Category Archives: Early Years

The Power of Telling Our Stories

I was thirty-eight years old when I first visited San Francisco.

Walking against the evening rush-hour we came to rest at a bookstore; my partner Mike submerged himself in historical texts, but my gaze was caught by an untidy pile marked ‘young readers.’

I uncovered a book cover featuring two men seated in a wooden boat; a young boy pictured in front of them feeding two white water birds; the cover read ‘Daddy’s Roommate-written and illustrated by Michael Willhoite.’

Intrigued I began to read…about a boy living between his mother and his father separately. Father had a new roommate (Frank) and together they undertook regular activities: working, sleeping, eating and occasionally having disagreements. Father and Frank took the boy to the beach, zoo and baseball. Later in the book, the boy asked Mother about Father and Frank; Mother explained that they were ‘gay’- simply another form of love. The book ended with the boy’s acknowledgement that since all of his parents were happy, he was happy too.

My tears came suddenly and relentlessly; fortunately Mike spotted it.

‘Are you ok?’ he enquired.

‘I’m thirty-eight years old and for the first time in my life I have read a book that, had I read it as a child, it might have made me feel like I belonged in this world’. I blubbed messily.

At primary school, despite knowing that I fancied Benny (not Frida) from the pop group Abba and Sean Connery (not Ursula Andress) in the film ‘Dr No’, I (like many others), was provided with not a single book at school or at home that helped me understand identity.

My transit through state education was punctuated with homophobia, bullying and beatings, so sustained and overwhelming that my story very nearly ended at the age of seventeen.

Diverse human children must experience diverse stories and role models to feel welcomed, validated, celebrated and natural, yet it took thirty-eight years to see my own experience of life on Earth reflected in any children’s books.

May 17th is the International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia and Transphobia, an opportunity to explore identities histories, experiences and suffering of those who identify as LBGT+ and to stand as allies in the ongoing struggle against hate.

Ten years of facilitating LGBT+ inclusion in schools has shown me that prejudice-related bullying can be targeted at anyone who is perceived as ‘different’. We are all naturally diverse and therefore all potential targets.

In 2009 my primary school uncovered (via pupil data) that 75% of our children were experiencing bullying related to LGBT+ identities, whether or not they identified as LGBT+.

As a school leader I had a simple choice; ignore the data and be negligent or be pro-active.

9781472961501.jpgUnable to source relevant training at primary level I devised an LGBT+ inclusion teacher training programme, delivering it to over one hundred staff. I also sourced books for our classrooms about diverse identities, including ‘Daddy’s Roommate’ the very same book that had once moved me to tears.

 

Shaun Dellenty is an independent education trainer and inspirational keynote speaker who has been working to positively prevent LGBT+ and identity-based prejudice in the UK education system since 2009. His debut book, Celebrating Difference, publishes on 30th May.

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.

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(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!

Poetry in Unexpected Places

When Bob Dylan won the Nobel Prize for Literature, back in 2016, there was a collective gasp from the literary establishment. While some critics leapt to the defence of the Nobel committee’s decision, others devoted reams of newsprint to the inevitable question: ‘Can song lyrics be poetry?’

Back in 2008, the renowned poet Simon Armitage had spoken for many when he confidently asserted that ‘songwriters are not poets’, going on to say that ‘songs are often bad poems. Take the music away and what you’re left with is often an awkward piece of creative writing full of lumpy syllables, cheesy rhymes, exhausted clichés and mixed metaphors’ (and this was in an article in which he professed his love for the Arctic Monkeys. Rather than saying that songs were bad per se, he was suggesting that we take them on their own merits).

It is true to say that few children are exposed to much of what many people would consider true ‘poetry’. ‘Poetry’ can so often be seen as something ‘difficult’, and certainly when I was at school a number of teachers analysed the joy out of it, so that what should have been an enriching experience became a dull one. Syllabuses these days focus less on dead white males than they used to, but nonetheless the notion of ‘poetry’ has, in some circles at least, retained that rather elitist veneer.

But what children are exposed to are songs and rhymes, ranging from skipping rhymes in the playground to the latest rap lyrics (and it is worth noting that Seamus Heaney, himself studied on many school courses, praised the ‘verbal energy’ of rap artist Eminem). Take one of the playground rhymes I learned as a child (chanted while throwing balls against a wall):

‘Please, Miss, my mother, Miss,
Forgot to tell you this, Miss,
That I, Miss, won’t, Miss,
Be in school tomorrow, Miss’.

