Tag Archives: Alistair Bryce-Clegg

Meeting Alistair Bryce-Clegg

We’ve just attended Childcare Expo in Manchester, and had the privilege of Alistair Bryce-Clegg signing copies of his bestselling book Best Practice in the Early Years and books in the 50 Fantastic Ideas series on our stand.

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To celebrate, we’re continuing our Summer Offer on all Featherstone Early Years books until the end of June! Receive 30% off all of our books with code Feather30 at the checkout.

If you missed Alistair at Childcare Expo, then check out his website abcdoes.com  for lots of fantastic tips on working in the early years, and his brilliant Ted Talk from TEDxNorwichED below.


Early Mark Making. Alistair Bryce-Clegg

Author photo Alistair Bryce-CleggThere is so much more to writing than a pencil or a pen, but often we feel under pressure to make sure that children have a mark-making implement entwined between their chubby fingers at all times – just in case we miss an opportunity to mark make or write!

Mark making is something that comes naturally to us as human beings. Even young children, from the first, most humble squiggle love to leave a mark! They might be mark making with their finger in leftover bean juice on a highchair tray or picking up a stick and trailing it through sand or mud. Either way they are not on a self-initiated mission to correctly complete the cursive alphabet – they are just enjoying the process of mark making. (In my case I really did enjoy the process of mark making on all of the skirting boards in my parent’s bedroom with a variety of my mother’s lipsticks! Needless to say they weren’t pleased – I was only expressing myself through the medium of mark making for goodness sake!)

13. PVA in a builder's tray

There is so much more that children need to experience before they even think about turning their marks into writing.

The first and most important skill that children need to be equipped with to be successful writers is the ability to talk. All that writing is, is talk that comes out of the end of their pencil rather than their mouth. So, if you cannot talk it, you cannot write it (unless you are copying!). Often too much time is spent on the ‘how’ of writing and not nearly enough time on the ‘what’. Children need lots and lots of opportunities to talk and to experience that talk in a variety of ways. The more talk that they can engage in then the more language they will come across. The more familiar language that they have in their heads then the more diverse their writing will be.

Deconstructed role play

You can have the most beautifully formed handwriting in the world, but if you have nothing to write about then that is where you will get stuck. This brings us on nicely to another important element of early mark making and writing – the ‘physical’ bit. You are not born being able to write – it is a skill that you have to practise and develop over time.

Different children develop their ability to manipulate their mark-making tools at different times. It is REALLY important that we don’t push children too hard, too soon and in the wrong direction as that can put them off for good (especially boys, who tend to develop their physical dexterity a little later).

Soil tray

Of course, when we crawled out of the primeval ooze many millions of years ago, we didn’t have an immediate need to write a ‘to do’ list. We were too busy evolving. So, writing is not an innate basic human instinct. To enable us to evolve we developed our ability to gather food and create and manipulate tools. It is these physical developments that we now use to manipulate our ‘writing’ tools. As our muscles grow and develop, so does our level of dexterity. We start off as very young children with lots of gross motor physical movement and gradually, with practise, refinement and growth, that gross motor movement becomes fine motor movement. We are then able to use the joints within our arms and fingers and the muscles and tendons within our hands to allow us to grip and move with far greater dexterity.

As adults supporting early mark makers it is vital that we recognise each stage of a child’s physical development and make sure that not only have they got lots of opportunities to make the appropriate type of marks, but also that the environment that we create is full of other resources that will help them to consolidate their skills and develop them further.


Most children start their mark-making journey by using a palm grip (nice and tight) and they tend to have a large range of movement that comes from their shoulder. I would refer to these children as ‘shoulder pivoters’. If you know that you have got some children that are pivoting from the shoulder and making large scale gross motor movements, then you need to put in place lots of large mark-making spaces where children can really consolidate their pivot before moving on.

If we can give our children lots to talk about and plenty of opportunities to talk, combined with lots of activities and appropriate spaces to help them to develop their pivot and grip – we will have a recipe for lots of successful and happy writers. We might save a few lipsticks and skirting boards while we are at it!


More information about mark making and writing development is available in Alistair’s book Getting Ready to Write and for some more practical ideas for your mark makers try 50 Fantastic ideas for Mark Making.

Alistair is a popular Early Years consultant and ex-headteacher dedicated to helping settings enhance their EYFS practice. He works with individuals, settings and local authorities both nationally and internationally. His latest books in the 50 Fantastic Ideas series are designed to inspire children on the road to writing.

Follow Alistair @ABCDoes
Read Alistair’s blog, ABC Does

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Herding cats whilst juggling with ferrets – why would anyone want to work in Early Years? Alistair Bryce-Clegg

Author Alistair Bryce-CleggYoung children are truly remarkable beings and masters of ‘the unexpected’. There is one thing that you can be certain of when you work in Early Years and that is, that you can never be certain of anything! Like the moment when you have them eating out of the palm of your hand, gazing at you wide eyed as you deliver pearls of wisdom, and then from amongst the crowd a hand slowly rises. You pause with anticipation, waiting for confirmation that you are indeed the World’s best teacher and that this child is going to utter a statement of learning and understanding – only to be met with the phrase ‘My Granddad’s dead’. Just three little words that can completely kill a moment! Of course no matter what you were talking about, it is not going to be as interesting as death. Usually at this point on your carpet, the children will engage in a ‘dead-off’ each of them trying to outdo the others with the deaths of pets and relatives. It takes a skilled practitioner to be able to Segway from death to ‘Five Little Speckled Frogs’. Difficult, but not impossible!

It is in the very impetuous and inquisitive nature of little children that their potential for learning lies. The more we learn to embrace and enhance their ‘uniqueness’, the more we can enable them to pursue their interests and engage in learning. After all, it’s high-level engagement that will result in high-level attainment. When children are happy and secure they can focus all of their energy on being inquisitive. If they are unhappy, upset or bored then their brains are more focussed on resolving those issues than on exploring the world around them.


Sometimes as an adult, I think that we impose our agenda for learning on children a little too much and that this can result in children switching off, disengaging, fiddling with the person next to them – or usually in the case of boys – fiddling with themselves! The more experience I have in working across the very diverse Early Years sector, the more I am convinced that the more child- initiated we can make learning the more success that we will all have (children and adults).

As a teacher I was completely topic driven and I LOVED it! A topic meant that you could theme everything to one interest or subject and on the whole that made things significantly easier when it came to planning and resourcing. But… the problem with a topic is that it can be too focussed.
It is one thing when as an adult you talk to your children about a subject – a good Early Years Practitioner can make anything sound exciting (with or without the use of a feely bag and some whispering!). It is not the adult-led aspect of a topic that is the issue. It is what the children are expected to do when they leave the adult and enter the realm of their own learning. They may well have loved it when you were regaling them with tales of planets, rockets and space travellers but when they get to the malleable materials area – why do they have to make a planet out of dough? When they get to the junk modelling area – why do they have to make a rocket or complete a writing frame around a journey into space before having to paint stars onto black sugar paper with white paint?

As practitioners we need to think about why we create the areas of provision that we create and what it is that we want children to learn and experience as they work and play in them.
If we are encouraging our children to develop dexterity in the dough then does it matter if they don’t make a planet? If we are teaching them a variety of joining and construction skills in the junk modelling area, do they have to build a rocket? If we want them to mark make or write, do they have to write about space? Of course the answer to all of the above is ‘no’!

When we are planning for children’s learning we need to think of the topic as a stimulus or an enhancement to continuous provision. What is more important is that we clearly identify what it is that our children need to learn and then plan for how we can use our environment and their interests to teach them those next steps and allow them to consolidate and apply the new skills that they have acquired.

So next time you are planning a topic, keep it to your carpet session and your direct input. Plan your continuous provision for skill development and purpose and then enhance it with children’s interests, what you are teaching (basic skills) and what you are talking about (topic). That way you have the most potential to maximise opportunities for learning and engagement and keep fiddling fingers occupied!

Best Practice in the Early Years bookAlistair is a popular Early Years Consultant and ex-headteacher dedicated to helping settings enhance their EYFS practice. He works with individuals, settings and local authorities both nationally and internationally. His latest book Best Practice in the Early Years contains lots of activities and techniques written in his creative and witty style. Click here to find out more.