important connections. They are beautifully illustrated by Mel Four with clear images that are sure to delight children.

In the back of each book, there is a double-page of advice and help for the adults, which help and guide, without being too prescriptive. This is ideal for first-time parents, or if you are an educator working alongside parents.

These are a highly recommended set of books to have in your Early Years setting or on the bookshelf at home. I hope Penny Tassoni will go on to produce more in this delightful series.

* Disclaimer: Featherstone/Bloomsbury were kind enough to give me a set of these books for review purposes

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Viewpoint

From Early Years Summit to great practice in the setting

In the weeks, months and sometimes years after an Early Years Summit, I meet enthusiastic people who say “after watching the Summit, we implemented….” or I’ll get emails with pictures showing the changes as discussed in the Summit and how the children have benefitted.

I love these interactions because there is always a judgement call with the Summit – what to include, the length of the presentations, how many, who and so much more – so it’s just fabulous to hear and see that we’ve pitched it just right, thereby having a direct impact on the children and everyday practice.

So I was just delighted to receive an uplifting email from Emma less than a week after the Summit had finished, explaining how she had already implemented some of her own learning from the Summit. Emma and the participants in this vignette have kindly given me permission to share it with you.

Thank you very much indeed for sharing your experiences, Emma!

I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I did.

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Articles

The Aquatic Classroom – 3 opportunities for transferable learning

When Jo Wilson from AquaSensory first contacted me, I was a little bemused as to how swimming lessons could be relevant to an Early Years setting. However, once I got talking to Jo, I realised there are lots of things we can transfer from the way AquaSensory is taught and the way we use resources in a setting.

I’ve chosen my 3 favourite ‘transferable learning’ moments, but there are plenty more!

  1. ‘Bubble of Joy’. This is the way that Jo explains to parents how to be ‘in the moment’ with their child in the pool. It is all about shutting out external distractions and really focusing on being together in the water.This has so many parallels with good Early Years practice. Being able to focus together with a child on something, whether that is an activity or a toy, is the bedrock for Sustained Shared Thinking (those lovely in-depth conversations you share with children).Describing this as a moment of ‘Joy’ explains the pleasure of spending time with children. I would suggest this may be a precursor to Professional Love, as described by Dr Jools Page.
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Articles

What is the best thing we can give teachers?

I had the great pleasure of interviewing Chanie Wilschanski again last week. This time we were discussing the sorts of things that headteachers, managers and administrators need to think about before the start of a new school year.

One of the many things that I love about talking with Chanie is that she has actually been in practice, so really understands the pressures and frustrations (and joys!) of working with young children, whilst also keeping an effective and motivated team.

She commented last time that, as leaders and managers, ‘the best thing we can give teachers is each other’.

I asked Chanie to expand on that in this interview, so she explained that by getting teachers to help each other, to acknowledge each other’s strengths and to set up a culture of mutual support and trust really pays dividends – for both the teachers and the children.

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Recommended Resources

5 books on Supporting Children’s Mental Health

It is becoming more and more important to understand children’s mental health.

It is too easy to assume that children have no worries because they don’t need to pay bills, go to work or care for others.

The statistics are alarming. For example, one in eighteen (5.5%) preschool children have been identified with at least one mental disorder (1). But knowing there’s a problem and knowing what to do about it are two very different things.

So I was delighted to read five very helpful, but very different books this month, all published by Featherstone (part of Bloomsbury Publishing)(2)

  1. What’s going on in my head? by Molly Potter

A beautifully illustrated book, written using language that is ideal to share with even the youngest of children, this book starts with how emotions link to general health. Molly goes on to give some meditation ideas for children; asking for help; friends and thinking habits.

There is much to enjoy about this book. The many different scenarios and the variety of solutions are particularly useful – addressing the vast majority of everyday situations that children may find themselves in, from friendship problems to school and parents.

There are three full pages of guidance for parents and carers at the back, which condenses the advice, including resilience and emotional literacy.

There are two great books in the Featherstone ’50 Fantastic….’ series that I’ve chosen for their help in supporting children’s mental health.

<!–more Keep on reading!–>

2. 50 Fantastic Ideas for Emotional Resilience by Jillian Harrison-Longworth

Jillian notes at the beginning of her book that children do not learn to be resilient by osmosis, they need to be taught some skills directly. Her 50 Fantastic activities are perfect for this.

