Maths: a hidden ability?



Dyscalculia is a term used to describe extreme, specific difficulties in maths. Many of these difficulties may be found in a dyslexic profile.

 ‘Dyscalculia is a condition that affects the ability to acquire arithmetic skills. Dyscalculic learners may have difficulty understanding simple number concepts, lack an intuitive grasp of numbers, and have problems learning number facts and procedures. (DfES, 2001) 

In Steve Chinn’s book, he suggests that many children ‘give up’ on maths around the age of 7 and lists the following factors:

  • Having to do maths calculations quickly.
  • Learning facts and procedures (without understanding them).
  • The extremely judgemental nature of maths. An answer is right, or it is wrong.
  • The inconsistencies in early arithmetic confuse children.
  • Being asked to do tasks that are beyond the capacity of the child’s working and short-term memories.
  • The vocabulary and language of early maths is often everyday vocabulary and language, but used in a maths setting.

(Chinn, 2012).

Haylock and Cockburn (2013) feel that much can be done in the early stages of teaching mathematics and that some difficulties are created by teachers, who themselves were taught ‘by drill’. They call for teachers to have a thorough understanding of the basic mathematical concepts and principals. This will, in turn, enable them to help children construct that understanding for themselves.

Butterworth and Yeo (2004:1 ) make the point that there are many reasons for underachievement in mathematics, including ‘inappropriate teaching, behavioural problems, anxiety and missing lessons’ which makes ‘identifying a special condition difficult’.

It is difficult for researchers to make conclusions about the cognitive processes involved (Ansari and Bugden, 2015). Just as neuroscience (Magnetic Resonance Imaging, MRI and Electroencephalography, EEG) is being employed to understand literacy development, so too is it being employed to further understanding of Developmental Dyscalculia: its diagnosis, intervention and treatment (Ansari and Bugden, 2014).

As with literacy and dyslexia, multiple-deficit models of dyscalculia can explain the heterogeneity of the difficulty and the range of approaches required to compensate (Landerl, 2015). Butterworth (2003) has developed a ‘Dyscalculia Screener’ (2003), identifying dyscalculic learners between 6-14+ years. It aims to assess prerequisite skills that underlie efficiency in maths and recommends intervention strategies.

The Dyscalculia screener tests elements of numerosity (subsitising), within a time constraint. Pupils are shown collections of dots and asked to quickly and accurately report how many they see. This ability, Butterworth argues, distinguishes those with dyscalculia from others.

Chinn (2012) suggests using a range of tests and informal diagnostic activities that probe the way a child is thinking; arriving at the underlying misconception. The WRAT4 can provide a comparison between literacy and maths. The MALT assessment (2009) gives useful information about answers. Kelly, Phillips and Symes (2013) provide a useful dyscalculia checklist.

If many children ‘give up’ age 7, this resonates with early work from Buswell and Judd (1925) who found that the first time you learn a new idea, it creates a dominant learning experience. Chinn (1998) lists the following areas of potential difficulty for those with dyslcalculia, all of which might apply to a dyslexic profile:

  • Short Term Memory

If instructions or information given is too demanding for the child, they will have memory overload and will not retain the information.

  • Working Memory

Working memory is especially important in maths, as numbers have to be held in memory during mental arithmetic. There are usually steps involved too and these may also overburden working memory so that information is lost.

  • Consistency

Consistency is reassuring and it makes it possible for pupils to be relaxed and deal with new experiences, assimilating them. Vocabulary and procedures need to be consistent so that teaching and learning is effective and explained carefully.

  • Speed of Processing

Dyslexic children and those with dyscalculia are usually slow to process auditory information and to work through steps as working memory is generally weak. Having to do maths calculations quickly can create anxiety, which in turn reduces working memory capacity and also affects long term memory

  • Rote facts (Long Term Memory)

Committing basic facts to long-term memory, in particular times-table facts, is extremely challenging. Time is not put aside in the curriculum for this. It is demoralising for children who cannot master them in the way their peers can.

