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Kathy Brodie: Free CPD for Early Years Professionals

Kathy Brodie is an author, Early Years Professional and Trainer specialising in online training and courses. She is the founder and host of the Early Years Summit and Early Years TV, weekly Professional Development for Early Years practitioners and educators.


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Guest post

The Good Play Guide’s Must-Have Toys This Christmas

Posted on November 17, 2023.

I’m delighted to share with you this post on Must-Have Toys this Christmas from Amanda Gummer and the team at the Good Play Guide.

Christmas is just around the corner and the shops are already full of Christmas toys and treats!

With just over one month to go until the main event, you are likely considering what presents to buy for your loved ones.

Here at the Good Play Guide, we pride ourselves on finding innovative educational products from smaller, independent companies, that kids will love!

Here are a few great products with a learning focus – buy them for the kids in your lives, or if you work in a school or nursery why not use this as a wish list for any parents looking to buy your class a lovely Christmas gift…

Rock Stepper Playmat

The Rock Stepper playmat has been designed to support early learning and development, encouraging phonics, word formation and early maths skills. Shapes, letters, numbers, colours, and pictures will keep children of different ages engaged and it comes with flashcards and access to an app, encouraging children to interact with the mat in different ways! The mat is well cushioned, meaning bumps and bruises will be avoided, and the reverse side has a stylish design on it so you can turn it over when it’s not being played with instead of putting it away each time.

Cube Fun

CubeFun is a game that encourages children to be active and imaginative. The soft and lightweight cubes are rolled like dice, and players follow the instructions on each side. The Christmas-themed cube gives instructions such as ‘prance like a reindeer’, ‘twinkle like a star’ and ‘float like a snowflake’, to name but a few! The game not only encourages children to get moving but also helps to extend vocabulary. Keeping children active indoors is often a challenge and these soft cubes are great for a rainy day activity.

Quickbuild London Bus

The striking Quickbuild London Bus Airfix model kit is a wonderful introduction to the world of model building and a lovely activity to do with your child over the Christmas break. The models are built brick by brick and there is no need for glue, making the process mess free! Building sets like this are great for helping to strengthen children’s hand muscles and for developing their manual dexterity, hand-eye coordination and logical thinking, and will give them a real sense of pride when they have completed the life-like model.

Ollyball

Ollyball is a great lightweight ball for indoor and outdoor use. Made from recycled astronaut kits, it is durable and has a fantastic colourable skin – a great way for children to get creative! The colouring-book style graphics on the ball capture children’s attention and provide hours of fun. Children will intuitively use familiar ball play to create their own personalised, indoor games with family and friends and get everyone active this Christmas.

Little Rebels

The inspirational Little Rebels plush dolls with their associated app are a great way to help children learn about iconic women such as Marie Curie, Amelia Earhart, and Malala Yousafzai, whilst playing imaginatively. The dolls provide strong female role models promoting gender equality and are a great tool to help children develop their knowledge and understanding of the world around them.

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Articles

Nurturing Baby Brains: Key Insights on the First 60 Days and 1000 Days

Posted on November 8, 2023.

The first months and years of a child’s life are critical for healthy development, which is why I was so excited to speak with two experts on the neuroscience of early childhood.

Deborah McNelis and Nathan Wallace shared fascinating research on how baby brains grow and practical tips to provide the responsive care little ones need. As an early childhood educator, their insights gave me so much to think about in caring for infants in my own setting.

Let’s dive into the key takeaways on supporting our smallest humans during the foundational period of the “4th trimester” and first 1000 days.

The 4th Trimester: Why the First 60 Days Matter
Deborah McNelis explained how the first 60 days are like a 4th trimester, where newborns need round-the-clock nurturing to finish their development outside the womb.

A baby’s brain forms 1 million neural connections each second at this time based on their caregiving experiences! A consistent, responsive bond wires the brain for lifelong emotional and physical health.

