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Category : Guest post

Guest post

Exploring construction materials

davidvphotoArtist and qualified teacher, David Veron invented a creative construction toy for his wife’s daycare nursery in 2015. Realising its potential he offered it to nurseries and schools near his hometown of Otley in Yorkshire. By the start of the second year began exporting across Europe and as far away as The Falkland Islands. The construction toy he called u-nu has now been enjoyed by thousands of young children.

David has kindly written this guest post about some of the things he has learned about how children use construction to further their learning, imagination and design skills.

I’m now approaching the end of my second year exploring the subject of early years construction and I’m finding out all sorts of interesting data.

There can be little doubt that early years construction is a vital part of how we encourage children to explore the world around them. By combining different kinds of construction materials, both bought and found, and making them available in an area of continuous provision, we offer children the opportunity to develop a diverse range of skills, from creativity to collaboration – from gross and fine motor skills to numeracy.

It goes without saying that we should also take an holistic approach to their learning, and where children are engaged in one activity, we as practitioners need to remain aware of the opportunity to introduce elements from their other experiences.unu1

Take for example the activity of building a tower. This could relate to a book that has recently been read to the children, let’s use for example the classic story of Rapunzel.

What if we then introduce some small world toys and engage with the child to recount the story, asking them questions about how Rapunzel feels being trapped up in a tower. They may wish to subvert the story and to take ownership of the narrative. This in turn may feed back to redesigning the original structure of the tower to provide Rapunzel with her own means of escape.

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Guest post

Twelve Days of Christmas

I am super excited to tell you that Mrs M. has written a special Festive blog for us, full of her usual great practical advice and top tips. I love Mrs M’s writing because I can really relate to it (I get a wiggly tummy sometimes too!) and it always makes me smile, but most of all, she has a great knack of emphasising the positives – perfect for the holiday season! I hope you enjoy it as much as I have.

Hi folks, it’s lovely to be back doing another guest blog for Kathy after what has been a hectic few months in our household I can tell you.

I ended up having to take a few months off from writing. So, for those of you waiting for my series of blogs to continue in which I have been looking at supporting children with autism in the classroom, don’t worry I’ll be back in the swing of things by January with my next instalment as promised. In it I will be looking at managing anxiety in the classroom, and how unmet sensory needs can lead ‘challenging behaviour.’ Keep an eye out for that one in the new year, and apologies for my absence these last few months…what can I say?  Sometimes life just has a habit of getting in the way at times doesn’t it!

Anyway, back to the here and now and I can’t believe as I am sat here writing this how quickly we’re hurtling towards Christmas. And I don’t know about you, but for me, this is the time when panic usually starts to set in as I realise how much I still have left to do in the coming few weeks.

The shopping, wrapping, unexpected guests, decorations, school concerts, parties… I mean the list goes on and on. If I allow myself to dwell on it all too much little wave of nausea washes over me as I stress about the Christmas cards write yet and how on earth I am going to manage to be in three places at once next Wednesday as my kids school commitments ramp up by the day.

So, let’s take a deep breath and pause from the Christmas chaos for just a minute. 

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Guest post

Reflections on family diversity

Kim Benham is an incredibly reflective practitioner, as evidenced by her Twitter feed and attendances at events. I can also personally attest to this as we have corresponded often on prevailing Early Years issues or thoughts arising from a blog post.

During one of these exchanges, Kim mentioned her past as a paediatric nurse – and I knew immediately there was a story that I’d like to hear!

So, she has very generously written this blog about some of her experiences and how they have influenced her over the years. It is a fascinating insight into a totally different Early Years. I think it is a sensitive reminder that every family is different and that assumptions may be dangerous. An excellent piece of reflection! Enjoy!

I’d like to thank Kathy Brodie for inviting me to write this blog for a website. I have loved listening to the Online Early Years Web Summit. One of the recurring themes was to interfere less and make interactions meaningful by using powers of observation more. kimbenham

Not a lot of my Early Years friends know that after initially training as a Nursery Nurse, I then re-trained, and spent fifteen years as a paediatric nurse. Then my own children came along, and I returned to Early Years, as they became Pre-Schoolers.

I recalled a story to Kathy about when I went back into Early Years; I definitely had a case of verbal Tourette’s that Alistair Bryce-Clegg talked about in his Summit interview. I remember the manager saying “Let them eat!” As I quizzed them over how many sandwiches they had, what shape they were, why was cheese good for you? Poor children couldn’t answer, they were eating!

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Guest post

Physical Development Stars at Bertram Group

UrsulaProfile
Guest Post By Ursula Krystek-Walton Regional Early Years Manager

At Bertram Nursery Group, we have always known how important it is to promote physical development as a way of supporting children’s healthy growth; both physically and mentally, and the need for regular movement as an obvious means to keep fit, support children’s wellbeing, build their confidence and alleviate frustration. As such, we were delighted when Physical Development became a prime area within the Early Years Foundation Stage.