  • Language (vocabulary of maths)

Eg The English language does not offer consistency for two digit numbers, the numbers eleven and twelve do not fit the rest of the pattern. In fractions, the pattern of a quarter and a half does not fit with a fifth and an eighth;       maths vocabulary is often abstract and hard for the learner to retain.

Telling the time, using an analogue clock, can be particularly challenging for dyslexic children: the language, number knowledge and processing involved is all too much! Much of being a successful learner at Primary level is to do with memory functioning. Cognitive weaknesses associated with dyslexia, such as short term, working and long term memory; speed of processing, sequencing and difficulties with attention and concentration are all likely to impact on maths. The Baddeley model of working memory (2000) shows short-term memory (STM) as split between visual semantics (Visuospatial sketchpad) and the verbal STM (Phonological loop). These two areas are not directly connected but interact with the episodic buffer, which transfers information to the long-term memory.

It would appear that in dyslexia, certain information does not get readily stored in the long-term memory (LTM). Auditory information is held in the store where it rapidly decays. In dyslexia, this is thought to be impaired, as tested using Nonword Repetition (Roodenrys and Stokes, 2001). Maths auditory input can be lengthy and dyslexic learners may struggle to retain instructions and the steps required for task completion.

Chinn, (2012) suggests that visual representations of number, which create a number sense, and the use of concrete materials (numicon, dienes, Cuisenaire) helps to engage struggling learners in maths. Visualisation is a key concept when teaching maths to pupils with a dyslexic and dyslcalculic profile. Ronit Bird (2009) also suggests activities that involve concrete manipulatives and visualisation. Dominoes and playing cards can be used to develop a number sense. Maths language can be practiced and supported through a number pack, akin to the spelling and reading packs used in literacy programmes. Sharma (2016) recommends using Cuisenaire rods to support learners, these are especially good for fractions.

Chinn (1998) adds spatial awareness as a potential problem for dyslexic learners. Importantly, spatial awareness is needed for the layout of simple work on paper, such as the column method but also in drawing and interpreting graphs, charts and other symbolic information. It may cause problems in geometry, algebra and copying from the board e.g. writing down the wrong question number. It can be helpful to plot the space out with dots before beginning the task.

As suggested by Butterworth and Yeo (2004), anxiety is a huge factor in maths. ‘Number Anxiety was first introduced as a concept by Dreger and Aiken (1957). Anxiety can also be an issue in dyslexia and the acquisition of literacy skills, (Carroll et al., 2005; Carroll and Iles, 2006). Worry and anxiety are associated with the need to be prepared; fear and panic are primitive responses to a real or perceived defined threat. This will be exacerbated by having to do calculations quickly. Overall, studies suggest that attitudes to mathematics tend to deteriorate with age during childhood and adolescence (Wigfield and Meece, 1988; Ma and Kishor, 1997).

Young, Wu, and Menon (2012), in a math anxiety study, found brain activation in 7 to 9 year olds was in the right amygdala, a site previously tied to the learned fear response in adults. They also found that math anxiety was associated with reduced activity in posterior parietal and dorsolateral prefrontal cortex – regions involved in mathematical reasoning. Mathematics anxiety has been defined as:

“a feeling of tension and anxiety that interferes with the manipulation of numbers and the solving of mathematical problems in … ordinary life and academic situations” (Richardson and Suinn, 1972).

It is, of course, unclear where math’s difficulties create anxiety or vice versa, a self-perpetuating cycle. Moreover, there seems to be two aspects: affective and cognitive. Cognitive might be worry about performance and affective is the emotional response: nervousness and tension – exacerbated by exam situations (Liebert and Morris, 1967). Competence in numeracy needs to be addressed because difficulties in maths impacts negatively in life. Dyscalculia refers to severe difficulties with number and people with dyscalculia may struggle with: handling money, budgeting, time-telling (including recording times, dates and appointments), using pin numbers, remembering personal information (like date of birth) addresses and post codes, travelling and directions. Difficulties with these areas can prove incredibly stressful.

