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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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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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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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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.

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Children’s Multicultural Books

Posted on January 4, 2020.

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. (more…)

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The Aquatic Classroom – 3 opportunities for transferable learning

Posted on October 12, 2019.

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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What is the best thing we can give teachers?

Posted on August 25, 2019.

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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Managing our own discomfort

Posted on August 5, 2019.

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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Mixed age grouping in Early Years settings

Posted on July 31, 2019.

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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Quantity Time vs Quality Time with Kim Hunter

Posted on July 27, 2019.

I first interviewed Kim Hunter for the Summit on Leading Practitioners. At her inspirational setting, children spend their time outdoors in mixed-age groups, enjoying a beautiful natural setting.

In this interview for Early Years TV, I wanted to explore some concepts that Kim has been researching since the Summit, namely the ‘Fear and Love Spectrum’. This is the idea that children’s contemporary childhood is changing and the world that children are growing up in has the increased potential to be fearful or isolating – from Stranger Danger to excessive screen time and violent games on smartphones.

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Explaining kindness to children

Posted on July 20, 2019.

One of the things that young children need to learn as they grow up is the concept of ‘Theory of Mind’. This is understanding that other people or children will have different opinions, thoughts, experiences, beliefs, imagination and perceptions than our own. Robert Seyfarth explains a classic ‘Theory of Mind’ experiment in this Youtube video here.

By about 4 years old, children will start to realise that not everyone thinks the same way they do, or that they have the same ideas or motivations. They will be able to understand that they may be hungry, but their friend isn’t. Or that their friends all have different favourite colours.