Doggerel? Perhaps. And yet there’s a lot to learn from it. That repeated use of ‘Miss’, providing the verse with its rhythm. The ‘this, Miss’ – two rhyming words jostling against each other within a line, marking both a rhythmic change and one in the rhyme structure. Or how about the skipping rhyme:

‘On the mountain stands a lady,
Who she is I do not know.
All she wants is gold and silver
All she wants is a nice young man.
All right, [girl’s name], I’ll tell your mother,
Kissing [boy’s name] round the corner!
How many kisses did she give him?
Five, ten, fifteen, twenty…’

Not much poetry in there, you might think, and it’s true it wouldn’t win any prizes (not least because of the appalling sexism of ‘all she wants is a nice young man’, although in its defence we also sang ‘all he wants is a nice young girl’ on the few occasions when the boys joined in).  And yet the words have a strong beat, and the abrupt change in rhythm in the fourth line is one worth noting.

Or take the lyrics from Stormzy’s ‘Blinded by Your Grace’. I can’t pretend I know much about rap music – my main exposure comes from one of the characters in Zadie Smith’s On Beauty who is an aspiring rapper, and his lyrics are very clever (perhaps unsurprising given that they’re in fact written by a prize-winning novelist whose brother is himself a rapper). But here’s Stormzy with some blinding half-rhymes in Blinded by Your Grace:

On the main stage runnin’ ’round topless
I phone Flipz and I tell him that we got this
This is God’s plan, they can never stop this
Like wait right there, could you stop my verse?
You saved this kid and I’m not your first
It’s not by blood and it’s not by birth
But oh my God what a God I serve

Can we not, when learning poetry, note this and learn from this too? The ‘topless’ juxtaposed with ‘got this’ and ‘stop this’ in the next lines? That repeated use of ‘God’ that punctuates the final line that I’ve quoted?

Whether or not such examples are ‘poetry’, is, for me, something of a moot point. Rather than arguing over genre divisions, perhaps we are better off seeing the potential for poetic learning in so much of the ‘verbal energy’, to use Heaney’s phrase, which surrounds us on an everyday basis. Maybe what we should be doing is using children’s lived experiences – through songs, through rap, through rhymes – as a springboard from which to discover other uses of language (while at the same time not falling into the trap of making value judgements about which linguistics usages are ‘better’).

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Bob Dylan famously dithered over accepting the Nobel prize, in part because of his own doubts about whether he deserved it. Perhaps this could be summed up by the oft-quoted (and presumably anonymous) lines ‘I’m a poet and I didn’t even know it’.

But maybe all of us, even young children, can say the same.

‘I’m a poet and I didn’t even know it’.

Precisely.

 

Elli Woollard is a writer of picture books, young fiction and poetry. Her new poetry book for younger children, Perfectly Peculiar Pets, publishes on 21st March 2019 and is available for pre-order now.

 

Resilience Or ‘Bouncebackability’

I have been lucky enough to take the wonderful journey involved in writing a children’s non-fiction book in the areas of wellbeing and emotional health, several times. What I absolutely love about this process is the distillation of all I have researched and learnt over the years into a simply worded text (supported by illustrations). What’s Going On In My Head?, a book about positive mental health for young children, made me embark upon another such journey. I had to consider everything I knew about maintaining mental health – a key component of which is resilience – and put it into simple words.

Resilience is a word that’s been bandied about for a while now with the general understanding that it is one’s ability to deal with and ‘bounce back’ from life’s negative events. There is a fair amount of certainty that it is a good thing and it is so good in fact, we can’t have too much of it. However, even though the term is on most people’s radar, how to increase our resilience is a little more elusive. My book aims to make it less elusive so children can start thinking about and addressing the issues relevant to developing resilience.

In the book I have covered many of the well-known components that contribute to resilience, such as….

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…but I also made a few further reflections relating to resilience that I think are a little less obvious. They are as follows.

Self esteem

I was there at the start of the ‘self-esteem’ movement in schools. I remember running INSET training on the stuff in the early days of the national Curriculum. I would say most people’s understanding was quite primitive back then and more or less amounted to, ‘we must praise the children more.’ We have certainly moved on but I still think there is room for further fine tuning.

