Puddles, play and pedagogy.

heart tree


I was lucky enough to win access to Kathy Brodie’s Early Years Spring summit video recordings and transcripts at the #playmovelearn conference in Manchester.

I spent most of my childhood outdoors and know it taught me resilience, to be adaptable and to appreciate nature.

I’ve learnt so much from reading the transcripts and below are my main takeaways:

Michael Follet (OPAL)

“Play is the way that we learn everything that can’t be taught – and most things that we know can’t be taught”.

If you are concerned about Health and Safety in the playground, the Health and Safety Executive has a great site called MythBusters, the busters panel look at questions and say “hey guys, be sensible. We really want children to play, we really want them to have challenge… We’re not the crushers of childhood that people think” – Health and Safety is there to support risk taking.

Follet talks about 4 elements: place – playgrounds should provide social opportunities, journey – children should be able to move freely, richness and difference (affordance) and changeability.

  • On scale:

‘scale is really, really important. Especially with schools and large settings. One of the things we talk about is the concept of generosity. Don’t put 10 tyres in, put 100 tyres in. Don’t get five bags of sand from the play store, go to the builder’s merchants and get five tonnes or 50 tonnes’.

  • On the ‘play cue’:

The play cue is a verbal or physical invitation for the adults to say ‘you can join my world’. It might be to get something that I need – another tyre, I need another paintbrush, I’ve run out of mud. It might be – Come and look at my birthday cake that I made out of leaves. It might be – sit in my car I’ve built. Quite often that invitation is brief. It’s come and look at my thing, come and sit in my den. Now go away. I don’t want you here anymore.

  • Why are girls like bats?

Follett: Jan would probably be able to tell me why they do it. Jan White is very good at it the connection between inner ear development and balance, another name for it that proprioception, vestibular. And I think there is probably something developmental about girls because it’s absolutely universal. Everywhere I go girls are hanging upside down.

  • Every child’s right.

So the US Play Coalition is people coming from across the world, mainly from the States.  There are people from about 70 countries coming together to talk about the importance of play and about the child’s right to play under the U.N. Convention of the Rights of the Child. Article 41 says that it’s a Human Right that children should be allowed to play.

Twitter: @OPALoutdoorplay

Juliet Robertson

‘I am really interested in saying ‘where’s the maths in the children’s play’.

  •  Everything has mathematical possibilities.

So, for example, if you’ve got children and you’re at a play park and there’s the see saw – that’s a giant weighing scale isn’t it? And there’s nothing more exciting than trying to work out can you as a three-year-old lift your mum or dad?

  • The sandpit as a micro context.

We’re actually focusing on the sandpit as a micro context for improving the nursery outdoor space, because it’s a big area and we’re actually focusing very specifically on maths in the sandpits. This is partly to demonstrate how there is learning in everything. It’s partly to demonstrate how you can build up the routines, the resources, the learning responsibilities of the adult, the rights of the child and how to reimagine that space so that it is utterly brilliant.

Twitter: @creativeSTAR.

Dr Sue Elliot

  • On natural playgrounds:

So now in Australia and elsewhere in the world we’ve moved towards natural playgrounds, that are not dominated by manufactured equipment but they’re dominated by natural elements. Most significantly that’s usually planting but it can also be elements of soil and sand and water and logs and rocks all sorts of things that can dominate.

  • On risk:

We need to provide those risky situations for children – not hazards – but we want risks so that children can learn in those natural play spaces about managing risk, whether that’s balancing on a log or it’s clambering over a boulder or something like that crossing a trickle stream. There are lots of opportunities for children to test themselves out and to see what they’re capable of.

  • On language:

I think also in natural play spaces we often talk about also the provocation for language because in a natural play space, because of that changeability of a natural play space, whether it might be the rain puddle or the autumn leaves or it might be a bug that’s found somewhere. They provide provocations for language more so than if you have just a very sterile type of landscape.

I guess something else I’d add about the natural play spaces that we found through our research with the forest pre-school or Bush kinder in Australia was that in the natural spaces there was a calming or a slowing down of the pace which led to much more sustained conversations between adults and children.

Julie Ann White

  • Resilience:

We firmly believe that being outside in the winter develops resilience. It helps them to think about ways in which to keep themselves warm, through physical stuff. We have little things to keep them warm, hot water bottles and stuff, hand warmers, feet warmers. Lots of things that just keep pushing them and pushing them and they do – they last outside all day, its great.

  • Sensory needs:

We started to unpick it and take it right back to the bottom of those three things and think what is it that we can do for these children? Is it a tactile need? Is it a vestibular, where they need to rock backwards and forwards or up and down, that kind of motion? Proprioception, where they need to be feeling their muscles in their body to send those messages to the brain. Do they need to be climbing, jumping, running, that kind of things. We noticed a massive difference with these children.

We explored all the visual distractions that go on within indoors settings, the lighting, all the displays and the noise that happens – which you don’t get in an outdoor setting. So for children who may be on the autistic spectrum that’s always to be a trigger and they’re always going to be a little bit more stressed. So that’s likely to impact on their behaviour.


  • Shinrin-yoku (Forest-bathing)

It’s a Japanese study that sent people out into the forest with monitors. And what they were able to conclude at the end of the study was that being in woodland spaces, forest spaces or outdoors, reduced cortisol levels by 40 percent. So if we’re reducing cortisol levels, you’re a lot less stressed, a lot more relaxed and things like that. I feel that’s why I feel better when I’m outside, that’s why my staff feel better.

We’ve been looking at the difference between interacting and interfering as well. Sometimes our best moments come from standing back and just observing the children in what they’re doing.

Twitter: @N8turetoNurture.

Dr Ruby Scarlet

Currently the creative director of Multiverse – an organization devoted to creating professional development and resourcing for early childhood.

  • Nurturing creativity:

So what are the ways, what’s the stuff, what are the methods, what are the inspirations what are the wacky ideas, what are the outrageous thoughts, what are the things that drive us from within to want to express ourselves creatively? And then what kinds of arts practice enables us to do that?

  • How to tell a story:

So for example it might be that you have a story inside of you that’s bursting but you don’t see that story in words. You see that story in images. So then I will go ask her what kind of Arts practice will enable you to express that piece of art inside of you?

