Tag Archives: Early Years

Celebrating 100 Little Books!


By Phill and Sally Featherstone

How should we say goodbye to Little Books?

Maybe we should start at the beginning. In 2000 the first Early Years Foundation Stage guidance was published, clearly establishing that the Reception year was part of the early years, and not just the first stage of primary education. Previously, practitioners working in Reception classes had no clear guidance about how they should plan the curriculum, or what the entitlement curriculum might look for children between 3 and 5.

The birth of an idea

It was around this time and to meet these new needs that we (Phill and Sally Featherstone) started Featherstone Education. Sally was then working as a consultant and trainer in early years education, trying to help practitioners to get to grips with the new curriculum. She produced almost all the early Featherstone materials, including the first Little Books. Phill managed the day-to-day business, including production and marketing, and edited many of the titlelb_woodlands_16s we produced.

Early in 2001 Sally was on her way back from training in a school in East Anglia. She stopped for a sandwich in a layby, and while she sat looking out over the Lincolnshire fields she thought about the people she had just been working with and what they had been discussing: i.e. how to manage the emerging demands of the new legislation while hanging on to the best of what they were already doing. The germ of an ilb_numbers-aw1dea came to her, an idea for books for practitioners that would show them how they could build on their existing good practice to meet the requirements of the new Early Years Curriculum. These would be small enough to go in a practitioner’s bag, and would be bound so they would sit flat on a table while they worked with the children. They would be little books, but they would promote big ideas. The concept and title for the series were born. So was the strap line – Little Books with BIG Ideas.

An idea becomes a series

Featherstone Education began to produce more titles. Most of the early ones were written by Sally, but an ever-expanding group of other writers later contributed to the series. Many were practitioners, and all were knowledgeable about the early years, able to connect interesting ideas and good practice into new titles. Phill designed the covers, featuring un-posed photos of real children doing real things in real settings, and these became part of the Little Book identity. The demand was great, and so we set ourselves the target of producing a new book every month (ten titles a year – there were no new ones in the summer months). This pace of production, extremely challenging for a small company, continued until 2008, when Featherstone Education was acquired by Bloomsbury.

Illustrations at this stage were also carefully commissioned to reflect the principles of the series, and as every page was illustrated this was a key feature. Some of the early writers illustrated p14their own books, and friends and family were roped in to help before we could afford to employ professional illustrators.

The new era and a final goodbye

Bloomsbury Publishing continued the Little Books series, and 40 more titles have been added. The most recent title, the 100th (The Little Book of Talk), continues the tradition of taking familiar activities, giving them a twist, and linking them to a focus for early years practitioners.

Little Books have been a continuing success and we are proud of them. They are valued by practitioners and their managers and advisers, and have been used in many thousands of settings across the UK and abroad. We are sure they will remain what a practitioner once described as her constant backstop, as she said, ‘Whenever I am stuck for an idea, or wondering what to do on Monday, Little Books are there to help me’.

We wish Bloomsbury Publishing, all the users of Little Books and the chwoodland_generalildren with whom they work the very best for the future.

 Sally Featherstone has a wealth of experience as a teacher, head teacher and a local authority adviser and inspector. In recent years, alongside her activities in publishing, Sally built a national reputation as a trainer and consultant in the Primary and Early Years field. She is currently concentrating on expanding her writing about learning in the early years.

Phill Featherstone has been a teacher, local authority adviser and OFSTED inspector. He now spends his time on conservation work around the pennine farmhouse where he and Sally live, and on writing fiction. His first novel, ‘Paradise Girl’ will be published at the end of January.

To celebrate 100 Little Books, we are offering 35% off when you buy any 4 titles in the series! For more details visit: http://www.bloomsbury.com/uk/superpage/littlebooks/


Ten Stress Busting Tips From James Hilton

Welcome back to the start of the school year, we hope that most of you aren’t feeling the stress yet but it is always good to have a few tricks up you sleeve for when the pressure does start to creep up on you. Keep these top ten tips from James Hilton, author of Leading From the Edge, in mind and hopefully you’ll be able to help yourself feel in a better frame of mind.