Primary Caregiving in Childcare Settings
Both experts emphasized the importance of a primary caregiver model where babies bond closely with one or two consistent teachers. This “dyadic” caregiving approach mimics the evolutionary environment human brains expect.

Frequent transitions between multiple caregivers raise infant stress. Childcare centers should prioritize assigning infant teachers as primary caregivers to support secure attachment, something that the EYFS advocates with the Key Person approach.

Look Inside Developing Brains
Nathan Wallace described how experiences shape gene expression in the first 1000 days from conception to age two and a half. Low-stress environments allow more energy to build the “higher” brain centers for emotional regulation, problem-solving and learning.

Trauma and adversity in this period can significantly impact brain architecture. While not irreversible, it takes more effort to “rewire” neural pathways later on.

Fuel Creativity to Boost Brains
I loved Wallace’s point that creativity fuels cognitive development! Allowing infants endless opportunities for play without structured academics builds the foundation for intelligence.

He said genius Albert Einstein attributed his scientific breakthroughs to a nurturing early childhood full of creative freedom.

This emphasizes the different roles of early educators compared to primary teachers. We scaffold play much more than giving direct instruction.

Takeaway for Educators
Both experts agreed the most important thing is a nurturing relationship between caregiver and child. Infants need to feel heard and emotionally reflected before logical explanations. A little empathy goes a long way with our wee ones!

The research on brain development shows how early educators should have empathy and patience for the learning journey infants embark on each day. I hope these insights help you see their world through a neuroscience lens as well.

What are your biggest takeaways on supporting baby brains? Share your thoughts in the comments!

Want to find out more?

Both of the sessions discussed here are available to Early Years TV Premium Members:
You can find Deborah McNelis’s session here
And Nathan Wallis’s session here

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Articles

Nature – and speech and language development

Posted on January 18, 2023.

Speech and language development in young children is crucial for their overall cognitive and social development, and what better way to develop it than through natural materials in our settings?

Natural materials, such as wooden blocks, shells, leaves, sticks and pebbles, provide a wealth of opportunities for children to explore and engage with the world around them. These materials have a number of benefits for speech and language development, including:

Encouraging Vocabulary Development: Natural materials have unique textures, shapes, sizes and weights, which can help children learn new words and concepts. For example, children can learn the names of different types of leaves; descriptive words for tactile materials such as spiky, cold, heavy; smells and tastes all unique to natural materials.

Facilitating Communication: Children often use natural materials as props in their play, which can help them to communicate their ideas and thoughts to others. For example, a child might use a rock to represent a character in a story they are telling.

Enhancing Social Interaction: Natural materials often encourage children to work together and collaborate, which can help them to develop social skills and improve their communication. For example, children might work together to build a tower with wooden blocks, which requires them to take turns and communicate with each other. They may have to work together to carry a large stick.

Improving Attention and concentration: Natural materials often have unique characteristics that capture children’s attention and interest, which can help them to focus and concentrate on an activity. For example, children might spend a long time examining a particular leaf, which helps them to develop their attention and concentration skills.

Overall, natural materials provide a rich and varied learning environment for young children, which can help to promote their speech and language development.

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Guest post

 Healthy Bodies and Oral Hygiene

Posted on July 6, 2021.

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Guest post

The Importance of Music and Movement

Posted on March 25, 2021.

Guest post by Helen Battelley

We only need to stop and observe young children to see how movement is embedded within the very core of all early childhood development. Physical activity broadens our capacity to grow and is essential to a child’s optimal development.

However, living in a global pandemic has changed the way children access movement play. During 2020 and 2021, children had fewer opportunities for physical play with play parks, extra-curricular clubs and leisure centres closed. Research indicates many young children’s physical activity levels and play experiences diminished during lockdown, particularly for those living in urban areas alongside minority ethnic groups (The Sutton Trust, 2020; Ofsted, 2020).

Why is music and movement so important in early childhood?