I think we focus too much on the positive. Yes, you heard right! I think that genuine self-worth comes from not only enjoying and celebrating our strengths and achievements, but also from the complete acceptance that there are things we are not naturally talented at. It doesn’t mean we can’t practise and get better at those things, but there will always be others who excel in some areas with considerably less effort. (It makes sense therefore that if we have become good at something through exceptional effort, this is indeed praiseworthy). We need children to know that being less than great at some things is absolutely fine.

Emotional literacy

I could go on about emotional literacy for hours. In fact, I do! But a message about emotions that I think we are often being too indirect about or not delivering at all, is that we really do need to stop believing the unrealistic idea that we are meant to be happy all of the time. It’s partly advert and social media culture that promotes this idea. We need to help children understand that negative emotions are to be expected, and as long as we are mentally healthy, they will soon be replaced by another equally transient emotion. Humans experience a huge range of emotions – both comfortable and uncomfortable – and this is how it is meant to be. Negative emotions need to be fully acknowledged, validated and accepted so we can then move on and develop healthy coping strategies for when we are experiencing them.

Coping strategies – rumination

 Rumination – a thought that is bothering us by going round and round in our heads, and our ability to prevent or moderate it can have a huge impact on our mental health. There is no doubt that some people are afflicted with a tendency to ruminate more than others. 9781472959232 (1).jpgHelping children, especially the more anxious ones, to recognise 1) what rumination is, 2) when they are doing it, and 3) what they can do to ‘park’ it, can help maintain positive mental health. What’s Going On Inside My Head? explores all these messages and what’s more, it says it in ‘Kidspeak’!

 

Molly Potter has taught in both mainstream and specialist provision primary schools as well as being a county PSHE advisor. Her new book, What’s Going On Inside My Head?publishes on 21st February 2019 and is available to pre-order 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.

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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!

A Sense of Place: Young Children, Resilience and Climate Justice

“If we don’t take action, the collapse of our civilisations and the extinction of much of the natural world is on the horizon.”- David Attenborough 2018.

Whatever your beliefs, you cannot escape the issue of climate change.  Scientists all over the world agree that this is the greatest disaster facing life on earth. Our mortgages, bank accounts, university educations and insurance policies will not protect us. Personally I flip between anger and the urge to campaign, and the temptation to bury my feelings with mind numbing distractions. I feel fortunate to have young children and nature in my life  –  both of which are huge incentives to stay awake and practice resilience to face the future – whatever it might hold.

I often talk to teachers and carers of young children about how to share this most pressing concern with young children. They are not responsible for climate change and yet it is their generation that will deal with the consequences if we cannot find a way to halt global warming and mitigate its effects on their chances of survival.

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Whether our children become scientists, philosophers or politicians of the future, is it our job as teachers and carers to raise them with the capacity to respond to these central questions:

  • What is it to be human and alive on this planet right now?
  • What is needed of us? How can we lead purposeful lives and leave a legacy of more good than harm?
  • How do we share our journey with young children with courage and fortitude?

Slowing down and shifting perspective

Our increasingly materialistic, technologically-driven busy-ness gives plenty to distract ourselves and our children from reflecting on these central questions.

But simply stepping outside under the sky, feeling the wind or the warmth of the sun on my cheeks and drawing breath can open up space in my mind to think differently.

Nature is my daily resource and it’s accessible wherever I am to support a shift in perspective when needed. Whether it’s stretching my eyes to change the view, tuning into bird song to shift receptivity, finding a sit spot to calm my mind, or going on a ‘no destination’ mindful walk to order my thoughts.

Nature gives children a multi-sensory, multi-dimensional environment in which to develop physical resilience and lay down the neural pathways for lifelong learning.

Children need time to ‘do nothing’ – to daydream as well as to explore their own ‘unadulterated’ lines of enquiry (or play) without interruptions and timetables getting in the way. We can take our cue from Nature’s rhythms, night and day and the changing seasons and weather.  Without electronic white noise, children can experience what quiet feels like and develop their capacity for greater attention. In the absence of bright neon and screen lights they can experience the restfulness of natural light and dark, or the magic of fire light or stars.

Finding the ways to share the hard stuff

When children are very young, we don’t want to overburden them with the troubles of the world. It would be like dumping too much grit on a bed of new seedlings. They need the right amount of water, sunshine and shelter to develop strong roots. But they also do not need to be wrapped in cotton wool. They need gradual exposure with much care, attention and support. Our job is to notice what they need and when.

Outdoors, children will encounter the hard stuff of life – cold, heat, discomfort, impermanence and change, and most likely at some point the death of a bird animal or insect. They will learn through observation, experience and gentle guidance of an adult companion about scarcity and abundance and about impermanence and the joy of sharing and caring.