It was not, however, until we became associated with Sharon Skade of GreaterSport, that we really began to consider just how vital physical development is in promoting all the other areas of learning right from birth.

Following Sharon’s training at individual settings, managers and their teams began to consider ways to incorporate more and more gross and fine motor physical development in their routines, activities and environments and we began to see some really positive results. Improvements in behaviours were noted in some settings, as well as children concentrating for longer periods of time.

Practitioners became conscious of letting children persevere with tasks rather than jumping in to help too soon, which allowed children to strengthen different muscles and of course, supported children’s independence.

We began to observe the effectiveness of placing a high priority on Physical Development.

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Guest post

Early childhood development – it’s not rocket science, it’s neuroscience!

MineI was introduced to Mine Conkbayir when she contacted me about neuroscience informing early years practice, which I think is such an exciting, and growing, area of study. So I was very enthusiastic when she offered to do a guest post on this subject. Here she discusses how neuroscience can add another dimension to our understanding of child development:

Like many individuals in this increasingly frantic world, I’m often busy juggling my responsibilities as a parent while I work and continue my studies – a very exciting journey as I try to achieve my PhD in early childhood education and neuroscience.

Having been a lecturer across a range of child care and education qualifications for the past 14 years, I continue to be bewildered by the lack of consistently embedded teaching of neuroscience and early brain development across these qualifications.

Early years students and practitioners are continually being encouraged and supported by lecturers and training professionals to use theoretical knowledge from the likes of Piaget, Vygotsky and Bowlby to help inform their planning of early childhood curricula, learning environments and their interactions with very young children.

However, this is not the case when it comes to using neuroscience, which can also be used to inform their understanding of early brain development in relation to their practice.

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Guest post

Seeing your classroom from the autistic child’s perspective

Mrs M continues her blog series with advice on working in a classroom with a child who has autism. She has enormous personal experience, which you will see shining through in the post, as well as very practical advice. Please do share any top tips that you have as well! – Kathy

Mrs M. writes:

Before I dive straight in with the practical tips in this month’s blog. I want to talk a little bit about my past experience, as it has shaped my whole ethos in relation to autism within the classroom.

I am a mum to a 12 year old boy who was diagnosed on the autism spectrum several years ago now. And my background as far back as I can remember is in nursery management. But as my kids became older I made the move into a primary school setting, and I soon discovered my calling as an Autism HLTA in a resourced provision.

My career path hasn’t always been plain sailing let me tell you.

I can remember like it was yesterday my first job supporting an autistic child in reception. Because despite all my training nothing could prepare me for the rollercoaster of emotions I was about to experience working alongside him.

He had almost no language and huge sensory needs. He found the transition from home to school very difficult, which would lead him to become very upset every day.

So for a while I felt totally out of my depth.

I remember feeling so worried about getting it wrong, that it stopped me being innovative and thinking outside the box. I had an awful feeling that I just wasn’t up to the job. I couldn’t seem to ‘connect’ with him.

The worry and feeling of inadequacy would keep me awake at night sometimes.

On days when he had particularly struggled, I would feel mentally and physically drained. I saw it as my fault. I felt like a failure as I didn’t feel like I was actually ‘teaching’ him anything.

But slowly, day by day I quickly learnt that this little boy was actually the one teaching me, as much as I was there to teach him. In order to enable him to learn, I had to get into his world and see things from his viewpoint.

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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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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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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.
But 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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Guest post

Dear Mums in the Playground…

umbrella girl
This is the next in the series of blog posts from Mrs M, about her life as a mum of a son with autism. She has been sharing some of the roller coaster of emotions that happen behind the closed doors of family life.

This month Mrs M shares her feelings about her playground experiences. I think you will find them thought-provoking and moving, whatever sort of mum you are. Here is her story:

You may not know me well but I was that mum that skulked past you all with my head hiding under my umbrella, or under my hood just to avoid having to talk to you for many years.

I was that mum that the class teacher always wanted to come and talk to at the end of the day, with a knowing look that something had happened that she needed to tell me about.

I was that mum whose child who stopped getting invited to parties.

I was that mum that never came to the PTA meetings or mums nights out, who wasn’t part of any mums ‘group’.

I was that mum who was often running late in the mornings, looking hassled and exhausted at drop off time so never had the time to say hello to you.

I was that mum who ‘let’ her child hit her whilst trying to get him in through the school door in the mornings kicking and screaming.

I was that mum who you would whisper about to each other that should discipline her child better.

That’s me. I was that mum.

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