Within maths, if there is not a secure foundation, it is necessary to define the key concepts and go back, before moving forwards. There are many books available offering games and puzzles, which provide opportunities to overlearn, Bird (2011) and apps such as Doodlemaths are very successful for the same reason. Bryant, Bryant, Shin and Pfannenstiel (2015) highlight, ‘Providing a cumulative review of previous concepts’, as an example of a practice designed to deliver explicit and systematic instruction. It is important to analyse the mistakes student make in maths and look for patterns, ask questions and address misconceptions. This is all part of good practice within the ‘plan, do, review cycle’.

Whilst auditory processing is a weakness in dyslexia, there is evidence to show that the visuospatial sketchpad is not impaired and may even be a strength (see meta-analysis by Swanson, 2006). This is important information as it suggests that visuals can be used in interventions to boost confidence and improve outcomes; using areas of strength to support weaker areas, i.e. Hebb’s law: “Neurons that fire together wire together”. When taught simultaneously with the strong one, the weaker modality becomes strengthened.

There has been greater research into literacy difficulties, than into dyscalculia and difficulties with maths but with a recent emphasis on achievement within maths nationally, comes a new focus. The new national curriculum (2014) whilst more rigorous, does not address instructional practices. By applying what works within literacy, maths may become easier to access for many students.

The methods for improving literacy for pupils with Specific Learning Difficulties are well established:

  • Multi-sensory
  • Phonics based (especially early in reading i.e. KS1)
  • Systematic (structured, cumulative and sequential)
  • Include opportunities for overlearning/’little and often’
  • Teaching learning strategies is also considered important – this might also be considered ‘metacognition’.

(Rose, 2009, Singleton, 2009)


Apart from ‘phonics based’ all of the above criteria can be applied to mathematics. There are fewer specialist teachers for dyscalculia and fewer specialist programmes. Chinn (2017) suggests that adjustments to lessons be based on the following four principles:


  1. Empathetic classroom management, which is aware of the needs of pupils and the adjustments required to support learning strengths and weaknesses, such as working memory.
  2. Flexibility and a responsive, open approach, allowing for the use of a repertoire of resources and strategies. These change according to the needs of the pupil over time.
  3. Developmental methods, addressing the underlying need, while developing mathematical skills and concepts.
  4. Effective communication, which takes into account working memory weaknesses, slow processing, and different thinking and learning styles. The layout and presentation of work must have clarity.


Reid (2016) makes the point that the reading aspect of maths can be a real challenge for children, as dyslexia often overlaps with dyscalculia and maths difficulties. The text should be simplified and children with dyscalculia will need the vocabulary explaining more often and rephrasing. Often, it is the simple, abstract words such as ‘more’ or ‘less’, ‘before’ and ‘after’, which create ambiguity. Where there is more language, and complicated syntax e.g. in a word problem; dyscalculic children may benefit from using highlighters and drawing pictures.

Professor Mahesh Sharma (2015), suggests the following procedure:

  1. Explain the linguistic aspects of the concept.
  2. Introduce the general principle.
  3. Let students use investigations with concrete materials to discover these principles.
  4. Give many specific examples using concrete materials.
  5. Allow students to talk about their discoveries about how concepts work.

Hattie (2009) points out in his meta-analysis search, that the most successful mathematics programmes are strategy-based, involving working out an answer. He recommends a formula, encompassing all learning, to D.I.E for: Diagnose what they do/don’t know, Intervene, Evaluate (reflect). Maths is developmental; it relies on there being solid foundations in earlier stages upon which to build. Areas such as number bonds may not be secure and will prevent entry into more advanced maths. One cannot assume knowledge, it is important to personalise learning and get to know how the student is thinking.

In his 2012 book, Chinn has a chapter on ‘Cognition and Meta-cognition in Maths. Meta-cognition is becoming increasingly important as a concept in all areas of learning and is taught in many literacy programmes ‘thinking about how you are thinking’. There seems to be a worldwide consensus that flexible thinking and meta-cognition are more important than the use of formulas in maths. The use of formulas (or algorithms) is successful for many students who can remember and apply them without understanding what they are doing e.g. for dividing by a fraction: ‘turn upside down and multiply’. For students who don’t remember (dyslexic/dyscalculic), and who need the meaning to help them, this is not successful. They need to fully understand the process in order to apply it successfully the next time. The positive here is that they cannot ‘ape’ understanding. Sometimes, a small misconception is hindering them, when addressed, they take flight! Singapore, with their Singapore method that is creating an impact in the UK, overtly encourages meta-cognition.