You walk outside and suddenly you’ve got a whole universe opens up to you in a whole different way. Children will notice things like notice that mole on your nose! That’s what tells me that they will be able to definitely go into an outdoor space and notice.

So you experience narratives, you experience the way that language works and that imagery is conjured in your head, how you respond and how you feel about something you experience that differently outside under the tree to how you might inside.

  • The importance of noticing

So the knock on effect of being able to notice something then turns into another event. And that’s where if educators allow themselves to have that noticing moment, to be completely surrendered to that moment of wonder what they see. What they notice. What’s possible.

I think that if we approach our Arts practice outdoors by those things first because of course you can then turn it into ‘let’s go and get the paints’ and ‘let’s mix the colours’ that we can say – you can do it. So you’re outside and you start to mix what does what do today’s colours look like?

Natalie Canning.

  • Child initiated play

It’s really important that we do recognise the significance of child initiated play, which is when children really demonstrate their own choice and their own interests about what they want to do. So when they go into a play space they actually can have that freedom of choice to show what they want to do and how they want to play with something. They’re not directed by adults.

  • Flexibility:

I think the most significant thing about outdoor play is the fact that you have such a flexible environment. It’s an environment where there are no preplanned outcomes, there’s nothing there that is definite that you have to do in a certain way with that environment.

I think perhaps in an outdoor environment where there is more space, there’s also the space in terms of the physical space but there’s also space in terms of that ability to allow children to really just take some more time to work things out. Whereas I don’t know whether it is the indoor environment that sometimes restricts that or practitioners feel a little bit more pressured to achieve something. Whereas in an outdoor space there is kind of a sense of freedom, as well as the actual freedom, of the children.

  • ‘Just’ playing:

“Oh they’re just playing” – they’re not ‘just’ playing. There’s so much going on in such the simplest of situations and the smallest of interactions. There’s so much happening in those but it is just about being able to recognise that, being able to see those relationships that are building and also what’s happening that learning that’s happening within those situations.

The message: follow the child’s lead, don’t have a pre-planned outcome, be flexible


Liz Edwards

  • Muddy kitchens

All the setting might need is a mud patch or an area of ground that they can access or even just get a couple of bags of soil in – not compost but soil – and then that’s it, the kids can go for it.

I think the key thing, for enabling outdoor play, would be the outdoor clothing. Because the outdoor clothing is what allows them to go outside when it’s raining, to access any outdoor space or if they’re going off site. Good quality and also if you have a limited budget or you need to think carefully about where your budge is going, then I would say spend the money on the trousers, because that’s the thing that the children wear all the time.

  • A ball of string has many uses:

A ball of string is a great resource to have because you can tie sticks together, so stick men, swords. You can tie a little stick on the end of your string – lots of these activities are on the Hub – thread leaves onto it. Create a little needle, then it creates a lovely mobile, leaf mobile. So to go in autumn where you’ve got all the beautiful coloured leaves falling off trees. And you have a little piece of string, metre length string, tie one stick on the end and a little stick on the other end as a needle.

We run a campaign which is Mud campaign so on the 29th of June she is international Mud day and in the run up to the 29th June we put out ideas and different resources to support people getting involved in international Mud day, which has been part of our Mud campaign, getting people involved in Mud kitchens.

Twitter: @muddyfaces

Angela Hanscom

Balanced and Barefoot: unrestricted outdoor play makes for strong confident and capable children’ was published in 2016 and it discusses the effects of restricted movements and lack of outdoor playtime on overall sensory and motor development in children.

  • Thinking big:

An example might be listening to the story ‘The three little Pigs’ and then building an actual house out of real bricks sticks and hay bales of hay in the woods. Their own design and then reenacting the story so they’re getting pre-literacy and they’re living and breathing the story they’re moving their bodies they’re engaging their senses. It’s working on higher levels skills – thinking problem solving and then some of the neurological skills and making connections in the brain.

  • Sensory needs:

Children’s neurological system is designed to seek out the sensory input it needs when it’s ready for that input. So if they need to spin in circles, then there’s a very good reason for that. They’re really trying to organize their brain. So we see a child spinning and say “don’t do that. You’re going to get dizzy”, we’re becoming the barrier to child development and they’re just trying to make connections in their brains. So we really need to step back and allow them to do some of those things.

  • Step back:

Step back, but tune in – to be there and intervene only when you need to. And that kids need a big – almost like a play bubble. And when you step in that bubble, that magic bursts. So really to give them a big space where they have that freedom to feel like they’re on their own.

  • Open-ended resources:

A tyre can be used maybe 50 different ways by one child and another child might have 50 other different ways. And so when you combine loose parts with other children they start getting all these different ideas and their creativity and their inspiration grows. And that’s how you see some more independent creative play.

  • How to step back:

During free play I feel to just wait a second. Give yourself – because your instinct right away is to intervene. But unless they are like they’re physically fighting, then get right in there, don’t wait for that one. But if it’s like arguing or having an argument, there’s no need for the adult to step in right away. Just see what happens you know. But if it gets physical obviously or they’re upset get in there.

website: Timbernook.com.

Kathryn Solly

‘The Early Years is where it happens. If we get it wrong in the Early Years, that foundation is going to be very rocky’.

The Open Air ethos was actually akin to the circumstances we find ourselves now in that children were indoors a lot. They were overprotected slightly, they couldn’t put their coats on.

  • Not trips but expeditions:

I always hear the words visits and trips and feel myself grimace slightly because they’re almost lightweight words. To take children out into the community into the world around them, requires a great deal of courage and preparation on the behalf of the practitioner. It also requires trust on the part of the parent to let that practitioner take children out. I think sometimes that gets forgotten.

  • Linking with the community:

You’re not only building contacts and learning for the children, you’re also building a sort of hyphae, fungal hyphae, out into the community of people that know your setting. The quality of what you’re trying to do and your interlinking in another way, the children into their community and people also valuing young children, which sadly they don’t always in our society.

  • Froebel

This is a privilege that Tina Bruce has given to some of us to train with her to be able to explain Froebel’s philosophy and practice from the ‘Gifts and Occupations’ to his beliefs on nature and working with parents and so on.

