Category Archives: Fun

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….

Molly's Blog

…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.

Igniting Dylan’s Writing

Dylan doesn’t like writing. His teacher makes him write and then he has to go back and correct mistakes. So, he tries to write as little as possible. He can’t wait to be “finished”. And she makes him “do spellings”. This is difficult for Dylan because he doesn’t talk or read much at home, so he doesn’t encounter as many words as his peers. He doesn’t know what half the words mean, anyway. His latest piece of writing is about 18th Century smugglers, whatever that means. There’s a smuggler museum in his home town of Hastings but Dylan has never been. In fact, he’s never been to the beach, even though it’s only 3 miles away. So, his writing about smugglers lacks context and understanding. Dylan is like many pupils, who associate writing with failure, doing corrections and feeling pretty miserable about themselves.

Dylan is burdened with all sorts of labels at his school, but perhaps the best label would be that he is an able pupil who, at this stage, hasn’t had the same opportunities as his label-free friends. In my experience as a teacher, consultant, headteacher and writing moderator, there are plenty of Dylans out there. If we’re not careful, their experience of writing in the formative years will restrict their progress and overall prospects. Which is inexcusable – because the Dylans of the world have the same potential as anyone in their class.

What does Dylan need? He needs his teacher to look at things a different way. Rather than getting Dylan to launch headlong into writing and then take a soul-destroying look back at things he’s done wrong, the teacher needs to deliver teaching sequences which support Dylan to build up a piece of writing, layer upon layer, with the skills of writing, reading, spelling, talking and listening embedded within. Dylan, like any pupil, needs to make mistakes (or how will he learn anything new?) but he needs to make them as part of a journey through word-level activities, into reading tasks, through drafting “messy” writing by exploring different writing choices, into edited and polished writing – which he can review proudly.

I’ve been working with Dylans for many years and have used my experience to create a sequence containing all the key ingredients for brilliant writing – the WRITER sequence. My new book – Igniting Children’s Writing contains 50 tried-and-tested activities, organised into the sequence, to get pupils thinking brilliantly about their writing.

Take Dylan’s Smugglers piece. Imagine if, over a couple of weeks, he experienced the following sequence:

Work on Words: Dylan gets to read paintings of smugglers, explore maps and talk about the history of smuggling in Hastings. He doesn’t realise it, but by talking about what smugglers wore, their dastardly deeds and where they did them, Dylan is practising all sorts of grammar and encountering new vocabulary. He might even get to go to the Smuggler Museum – and see the sea! The words he’s encountering are displayed on the wall, so he’s already learning to spell them correctly.

Read as a Writer: The class starts to read Moonfleet. Key passages are studied closely and Dylan gets to use different reading skills, such as skimming and scanning for key information and terminology, or thinking about what he learns from the characters based on the things they say and how they speak. He loves the quizzes that the teacher sets after they listen to a scene from the audiobook.

Investigate Writing Choices Together: Dylan hates grammar worksheets (These still have their place, of course – the bin) but now he’s working with pairs and groups to think about the grammar choices a good writer makes. He joins in with some shared writing to practise some of the grammar, which he helps to present to the class.

Try-Out individual Choices: The teacher catches Dylan reading the next chapter of Moonfleet before school. He’s had a good few days and feels ready to draft out his only piece of writing: he’s decided to write a “drop in” scene, featuring an encounter with the ghost of Colonel John “Blackbeard” Mohune. Dylan is hooked by the story of the King’s diamond, which, legend has it, was stolen by Blackbeard. Dylan uses a thinking map to plan his scene and includes key words and phrases. He’s thought of topic sentences of each of his paragraphs. He writes a draft – a first attempt. He’s given the ghost “a burnished, gold locket, which contains the hurriedly-scrawled location of the diamond”. He likes that.

Edit, Perform and Publish: Dylan can’t be finished yet, because everyone in the class has only produced a draft. His partner and the teacher give Dylan some feedback and he’s ready to edit and improve. He tries writing some of his sentences differently. He changes some words. He takes other words out completely because they’re not needed. Because the class is putting together a Smuggler Writing Collection, he makes some final changes and “writes up” in his best handwriting, within the Smuggler border he’s drawn in Art – with maps and lockets and the ghost of Blackbeard.

Review Key Learning: Although he won’t admit it, Dylan is pleased with his writing and he’s asked to review what helped him to write well. He decides that using the Spellzone display, and planning the paragraphs, were the most helpful.

Dylan still says he doesn’t like writing, but secretly, he’s starting to feel the buzz of success and creative pride. He hopes that Mum will see his writing on Parents’ Evening. And he can’t wait to see where that Ghost has hidden the diamond.9781472951588 (1).jpg

Mark McCaughan is an experienced senior leader and local authority consultant. He has taken on whole-school, subject and pastoral leadership throughout three ‘Outstanding’ Ofsted inspections and is currently supporting schools where performance was low in the Reading SATs and using the activities provided in Igniting Children’s Writing to great effect.

Mark loves supporting schools to get pupils thinking brilliantly and can be contacted at

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!