From an American study into cognitive style (Bath, Chinn and Knox, 1986), Chinn formed a hypothesis that there are 2 distinct learning styles in maths. The team labelled them ‘grasshopper’ and ‘inchworms’. Grasshoppers are flexible and intuitive, Inchworms are formulaic; slow and steady. Chinn makes the point that often mathematics requires both approaches in the solving of one maths question. He suggests that if there is a non-judgemental approach to maths in the classroom; with emphasis on the method rather than the outcome, it will lead to a positive learning environment, where flexibility is allowed to grow.

Self-esteem is connected to being a successful and independent learner (Burden, 2005). If a learner hasn’t understood a concept, it is important to try and understand how they are thinking. Just as in literacy, the relationship between teacher and pupil is integral:

Building strong and trusting relationships between teacher and child is an essential prerequisite for accelerated learning (Brooks, 2007: 31).

In summary, dyscalculia is a relatively new area of learning difficulty. Following a new focus on Maths, with initiatives like Numbers Count, the DfE recently revealed that Maths is now the most popular A Level, which suggests that there have been improvements. However, work to ensure that all pupils leave school with the necessary skills in Maths to be successful in managing their finances and daily activities, is continuing. This can only be done by finding out how pupils are thinking, offering them visuals, concrete materials and alternative methods i.e. flexibility. In this way, it is hoped that anxiety within Maths can also be properly addressed.



Ansari, D. and Bugden, S. (2016) Probing the nature of deficits in the ‘Approximate Number System’ in Children with Developmental Dyslexia). Developmental Science, vol 19, issue 5.

Baddeley, A. D. (2000). The episodic buffer: A new component of working memory? Trends in cognitive sciences, 4 (11), 417-423.

Bath, J. B. Chinn, S. J. and Knox, D. E. (1986) The Test of Cognitive Style in Mathematics. East Aurora, NY, Slosson.

Brooks, G., (2007). What works for pupils with literacy difficulties? London: DCSF

Bryant, D. P., Bryant, B. R. Shin, M. and Pfannenstiel, K. H. (2015) Learning Disabilities: Mathematics Characteristics and Learning Exemplars in Chinn, S. International Handbook for dyscalculia and Mathematical Learning Difficulties. London and New York. Routledge.

Burden (2005) Dyslexia and Self-Concept seeking a dyslexic identity. London: Whurr.

Buswell, G.T. and Judd, C. M. (1925) Summary of educational investigations relating to arithmetic. Supplementary Educational Monographs. Chicago. University of Chicago Press.

Butterworth (2003) Dyscalculia Screener, Windsor: NFER-Nelson.

Butterworth, B. and Yeo, D. (2004) Dyscalculia Guidance, London: NferNelson.

Carroll, J. M., Maughan, B., Goodman, R., and Meltzer, H. (2005). Literacy difficulties and psychiatric disorders: evidence for comorbidity. J. Child Psychol. Psychiatry 46, 524–532.

Carroll, J. M., and Iles, J. E. (2006). An assessment of anxiety levels in dyslexic students in higher education. Br. J. Educ. Psychol. 76, 651–662.

Chinn, S and Ashcroft, R (1998) Mathematics for Dyslexics: A Teaching Handbook. London: Whurr.

Chinn, Steve (2012) Maths Learning Difficulties, Dyslexia and Dyscalculia. BDA.

Chinn, S. (2017) Dyscalculia and other D’s. SpLD Central Conference.

Dfes (2001) The National Numeracy Strategy. Guidance to support learners with dyslexia and dyscalculia. London. DfES 0512/2001

Dowker, A, Sarkar, A., Looi, Chung Yen (2016) Mathematics Anxiety: What have we learned in 60 years? Frontiers in Psychology, vol 7.