Twitter: @SollyKathryn

Terri Harrison

Nature plus Nurture plus Play equals Resilience.

  • Trauma and the healing power of nature:

The NatureNurture project is an early intervention project. We are working with vulnerable children using play in nature with carefully attuned adult support and so there’s lots and lots and lots of free play and lots and lots of opportunity to play outside. Our main aim really is that we help children to become more resilient.

I am always inspired by a learning cycle that was produced by a neuroscientist and psychologist called Bruce Perry, trauma expert.

  • How adult responses shape a child’s:

So if you imagine somebody being fearful of a child climbing or fearful of them using a certain tool or fearful for them going too near some water. Of course, you have to keep children safe. But if we let our fear get in the way then the child just adopts the adult fear. They don’t really continue their exploration in that healthy learning way.

website: http://www.naturenurture.org.uk

Clare Warden

‘Nature pedagogy it’s massive. It’s about a philosophy around how we engage with the natural world in real and authentic ways to educate and care for children and youth’.

  • Having no distinctions between inside, outside and beyond.

So for me, the best thing we can do is to say all right if I’m a child and a stick is a good thing in forest school then why isn’t a stick a good thing in the outdoor play area and why isn’t a stick a brilliant thing to have inside my classroom? I suppose to give children a real sense of consistency and understanding that pedagogically we believe in what people are now calling loose parts, this work around the play affordance – Gibson and Nicholson have done a lot for us in those two research papers. Taking those elements and really understanding what they mean pedagogically, I think is a real way to help children.

  • How documentation can be used:

Often we get caught up in having to do documentation for external agencies or for quality assurance or things like that. But actually I think sometimes having both reflective and reflexive practice in your work as an adult allows us just to take a moment and say “Actually my journey is going in a different direction to my colleague but I personally am growing and am developing and I’m changing my ideas or affirming my ideas”.

  • 3 things

So what have I seen that I would bring back? Probably those three things to hold onto – relationships, to the enthusiasm that we have and to remember how confident these young children really are engaged with all aspects – but especially within the natural world.



Menna Godfrey

  • Puddle Play

I think at the beginning puddle play is just all about fun. When we’re having fun means that we can do some good learning. It’s all about Frere Laevers Wellbeing idea and I think that underpins a huge amount of what we can do with children around puddles, the mud outdoors and indoors.

  • Maths in the mud kitchen

I think it’s a really rich place for maths learning. Right back at the beginning you said that I began my professional career as a physics teacher. Maths and science learning for me in the mud kitchen is enormous. It is everywhere in the setting but when you start to look the mud kitchen, it is very easy to identify, it is very easy to see children who are filling containers, part filling containers and then finding they’ve got an empty container once they’ve tipped all of the contents out.

Twitter: @Quackersplay my own one is @Forestbeing

Julie Mountain

  • Tips

Think about resources combined, so resources aren’t silos – it’s wheely toys today and it’s construction tomorrow and it’s messy play the next day. Combine them, use them in different ways so really really exploit what you already have.

Just to think about making the most of the space you have got. And the other one is getting out and about. What we commonly do is we think about the floor plane. Children are smaller than we are, they feel closer to the ground, so we think about what’s on the ground and not necessarily what’s on the walls around us or even above us.

  • Scavenging

I would say – loose parts and grab and go kits, I think are really handy. One of the things that I love is playing with objects that weren’t made for play. Scavenging I’m terrible – I can’t pass a skip without dipping in it, just to see what’s in there. I’m best friends with the guys down at my local tip.

Twitter: @playlearninglif

Jan White

Children have a Right – to be outdoors and to have their learning offered to them outdoors as well as indoors. But along the way the other side of the coin is how do you actually make all that potential available?

  • Involving Parents

To me, involvement is more focused on bringing the – importantly – on bringing the parents in, having them contribute to the life of the setting, maybe coming in working in the setting for a period of time or helping to do development days like working bees.

  • Learning Outdoors

But of course the biggest thing is that you’re actually naming it for what it is – you’re unlocking that ‘learning’ Outdoors. It’s not ‘outdoor play’ it is actually ‘Learning’ outdoors.

Erin Kenny

Young children learn best through hands on experiential learning.

We are actually dis-abling our young children, this generation of young children by disallowing them this authentic nature immersion time.

  • Nature immersion

I took it upon myself to define what my idea of nature immersion was and it is ‘unstructured free time in nature that results in an intimate personal and deep connection with the natural world’. So this idea of unstructured time in nature is critical to the definition of nature immersion.

  • Caring for the planet

I really became concerned that if today’s children weren’t being authentically connected with nature in a way that made them love and respect the natural world that they really wouldn’t care later on as adults whether nature was being destroyed because they wouldn’t have built that bond and early attachment that we as humans are programmed to expect at birth.

  • Compassion

I believe that compassion is built experientially and our children have many opportunities throughout their forest day to practice compassion, respect, kindness, spatial awareness not only with each other but also with nature. So we call our program ‘compassion scaffolded’ one. And what that means is that every opportunity we get, we encourage the children to think about ‘the other’, think about their friend, think about the nature find that they’ve just discovered. So they’re coached to have a very very gentle touch.

  • Important lessons.

We really felt strongly that it was very important to front load these lessons in compassion and kindness and respect because to us those are more important lessons to really instil in children under age 6 then learning how to read and write and do simple math.


website: Erinkenny.com

Forthcoming book: Teaching the Cedarsong Way: lessons from an award winning Forest Kindergarten’.


Dates: Outdoor learning day: May 17th

Outdoor Learning Conference: June 11th

Nursery World Show North: May 11/12th








Leaves, libraries and liberty




Galileo on why we read:

“What sublimity of mind was his who dreamed of finding means to communicate his deepest thoughts to any other person, though distant by mighty intervals of place and time!”

Books seem precious, precious because of the information, stories and lives held within but perhaps also because of their form: made from trees, with which we have such an important relationship.

The etymology of the word ‘book’ is full of references to wood and trees: German, buch (beech), French ‘livre’, meaning inner bark of trees, in Sanskrit and Latin, words for writing are based on Ash and Birch respectively. A page is known as a ‘leaf.’

Books are not wasteful. One tree can make 2000 or more books.