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Responding to children’s questions with honesty and integrity is important. But mostly we need to listen well. We need to listen to what they themselves are expressing through what Magaluzzi calls ‘the 100 of languages of children’, and be prepared to receive what they communicate. They will tell us when they are ready to hear more.

What can we do about it?

It is through our behaviour that children absorb the values of the culture in which they are born. We can show appreciation for the gifts of nature that sustain our lives. We can learn the names of plants and animals; we can explore the properties and gifts of the earth and air around us. We can develop empathy and alleviate suffering through kindness and fairness. Outdoors children recognise their interdependence with plants, animals, minerals and ether. We can grow food with them, we can harvest water, and we can recycle and save energy.

As teachers and carers we are advocates for young children and their future on earth. The way in which we practice this advocacy will vary according to what feels right for each person. Some will campaign for and against policy locally or nationally, others will focus on teaching children, talking to parents and carers. Most importantly we need to keep learning ourselves, and developing our own resilience practice.

And me? What do I do? When I am outdoors I find it easier to let go of overwhelming feelings of fear, loss, grief and suffering. These difficulties don’t go away but somehow the vastness of the sky and the sea, the rootedness of trees shift my perspective. Outside I often feel smaller but also part of something bigger and eternally changing – a universal dance of light, air, space, ether and life! I draw strength from it.

We owe it to ourselves and young children to advocate for sustainable human life on earth however we can.

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With thanks and with gratitude to our teachers  and companions in life and in work – those that help us find resilience to stand with the challenges that life present us.

 

Annie Davy was Head of Early Years in Oxfordshire where she led an award-winning service for 12 years and is founder and director of several community-based projects. Annie’s book A Sense of Place publishes on 7th February.

All of the images are credited to Schnell Photography.

 

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!

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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.

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My Journey to Writing a Book

I am extremely excited and proud to announce that my first ever book, Wellbeing In The Primary Classroom – A Practical Guide To Teaching Happiness was published on Thursday 6th September, 2018. A dream had finally come true! Except, the reality was that I hadn’t ever really dreamed about writing a book. Ok, so I had thought about it in the past now and then but a dream? No, not really. So, for all you budding writers out there (ones that are dreaming about it and ones that aren’t even aware you will actually write a book one day), here’s how I wrote a book about teaching happiness to children:

  • My ‘quarter-life crisis’

In my late 20s, I experienced a period of acute anxiety which led to a period of depression. Up until that point, I had always been quite a positive and happy-go-lucky type of guy. This was easily one of the most difficult periods of my life but I learned something very important – nothing matters more than your physical and mental health.

  • Researched what happiness isBlog 1

As a result of my ‘quarter-life crisis’, I began to research the causes of anxiety and depression in order to make sense of what had happened to me. In doing so, I also learned about the key factors that contribute to good mental health (regular exercise, good diet, strong personal relationships, a strong sense of purpose, and meditation all help) and began to make changes to my life.

  • Started to practice happiness

The Dalai Lama once said, “Happiness is not something ready-made – it comes from your own actions.” And he’s right. Leading a happy or happier life takes action and effort. Just knowing what contributes to wellbeing doesn’t make you feel any better. So, I signed up to mindfulness courses, I took up weekly sports again, I made space for spending quality time with friends and family and I started journaling. I talked the talk, and I started to walk the walk.

  • Volunteered

A key thing that came up in my research about happiness was that happy tend to volunteer and help others. So, I signed up to become a mentor to a 9-year-old boy at risk of being kicked out of school through the charity, Chance UK. I also took up the offer of a teacher friend who was looking for a governor for the school she taught in. Both of these experiences gave my life a lot more meaning and purpose and had such a profound impact on me that I decided to retrain as a primary school teacher.

  • Realised our education system is broken

Schools are generally not set up to focus on the happiness and wellbeing of their pupils as a primary concern. I learned this through mentoring (the boy I mentored had a school that showed little interest in helping him fit in there) and through my first year as a primary teacher. With such a relentless focus on academic attainment, and the need for children to make rapid progress, children’s emotional concerns are often ignored in favour of the mighty god, ‘Data’!

  • Started to take positive action

Fed up with ‘the system’, I started to make changes to my classroom to integrate some of the things I was using to support my mental health and happiness. I introduced a morning meditation practice, we started exercising daily and I taught my class mini neuroscience lessons about how their brains learn and how ‘happy hormones’ affect their mood. Despite working in a challenging inner-London school, the behaviour of my class improved, their grades went up and they enjoyed being in school more.