Dreger, R.M. and Aiken, L.R. (1957) The identification of number anxiety in a college population. Journal of Educational Psychology, vol 48, issue 6.

Hattie, J. (2009) Visible Learning Meta Study: a synthesis of over 800 meta-analyses relating to achievement. Routledge.

Haylock, H. and Cockburn, A. (2013) Understanding Mathematics for Young Children. London: Sage.

Phillips, S., Kelly, K and Symes, L. (2013) Assessment of Learners with Dyslexic-Type Difficulties. London: Sage.

Liebert, R. M., and Morris, L. W. (1967). Cognitive and emotional components of test anxiety: a distinction and some initial data. Psychol. Rep. 20, 975–978.

Landerl, K. (2015) How Specific is the Specific Disorder of Arithmetic Skills? In Chinn, S. International Handbook for dyscalculia and Mathematical Learning Difficulties. London and New York. Routledge. (pp115-124).

Ma, X., and Kishor, N. (1997). Assessing the relationship between attitude toward mathematics and achievement in mathematics: a meta-analysis. J. Res. Math. Educ. 28, 26–47.

Miles, T. R. and Miles, E (1992) Dyslexia and Mathematics. London: Routledge

Reid, G. (2016) Dyslexia: A Practitioner’s Handbook. Oxford: Wiley

Richardson, F. C., and Suinn, R. M. (1972). The Mathematics Anxiety Rating Scale. J. Couns. Psychol. 19, 551–554.

Roodenrys, S. & Stokes, J. (2001). Serial recall and nonword repetition in reading disabled children. Reading and Writing: an interdisciplinary journal, 14, 379-394.

Rose, J. (2009) Identifying and Teaching Children and Young People with Dyslexia and Literacy Difficulties. London: DFCS.

Sharma, Mahesh (2015), accessed 6 October 2015)

Singleton, C.H. (2009) Interventions for Dyslexia. Bracknall: The Dyslexia-Specific Learning Difficulties Trust.

Sutherland, P. (1988) Dyscalculia. Sum cause for concern? Times Educational Supplement, 18 March.

Swanson, H. L. (2006) Working memory and reading disabilities: Both phonological and executive processing deficits are important. In T.P. Alloway & Gathercole, S. E., (Eds). Working memory and neurodevelopmental disorders pp.59-88. Hove: Psychology Press

Wigfield, A., and Meece, J. L. (1988). Math anxiety in elementary and secondary school students. J. Educ. Psychol. 80, 210–216.

Young, C. B., Wu, S. S., and Menon, V. (2012). The neurodevelopmental basis of math anxiety. Psychol. Sci. 23, 492–501.




































Movin on up: transition


marketing school business idea
Photo by Gerd Altmann on

It’s the time of year when thoughts turn to transition and if you have an effective transition in your school, you’ve probably been thinking about it for a while.

I’m talking here about the move to…BIG SCHOOL.

Pupils with dyslexia often find this even more daunting than your average student.

How to ease transition for them so that they have the best possible chance of success?

The Dyslexia SpLD Trust Year 7 project

Evidence suggests that performance of year 7 pupils can remain static or even decline. What might be the factors involved?

  • Learners lose the consistent pastoral and academic overview of their progress by a class teacher.
  • Learners must shoulder the additional stresses of new social groups, new physical environments and organisational demands.
  • Learners must deal with a broader curriculum and range of teaching styles.
  • Basic literacy skills are no longer a focus of teaching, unless pupils have VERY  weak literacy skills and receive additional support.
  •  It is suggested that pupils with below average to low average literacy skills, who do not qualify for support, are likely to be particularly vulnerable to a drop in attainment and self-confidence.
  • It’s hard to improve children’s standard scores in literacy through intervention (Fawcett 2002).
  • Improvements in phonological skills do not always generalise into more accurate or fluent reading and spelling is particulalrly difficult to remediate (The US National Reading Panel, 2001).              I attended a conference in 2017:Dyscalculia and other D’s’ and one of my workshops was with Beccie Hawes from Rushall Inclusion Advisory Team. The message?
  •  It’s important to recognise that for some children and families, High School is a welcome change, a fresh start and negative experiences can be left behind.
  • It’s essential though that these children arrive at High School with basic skills in literacy and maths, more importantly the FLUENCY so that they can keep up.
  • Apart from this, what else can be done to ensure the best possible start?