Musical play and movement play with music are significant forms of play and are used in all cultures. There is an abundance of evidence to support the role of an infant’s innate response to rhythm and sounds in establishing early communicative abilities. Introducing young children to rhythm and musical experiences is keenly associated with developing language and reading skills, and the ability to perceive and produce rhythm. In 2005, a fascinating study carried out by Phillips-Silver and Trainor tested infants’ movement responses to auditory encoding of rhythmic patterns. The study identified babies and infants had the ability to feel rhythm in their bodies, presenting a physiological response to music, further reiterating music is an intrinsic part of our being and a powerful tool for motivation.

The benefits of musical play are seen in a wide range of children’s developing abilities, including those related to social interaction, communication, literacy, emotional understanding, memory, self-regulation and creativity (Kirschner and Tomasello, 2010). We can observe the power of music in our own lives, by seeing how certain songs evoke memories and responses. My go-to song to uplift and motivate me is ‘Chain Reaction’ by Diana Ross!


How can we best support young children in a post-COVID world?

Primarily, we will need to be available and aware of the potential challenges each individual child may have encountered and allow time for children to develop relationships and social skills above all else.  Ensuring your provision is developmentally appropriate is essential. The components of DAP (Developmentally Appropriate Practice) are:

  • Child development and learning pedagogy
  • Each child as an individual and unique
  • The cultural and social contexts of each aspect of a child’s environment
  • Moving away from a ladder of progression mentality and adopting a more holistic approach, and an interweaving of the developmental processes 

Simple activities that you can do with children

Start with simple, fun activities which can be further developed at home. For example, you can make a paper fortune teller and add a physical activity or action rhyme behind each number i.e. 10 star Jumps. Children can progress to make their own fortune tellers, promoting agency over the activity and encouraging their own creativity. Here is a link that shows how to make a fortune teller. Once created, simply add your activity behind the numbers.

Combine ideas with movement

Ideas that are communicated in parallel with actions (e.g. gestures and actions) are remembered better because general memory ability is enhanced by physical exercise (Madan and Singhal, 2012).

The more elements used within an activity will determine the vividity of the memory, triggering our auditory and visual memory which will be enhanced if we use gestures, a third component.

Here is an example of gesture associated rhyme.

Discover music with children

Listening to music together can be a shared, inclusive experience and promotes social bonding. Try creating some simple activities using music for motivation or as a rhythmic tool. Here’s an idea: Play Bjork’s ‘Oh So Quiet’ and invite children to travel around the space. When the music is quiet, encourage them to travel slowly (e.g. creeping or tiptoeing) and when the music is louder suggest they make larger and noisier movements (e.g. stomping, skipping or jogging).

Click here for an activity to introduce young children to musical instruments.

 

How does movement play support child development?

Anthropologists and the World Health Organisation suggest prolonged periods of sedentary behaviour (e.g. sitting) in early childhood reduces the ability to learn from experiences and produces developmental delays. Higher levels of physical activity during early childhood are associated with improved health outcomes, whereas sedentary behaviour is associated with poorer health outcomes.  Prolonged periods of sedentary time and a lack of socio-dramatic play are also associated with an increased risk of loneliness, social anxiety and depression in children and adolescents.  We must evaluate how much time children are spending in sedentary positions and make changes and choices to reduce that time.

 

As parents or educators, we can often feel the need to rush children to the next milestone. But children need time and space to develop relationships and connections to become feeling and thinking human beings. And they mainly learn through first-hand experiences: through interaction with their peers, objects around them and the wider environment. To support early language skills children must experience diverse vocabularies and language rich environments of stories, rhymes and actions songs before focusing on literacy outcomes (Pascal, 2018). The more diverse experiences a child encounters, the further learning potential.

Sources

Ofsted (2020) COVID-19 series: briefing on early years, October 2020. Available here.

Pascal, C., Bertram, T., Cullinane, C., Holt-White, E. (2020) COVID-19 and Social Mobility. Impact Brief #4: Early Years. The Sutton Trust. Available here.