Most pulp used to make paper is created from wood that would otherwise go to waste, and even the trees that are cut down specifically for the purpose of making paper are in most cases from renewable forests, using fast-growing trees.

No need, therefore, to feel guilty but every reason to enjoy the relationship with a book: its smell, the feel of the pages, the ability to move backwards and forwards through the story. To estimate how far you’ve travelled through it. To re-read the same line or paragraph, let the words sink in, feel the book change shape with love and use.

I don’t remember learning to read but can remember the excitement and smell of a new school ‘Janet and John’. I remember at one point, I had to have my eyes tested (resulting in pink National Health glasses) and I had to use a piece of card to track the words.

One Christmas, my mum’s Aunt bought me a copy of ‘Chimney Corner Stories’,  Enid Blyton. I read this over and over and over. When I was old enough to go to the library, I took myself there. No real surprise that I ended up studying ‘Library and Information Studies’ as a degree.

It was never my intention to go into further education but there were few jobs in the 80s and the interviews I had had were a disaster.

‘You love reading, why don’t you study librarianship?’… mum’s idea.

Britain’s first public library opened in 1850 in Manchester. Many people were in favour of public libraries, on the grounds that:

  • Public libraries would provide facilities for self-improvement through books and reading for all classes, not just those who were wealthy enough to afford their own private libraries and collections.
  • The greater levels of education attained by providing public libraries would result in lower crime rates.

Bill Moyers wrote: “When a library is open, no matter its size or shape,”  “democracy is open, too.”

Neil Gaiman recounts the role of the library in his life:

‘I was lucky. I had an excellent local library growing up. I had…the kind of librarians who did not mind a small, unaccompanied boy heading back into the children’s library every morning and working his way through the card catalogue, looking for books with ghosts or magic or rockets in them, looking for vampires or detectives or witches or wonders. And when I had finished reading the children’s library I began on the adult books.’

The true delight as a child might be in the sense of discovery and yes, the freedom to choose, the freedom to read with abandon, to go places and meet people in the imagination, to expand a world.

Gaiman again:

They were good librarians. They treated me as another reader — nothing less, nothing more — which meant they treated me with respect. I was not used to being treated with respect as an eight-year-old.’

Finally, Ursula Le Guin:

‘Knowledge sets us free, art sets us free. A great library is freedom‘.

Stop closing libraries, consider instead: How do we get children and young people into them – perhaps the last place where democracy truly exists?

Handwriting: ‘we write not with the fingers but with the whole person’.



What does the title quote tell us about handwriting and the act of writing?

The quote, from Orlando (Virginia Woolf), goes on:

‘The nerve which controls the pen winds itself about every fibre of our being, threads the heart, pierces the liver’.

The act of writing is both emotional and physical and is THE most complex skill of coordination we will learn. If children are to feel comfortable writing about their emotions, they have to feel physically comfortable writing. If not, the physical act of writing is itself a barrier.

What to do:

  • Work on pencil grip and fine motor control with programmes such as Teodorescu (Write from the Start) and simple stencilling activities (be aware that handwriting also requires core strength).
  • Reinforce and model the correct pencil grip from the start. Use pencil grips or this DIY version:


  • Work on the pincer grip and finger strength with Duplo, Lego, pipettes and tweezers, or homemade salt dough.
  • Ensure that children have automatic letter formation before you ask them to write words and sentences. Otherwise, you are simply reinforcing the wrong motor pattern which will be hard to correct later and impede fluency, sometimes causing discomfort.
  • NB Some children will take longer before letter shape becomes automatic and may need to write letters BIG, using gross motor muscles because they are not getting enough sensory feedback from writing them small. If letter shape is not automatic, working memory is overburdened.


NB From Day-to-Day Dyslexia in the Classroom, Rody Politt, Joy Pollack, Elisabeth Waller (can also be done on a piece of paper in front of the child on the desk.)

see tutorial here

  • Teach letter formation WITH an entry stroke: this leads readily to cursive writing and means that letter reversals are less common.

*cursive is from courir – to run – letters and words should literally ‘run’ across the page in a fluent fashion.

  • Keep children that need it on wider lines until they are ready.
  • There are a limited number of strokes required to form letters – work on these – e.g. perfecting ‘c’.
  • Diagonal strokes can be very challenging for some children, try using a traditional, cursive form eg a looped k.
  • Praise the small detail and ensure you praise boys. All too often, girls are praised for neat and well-presented handwriting, boys develop low self-esteem. This is self-perpetuating. It is particularly difficult for ‘unconventional’ girls who struggle to develop neat handwriting too.

*I’ve heard many children say they ‘hate’ their handwriting.

  • Take time during the school day to practice handwriting, put on relaxing music and enjoy the artistry – letters are pictures of sounds!
  • Use highlighters as a guide: for consistency in letter size, for ascenders and descenders.


This post from @RobertsNiomi caused a huge response:

Screen Shot 2018-02-10 at 08.43.04

  • Try apps such as Hairy Letters (Nessy) and programmes such as Letter Join.
  • Use salt trays, write on backs and hands, in the air, with a magic wand, trace sandpaper letters with the finger;
  • chalkboards create a great kinaesthetic drag!
  • Use handwriting to teach spelling and vice versa; interleaving.
  • Handwriting is a motor skills activity and one of the earliest studies into interleaving was done in 1986, involving teaching 3 badminton serves.

Pinterest link Link to my letter shape resource.

Interleaving and motor skills: sports

My piece on Handwriting on Teachwire

Read Caroline Ash’s fab post about boys’ writing here





Ten things to improve your communication.

nvc cheat sheet

I believe that good communication is one of the key components of a happy and successful school.

Nonviolent communication is based on a natural state of compassion – when there is no violence present in the heart.

“All that has been integrated into NVC has been known for centuries about consciousness, language, communication skills, and use of power that enable us to maintain a perspective of empathy for ourselves and others, even under trying conditions.”
— Marshall B. Rosenberg, Phd

I was intrigued by Nonviolent Communication, a method used at the Wood School my son attended and to find out more, went on a weekend course around 5 years ago. The weekend was hosted by Penny Vine who has worked extensively in schools around the country, promoting this method.