The following might make it difficult for  students with SpLD and each profile will be unique but with difficulties in:

  • Tme: managing time, sequencing, organisation,
  • Basic skills: impacted by memory, processing speed, self-regulation, attention, fatigue.
  • Spatial Awareness (simply getting around school).
  • Sensory needs (which impact on attention, therefore memory and basic skills). Sensory needs also come into play at play and lunch time, is the child sensitive to noise, doesn’t like crowds?

Relationships are key to a smooth transition and the ideal situation is where the pupil, parent/carer, original school and receiving school are all working together to support the child.

A detailed One Page Profile ensures that everyone knows key information about the child, provides a positive framework, focuses on moving forward and puts the child at the centre, drawing upon the experise of the young person and their family.

It may help the child to have additional vists with the school, meeting staff and other children who are attending, Hawes even suggests  arranging pen pals with other dyslexic children which I think is a nice idea.

Beccie Hawes suggests a ‘buffet’ approach rather than ‘set menu’. The child is changing, the environment is new – emphasis is on flexibilty. Things that worked for the child before may not now. Review and amend provision constantly.

Secondary School and FE – what works?

BDA Tips Secondary


To my teachers: from an adult dyslexic




Here are some thoughts from @creativeartJan on helping her school age self:

  1. Give me the information/learning in advance, so I can plan ahead and be prepared.
  2. Provide a list of key vocabulary.
  3. Give worksheets and books with clear, large font.
  4. Give examples where support for homework can be found and include alternatives to books e.g. youtube.
  5. Give me models, charts and diagrams e.g. historical figures on a timeline.
  6. Give me opportunities to touch and do, not just to read.
  7. Give me opportunities to type instead of write.
  8. 3D models in Physics and Chemistry help, not just lists of letters and numbers.
  9. Be alert to my other difficulties: catching a ball, doing sport, and how they impact.
  10. Look out for me, are other students being kind, tell them what dyslexia is and that it does not mean you are stupid.


Janet’s suggestions

Useful Youtube links:

The writing experience for a dyslexic

Dyslexic experiences in the Scottish education system

Book recommendation:

Carol Vorderman Study Skills

Article on metacognition:


Advert for mindmapping, piece on visual thinking.

Visual thinking


If you are dyskexic and want to help teachers to help their dyslexic learners, please add to these suggestions, either leave a comment or get in touch!



Play, move, learn



Back in March I attended the #playmovelearn conference organised by @GMUnder5s @GreaterSport and @Quality4EY. I was working with Reception children at the time and have always been interested in Early Years’ experiences and how they impact on a child’s journey through school. It’s only by understanding child development that we can help children who are far behind to catch up.

I was especially interested in the idea of moving to learn because this is something I am very aware of with the children I support, regardless of age. They generally need to move to attend and to learn; if the movement is connected to learning e.g. walking around a letter ‘b’, then it’s even better!

Dr Lala Manners

In her key note, Dr Manners had us all up and moving! She then spoke eloquently about the worrying issue of childhood obesity and questioned the current framework for EYFS, including the definitions of ‘exceeding’.

‘we know DfE have recently asked for a thorough review – at least let us give teachers/practitioners criteria that are purposeful and relevant – that support the physical skills linked to ‘school-readiness’ – balance, strength, co ordination, agility – that properly informs children’s overall health and wellbeing and that gives professionals some incentive to engage more proactively with this ‘prime area.’

Physical Prowess is exceedingly important to children:

‘If you really want to know what physical skills mean to young children ask them the following three questions – what are you good at – what are your friends good at – what are you not so good at? (Running/jumping/hiding – sitting still/concentrating/doing my work/tidying up).’

You don’t have to be a wood school, beach school or have the best environment – make the most of what you have and observe your children closely:

‘Spend as much time as possible observing them as they move around your setting – inside and outside. Where do they gravitate to – and why? Who do they choose to be with – and why? What materials do they like to play with – and why? How much adult engagement do they like or allow?’