  • Learned more and spread the message

I became a passionate advocate for ‘teaching happiness and wellbeing’. I completed more courses in positive psychology, I read more books about neuroscience and Blog 2happiness, and I attended conferences and talks about the science of wellbeing. Every time I learned something new, I’d make subtle tweaks to what I was doing in class. Other teachers in my school noticed the positive impact it was having on my class, so my headteacher gave me staff meeting time to share the research and ideas with my colleagues and also with parents. A charity called Action for Happiness heard about the work I was doing in schools and invited me to speak at one of their events. It happened to be an event where their patron, The Dalai Lama, was also speaking. It was definitely one of the proudest moments of my career, especially because three former pupils spoke on stage in front of the 2,500 capacity audience!

  • Planned to write a book

In all of this research I was doing, I couldn’t find any books that focused on teaching happiness and wellbeing in primary schools. At the Dalai Lama event in September 2015,Blog 3I promised a fellow speaker that I would write a book about teaching happiness to children. It wasn’t until World Book Day, March 2016, as my class were writing stories to go with their comic strip drawings, I took the template they were using and sketched out the chapter plan for my book.

  • Wrote a book about teaching happiness to children

I then did what most people do which is procrastinate. I filed the book plan away somewhere and forgot all about it. Around November 2016, I rediscovered and thought to myself, ‘Sod it, why not?’ and I began writing the introduction. I then wrote two more chapters and got my wife to read them. My wife is a fantastic writer. She has a Masters in English. I was extremely nervous about what she would think. ‘I love it! It’s brilliant!’ was her only feedback. Having a cheerleader when you write is very helpful!

  • Published a book about teaching happiness to children

It took a chance conversation with my best friend at Christmas, 2016. I told him I’d started to write a book and that I might approach Bloomsbury. ‘I know someone that works there!’ he replied and before I could procrastinate for another six months, he’d emailed his friend, told her about my book and that was it. His friend at Bloomsbury asked for a paragraph summary. She forwarded it to the commissioning editor who liked my idea and asked me to fill in their book proposal form. It got approved and then sent out for review (to see if teachers would actually buy it) and it passed that test, and then it went to the editorial board meeting. Blog 4In April 2017, I signed a contract to write my book about teaching happiness to children. I submitted the finished book December 2017, a few rounds of edits in early 2018 and then my editor, Hannah, (pictured with me above) handed me my first printed copied in July 2018.

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If I can do it…

So, that’s how I wrote a book about teaching happiness to children! There’s nothing special about me as a writer. Yes, I enjoy writing. Yes, I have an English degree so reading and writing was a big part of my higher education but, ultimately, I’m just a primary school teacher with a passion for teaching children how to look after themselves and each other.

If you’d like to be a writer too, my advice is: you need passion, a plan, and some luck.

 

Adrian Bethune‘s debut book, Wellbeing in the Primary Classroom, is out now.

How to be an Outstanding Nursery Leader

Being a successful leader takes time and commitment. Leaders need to learn the ropes and be on top of their game in order to motivate and inspire their team. But being a successful nursery leader brings with it a whole host of different challenges.

As a nursery leader you are not just leading a team, you are leading a team who is responsible for helping to bring up our next generation and you only have one shot at it so you have to get it right!

Leadership isn’t something that comes naturally to everyone. I know, because I have spent years trying to perfect it and can honestly say I am still learning.  Just as I think I have the ‘perfect’ team, someone goes on maternity leave and I have to go back to the drawing board again!  Just as my team have got to grips with one set of Standards, Ofsted, in their infinite wisdom, decide to update them and, just as we have settled the most introverted child into the toddler room, his parents announce they are moving out of the area!

Challenges occur daily and the nursery leader must rise to these challenges and perfect the impossible to ensure the smooth running of the setting.

The outstanding nursery leader will need to wear many hats throughout the course of the day as I have explained in my book How To Be An Outstanding Nursery Leader.

  • Role model
  • Mediator
  • Counselor
  • Teacher
  • Friend
  • Boss

Knowing when to wear each hat can be a challenge in itself.  You might find yourself wanting to play the role of friend when a member of staff telephones in tears to say she will be late in for the third time this week because she has slept in and, despite her obvious despair, you know you need to put on your boss hat and tell her to get her act together and buy an alarm clock like everyone else!  Sometimes a nursery manager has to say things that staff don’t want to hear and it won’t make you popular. However it will, if done correctly, gain you respect.