The essence of NVC is that most communication is born out of a need, particularly at times of conflict. When our needs are not met, we often become angry, sad or frustrated. The key is to honestly identify your need and make a request for it to be met. Then, try to listen with empathy to the other person’s needs and requests. It sounds simple but I quickly realised that most people find it very hard to do! Including me.

Passive –aggressive types tend to suppress their own needs, leading to anger and resentment (yep, that’s me). Whereas dominant, alpha-type personalities simply over-ride the needs of others and don’t really consider them. Neither style is healthy or effective when working as a team.

After the course, I used NVC every day in the classroom and on duty in the playground. I encouraged the children to find their own solutions to conflict, as these are more readily accepted. The source of conflict is often something seemingly trivial but one has to remember that children feel things very intensely and have a strong sense of injustice. I encouraged children to empathise with each other, to acknowledge each other’s needs and offer a solution that can be agreed on.

Usually, they suggest with a piece of equipment that it be given a time limit and then passed on. Sometimes they play together with it and a new friendship is born.

The story that most seems to encapsulate this approach to communication was told by Penny Vine on the training weekend: 2 nursery-age children wanted to wear the same fireman outfit, there was only one. Both desperately wanted it and felt they equally deserved to wear it.

The question was posed, what is fair, what shall we do?? In the end, the children decided to wear one half of the outfit each and played in this way, joined together, all day.

If we can teach children to communicate effectively, this will lead to better mental health later on.

Can teachers also benefit?

From the Centre for NVC website:

link to source


Ten things you can do:

(1) Spend some time each day quietly reflecting on how we would like to relate to ourselves and others.

(2) Remember that all human beings have the same needs.

(3) Check our intention to see if we are as interested in others getting their needs met as our own.

(4) When asking someone to do something, check first to see if we are making a request or a demand.

(5) Instead of saying what we DON’T want someone to do, say what we DO want the person to do.

(6) Instead of saying what we want someone to BE, say what action we’d like the person to take that we hope will help the person be that way.

(7) Before agreeing or disagreeing with anyone’s opinions, try to tune in to what the person is feeling and needing.

(8) Instead of saying “No,” say what need of ours prevents us from saying “Yes.”

(9) If we are feeling upset, think about what need of ours is not being met, and what we could do to meet it, instead of thinking about what’s wrong with others or ourselves.

(10) Instead of praising someone who did something we like, express our gratitude by telling the person what need of ours that action met.

I am, of course, still practising!

Why yoga for children?

yoga marbles

The word yoga means ‘to unite’, what are we aiming to ‘unite’?

The practice of yoga unites the mind with the body through the breath. After yoga practice, one is typically left feeling calm and balanced in mind and body.

Attention to the breath is everything.

I have practised yoga for nearly 20 years and whilst I have always appreciated the mental and physical benefits it brings, in the last few years, I have become more interested in an interior life and the philosophy of yoga. A natural part of ageing I think!

The Ahimsa code of conduct – to not wish anyone harm in thought or deed, that extends to all living things…including oneself, is paramount.

If we can be kind to ourselves, we can then extend kindness to others. 

I love working with children, love their imaginations and outside the box thinking. In classrooms today, though, there isn’t much time to explore, be silly or deviate from the curriculum but it’s okay in yoga!

It made sense to me to unite my two passions and bring yoga to children in school. Through yoga, I hope to give children some tools which will help them in their daily lives. Children can learn to manage and regulate their emotions through breath awareness and taking quiet time to get in touch with their feelings.

Learning and acknowledging the limitations and abilities of your body is very empowering in yoga, referred to as ‘the edge’. Children hold a lot of emotional tension in their bodies – stiff shoulders and bunched fists. Practising yoga can really help with the release of tension and emotion. The relaxation that comes after yoga practice is the final stage in letting go of any negative thoughts and indeed thought patterns, leaving you feeling refreshed. A healthy, balanced body leads to a healthy, balanced mind.

As well as stress, the other area of concern for me is the high number of children with processing issues in schools – dyspraxia, dyslexia, Sensory Processing (SPD) and ADHD. Sometimes, all of these combined! Schools are finding that more and more children are arriving at school with co-ordination and processing issues.

I am passionate about helping such children through yoga, as I know what a painful and exhausting experience school is for them. Yoga can help with their co-ordination by helping them to practise crossing the midline, it can also help with proprioception i.e. knowing where their body is in space. By pushing against their body in postures, it will give them the input they need to calm their senses and especially for the hyper-mobile (over-flexible joints), help them to find their ‘edge’/outer limits of a pose. Such children can be highly sensitive and very anxious. Yoga offers lots of calming techniques. It can also be very creative and visual; such children often enjoy visualisation and look for outlets for their amazing imaginations and wells of creativity.

 To be creative is the purest form of communication, it comes from the subconscious but we have to be relaxed for it to happen.

Yoga can give children the opportunity to relax which will enhance their creativity, encourage expression and make them comfortable with their bodies. Through exploring our ‘edge’ in yoga – how far we can go in a posture – we seek to push ourselves a little more every time. It can feel frightening to do this, to try something new, to extend oneself. However, I think the ability to do this really helps with fostering independent learning in children and it can help them understand what a positive learning style should look like.

Namely, one in which one is only concerned with one’s own progress and endeavour and not distracted by another.

Stress is an issue for very academic children too. These children can lack resilience, they are used to being the ‘bright’ ones and when they don’t get a concept or struggle with something, they can crumble because they don’t have the tools to recover. Yoga can help with providing those tools and all children, once taught them, will have them for life.

Try some yoga with your children today!!

Some yoga games:

Use a hula hoop, hold hands in a circle, everyone has to get through the hoop without breaking the circle!

marbles: put marbles inside a hoop on the floor (to contain them). Children pick them up with their toes.

Humming Bee: one child leaves the room, another hides a bee toy, when the child comes back in, everyone hums/buzzes to indicate when the child is getting close!


Books to use in yoga:

Beautiful OOps, Barney Saltzberg: resilience and positive outcomes from mistakes.

I Want my Hat Back, Jon Klassen: Funny with links to some good animal postures.

Listening Walk, Paul Showers: for listening to sounds ‘inside’ and ‘outside’ – good for sound awareness and phonics.

Harold and the purple crayon, Crockett Johnson: good for gross motor control.