Phillips-Silver, J. & Trainor, L.J (2005) Feeling the beat: movement influences infant rhythm perception.

Kirschner, S. & Tomasello, M. (2010) Joint music making promotes prosocial behavior in 4-year-old children. Evolution and human behaviour.

Madan, C. R., & Singhal, A. (2012). Using actions to enhance memory: effects of enactment, gestures, and exercise on human memory. Frontiers in psychology3, 507. Available here.

Pascal C., Bertram T. and Peckham K. (2018) DfE Review of Evidence on EYFS Early Learning Goals, Teaching Content and Pedagogy in Reception Year. DfE: London.

Helen Battelley is an internationally renowned Early Years consultant, trainer and author. Helen is the Founder and Director of Music + Movement, which delivers dance and movement workshops for children and CPD for practitioners.

 

She is the author of 50 Fantastic Ideas for Songs and Rhymes, a dip-in collection of rhymes, action songs and funny verse that come with tips and fun ideas to make the most out of the song. Find out more about Helen’s work here www.musicandmovement.org.uk and follow her on Twitter @musicandmove

 

 

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Guest post

Nature as a third teacher: Play cues and returns

Posted on February 15, 2021.

Guest post by Marina Robb, The Outdoor Teacher

The more that time goes on, the more I value nature as a third teacher!

There is this dynamic when we work outdoors with someone else, that is influenced by the context of nature – the three aspects being: the adult practitioners, the client or ‘young person/s’ and the natural world. As everything is actually alive and changing, they all affect each other’s experience of the moment.

Nature is our natural habitat and there is something, often below conscious awareness that allows us to encounter our natural selves. Usually being outdoors is a very pleasant experience, one which millions of people seek out for their own mental well-being. ‘Our natural self’ is the larger self that is absorbing and interacting through the senses with the external world. It includes the air we breathe and how touching a natural material may sooth or scare us!

In many ways our role as early years nature-based practitioners is to protect a particular time and space for the children, whilst they explore and play. Perry Else and Gordon Sturrock (1998) coined the term, Play Cycle and offered us terms such as play ‘cue’ and ‘returns’ for us to become more effective in our interactions with children’s play.
Cue: A lure or an invite
Return: The response

In this piece of writing, I am playing with their ideas of ‘cues’ and ‘returns’ to try to demonstrate how this is happening all the time when we are in nature. Often in human to human relationships, we value how that interaction may bring us a new piece of knowledge, or help us to feel emotionally safe and we accept in education that an adult will transfer knowledge to or teach something to a younger person. There is a general understanding in child development that there is an ongoing ‘serve and return’ between children and their carers – allowing for healthy emotional attachment.

What is less understood or valued is how the natural world also ‘returns’ our ‘cues’ and offers a vast spectrum of learning. This relationship ‘returns’ and grows our intellectual, physical, emotional and spiritual selves. As a child slips in the mud, the ‘return’ is multifaceted – from building of muscles, to the coolness of the mud, to the increase in bacteria in their gut, to emotional resilience. Nature as the teacher, is quite a complex, wise and far-reaching guide!

And nature is also full of ‘cues’. The temptation to climb the boughs of the tree, the taste of a black berry, the sensation of safety hidden in a secret place, the drops of water on our faces – and what is our ‘return’? We can interact, have a dialogue, transform it, fight and destroy it, or honour and cherish it. We can neglect and love it. We can transform what feels stuck into something that begins to flow and once again change occurs. In neuroscience we talk about mirror neurons, where we learn through imitation. In the natural world we experience that life has a cycle with beginnings and endings and is changing. From this we hopefully feel comfort with this common ground.

Nature as a teacher is almost the ideal role model – available and non-judgemental, a wonderful listener and seemingly generous and unconditional. For many of us, and I include myself who have struggled with humans at different points, nature is a reservoir of refuge. Nature speaks in metaphors and the language of feeling and we often find ourselves feeling this love – the cue is love and the return is love. This forms what we could call healthy place attachment, so that to be a healthy person we are healthily attached to ourselves, others and the natural world.