Summer relaxation tips from the Bloomsbury Education team (includes cake, gin, dancing and…biscuits!)

So, you’ve made it through the school year, you’re still standing, and you’re planning on returning to the classroom in the autumn (at least we presume you are if you’re reading this blog). Well done!

At Bloomsbury Education we know how hard teachers work, and so we’ve put our heads together to share nine tips that we use that we hope will help you relax this summer.

1376334_10100750573741613_1317165519_n1. Emily K – Cycling
One of my favourite ways to relax is to cycle. I love planning routes in the countryside (I lie, my husband plans them) and going out with friends. You have to get the balance right though. It might be fun to pretend you’re a pro cyclist and throw in a challenging hill or two, but there absolutely must be either a pub lunch or coffee and cake involved. Exploring new and beautiful places and catching up with friends is a great way to switch off.

IMG_25772. Helen – Gardening (and gin)

For me, it’s a spot of gardening accompanied by a delicious gin and tonic made with elderflower cordial! Add the cordial to the gin, pop in some ice and mint, and then top up with tonic. Perfect for that end of day, relaxing in the garden moment…

3. The Music Team (A.K.A. Rachel, Flora, Milly and Philippa) – Listen to some classical music

The summer is Proms season; so get involved with the world’s largest classical music festival. Whether or not you can make an event at London’s Royal Albert Hall, you can listen on the wireless or watch on TV. From Bollywood and Bhangra to Sondheim and Schoenberg, there will be something to transport you away from the day to day. Our music team picks include: The John Wilson Orchestra performing Frank Sinatra; Evelyn Glennie alongside pianist Philip Smith; Bryn Terfel in Fiddler on the Roof, and Monteverdi’s Orfeo under John Eliot Gardiner. Enjoy!

228548_10151046309988722_1220889285_n4. Emily L – Climbing
How about trying a new sport or going a bit out of your comfort zone – I go climbing at an indoor bouldering centre. It’s a good way to switch off, it’s surprisingly energising and it’s good exercise. Plus it’s a good way to take out your energy in a friendly competition with the other climbers/willing housemates.

5. Holly – Dancing
One thing that I do when I want to relax is YouTube music video dance routines and learn them! It is a great bit of exercise, you get a real feeling of achievement when you have learnt it, and you are concentrating so hard on learning the steps that you forget about any work worries you may have previously been fretting about.

My favourite is Beyoncé Single Ladies:

Make sure you close your sitting room curtains before making a start if you get stage fright!

fox6. Rhiannon – Painting
I relax by painting as many woodland creatures as I can – painting pictures of them, as opposed to running after squirrels with a paintbrush.

Turn on some chilled music, put on some slacks and get creative! And if you need to vent your frustration, grab a huge sheet of canvas, go outside on a sunny day and flick paint EVERYWHERE. Cathartic. (And your neighbour’s fence definitely needed brightening up.)

Claire running7. Claire – Running
One thing that relaxes me without failure is running! There’s nothing like ‘pounding the pavement’ to empty the head and unwind. Dodging through the sea of the London workers crossing Waterloo Bridge can be a bit stressful, but it just gives you a reason to run even faster. AND you get to eat cake afterwards and not feel guilty. It’s a win-win situation.

Warning, running in the rain can make your face look like this. BUT you do get to buy some pretty amazing shoes!

8. Hannah – Baking
One thing I like to do when I need to relax is a spot of baking. Here is a recipe for old-fashioned ginger biscuits.

• 1 lb / 450 g plain flour
• 5 oz / 140 g butter
• 8 oz / 225 g black treacle
• 8 oz / 225 g sugar
• 2 teaspoons ground ginger
• 2 oz chopped crystallised or stem ginger
• 1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
• 1 egg

Preheat the oven to 180 degrees / gas mark 4. Sieve the flour, ground ginger, and bicarbonate of soda together. Rub the fat into the flour, and then mix in the sugar. Add the treacle, stem or crystallised ginger, and the egg and mix everything together.

Line a baking tray with baking parchment and blob desert spoon sized lumps of mixture onto it. Bake for 10 -15 mins, and dig in!

FullSizeRender9. Isobel – Reading
We’re all bookworms here (as you’d expect those working at a publishing house to be), therefore my ‘tip’ to help you relax is READ A BOOK, or two or three…

Immersing yourself in a good book is a fantastic way to switch off. You’re temporarily transported to another world, and consumed with the lives of the characters, which is a great way to forget about the stress of your own.

If you’re in need of some suggestions, I have just finished Stephan Kelman’s thought-provoking second novel, Man on Fire, and Ali Smith’s weird, but wonderfully witty How to Be Both. These two novels are completely different, but both fab! I am about to begin Harper Lee’s globally anticipated Go Set A Watchman, and am hoping (praying) that it will live up to the magnificence of To Kill a Mockingbird. (If that’s even possible – I will report at a later date…)

So there you have it, nine wonderful suggestions to help you wind down this summer, and surface refreshed and raring to go when September rolls around. Enjoy!