Shh We have a plan, Chris Haughton: /sh/ digraph and yoga for literacy!


Books about yoga/mindfulness:

Yoga Education For Children, Swami Satyananda Saraswati

Teaching Meditation to Children, David Fontana & Ingrid Slack

Once Upon a Pose, Donna Freeman

Contact me if you are interested in yoga for your school.

Lesson plan here:

Harold yoga


Jump for joy


Movement is so important for health and well being.

Skipping might just be the most powerful mood enhancer there is – have you tried it lately?

In pressured, time-poor classrooms, where children are required to sit (nicely) and write endlessly, what impact is this having on their health and well being?

Perhaps better results would come from the occasional movement break and opportunity to talk through ideas with a peer?

Brain Gym seems, like ‘learning styles’, to be not only out of fashion but demonised; let’s not throw baby out with the bath water!

(Students may be either hyperactive – over active or hypoactive – sleepy and droopy. The good news is that the right kind of movement can help the student to maintain focus and concentration for the duration of the lesson)

In denying the importance of movement to aid arousal (arousal is linked to attention and concentration); integral to the experience of learning, what do we loose?

Ask yourself this the next time you are looking out at a sea of blank, sleepy faces or working 1 to 1 with a student who’s lying across the desk!

Simple ideas:

*pair and share to walk around the room and share/discuss ideas. (Timed is best, so that equal turns are given see @KaganOnline)

*chair push ups/proprioception (Chdn push down through straight arms to lift bottom out of chair).

*pacing (good for times tables, this is an organising activity)

*hugging self

*giving each other back rubs (ask permission first!) Good for slouchy children.

*bunny hop to pencil sharpener

*round of applause

NB children with poor proprioception sense ie knowing where their body is in space – may slouch  over the desk and sit on their feet.

Children with a poor vestibular sense (balance) may benefit from pacing and other kinds of movement.

In giving options, children can learn to self-regulate.

If you’re happy and you know it, clap your hands, stamp your feet…do a jumping jack!

I guarantee you’ll feel better too.

To IEP or not to IEP. Why is that in question?


IEP stands for Individualised Education Plan.

  • Does your school use IEP’s? Is there a whole school understanding of their purpose and a rigour around setting and achieving targets?
  • How do teachers feel/think about them? That they are a paperwork exercise and take up too much time?
  • Can IEP’s be used as an effective tool in ensuring progress, particularly around dyslexia – a specific difficulty?
  • IEP’s can be very useful tools when tied into interventions, with SMART (Specific, Measurable, Realistic, Time-limit (Reid, 2005) targets set.

Gavin Reid (2016) is clear on the importance of IEP’s, based on a report, ‘Education for learners with Dyslexia’, (HMIE, 2008), published in Scotland:

‘pupils do best when parents and child are involved in setting and reviewing IEP targets in a collaborative process. There should be high expectations around student achievement’.

The review of literacy and What Works by Greg Brooks also states the importance of high expectations:

  • Good impact – sufficient to at least double the standard rate of progress – can be achieved, and it is reasonable to expect it.
  • Implication: If the scheme matches the child’s needs, teachers and children should expect to achieve rapid improvement. High expectations are realistic expectations in most cases.

Download the latest version here

Pavey (2007), suggests that IEP’s could be used in an innovative way e.g. within a 12-week term; there is room for three sets of four-week strategies. She states that targets and methods should be clear; so that children make recognisable progress.

IEPs can be linked to an intervention and can help to integrate specific targets with class work, ensuring that skills and strategies become embedded across the curriculum. Pavey (2007) Tod and Fairman (2001) claim that IEPs promote:

  • The need for formative reflection and analysis rather than merely summative reporting;
  • The provision for diverse needs embedded in a whole school practice;
  • Student and parent involvement;
  • The use of a variety of instructions;
  • Rigorous evaluation of the effectiveness of additional or otherwise extra support;
  • The sharing of responsibility for SEN support with other adults;
  • Peer involvement;
  • Collaborative multi-agency planning.

Any intervention needs to be applied and embedded across classroom practice to ensure that the above factors are involved in the process. IEPs can also facilitate:

  • A development of pupil voice around dyslexia and what works for the individual; both as part of the IEP process and within class: leading to ‘metacognition’ (the student’s learning about learning).

The SEND Code of Conduct (2014) calls for pupils to be actively engaged in targets and for pupil voice. However, Lundy (2007) identified that teachers were sceptical about children’s ability to participate in the decision-making process. Creative methodologies have proven successful (wherein pupils draw pictures) and this is especially useful for children with speech and language barriers (Leitch, 2008).

The pupils I work with are often disenfranchised and lacking in self- esteem, for some of them, their unmet learning need becomes a PSHE issue, rather than a learning one and perhaps this is easier for schools to manage. However, I strongly feel that a dyslexic’s social and emotional needs are affected by learning experiences in class and it is in class where their needs should be met.

Tomlinson (1997) defines inclusion as matching resources to learning styles and educational needs of students. Reid (2016) suggests that dyslexic students would benefit from the following:

  • Opportunities to work in groups;
  • That the group dynamics are positive for students with dyslexia (eg mixed ability);
  • The tasks are appropriately differentiated;
  • The presentation of materials is varied and includes the visual and kinaesthetic;
  • Learning outcomes are achievable;
  • There is acknowledgement of the social and emotional needs of the child;
  • Parent’s views are considered and they are kept informed of progress;
  • Students are given responsibility for their own learning as much as possible.

Importantly, without specific intervention and support, children with dyslexia will not catch up, despite Quality First Teaching (See Greg Brooks, What Works, March 2016)

  • Ordinary teaching (‘no treatment’) does not enable children with literacy difficulties to catch up. For the evidence on this, see the third edition.


  • Implication: Although good classroom teaching is the bedrock of effective practice, most research suggests that children falling behind their peers need more help than the classroom normally provides. This help requires coordinated effort and training.


  • Differentiation within class; to ensure progress.