At the simplest, this is the basis of the model that I work with as a nature practitioner. That the most important invitation is to be what we are.

“Everything in nature invites us constantly to be what we are.” (Gretel Ehrlich)
This means that ideally, the space we offer is welcoming of difference and that we are watching closely for these ‘cues’ and ‘returns’ and do not assume that we are here to fill people up with knowledge, rather to encourage this intrinsic exploration, and to protect, as much as possible, that space from external agendas. All the time being mindful of this dynamic between the practitioners, the clients and the natural world and watching what wants to emerge.
I have always been interested in other cultures’ views of the human and natural world and how they approach community and nature. A nature-centric model as seen below helps us to frame human life within a wider natural world. It simplifies to me how a child, or a young animal needs to learn through this ‘serve’ and ‘return’ relationship and how nature, the context for our life, constantly provides this education.

Reference

Sturrock, G and Else, P (1998) ‘The playground as therapeutic space Playwork as healing’ (known as “The Colorado Paper’), available as part of the Therapeutic Reader One (2005) Southampton: Common Threads: https://ipaewni.files.wordpress.com/2016/05/colorado-paper.pdf

Find out more about the Play Cycle from Dr Pete King on Early Years TV here

Find out more about Marina Robb, The Outdoor Teacher, by clicking here or visiting their website here: https://www.theoutdoorteacher.com/

Meet the Author

Marina Robb has more than 30 years of experience in outdoor learning and nature connection and is the founder and Managing Director of Circle of Life Rediscovery Community Interest Company and The Outdoor Teacher Ltd, both leading organisations that aim to transform education and health through nature.

Marina’s book, Learning with Nature, foreworded by Chris Packham, is considered a must-have book for Forest School & Outdoor practitioners. Her second book, The Essential Guide to Forest School and Nature Pedagogy, published in 2021, contains everything you need to know from theory to practice.

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Viewpoint

‘Art is a necessity of human life’

Posted on December 21, 2020.

“I would have a workshop attached to every school, and one hour a day given up to the teaching of simple decorative arts. It would be a golden hour to the children”.

Oscar Wilde (first spoken on May 11, 1882 probably*)

Almost 140 years ago, Oscar Wilde understood that art and the appreciation of practical handicrafts was an essential part of children’s education.

Most Early Years settings value creativity and imagination in young children, encouraging practical activities.

However, there is a worrying trend that children should be ‘catching up’ on literacy and maths that they’ve missed, rather than the opportunities for the arts.

Maybe there should be an increase in access to dance, music, visual arts and handicrafts instead.

Or maybe we could consider another of Oscar Wilde’s wise insights, from the same lecture, that art is a ‘necessity of human life’.

*https://lnkd.in/djP3hbj

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Viewpoint

A reflection on starting out

Posted on October 25, 2020.

When I was just starting out as an Early Years consultant, I knew that I needed to let nurseries know what training I could offer and how I could help them. Bearing in mind that was well over a decade ago, when social media was in its infancy, this was trickier than it sounds now.

I was confident that I could help many nurseries, because the EYFS was about to become statutory and I had already been implementing it into the setting I was working at, as well as reading up as much as possible on written observations, development matters and the huge pack of documents that formed the Early Years Foundation Stage in the early days.

I had to reach out to those nurseries who I felt would be most interested in getting additional training and support, in an effective and professional way.

So, I bought some high-quality paper, had business cards printed and crafted letters of introduction to post to nurseries, costing me a lot for a new, small business. I spent time scouring through Ofsted reports of nurseries and settings. I chose to focus on the nurseries whose Ofsted reports had recommended improvements because I felt they would be the most interested in raising their inspection grades and they had clearly identified areas for improvement.

Wrong!

Not a single response, even with follow up phone calls.