The 50 activities are 10 in each of the 5 key characteristics of emotional resilience: routines; self-esteem; confidence; perseverance, and co-operation. These activities look deceptively simple, for example, drawing together or talking about your own reflection in a mirror, which means you can pick up the book and use it immediately.

However, to get the most from these activities, I would suggest treading about each of them all the way through, including the top tips, to ensure you understand the reasoning behind each activity.

3. 50 Fantastic Ideas for Mindfulness by Tammie Prince

This book has some excellent meditation and mindfulness activities. Most of them require no resources or very simple resources that you are already likely to have, such as pebbles, mirrors or leaves.

The activities are mostly about the process as children use their natural mindfulness to stack stones, flower breathe or smell the roses (or other flower scents).

The book ends on some ‘mindful teacher’ ideas for practitioners and educators. Although I think practitioners could easily use the ideas intended for the children for their own mindfulness as well. For example, the first activity, Just Breathe, changes ‘energy from tension to relaxation’ simply by using a breathing technique. Easy, useful and very effective.

4. A sense of Place: Mindfulness Outdoors by Annie Davy

This book on mindfulness is a more in-depth book, with references to seminal work and some interesting research references. Chapter 6 on mindfulness pedagogy is particularly interesting and includes focusing on the breath, nature’s breath, fire and finding a ‘sit spot’.

A sit spot is described as a place where adults can sit quietly and notice the invitations or affordances that nature offers for learning – as well as the impact this can have on everyone’s wellbeing.

The 3 part structure of this book – Setting the scene; Learning through the senses, and A sense of place – makes this an easy book to access, whilst still discussing some complex ideas and concepts.

5. Let’s Talk about When Someone Dies by Molly Potter

Hopefully, this is something that, as parents and practitioners, that we don’t have to encounter too often, but there may be occasions when it is necessary.

As with Molly’s other books, this is beautifully and sensitively illustrated throughout, with clear advice.

Molly includes some pages on different types of funerals, as well as how children may feel or the questions that may come up. This is an excellent book for practitioners and parents who would like to discuss death with children in a clear and non-euphamistic way. It would be ideal to have in the staff room or office, ready in case it was needed to help support children through difficult times in their lives.

So, five very different books, but as a group, they cover a lot of angles when supporting children’s mental health as a matter of good practice.

It is also very encouraging to see ever more recognition that the practitioner’s own mental health is valued in these books as well.

You can purchase these books on the Bloomsbury website here: https://www.bloomsbury.com/uk/superpage/featherstone/

or from Amazon here:

What’s Going on in my head by Molly Potter

50 Fantastic Ideas for Emotional Resilience by Jillian Harrison-Longworth

50 Fantastic Ideas for Mindfulness by Tammie Prince

A sense of Place: Mindfulness Outdoors by Annie Davy

Let’s Talk about When Someone Dies by Molly Potter

(1) https://files.digital.nhs.uk/A6/EA7D58/MHCYP%202017%20Summary.pdf
Mental Health of Children and Young People in England, 2017 Published November 2018 by NHS Digital

(2) Disclaimer: I was sent one or more of these books from the publishers for free. You can be assured that the reviews are fair and honest reflections of the contents.

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Articles

Managing our own discomfort

Babies are fascinating.

They learn so much, so quickly and absorb their surrounding environment with all their senses.

As parents, practitioners or educators, one of our responsibilities is to ensure the environment is suitable, stimulating and accessible for children. However, this can mean very different things to different people.

For example, a stimulating environment may be considered to be somewhere full of toys, colour, noise and moving objects. Although this may stimulate all the senses, it may not necessarily be a suitable environment for babies or children. Deborah Carlisle Solomon reminds us of this during her Early Years TV interview, where she explains that a rattle may be over-stimulating for a baby because the baby can’t let go of the rattle.

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Articles

Mixed age grouping in Early Years settings

I really love the idea of family grouping or mixed age groups in a setting.

It happens naturally in settings where there is limited space for segregation, such as in a community centre or in a church hall. I have been lucky enough to see this in several settings and seen some great advantages.

For example, social interactions take on a whole new level, with more experienced (not necessarily older) children leading the way with organising games, sharing, turn-taking, ‘they learn to be both leaders and followers’.

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