She closed in talking about how schools might harness both performance and inclusivity; at present, the two seem to be in conflict. She suggested that this be achieved through:

 ‘a leadership team committed to a shared vision of inclusion to which they get staff, parents and pupils to buy in.’

Furhermore, a committment to mixed-ability groupings and extra planning time for teachers, access to performance data and research to inform decisions are all essential in providing an inclusive setting with achievement for all. Inclusion and achievement are both possible, not one at the expense of the other.

Trish Maude

Trish Maude spoke at the event to raise the profile of the IPLS:

The International Physical Literacy Association (IPLA) is constituted as a registered charitable incorporated organisation (CIO) with the Charity Commission UK that aims to promote the profile, and preserve the integrity of physical literacy, engaging with and sharing research worldwide.

The current definition is as follows:

“Physical literacy can be described as the motivation, confidence, physical competence, knowledge and understanding to value and take responsibility for engagement in physical activities for life,”

It is imperative that we acknowledge the importance of physical wellbeing and links to mental health and learning. Children typically experience the world through their bodies/senses and not their minds. How do we integrate the two?




Dr Lala Manners – Bag of ideas.

This workshop centred around a paper bag and its multitude of uses! The bag was he kind you might find in a sweetshop. We did so many activities that I can’t remember them all.

  • I know there was interaction – we worked as groups to organise the bags.
  • There was movement – we moved around the room sliding the bag away with one foot.
  • There was maths – we had to make a circle out of the bag!
  • There was much more – how many things can you think of??

The workshop showed that you don’t have to be limited by resources, only your imagination. The more open-ended a resource, the more uses it can have!


Sheron Kantor – Journey to Mark Making.

Sheron talked about the vestibular (balance) and proproceptive senses (where the body is in space), both so important in the classroom – especially for handwriting. What I was particularly excited about, was the idea of active phonics, as I’ve so often seen children sitting passively on the carpet whilst phonics is being delivered.

  • We were split into 2 teams and given the task of representing a /b/ ‘b’ shape through the use of different props. How could you do this?


Sheron’s impressions of the day


Motor Pathway (Tameside Children’s Centre)

The focus was a move and play project which is delivered to four areas in Tameside in a bid to improve fine and gross motor skills in pre-school children. I did not attend this session but was very interested in it as I believe earlt intervention and support leads to the most positive outcomes!

Why did the project come about?

  • The delivery model was piloted in Ridge Hill and Hattersley in 2014/15
  • An evaluation was completed after 2 years.
  • The findings highlighted that across the pilot areas Fine and Gross Motor skills ASQ results were very low.
  • This was then looked at in other areas within Tameside the same results were found.

Who is chosen?

  • Health teams complete development checks at 2 months, 9 months and 24 months with an age appropriate ASQ
  • If it is highlighted there is a need, they will make a referral into the children’s centre for Move and Play
  • Children’s centre staff send relative information to Parents and carers about the upcoming sessions.

Elaine Wyllie – Daily Mile.

I loved the way the “Daily Mile’ began: by looking at the issue – lack of fitness and using the resources the school had – a field. This echoed Dr Lala Manners’ earlier message, that schools should be looking to the environments they have and utlising them.

As a family, we started a weekly run a few months ago. I have one very active child and a sleepy one! The active child has learnt how to better pace himself, the younger one has learnt to be resilient, not to focus on the discomfort and not to give up. He has noticed his improvements as the weeks have passed.

The Daily Mile is fully inclusive, children all across school access it and do so at their own pace and level. It has led to improvements in health, well being and behaviour. Research on the benefits is due out soon, watch this space!



Stacy Copeland

Stacy Copeland raised awareness around gender equality duing her talk, which began by referencing Kathrine Switzer, the first woman to run in a marathon (illegally).

What overt and implicit messages do we give boys and girls about what is possible and how might we limit their horizons? An inspiring and moving talk about gender, ambition and achieving your goals.

What an amazing end to the day!







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.


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.


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.



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.

%d bloggers like this: