Category Archives: 50 Fantastics

Beautifully Bilingual

I am lucky enough to have grown up within a large extended family rich in language and culture. My father was born in Portsmouth, Southsea with a ‘traditional’ mother and father in the sense that they sat down every Sunday for a roast lunch and forced my dad to attend church even though they never actually went themselves! My mother was born in Nairobi, Kenya and came to England where she met my dad at university and the story goes (as my dad likes to tell it) that my mum was something of a mysterious Indian beauty amongst the students and by the time my dad realised she wasn’t a rich, Hindu princess, they had already married!

My sister and I spent a lot of our school holidays either at my Nanima’s house playing with my cousins or at an Indian wedding, which seem to happen every other week! Hindu weddings are beautiful! Full of music, colour and dancing. And whilst I loved every minute of it, I barely understood anything that was happening as it was all spoken in Hindi, Guajarati or Urdu. As my Nanima also barely spoke any English and my mum herself spoke five different languages, it was decided that I should attend Saturday school and learn to speak, read and write Gujarati. I suddenly found myself in a new environment where I couldn’t understand what anyone was saying or read the workbooks or make friends, as most of the other children either spoke to each other in Gujarati or Hindi. I went home to my parents so upset to be out of my comfort zone that after a few meagre weeks, I eventually quit – something I continue to look back on regretfully.


(Me (in the blue dress) and my beautifully bilingual family at my sisters English/Hindu wedding)

When I give training about teaching children with English with an additional language, I like teachers to experience first-hand what it is like for children new to English by asking them to follow simple instructions given in another language. The feedback is always ‘enlightening’. Imagine yourself in a new country, where you don’t know the spoken or the written language, the culture, the routines, the traditions. How would you navigate? How would you know where the toilets are? Or how to ask for help? This is what it is like for all children with EAL. On top of that, they would be dealing with getting used to having left their old familiar school, home, friends and possible family members – that’s a lot for any adult to deal with, let alone a child.

My advice to teachers is this: do your research! If you know you are about to have a new pupil, try and meet them and their parents beforehand (home visits are great for this). However, as we all know, sometimes you don’t have time to do this and a child suddenly appears in your class first thing Monday morning with no warning or information. So, make the time! Arrange to meet parents as soon as possible, consider that they might need an interpreter too. Find out basic information about the child; how do you pronounce their name? How much English do they understand? What do they like doing? Do they have any dietary requirements? Where are they from? (In Thailand, the head is considered to be the most sacred part of the body and so you should never touch their heads and in some Asian, African and Latin American countries it is deemed disrespectful to look a member of authority such as a teacher, in the eyes). Are they religious? How do you say key survival words or phrases such as toilet, lunch, home, sit, stand, coat on etc?

It is also important to make sure that children with EAL aren’t categorised as being in a low ability group or SEN group (although it is useful to find out from parents if they are concerned about their child’s development or speech in their home language). Many teachers can often mistake a child with EAL’s ‘silent’ phase as being SEN when actually they are simply watching, listening and observing.

An aspect of planning that I often see in schools is where teachers differentiate for ‘SEN/EAL’ – that’s not to say that you might use similar resources e.g. visual aids, but for many children with SEN they need lessons that are broken down in manageable steps and need to take in consideration sensory and physical needs. When working with children that are new to English, you should be thinking about pre-teaching key vocabulary in the form of games and fun activities, repetition, gestures, buddying up with another child or adult that may be able to translate.

My mum was one of the first EAL consultants in Croydon and she would go into schools and support teachers through training, observations and in-class support. Unfortunately today, due to our ever increasing cuts in all things related to the public sector, specialist consultants are few and far between. The feedback I often get from NQTs is that supporting children with EAL is barely covered in teacher training despite this being an area that the majority of new teachers struggle with.

I wanted to create a resource for Early Years teachers that was easy to access and not too ‘wordy’, understanding that teachers’ time is limited. I always loved the ‘50 Fantastic Ideas’ series because it let me dip in and out for new ideas and the activities were usually easy to resource and fun to do. So, I decided to write 50 Fantastic Ideas for Children with EAL. I tried to design the games and activities so that you would use them not as a stand-alone intervention for children with EAL because, as we all know, our time is stretched, but instead you can use them with a whole class or in small groups with children that might need encouragement to build relationships, to enhance their speech, to help with 9781472952639.jpgconfidence and to develop respect and knowledge of other cultures and customs. I recently hosted a network meeting for teachers in Southwark on how to support children with EAL in the class. Afterwards, one of the EYFS consultants said it was one of the highest attended meetings they had held which proves that it continues to be an area where even the most experienced teachers want help in. I hope that my book goes a little towards easing this need.


Natasha Wood has worked in the Early Years for nine years and has built a great breadth of knowledge in child development and play. Her latest book, 50 Fantastic Ideas for Children with EAL, is out now!

Dads Play: The Importance of Engaging Dads in the Early Years

What did you get for Christmas, Dad? Socks? Or a share in your child’s Lego stash?

I painstakingly searched for something not to do with a PS4 for my nephew and found someone who makes traditional card games using modern themes such as fantasy or mindmaps at a local fair in the Upper Norwood Library Hub.

On presenting them to my nephew, thinking I would get a tick from my sister, he looked about for a companion to play the game. The females in the group looked studiously elsewhere and all eyes fell on his grown-up cousin who rose to the card challenge.  (Mum, its complicated. We have to look online for instructions!)  But they managed without Google and soon, they were engaged in the game with deep enthusiasm.

Observing from afar, I noted the differing approach from young and older males (12 and 31) playing together. It reminded me of why I wrote a book about this. It’s definitely beneficial for children to have engaged dads but the benefits of their granddads, uncles and cousins is also important. The way males play together is interesting. There is less talk and a more competitive edge. Men get involved in the activity as partners. They also want to reference it within their repertoire of “great games” or the ones they grew up with and were part of their nostalgic life journey. I noted when our boys were playing together, when young Rory got stuck, he was given time to solve the problem.

Women play differently. We teach, give instructions, oversee, add language, narrate more and support more quickly. The balance of both means that a child is helped to develop positive attitudes and all sorts of skills such as higher order problem-solving skills so necessary for life. These include:

  • Attention Skills
  • Concentration
  • Perseverance
  • Confidence

Dads and men bring different perspectives and expectations to women on a range of issues. They are interested in different things and therefore will enrich children’s skills and knowledge by broadening their horizons. Whether it is film and television programmes, books and activities or just dad jokes, dads can open up wider opportunities, extend language and contribute to deeper conversations whether about building, cars or sport.

In my day job at LEYF,  we are very keen to engage with dads and have noticed that we are much more successful if we suggest games and home learning activities that reflect dads’ interests.


For nurseries and schools, utilising formal programmes like Teens and Toddlers, having male apprentices and staff members, and hosting activities for fathers and male family members are all very important for engaging young boys.

However, as I learned over Christmas, it’s more likely to be successful for everyone when there is a shared interest and a warm environment where together we all nurture and value the boys’ time together.


June O’Sullivan‘s latest book, 50 Fantastic Ideas for Engaging Dads, is out now!

Introducing Bloomsbury Early Years

I have been thinking about ‘blooming’ a lot lately. My friend gave me a succulent two years ago, after she landed a part-time teaching job, as a thank you for my support. I managed to take cuttings and now have four, ready for a small rockery area in my garden. This means I’ve not only had the initial joy of receiving a gift and enjoying it when it was first in my home, but after a patient pause and a little bit of work, the joy of it blooming into several little plants. Here they are!

BEY Succulents.jpg

Bloomsbury Early Years is an exciting and blooming product. The Little Books series has helped numerous Early Years practitioners since they were first published. And now, after a patient pause and a lot of work, the activities from the Little Books are blooming into a library resource that is online and keeps growing, and highly relevant in today’s Early Years settings.

Bloomsbury Early Years is a digital library resource for Early Years practitioners. Its activities are organised by the seven Areas of Learning of the EYFS and can be filtered by age range or type of activity to find the most appropriate activities for your children. The authors are all experienced practitioners who have developed activities across the breadth of the EYFS.

The Early Years Foundation Stage has four guiding, overarching principles: the unique child, positive relationships, enabling environments and children developing and learning in different ways and at different rates. The next steps of learning for each child should be meaningfully based on the child’s own ‘child-initiated’ learning and around their interests. We know practitioners are great at weaving themes so that they encompass children’s fascinations. In the last three weeks of the Summer term, I saw settings where the teacher had digitally photoshopped pictures of a fairy in the classroom outdoor area to ignite the imagination of her class, and another where an Early Years team had constructed a beach (complete with parasols and deckchairs) in their outdoor area – amazing!

When I first stepped into a Reception classroom, as a PPA teacher, I had only a few weeks of background reading and cramming to help me (oh, and the single day I had spent in Reception in my ITT!). In hindsight, I would have been really helped by Bloomsbury Early Years. If I knew that ‘Jayden’ loved outdoor learning and needed to find something that would help him to develop his understanding of number, then I could have found something here. Or if ‘Hannah’s’ understanding of People and Communities would be really enriched by a cooking experience because her family had told me that she spent some of the holidays baking with her aunt. It is in these everyday moments where Bloomsbury Early Years can really help planning learning to specific needs of children, using that personal knowledge of that unique child and linking it with their learning.

And we know this resource can’t stay still, so we are busy finding more great ideas to add to the site throughout the year so that it can grow more and help you, in your setting and in your classroom, to bloom into the best practitioners you can be this school year.

At the moment (Autumn 2018), if you subscribe to Bloomsbury Early Years (whether you are a childminder or a preschool or a nursery or a school), you will receive a free pack of 10 great picture books worth £69.90!

Heather Sargeant is the Digital Projects Assistant for Bloomsbury Early Years.


Embrace the Mess!

Having been on a personal ‘tuff tray’ journey myself, one which opened my eyes to the countless possibilities and benefits associated with using this versatile resource, I felt inspired to share these with others in the sector.


50 Fantastic Ideas for Tuff Trays is a simple guide for those looking for creative, sensory ideas for early years children. The tuff tray activities are linked to learning outcomes and offer next steps for practitioners to take ideas and motivation from.

Sharing my passion for these multi-sensory enhancements was the easy part, however, what the book does not provide the reader with is the aptitude to be able to embrace mess in the setting! Okay, so we work in the early years and we all know that children and mess are two interrelated things. We know it, but do we support it? Are we skilled at it? Do we actually completely allow mess to unfold in our provision? Real mess. The type which involves combining resources, moving items from one space to another, scattering, taking things apart, mixing, tipping and basically creating disorganised chaos. You see, ‘mess’ is a deposit of play and it takes a certain level of expertise to be able to  embrace it!


It may seem like a very simple requirement, yet so many struggle to truly allow the mess to manifest. Take me for example: I like order, organisation and everything in its place! I have this instinctive drive to clear and tidy up. Well unfortunately, order and organisation do not marry well with children in the early years setting which is the reason why we must condition ourselves to embrace the mess.  It is this capacity to allow disarray which will allow you to fully get the most from your tuff tray activities.

During a child’s play, if we continually spend our time ‘tidying up’ after them we are not supporting their work, we are in fact doing them an injustice. We are inadvertently controlling and leading their free play. In our need for neatness we are sending a message that reveals we do not value their innate prerequisite to explore.


It is simple fact that early year’s children like to transfer, transport and combine things. I have never prepared a tuff tray that has not had extra resources added along the way by the children. It’s how they choose to discover, to investigate and to learn. Dinosaurs in the foam soap, teapots in the paint, dolls in the play dough. It is meaningful to them. It’s interesting and the best way for children to acquire new levels of competence.


Albert Einstein stated that “Play is the highest form  of research”! I love this quote and I am fairly certain that he was referring to the child’s own aspirations  to explore and not play discovered in our measured and meticulous need for order and tidiness.

So, how do we obtain this skill? Well firstly we must not have expectations of how things should look or how they should evolve, this way we can never be disappointed when our anticipations are not achieved. Next we must acknowledge that we are indeed the ‘tidy upper’ the ‘put this away first’, the ‘don’t add that to that’ or the ‘everything has a place’ type of practitioner! Once we have done this, we ‘stop!’ It’s that simple. Stop yourself from intervening, instructing or taking over the children’s play. Allow them to work.


Of course, when supervising young children we have to contemplate certain risks so there will always be the ‘clearing for safety’ considerations and every setting will have different challenges such as space, cohort sizes and premises to name a few, but for wherever possible, we must allow the mess or ‘free play’ to unfold. Embrace the untidiness and see the magnificent learning which is going on amongst the disarray. When you do this, your children will truly get the most out of your tuff tray enhancements and provocations.

I hope you enjoy the book and the undoubtable jumble of chaos and wonder!


Sally Wright’s 50 Fantastic Ideas for Tuff Trays is out now!

Saturday Morning Workshop

Jane Vella and Kate Bass, authors of 50 Fantastic Ideas for Exploring Nature, provide some great ideas for getting outdoors with young ones!

We have long been committed to providing a stimulating, learning environment  both inside and out, using natural and open-ended resources. We promote the benefits and importance of a quality outdoor provision both in our own settings and through the training and workshops we have delivered to other Early Years practitioners.

To engage our families in our philosophy we recently invited them to an outdoor Saturday workshop where we provided a carousel of natural based experiences.  Let’s talk you through some of the activities that were on offer that day.

We know that playing with mud offers a great sensory experience. It provides opportunities for experimenting and discovery whilst inspiring creativity and developing gross and fine motor skills. We added pizza boxes, herbs, leaves, bark, orange peel and flower petals to our Mud Kitchen and the children and their families had great fun creating their own mud pizza recipes.

Picture 1

We use pipettes a lot as they encourage the pincer grip needed for writing. Providing an apothecary allowed the children to create their own potions- a multi-sensory experience with plenty of opportunity for language and creative development. Some interesting concoctions were produced including a very exclusive perfume- ‘Tears of Elsa’!

Picture 2

We had a Mandala Design Area in our sandpit and the families were offered a range of small, natural objects to use to help to develop their  hand-eye coordination. Exploring art in this way enables children to develop an understanding of pattern, colour, size, shape and texture.

Picture 3

The children also had a challenge to build a sand castle with a moat and drawbridge which seemed to be a big hit with both the children and their families. By the time we had finished den building, the morning had flown by and a great time was had by all! We received some very positive feedback from the families, all of whom stated that they would try some of the activities at home with their children. Most importantly for us, we were able to model language- using new vocabulary and open ended questions to promote convesation and communication. We were able to explain the benefits and reasoning for each area as they were taking place.

Picture 5

Think about planning a  Saturday  morning workshop in your setting. It means that working mums, dads and the extended family can be part of the child’s learning journey and it can only build on the relationships between the families and school. We based the activities on ideas from our new book and we feel that our families now recognise the importance that we give to outdoor play and how using some natural resources offers a tremendous opportunity for learning.