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Paying for summer holiday care

Picture courtesy RLHyde

Frank Field is the man charged with the unenviable task of tackling poverty. His report to the PM David Cameron on ‘poverty and life-chances review’ is due week commencing 13th September 2010.

Mr Field has had a lot to consider in the short time since he was appointed. One of his recommendations, as reported by The Times on Saturday 11th September 2010, is that poorer parents should be given money so they can enrol their children in activities that other children enjoy over the long summer holidays.

It is a logical idea.

It solves two problems at once: the children are supported with worthwhile activities, whilst the parents have childcare so they can work.

However, this has been tried before, albeit in a slightly different guise.

Currently Working Tax Credit can be used to pay for nursery places. The children are in a safe, stimulating environment and the parents are able to work. The parents receive the money directly, as proposed in the new scheme by Mr. Field.

What happens in reality is that the parents receive the money, take the childcare places and may or may not pay the nursery. Although I have not done extensive research or analysis of this phenomenon, I do know, speaking to a number of nurseries, that this is a real problem. A review of the threads on the Nursery World Forum shows that my experiences are far from unique.

Until these sorts of issues are cleared up, should we even be considering compounding the problem for other businesses?

Before pumping money into a well meaning scheme, we need to be sure that the methods used will produce the results required.

As George Santayana wrote:
“If we don’t learn from history, we are doomed to repeat it”

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Reflective Practice and the EYP

EYPS, reflective practice and how this can improve outcomes for children at a setting
Reflective practice is one of the tools which can be used by Early Years Professionals to fulfil their role as ‘change agent’, which is at the heart of the Early Years Professional Status (CWDC, 2008). By structured reflection on current practice the EYP can identify what change is valuable, worthwhile and improving.

Methods vary from setting to setting. Practitioners may have personal reflective log books which are then reviewed regularly. Reflection can be done as a team in staff meetings. Documents such as the Self Evaluation Form (SEF) and the Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS) are valuable starting points.

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EYPs – what’s next for Continued Professional Development?

CPD Beyond the EYP: What are the Options?

I achieved my EYP status in 2008 and since then the nature of my work has changed completely. I am now much more focused on training and coaching other practitioners and so recently I was prompted to think about the next steps in my continued professional development. From talking with other EYPs and from discussions at our Cheshire EYP network, it seems I’m not the only one doing so.

Most people fall into one of two camps: those who have an interest in broadening and deepening their knowledge and those who now find their new job roles as EYPs are calling for new skills.

New Skills for a New Role

Depending on their role and the size and organisation of their setting, EYPs may need a variety of new skills.

Leadership and management. These courses are particularly relevant for EYPs who have taken on management responsibilities within their setting as part of the EYP role.

Train the trainer and Presentation skills. Many EYPs are now finding that they are taking a training and development role for their staff, having never been taught to train adults. In house training can be a particularly valuable and cost effective tool for raising the standard of practice within a setting.

Recruitment and selection. Some EYPS will already be familiar with recruitment of other staff, but others, particularly those who have been employed for the first time as an EYP, may find this a particularly daunting part of the job.

Innovation, change, creativity and reflective practice. This is a core set of skills for the EYP who is a leading change agent in their setting. Reflective practice is a good place to start innovation and change. It is also vital that new ideas and practice needs to be coupled with sustainability.

Mentoring and coaching skills. The best settings will always be encouraging practitioners with their own CPD. By involving the EYP as mentor and/or coach within the setting there are mutual benefits. It’s great CPD for the EYP and the practitioners being mentored will benefit.

Assessing, mentoring and moderating. Some Universities approach their EYPs to come back and assess on the EYP course. This has the benefit of the assessor having firsthand experience of the amount of time and work which goes into achieving the Status.

Broadening and Deepening Your Knowledge

Some EYPs may want to become an expert on specific subjects such as schemas or see a future career as trainers, lecturers or researchers. For them, more advanced qualifications, such as the DTLLS, may be appropriate.

Masters degree. Some EYPs find that they have developed specific interests and would like to pursue these in more depth. The setting will benefit from having a highly knowledgeable practitioner who can lead practice in that area.

Research. Research studies are invaluable to moving our knowledge forward about children’s learning and development. Universities and institutes such as the Max Planck institute may have research opportunities for EYPs to investigate an area of interest or particular relevance to their work.

How to Decide What to do Next

But how do you decide your CPD route?

First you have to consider the needs of your current role. Are there any skills gaps, what are you being expected to do? If you find that your role has changed, but you have received no training, then the skills route would be most suitable.

Next you need should consider how your future career may develop and how your CPD could lay the foundations for this. Would you like to move into a management role or possibly become a mentor and coach for other EYPs? This may need a combination of skills updating as well as some more academic qualifications.

Finally you should have an interest in the subject area. We all know that children learn best when they are doing something they are interested in and in my experience, it’s even more true of adults.


There have been a number of updates to the Standards, requirements and Government policy.  The Early Years Professional Status has been replaced with a new Status – Early Years Teacher Status – which still has 8 Standards, but you now have to hold GCSE maths, English and science to do the course.

In addition, you have to pass the professional skills tests. You can find out more information from the Government website here

* Image courtesy of Lumax Art


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Book Review: Early Childhood Education by Nutbrown, Clough and Selbie

‘Early Childhood Education: History, Philosophy and Experience’, written by Cathy Nutbrown, Peter Clough and Philip Selbie, published in 2008 by Sage, London.

The authors

‘Early Childhood Education: History, Philosophy and Experience’ aims to investigate the origins of ideas in early childhood education and how they now affect present day practices. In this book, Peter Clough notes that his own history ‘was shaped by the times I was born and brought up in, and how as a person and a teacher I inherited a world of meanings laid down by other people and their values and their times.’ (p77). This is the very heart of the book. It’s about learning how the past affects us now, so lessons can be learned for the future.

All the authors have in-depth knowledge of the subject area and have considerable experience writing in this field. This comes through very clearly in the breadth and depth of the pioneers explored. The authors have used each of their own strengths to good effect – Clough’s narrative inquiry, Nutbrown’s knowledge of early literacy and Selbie’s knowledge of Comenius – making the whole book larger than the sum of its parts.

A short history

‘Early Childhood Education’ starts with a short history. This takes the reader back to the state of education in the 1700s, moving swiftly through to the schools which emerged in the 1800s. Reference is made here to Szreter’s journal article (Szretzer, 1964) which tracks the start of compulsory school age of 5 years old to 1870 with Forster’s Education Act.

The rest of this chapter examines the history of nursery education in Sheffield and Scotland. There then follows a table of 50 influential figures, ranging from Comenius to Dickens to Sir Alec Clegg, with a brief summary of achievements for each. This is an excellent quick reference list, usefully in chronological order so the reader can place the person into historical context. The range of pioneers considered raises this list above the normal type found in text books and makes it very thought provoking. For example Charles Dickens is included because of the attention he drew to the social conditions of children at the time. His descriptive work, with the sensitive observations he made, could be considered to be a form of narrative inquiry.

This particular section made me realise how many people, men and women, had influenced early childhood education, but who aren’t known about.

The chapter concludes with the terrifying fact that there has been an average of one new policy a year for the last 20 years – Bertram and Pascal (2001) describe it as a ‘substantial and unprecedented range of policy initiatives’. I feel that this is likely to be unabated – and will probably increase – with the change in government.

The Pioneers

The next section of the book is a biography of 24 key figures who the authors consider to be pioneers in the world of education. It is acknowledged by the authors that this isn’t a comprehensive list, but one which contains people who were influential to the authors’ own beliefs. This makes for an eclectic mix of names, including Charles Dickens but excluding Bruner, for example.

When compared with similar books, such as Linda Pound’s ‘How children learn’ (2005), the amount of information given about each pioneer is brief and to the point.

Six Conversations

The third section of ‘Early Childhood Education’ is four imagined conversations between pioneers and authors and two conversations between the authors. Personally, it is this section which originally drew me to the book. Having to find a way to explain the theories of pioneers to a group of first year degree students, in a way which was engaging but informative, I turned to the conversations. I found these enlightened my own understanding and enabled me to explain them, in a similar way, to the students.