Respect, well what can I say?  A small word with huge definition! Respect has to be learned, it cannot be commanded. However, earning respect takes time and patience.  You will need to prove yourself to your team; you will need to give them confidence in your abilities and show them that you are in it for the long haul. Your commitment, drive, passion and enthusiasm must be apparent all day every day and, when staff are feeling demotivated and downhearted, you will be the one to bring them back to life!

But being a manager isn’t all about long hours, enormous pressure, worry and the constant fear of an Ofsted inspection, there are some good points as well.  What are these I hear you ask? Well there is pride when your team gets the outstanding recognition from Ofsted that you’ve all been working so hard for.  There is camaraderie – the mutual trust and friendship brought about by a team that spends a lot of time together and supporting each other. There is passion for the job well done and most importantly, there is the love in every little face that looks to you for reassurance and support – staff and children alike!!

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Having spent such a long time in the early years sector, I am now finding myself enrolling the children of the children I used to care for decades ago and, although this makes me feel very old, it also makes me feel enormously lucky to have been such a valued part of each child’s family that has crossed my path and for that I can place no value, it has simply been and continues to be an enormous pleasure.  This is a not a privilege afforded to many!

 

Allison Lee owns three day nurseries and a training centre, and her latest book, How to be an Outstanding Nursery Leader, is out now.

And Another Thing…

One of the many joys of being a children’s author is fan mail. From painstaking prose in elegant cursive to almost illegible print (not unlike my own scatty hand), they delight and fascinate and rarely fail to make me smile. Even the ones that pick me up on typos or factual errors (I know now that Viennetta was NOT invented until the 1980s and that you do NOT get Bounty bars in a Mars selection box). Until, a year or so ago, this landed on my doormat.

 

Well, why indeed? I wondered. Or rather, why not? Because, was that actually a rule? And, if so, why? And, oh, hang on, I’ve just done it again.

So I thought about it. And I thought about it some more. And I realised a couple of things:

Firstly, that I’m of a generation that missed out on grammar lessons at school. I say missed out, but, what I really mean is, we weren’t taught the rules, just to read, and then encouraged to write our own stories. And we’ve done okay overall.

But, secondly, that I’m a trained proof and copy editor, and a former government speechwriter and journalist, and not once have I ever pulled anyone up or been pulled up on this. Because, and here’s the thing: It doesn’t matter. It doesn’t change the sense of a sentence. It isn’t grammatically incorrect. What matters is the story. What matters is imagination. What matters is making the words work best. And if that means starting a sentence with an ‘and’, then so be it.

And so I wrote back:

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The letters went viral – a few po-faced people disagreed, but in the main the support from teachers and parents (in the middle of dealing with SATS and the horror that is SPAG) was overwhelming. And so I’ve done it again. And again. And again.

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In It Wasn’t Me, my new Bloomsbury Young Reader, I’ve counted seven in Chapter One alone, not including the dialogue. I may also have used a comma splice. I may even have split an infinitive somewhere. I’ve certainly not ‘displayed my knowledge’ of semi-colons or used a plethora of ‘wow words’. What I have done is used my imagination, in a story that is all about thinking big, and thinking wild, as Alfie blames all his misdemeanors on a gremlin called Dave, whom he claims lives in his sock drawer. Admittedly, Alfie gets his comeuppance for telling big hairy whoppers when Dave appears and causes real mischief and mayhem. But, throughout, we side with him, understanding the urge to tell stories, to break rules, to do it our way. The pay-off being that,Joanna Nadin- Alfie while Alfie fesses up, he doesn’t entirely mend his ways.

And nor should our young readers and writers. Let them break grammar rules. Let them mis-spell. Let them use capitals in the wrong places. Above all, let them loose their imaginations and fall in love with story itself. The rules and boundaries – the necessary ones – can come later. But for now, words should be playthings. For some of us – the lucky ones – they will remain so forever.

 

Joanna Nadin is a former broadcast journalist, speechwriter and special adviser to the Prime Minister. Since leaving politics, Joanna has written more than 70 books for children and teenagers, including the award-winning Penny Dreadful series, the best-selling Flying Fergus series with Olympic champion Sir Chris Hoy.

Her new book, It Wasn’t Me: A Bloomsbury Young Reader, publishes on 18th October 2018.