The act of embedding good practice and learning strategies from interventions naturally leads to differentiation within class and ways to harness a child’s individual strengths and learning preferences. This should be a natural organic process if there is cohesion across interventions and work within class. It calls for good communication between staff. Dyson (2002) argues that there needs to be a:

‘move away from the individualisation of current approaches towards the development of systematic interventions embedded in mainstream schools and classrooms’ (P.99)

To further support this process, staff would benefit from specific training in the nature of dyslexia, its causation and treatment. At least one staff member needs to be fully trained in this area; the knowledge can then be cascaded across the school.

This differentiation should be carried across into the setting and completion of homework.

Is it time to reconsider the role of IEPs in your school?

See here for a great alternative to an IEP, thanks to Sarah Gillie!

Alternative to IEP


HWTe (2008) Education for learners with dyslexia. Inspectorate Report. Scottish Executive, October 2008.

Leitch, R. (2008) Researching children’s narratives creatively through drawings, in P. Thomson (ed.) Doing Visual Research with Children and Young People, London: Routledge, pp.37-59.

Lundy, L. (2007) ‘Voice is not enough: Conceptualising Article 12 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child’. British Educational Research Journal, 33(6): 927-42.

Pavey, B (2007) The Dyslexia-Friendly Primary School: A Practical Guide for Teachers, London: Sage.

Reid, G. (2005) Dyslexia, London: Continuum International Publishing Group.

Tod, J. and Fairman, A. (2001) Individualised learning in a group setting. In: L. Peer and G. Reids (eds), Dyslexia: Successful Inclusion in the Secondary School. London: David Fulton.

Tomlinson, J. (1997) Inclusive Learning: The report of the committee of inquiry into the post-school education of those with learning difficulties and disabilities in England, 1996. European Journal of Special Need Education (pp, 145-59) Abingdon, Oxon: Routledge.




Fantastic Contractions and how to find them!

Arrrrrrgh what’s a contraction???????

  • Question: how can I give a concrete meaning to this abstract word? Is there a real life application?

Kinaesthetic/experiential (aka primary information): ask students to hold up their arm – when outstretched, the muscle is longer (antonym: expansion).

Tense the fist and bend the arm, feel the muscle; it is a ‘contraction’, it is smaller.



  • Depending on your assessment of class needs and arousal levels, other kinaesthetic options:

Walk around the room, on the command ‘expansion’, stretch up tall, on ‘contraction’, get down and scrunch up into a ball.

  • Question: Can I provide some semantic information about the word ‘contraction’?

From Latin contrahere: join together.

What physically happens in a contraction in grammar?

(Antonym: expansion) In the expanded phrase e.g. have not – the jaw creates two syllables (yes, test this! place hand under chin: ‘have’, ‘not’ – two movements of the jaw – agreed? good).

If you have mirrors for maths USE THEM, let students see how the jaw moves.

Fact: A syllable is created by a vowel, we have to open our mouth to let a vowel sound escape!

open mouth vowel

In speech, we are lazy and shorten phrases by clipping out a vowel and SOMETIMES a consonant too.

  • ‘Con’ ‘son’ ‘ant’ (meaning: ‘with sound’), consonants are said using the teeth, lips, tongue, throat.

Hence: have not, becomes havent, the missing vowel is replaced by an apostrophe – havent.

Say it now and look in the mirror, hand under jaw – we have lost a syllable – the phrase is shorter.

Fact: apostrophes were invented by printers to show where letters were missing in text (in case someone thought they couldn’t spell!).

And another thing: whilst it’s thought that no two people with dyslexia are the same, I find there are lots of common misconceptions.

One is, the comma vs apostrophe confusion. Why? BECAUSE THEY LOOK THE SAME!! Argh!

The difficulty is with perception and orientation: one goes on the ground, one goes in the air! They have different jobs too, OBVIOUSLY.

Try saying to your class: the word apostrophe has ‘trophy’ in it, reach up for the trophy in apostrophe!

  • Comma means ‘to cut into’, commas are used within sentences to cut the words into chunks and change the meaning. Commas go on the line.

Reinforcement activity: write a list of items, and ask children to cut with scissors where comma should go, (differentiate according to age, stage).

We can see that memory is not the issue but how information is processed is. If the information is abstract, can I give it other meaning?:

  • Kinaesthetic (using primary information – the senses); muscle for contraction, feeling the jaw for syllable
  • Semantic memory: some history, narrative or additional meaning.
  • Can I make it funny??
  • Can I help to differentiate between commonly confused items. WHY are they causing confusion? e.g. apostrophe and comma.

If these confusions aren’t addressed, they will persist into High School. It doesn’t mean a student CAN’T learn them, they haven’t been taught in the right way…until now!


How to fold away a vowel




Dyslexia; mental health matters!


Dyslexia impacts on the mental health of a child and its carers. The wellbeing of the dyslexic and their family is in the hands of the school, other educational setting, or work. Wield your power mindfully and with compassion.

I returned to education a couple of years ago. Whilst being a slow processor, with some learning challenges: memory, written expression, organisation, I’ve always loved school and learning. I loved my journey through education and have always held my teachers in high esteem.

In the course of my MA studies: a practical session, I was sitting next to a ‘fast’ processor. We were sharing the activity and it was something she was familiar with. She confidently dominated, taking charge and my brain went into shut down. As an adult learner, I was able to make a joke of it and ask her to slow down. I had to look through the work at my own pace, so that I could confidently process it.

What stayed with me was the sense of panic and also a feeling, only just suppressed, of inadequacy creeping in. As a confident adult, I had the inner voice to quash this negative voice, but many children aren’t robust enough, and have not learnt to develop a positive inner voice, they come to believe they are stupid, as implied and, that learning is not for them; they disengage.

The experience was in sharp contrast to some Kagan training I attended a year or two previously. Here, we were put into groups according to experience (i.e. mixed ‘ability’), this is how the Kagan structures are played out. I felt vulnerable as a learner when a page of maths (not my strong point) was given out without instruction. I sought the eyes of my friend in the room, we giggled at each other, felt reassured. What I really enjoyed was working with the person next to me who showed me what to do. The Kagan structures are just that – structures devoid of content which hinge around mixed ability groupings. The goal? Attainment for all. This kind of cooperative approach requires committment and skill. Then, it works.

Incidentally, this was some of the most enjoyable and influential training I have had.

Most schools now have ‘ability’ settings and dyslexic children are usually to be found on the lowest table.

Why is that?

They are often bright, articulate and love to learn. They do notice the ‘ability’ settings and these now start as early as Reception. Incidentally, I think these are as unhelpful for the ‘highers’, who start to feel entitled and lack resilience, as they are for the ‘lowers’, who often stop trying and are made to feel a failure.

How are the needs of this invisible disability being met? How is that impacting on the self-esteem of the individual? Their behaviour, anxiety levels? How are they treated by other children in the class and what small slights must they suffer daily?

Self-esteem can be thought of as the gap between where an individual would like to be and where they are. Consider this: a reasonably bright, interested individual (sometimes VERY bright), who is struggling every day to do the simple things (reading and writing) that peers seem able to do without much effort i.e. automatically. Effort is key here.

In maths, dyslexics might struggle to remember symbols and language, plot layout, learn to tell the time and times tables.

Ask them to do something quickly and they may not be able to do it at all.

Given the fact that children naturally compare themselves and that this is being implicitly reinforced through ‘ability’ groups, it surely has to take its toll?

In a school or setting where dyslexia is not recognised, dyslexics are undermined: every day, every minute, every second.

The difficulties may not end with academia. In sport, where several instructions are given at once, involving an ability to orientate oneself, dyslexics may also struggle. In performances, they may find it almost impossible to remember lines or lyrics and will struggle to sit through hours of rehearsals.

Personal organisation may be poor; the coat may be left outside, the PE kit on the floor, the glue stick all over the table. At lunchtime, they may forget the sequences around queuing up and getting served, exacerbated by a pressured and noisy environment.

Please be patient.

Please don’t suggest your dyslexic learners need to ‘learn resilience’, ‘work harder’, develop a ‘growth mindset’, these are skills a dyslexic person generally has in abundance.

Bullying of dyslexic learners by peers may be subtle and ‘below the radar’; be aware and work to stamp out attempts to undermine these children, often amongst the most vulnerable in the classroom.

Talk with your class about dyslexia and what it means for the individual, give your dyslexic children a voice and help others to understand and not to judge.

If you want to improve understanding about dyslexia in your school, read here:

Start a conversation

Dyslexia: start a discussion


Dyslexic strengths

The first academic paper on dyslexia was published in 1896 in the British Medical Journal by William Pringle Morgan. Dyslexia was ‘discovered’ by psychologists, who, when presented with children with emotional and behavioural difficulties, found that despite average or above IQ’s, they had an inability to read and write. These children had shared characteristics.

Read about dyslexia indicators here: BDA indicators

Read about the history of dyslexia here: Dyslexia Archive

Astoundingly, the existence of dyslexia is still debated and unlike other abstract social constructs, there seems to be a great resistance to even accepting its existence; let alone that there may be strengths attached to it. Why?

  • Is it because dyslexia is medical in origin but educational in treatment?
  • Is it because dyslexia is abstract and there is still no Universally accepted definition of it?
  • Perhaps it’s because dyslexia is so strongly associated with reading failure, yet dyslexics can be taught to read. (Yes, they can!)

Presentation of dyslexia is thought to be 50% down to genetics and 50% the result of the environment (see Morton and Frith Framework below, 1993).

Morton and Frith

Outside of school, dyslexics can be brilliant, bold, creative; when free of the expectations of reading and writing.

The modern concept of disability is that it is created by the environment. Early identification and support is key, if children ‘at risk’ are to succeed.

  • What is dyslexia anyway?

Like most abstract things, it’s only once you start to engage with dyslexia, and you have direct experience of it, that it becomes tangible and real.

When my son started to experience failure at school, I quickly engaged with dyslexia, with that came the realisation that in this current pressure-cooker education system of accelerated progress and ability groups, more children are failing and more children are displaying dyslexic-type difficulties.

I was, and still am, a slow processor. I couldn’t catch a ball, tie my laces, ride a bike. My mum re-taught me handwriting just before I started Secondary School, it was illegible before then.

This was the pre-curriculum days; all I remember doing in Primary school was writing poetry and reciting times tables. I have always been an avid reader and don’t remember being taught to read, only that I used to have a small card to move under the words as I read. Perhaps in the current system, I would be identified as being dyslexic?

Can you start to engage with dyslexia as a construct or concept?

  • Can you start to look at those children experiencing failure and appreciate that some of them may be dyslexic?

For signs of dyslexia in the classroom, read previous post: Dyslexia in class

‘All men, by nature, desire to know’, Aristotle.

In my experience, dyslexic children love to learn and to feel smart. Start to align yourself with their unique perspective and watch them shine with a megawatt intensity. Small adjustments: seating, pencil grip, use of a notebook, movement breaks; can have a huge impact.

Talk to the child, what works for them?

  • Simple activities such as the Alphabet Arc, can cement that illusive understanding that letters have names and sounds (the Alphabetic Principle).

see tips on the Alphabet Arc: Practical tips alphabet names.

  • Use those spelling strategies that help dyslexic learners to tap into the way they need to learn, leading to self awareness (metacognition). see here spelling and memory
  • Make learning as experiential as possible, let them talk, and when writing, give them the words to help them: less is more! (a few openers or conjunctions with a supporting visual, some tricky spellings with syllables written in different colours).
  • If reading is a difficulty, don’t crowd them but support reading instruction with paired and shared reading, as well as explicit instruction, to build engagement and enjoyment of reading.
  • Most importantly, give them a sense of ‘can do’, know that they will be more tired than their classmates and that they DO have to work harder to achieve less – how demoralising!

For more thoughts on reading, see previous post: reading and the PSC

It is likely that dyslexia will look different in every school; take the opportunity to have a discussion around this. What is the demographic of your community; jobs, beliefs, the nature of your relationship with them. What is the attitude of your Senior Leadership Team to dyslexia, your TA’s, Teachers,  Board of Governors, external professionals, any additional service providers, including sport and after school clubs?

Start to be aware of dyslexia and you won’t have to work to notice dyslexic strengths; they come naturally with an awareness of dyslexia.

Find Resources from the BDA here:

Dyslexia Awareness Week

Information from the BDA for educators here:

Practical Information

If you would like to have a discussion about dyslexia this year, here are some ideas:

Dyslexia discussion


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