And then an Outstanding nursery contacted me to design and deliver training for them…

It’s obvious – now – that it’s the managers and leaders of Outstanding settings who value well-trained staff, who want to have training that is specific because they have already identified for themselves where improvements need to be made, and who know the personal benefit to staff morale when they invest money into staff development.

The other reflection is that these settings rarely commission training to satisfy the requirements of an inspection report, but they do it for the benefit of the children and in the interests of good pedagogy. Often the inspection report identifies symptoms rather than root causes of poor practice because there is only so much that you can unpick during a one day visit. It is down to the staff within the setting to clearly identify what is needed in their unique circumstances, in their unique setting. And also being aware that this will change from year to year, cohort to cohort.

Counterintuitively – it’s probably the people who are already good who want to improve!

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Guest post

A Gender Gap in the Early Years?

Posted on October 21, 2020.

A guest post by Verity Downing (MEd Open) – Master of Education

Qualified Early Years Practitioner and Independent Academic

 

Within this reflective opinion piece, I refer to ‘female students’ and ‘girls’ and ‘male students’ and ‘boys’ as a matter of reflecting the phrases used in the government data, although, I respectfully acknowledge that gender and sex are deeply personal states of being that everyone expresses differently.

 

This title is ambiguous, I grant you. But what I’m referring to is the gap between the success of female students and male students across the EYFS that has remained a constant from 2013 to the present (DfE, 2019). This may come as a little bit of a shock, especially as I think it’s fair to say that we’ve become accustomed to describing our EYFS as ‘gender neutral’.

While it is an absolute positive that we can see, from information published in October of 2019, that the “gender gap continues to decrease” (DfE, 2019), it has only done so by “0.6 ppts from 2018” (DfE, 2019). This translates to girls still exceeding the success of boys with regard to “a good level of development” (DfE, 2019) by “12.9 ppts” (DfE, 2019). The biggest consistent gap between the success of boys and girls can be seen in reading and writing, however, in recent years, gaps are becoming worryingly evident in “self-confidence and self-awareness […] and the world” (DfE, 2019).

These gaps lead me to think: are girls outperforming boys, or are these gaps showing themselves because there is a disparity between what practitioners expect from boys and girls, or perhaps, looking farther afield, do the ELGs and Development Matters statements lend themselves towards stereotypically feminine strengths? I will stop myself from going down the rabbit hole of theoretical comparisons and the fundamental underlying principles of EYFS’ culture, and instead, concentrate on how we can tackle this disparity and ensure that no child is being disadvantaged as a result of their sex or gender expression.

My concerns with there being a gap between the success of boys and girls at this early age are;

  • that boys may not be being supported to reach their full potential,
  • that girls are seen to be over-achieving in the EYFS and are consequently being set-up for a fall in their future education (due to teachers’ expectations being too high of them as they were seen to be doing so well in the EYFS) and,
  • that these gaps could continue into later life.

It is our responsibility to liberate children from the “deleterious impact of gender-stereotypes” (Wolter et al., 2013, p. 64) and support them as they develop confidence and capabilities across the social and educational spectrum. A wide-ranging set of skills and interests will serve them well in the long-run.

Researchers offer the following explanations for the persisting gap:

  • It is thought that practitioners could fall into adopting traditional gender-based stereotypes of children (Baroody and Diamond (2012), Chapman (2016) and Runions (2014)), which can affect the children’s outcomes (Matthews et al., 2009), Robinson-Cimpian et al., 2014).
  • Sanford (2005) suggests that there is the chance that learning and educational development is happening in the EYFS, but that it is not being recognised. This goes back to my point that EYFS guidance tends to focus on feminine strengths. If, for example, boys are regularly seen playing with the blocks, it is possible that this familiarity closets the learning that is taking place (this example may explain the gap that is evident in “shape, space and measure” (DfE, 2019).
  • This also relates to practitioner’s valuing and recognition of behaviour that fits with their gender-based ideals. Chapman (2016), in her work that delved into how gendered ideas affect play within Australian EYFS settings, details that EYFS practitioners may give varying amounts, and types, of feedback to their students depending on their sex and behaviour.
  • While it goes without saying that all EYFS practitioners strive to ensure that they have relationships with the children that encourage feelings of safety, trust and fun, it is thought that girls are more likely to have better relationships with practitioners than boys, as their perceived superior social skills bias practitioners towards them (Robinson-Cimpian et al. (2014), Runions (2014) and Sanford (2005)). This in turn will influence where the children play and consequently what learning experiences they encounter. It could be concluded that the feeling of safety that is cultivated through these relationships may lead to female students exploring more areas of the setting, and boys not, resulting in the ELG gender gap (Downing, 2020).
  • Children may police each other with regard to behaving within gender stereotypes. Prioletta and Pyle (2017), who spent a considerable amount of time observing EYFS children at play in settings in Ontario, Canada, found that “in 70% of the videos, girls and boys played separately” (p. 398). This data also showed that the predominantly girl-only play happened at “the art/writing centre” (p. 398) and the boys-only play was mostly observed at “the blocks centre” (p. 399). I imagine that this will be relatable to many. This peer-on-peer policing based on understandings of gender can restrict the breadth of learning experiences that the children have. The writers go on to detail how at the girls-only play centres, the opportunities for literacy learning experiences were abundant, yet this is not the case for the boys-only play (Prioletta and Pyle, 2017). There is probable cause to think that this trend could be partially responsible for the gap in outcomes that are presented in the government data.

What can we do about this?

The smallest changes can make the biggest of differences.

  • Invite as many different people into your setting as possible. Sometimes there is nothing more influential than for a child to meet a ‘real-life [insert job title]’. Additionally, think carefully about how you interact with your visitor and the language used about them as the children will follow your lead. This then leads into ensuring that your setting represents people defying gender stereotypes in society. Also, if a female/male comes in to visit and is in a traditionally feminine/masculine job, ensure that this is as equally represented and appreciated as someone who is working outside of gender stereotypes.
  • This leads on to ensuring that we are mindful about the language and phrases that we use when around the children. “Matthew, can you please hold the door open as you’re a big, strong boy” may seem like a harmless phrase, but this is conveying all sorts of messages to Matthew and the other children who are listening in.
  • Think critically about how you assess your children. “Dominic is playing with the blocks again. I’ve already got an observation of him using positional language”. Don’t overlook this; what else is happening there? Is he sharing and taking on his friends’ ideas? Is he persisting when that top block wont quite stay still? Is he making a garage just like the one that mummy took the car to on the weekend for it to be fixed? Sometimes we have to look beyond what is right in-front of us and recognise the children’s play for its variety and value.
  • We need to get to know our children. The more that we talk 1:1, in small groups and in bigger groups with our children, the better. This immediately nips in the bud any chance of us falling into gender stereotypes if we can value and understand our children for their special, individual, little selves. Also, choose a topic to discuss with your key group. Let’s say ‘People who help us’. Brainstorm it together and model using inclusive language. If an unhelpful gender stereotype comes up, address it. Handle the situation gently and ask lots of questions. “Girls can’t be firemen!” “Why do you think that? Have you seen this book where there are lots of pictures of girl firefighters? Heather, would you like to be a firefighter when you grow up? It would be great to help people, wouldn’t it?”. These conversations allow us to open the children’s horizons.
  • Let’s encourage the children’s ownership of the resources. If you notice that one area is dominated by boys which could potentially alienate girls, or vice-versa, address it! Ask the boys why they don’t play with the playdough. “We like to play outside”. So, take the playdough outside! “We like the building area”. Incorporate little diggers and signposts into the outdoor playdough area. The results can be astonishing! Plus, think of all of those opportunities for incorporating fine-motor skills and mark-making skills into that play. I can sense the reading and writing gap narrowing as I type!
  • This then opens up the wonderful world of the role-play area. Building on from your brainstorming, “Perhaps we could turn our role-play area into a fire station?” Facilitate the children to have an input into creating this area. The opportunities for encouraging inclusive play in this area are endless. Oh, and get involved! Model playing different roles. This is a great way to build and strengthen your relationships with the children that will encourage them to see you in a whole new light. Prioletta and Pyle (2017) say “becoming involved in children’s play can be a useful way for practitioners to encourage […] alternative ways to be a girl or boy” (p. 405). We mustn’t underestimate our competences, versatility, and adaptability, and instead should push ourselves and capitalise on it because we can be incredibly influential in showing the children that everything is available to them.
  • In an ideal world, there would be a more balanced EYFS workforce, with more men joining the profession. However, when reflecting on their research, Wolter et al. (2013) said:

“it is not the biological gender of the kindergarten practitioner per se that has a differential effect on girls’ versus boys’ competence. Rather, our female practitioners were just as effective in supporting individual learning in boys as in girls as long as they took care not to provide predominately feminine gender-typed activities but offered masculine gender-typed activities to the same extent” (p. 64).

 

I have written this piece, chose to focus on it for my Masters research, and hope to continue researching it during future Doctoral work, because I really believe that we owe our littlest learners the best start to their education; a start that is free from the restraints that society puts on sex and gender expression. We want our learners to develop skills and interests in the widest reaching range possible. We want our learners to take these skills and interests on into the big wide world and change it for the better. We want our learners to be whatever they want to be, and we as practitioners can support that. And it’s wonderful.

(Please note, statistics for the 2019-2020 period were due to be released this month, however, due to the pandemic, the scheduled release will not be going ahead https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/announcements/early-years-foundation-stage-profile-results-in-england-2019-to-2020)

References:

Baroody, A. and Diamond, K. (2013) ‘Measures of preschool children’s interest and engagement in literacy activities: Examining gender differences and construct dimensions’, Early Childhood Research Quarterly, 28(1), pp. 291-301.

Chapman, R. (2016) ‘A case study of gendered play in preschools: how early childhood educators’ perceptions of gender influence children’s play’, Early Child Development and Care, vol. 186, no. 8, pp. 1271-1284.

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But what is ‘normal’?

Posted on October 6, 2020.

Growing up, we lived in the countryside – right out in the countryside. For us, part of normal school life was getting the bus into school, right from Reception age to school leaving age.
This was the case for more or less every child from every surrounding village. The bus would weave from place to place, picking up children outside their homes and ending up at school some considerable time later.

As children, we would know the bus driver’s names, have our favourite seats, our friendship groups. We would chat on the bus, share snacks, collaborate on homework and generally grow up together.

This was all entirely normal for us all.

When my husband talked about his journey to school, it was about walking together through his housing estate with his mates, meeting up with friends on the street after school or going to buy sweets from the local shops – all of which sounded incredibly exotic, odd and scary to me!

But for each of us, our experiences were ‘normal’. It’s what we did, how we grew up in the age and place that we lived.

Currently everyone – adults and children – are living through a pandemic that has turned the world upside down. As adults, parents, practitioners, educators, teachers, we’ve tried to keep things as regular as possible, whether that is lessons, seeing our loved ones or regular activities. This has been possible because we knew how things were done in the past. However, for young children, whatever we do is normal for them at that time.

It has never been more important to understand that for children whatever happens is ‘normal’ because this releases adults from the pressure of feeling that children have ‘missed out’ on experiences or activities. You may’ve planned a summer holiday that got cancelled but spent time all together at home instead. For the children, they will still remember a summer holidays spent together. The children may’ve missed playing with their friends at nursery, but instead have formed closer friendships with different aged children in your street or siblings, who they would not normally see because the older children would be in school.

Just as my experiences of travelling to and from school are different to my husband’s experiences of before and after school – but still be entirely normal for each of us – children will see these times as ‘normal’ for them.

So, please don’t worry too much about the ‘missing-outs’ or ‘catching-ups’ – enjoy the benefits instead.