The first conversation in ‘Early Childhood Education’ is between the three authors, discussing what is important to them and why history matters. It is set in the Cafe Louvre, Prague, in November 2006. In this conversation, we learn about the broad range of pioneers and educational policies which have influenced the author’s own views on early childhood education.

This conversation is an excellent example of the authors ‘practicing what they preach’, in that it illustrates to the reader how pioneers, recent or otherwise, have affected them, their philosophy and their practice personally. Interestingly, although there was some commonality (for example Pestalozzi was cited as an influence by all three authors) there were many more differences, showing how no two people are influenced in the same way, even if they are exposed to similar things, even in the same University.

The second conversation is between Selbie, John Comenius and Robert Owen. Their conversation highlights the way the two pioneers believe in the often forgotten issue of respect for young children, through education and treatment.

In conversation 3, Clough talks to Susan Sutherland Isaacs about what really motivates children to learn.  Clough cleverly draws out the information so it sounds like a natural conversation. He adds much of his own insight into the conversation. So, although we learn a lot about Isaacs, her view on scientific investigation and home learning environment, we also learn about Comenius, Owen, Nutbrown, Montessori and Piaget via Clough’s contributions.

This conversation is very worthwhile because Isaacs’ work is often misunderstood, and sometimes sidelined, with the most prominence given to the freedom that the children enjoyed rather than for example, her work on intellectual growth and social development. In this conversation we can begin to understand her beliefs and her philosophy behind the discovery of knowledge in young children.

Conversation four is between three theorists – Pestalozzi, Piaget and Froebel – about how young children learn.

Conversation five is between Steiner and Nutbrown and concentrates on literacy in the early years. Nutbrown is particularly linked to early literacy, having written several books and many articles on the subject. Nutbrown and Steiner find common ground with ‘too much too soon can be detrimental’ (p124), ‘anthropomorphism’ (p125) and ‘education for life’ (p125), but agree to disagree on boys sharing books with their fathers.

Conversation six takes us back to the beginning, with two of the authors, Clough and Nutbrown, discussing the role of faith and religious conviction in early childhood education.

But why does narrative enquiry work so well in this context? I believe it works because the subject of ‘research’ is or was a living person. Compared to other books, such as Pound (2005), the reader has to consider their own view point on the pioneer’s stance about early childhood education. But not only that, the reader also has to think about their position on the author’s line of questioning or facilitation.

This was in equal measure enjoyable and frustrating. It was very interesting to see how Clough’s line of questioning allows Isaacs to explain her theories. Inevitably there are questions I would have asked, but weren’t. There were questions I would have asked Steiner, for example, about his research or reasoning behind delaying formal reading until ‘the coming of the second teeth’.

The potential pitfall of narrative inquiry is that the reader is reliant on the author’s interpretation of the educationalists philosophy and beliefs. The author has the power to exclude the elements that are not in support of the argument being made, whether this is intentionally or otherwise.  This has been avoided in this book, because of the authors’ deep understanding of the pioneers and their works. For example, it would be easy for the authors’ to choose pioneers who agree with their own philosophy, but instead Nutbrown chooses to talk to Steiner, but without biasing Steiner’s opinions so the reader can get a true picture of his philosophy.

The more things change…

The final section of the book looks at seven themes selected by the authors which considers current day policy and explores where the roots of those policies may have come from. The seven themes are:

  • Children’s Rights
  • The Arts and creativity
  • Literacy
  • Play, learning and pedagogy
  • Early Intervention
  • Home learning and parents
  • Inclusion

Each theme is discussed from a current perspective, regarding current policies and practice, but then the ‘roots’ are uncovered, proving there is very little which is truly new in early childhood education. This is an essential part of the book as it brings it right up to date and makes the connection between current policy and the pioneers.

It is very often the speed of change, along with being constantly bombarded with new policies, that is the challenge for modern pioneers. However, progress is being made. For example, The Early Years Foundation Stage mentions schema unambiguously for the first time. Athey and Nutbrown’s work have moved schema into main stream knowledge.


This book is a very useful reference book for the practitioner (or politician) who is trying to understand how we got to where we are now and how we can move forward.

The authors have a range of expertise which is brought together with good effect, each playing to their strengths.

The use of narrative inquiry is excellent, illuminating theories and bringing to life the pioneers. This is a particularly difficult method to master but has been used to very good effect here. The use of narrative inquiry is a growing topic in educational research, gaining credibility as a serious way of presenting or re-presenting data.

The book is pitched at the correct level for degree and masters students who want to investigate the history of pioneers and understand the philosophies which affect everyday practice today. There are plenty of references for further reading and seminal texts by the pioneers.

Overall, the book is a thought provoking read, particularly now, with the change in government and reviews of educational policy. Until practitioners can understand how early childhood education has evolved from the blend of ideas from pioneers over many decades, they cannot determine its effectiveness for the future.


Athey, C (2007) Extending Thought in Young Children: A Parent – Teacher Partnership, London, Paul Chapman Publishing

Bertram, T and Pascal, C (2001) the OECD thematic review of early childhood education and care: background report for the United Kingdom. Retrieved December 11 2009 from OECD.pdf.

Nutbrown, C, Clough, P and Selbie, P (2008) Early Childhood Education: History, Philosophy and Experience London: Sage

Pound, L (2005) How Children Learn, London, Step Forward Publishing

Szreter, R., (1964) “The origins of full-time compulsory education at five” from British journal of educational studies 13 (1) pp.16-28, London: Faber & Faber

** This book review was first submitted as part of the Masters in Early Childhood Education, University of Sheffield.

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Heuristic Play: a simple guide

What is Heuristic play?

When babies start to walk and become more independent they need an environment of discovery and investigation – Heuristic comes from ‘eureka’. This is the time when children will spend 30 minutes or more concentrating on seemingly random play. They like to post, hide, slide, pour, fill, put on, in and under.

Kathy Sylva and Jerome Bruner associated this concentration of play with cognitive development and educational progress. As practitioners we need to provide the environment and materials for children to be able to do this.

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Treasure Baskets

General Rule: No Plastic!

Treasure BasketChildren need to experience the sensation of touch. In this day and age most toys are plastic – smooth and uniform. How do you know what prickly means if you’ve never felt it? It is our responsibility as practitioners to give the children these experiences, in a safe, controlled environment. The treasure basket is full of sensations for the baby, from cold and heavy to wooden or shiny. Our role is to provide the experience and support the learning.

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Speech and Language and TV – What is the Evidence?

Jean Gross, Communication Champion, has announced information which seems to show that having the TV on for a significant proportion of the day is having an effect on the speech and language of our youngest children (up to 7 years of age).

This would seem to make sense. Distinguishing between two conversations can be difficult. As adults we know how hard it is to have a phone conversation and have someone else talking to us at the same time.

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Recommended Resources

Extending Thought in Young Children by Chris Athey

This book was recommended to me with the words “this will change the way you look at children’s learning forever”. Strong words.

The book is one of the results of the Froebel Early Education Project, which was run by Chris Athey from 1973 to 1978, at the Roehampton Institute of Higher Education, London. Tina Bruce was the appointed teacher. The children came from nearby Wandsworth, from a range of backgrounds. The project’s aims were to:

Observe and analyse, on a daily basis during a two-year teaching programme, children under the age of 5 in order to:

  • Identify developments in each child’s thinking
  • Describe the development of symbolic representation from early motor and perceptual behaviours
  • Identify curriculum content assimilated to developing forms of thought (page 3)

Very wide ranging aims indeed. So how has the author, Chris Athey, approached this in the book? She has divided it into 3 parts: Events influencing the Project; the Findings of the Project and Later Patterns of Thought.

Part 1 is an overview of the political background and government initiatives, with an illuminating Chapter 4 about constructivist pedagogy, Piaget and how this fits with current theories. And here we find the motivation for the Project and the book:
Constructivists are interested in the processes by which children construct their own knowledge (page 43) and there is a great difference between ‘know-how’ and consciousness of ‘know-why’ (page 44).

Part 2 is a highly detailed breakdown of the observations, drawings, actions and dialogue that were observed during the Project. It is prefaced by the observation that in previous research it was content which was more important than form. So Eng’s observation of “jagged teeth” and “stairs” seem to show no correspondence in content – but when the zig-zag form is considered they are a common representation. The Project concentrated on form, which includes topological space, space notion and representation. As children develop they begin to develop perception (a face must include a mouth before it will elicit a smile, even at 5 months). Children must then use this perception to create their representations in drawings and 3D models.

Using these representations, Athey discusses 5 graphic schema in detail:
Lines; Core and Radial; Open and Closed Arcs; Zig Zags and Angles and Quadrilaterals. This also includes discussion on how the same drawing can be re-interpreted i.e. how Eng interpreted the jagged teeth as “aggressive” but the Project team interpreted this as open triangles (zig-zags schema). Each schema is discussed in detail with plenty of examples of how they may progress as the child matures. The most practical part of this is the subsequent analysis of the representations, with the details of form as schemas start to be combined and perfected.

This part of the book concludes with chapter 6 From Action to Thought. This chapter demonstrates how schemas become co-ordinated with each other and develop into systems of thought (page 153). Seven action schema have been considered in great detail, namely: dynamic vertical schema; dynamic back and forth; circular direction and rotation; going over, under or on top of; going round a boundary; enveloping and containing; going through a boundary.

Each has been sub-divided and considered with respect to Motor level (physical action); Symbolic Representation Level (drawing, models); Functional Dependency Relationship (how the schema is used during play, dialogue, early thought); Thought Level (demonstration, usually through dialogue, of how schemas have been used to create original thoughts) and Discussion (explanation of how children have moved through each area resulting in thought). Finally Thought as internalised action is discussed.

This was a truly fascinating chapter as it draws together all the theory and clearly demonstrates how understanding and building on children’s schema improves their cognitive functioning.

Part 3 of the book takes us even further on the children’s journey, demonstrating how (and examples of which) schema impact on speech, writing and complex concepts, in primary education. For example, levers and pulleys need comprehension of linear movement (dynamic vertical), rotation and going over.

The final chapter explores parental participation and extended experience. This details the learning journey that the parents also undertook during the Project. It is hoped here that this “great source of untapped ability and energy” is used to its full potential in the future. Personally I would have liked some more specific examples of the ways parents were involved and benefited from being a part of this Project, as this could help practitioners to engage more confidently.

Extending Thought in Young Children is a detailed analysis of a complex and long running project. Consequently the book contains plenty of technical language. It is this detail which makes it an excellent reference book. But it does make it a book to be read at several sittings.

There were loads of moments where, as I read a description of a child’s behaviour, the light bulb came on and previously unrelated behaviour suddenly came into focus. I recognised the form of many drawings, plenty examples of which have been illustrated throughout the book. One of the bitter-sweet comparisons is two sets of “draw-a-man” illustrations, one by Project children and one by children matched for age, sex, ethnic background and neighbourhood. The Project children perform significantly better. I couldn’t help feeling a little sad that not all children could benefit from being a part of the Froebel Project.

Finally, has this book changed the way I view children’s drawings, actions, dialogues, behaviour and thought processes? Absolutely. Forever.


It is still available from Amazon

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Sustained Shared Thinking – How Important is It?

Sustained Shared Thinking
My online course on Sustained Shared Thinking is available here now…
>> The Sustained Shared Thinking Online Course <<

Sustained shared thinking has been defined as

” an episode in which two or more individuals ‘work together’ in an intellectual way to solve a problem, clarify a concept, evaluate activities, extend a narrative etc. Both parties must contribute to the thinking and it must develop and extend” Siraj-Blatchford et al (2002) Researching Effective Pedagogy in the Early Years (REPEY), Dfes.

This is not a new concept, just a new name. Most early years theorist value the adult/child interaction, from Vygotsky’s social interaction and more knowledgeable other; Bruner’s discovery learning; Piaget constructivism right through to Lave’s situated learning. Continue Reading

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Involving Parents in their Children’s Learning 2nd Ed by Margy Whalley

“This book is just one of the outcomes of a five-year research and development project at the Pen Green Centre for under fives and their families”. So starts this book and you know it is going to be full of interesting findings. Of course, it helps that Margy Whalley, who has been involved in education for 34 years, around the world, has been leading and directing the research programme.

The 12 chapters are each written by different authors, all of whom were involved in some way with the project at Pen Green, Corby called Parents’ Involvement in Their Children’s Learning (PICL). The authors range from teachers, social workers to researchers and education consultants.

The book starts with a background chapter about Pen Green and its endeavours. In the next chapter, ‘developing evidence based practice’, Margy Whalley discusses the way the project has developed. It contains some essential insights for anyone setting up research projects where children are being observed and details the additional benefits for the adults involved.

In ‘getting to know the families’ Colette Tait discusses how knowing the family situation is vital when planning meetings. From the shift patterns that parents work to the wording on the advertising flyers (mums prefer to “have a chat and a coffee” whilst dads prefer “coming to this meeting will make a difference to your child”).  It highlighted for me that you have to consider all the various home situations if you are going to engage parents successfully. Cath Arnold continues with this theme in further practical ways such setting up the room, which topics to cover, which theorists to draw on.

Chapter 5, ‘parents and staff as co-educators – ‘parents’ means fathers too’, by Margy Whalley and Trevor Chandler is inspirational. How many times have we heard “dads just don’t want to know”? This chapter shows not only how to involve fathers effectively but also the fantastic benefits to the child, father and other significant adults. This is essential reading for every setting and is the most comprehensive writing I’ve come across on the subject.

Cath Arnold writes an emotionally moving chapter about parents who find the services ‘Hard to Reach’, which, in the cases highlighted, means that the parents had had very negative school experiences themselves. This was stopping them getting involved with the centre’s activities – Kate says “I’m not the type – Pen Greeny”. So the two mums were interviewed and allowed to explain their own experiences, feelings and the consequences. In this way the barriers, including personal feelings and attitudes to other people, were identified so they could be overcome. Annette Cummings, in the next chapter, goes on to discuss the impact on parents’ lives, with some great case studies in the parents’ own words.

In chapter 8 we meet the Pen Green Loop, which is a feedback loop with the child in the centre, surrounded by parents and professionals and the Possible Lines of Development (PLOD) wheel. I particularly liked the PLOD wheel, as it has at the centre a small group of children, all of whom enjoy similar schemas. I often hear “how can we possibly plan for 40 different children? We can’t have 40 carpet areas!”. This is how it is done. First identify the children’s schema and then transpose this onto the centre of the wheel. There are 6 ‘spokes’, representing the 6 areas of learning, where activities and ideas can be mapped out for the group of children with similar or overlapping schema. Genius!

Colette Tait discusses the Growing Together groups which are for the birth to 3 age groups, discussing how it evolved out of the PICL group. The value of video taping the parent child interactions and then reviewing these is emphasised.

In ‘deepening the dialogue with parents’ Eddie McKinnon shares with us some in depth conversations with parents about their children, and how, as a result of being involved with the project this has made parents more reflective in their own practice.

But what happens to the family groups when the children start school? Cath Arnold presents 3 case studies, following the parents through Pen Green and then into Primary school, with very positive results.

Finally we have Kate Hayward, a primary school teacher, who was concerned with her own interactions with parents at school. She followed the good practice demonstrated at Pen Green and reports how she reinvents the traditional ‘home-school book’ model when communicating with parents. This chapter ends with a glowing recommendation from the headteacher.

This book is an excellent reference book, steeped in thorough research and viewed through many lenses. The concepts are explained clearly and examples are enlightening. Each chapter is written so it can be read independently, which means an amount of repetition when reading the whole book. However, I found the reinforcement of schemas, involvement levels etc reasonably useful. I was asked a while ago “why do we listen to these ‘theorists’ about good practice?”, to which I answered that they had done research and then tested their theories, proving that it was good practice. I think this book demonstrates this point and beyond.


It is available from Amazon

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