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James Hilton is a former headteacher working as a conference speaker and author, specialising in leadership, stress management and positive psychology. He applies his experience of human leadership to inspire a wide range of clients including school leaders, the NHS, local government and businesses. James provides fresh insights into the challenges of leadership in the intense environment that is the modern workplace.

It’s time to… Discover Maths!

By Trudi Fitzhenry and Karen Murphy, authors of the award-winning Time to… Featherstone Early Years series

Creating a positive maths mindset in young children is part of the reason for writing this book.  As early educators we model many of the attitudes and beliefs that young children absorb.  In our experience of supporting early years staff in a range of settings,  many of the adults we work with have a deep reluctance to engage with maths based on their own unhappy experiences of the subject in the past.  If we can offer ideas for making maths fun and remove some of the potential misconceptions held by maths-anxious adults then our youngest learners will benefit!

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Having the confidence to play with maths concepts in an open way, without the fear of being ‘wrong’, is crucial.  A fun way of introducing a maths problem is to allow the children to become the experts and you, as the adult, let their enquiries lead the learning.  So if you are looking at the number 5, you might ask ‘What do you know about the number 5?  Can anyone show me what 5 looks like?’  The children may place 5 objects together or may write the digit 5.  They may draw 5 spots on a whiteboard or show you 5 fingers.  All of the responses are welcomed and valued.  Encourage further sharing of ideas by asking ‘What else can we do to show 5?  Does anyone have another idea?’  Collect all of the children’s ideas and examples and create a book of 5, including songs and rhymes and simple calculations should these begin to appear.

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Taking maths learning outside is a powerful way of engaging children both in the natural world around them and in the natural patterns that exist.  Looking at flowers that grow around your setting allows children to compare petal shapes and quantities.  They can ask their friends which colours they prefer and create a simple tally or chart.  Collecting twigs, cones or leaves to use in a repeating pattern or as tools for counting or measuring engages the children in a worthwhile pursuit.  Looking for the tallest sunflower or widest branch, or seeing who can make the longest daisy chain adds a sense of competition that young children love!

Our message is simple.  If the children see us as adults engaging in exciting maths activities and hear us asking questions and following a simple line of enquiry, they will learn that curiosity is a good thing.  If we share our misconceptions and how we have figured out a solution to a problem, they will learn that this is okay, too.  With this kind of encouragement we can grow a new generation of maths-confident children and lose the all too common fear of maths that many adults share.


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.


The Games We Play

Simon Macdonald, author of The Little Book of Team Games, explains the importance of games in the early years. 

This Little Book focuses on encouraging emphasis on ‘togetherness’: a move away from the individual and towards the collective. Children in early years settings are faced with huge challenges regarding socialisation, sharing and growing in responsibility, and this book provides excellent opportunities for them and their carers to address these issues through team play.

I guess that I have always loved games.  For as long as I can remember I have always wanted to play them.  And I’m not picky.  Any kind of game will do.  The joy of game-playing is that once the rules have been learnt and mastered – or, frequently in my case, not – then there will always be another game along in a little while.  Or an old favourite.  Or a completely invented and arbitrary one.  Whatever it is that draws us towards playing games against someone else or in teams, I would argue that the feeling is something collective and shared: we want to challenge ourselves, test our mettle, push ourselves, but, overwhelmingly and perhaps more tellingly, we want to have fun and we want to have fun with each other.

The Little Book of Team Games is my attempt at acknowledging their value while being only too aware of the c-word lurking in the background.  Competitiveness has become a byword for all the evil excesses of team sports – and I share many of these doubts about the suitability of team game playing for young children especially when the role models they are shown can often behave rather badly when put to the test.  But I would argue that the extreme alternative of Sports Day events that dilute the need to compete at all – the following are ‘real games’ that I have witnessed at first hand: Walking Slowly, Hanging the Washing on the Line, and Sleeping Lions – do something far worse.  They dismiss the sense of taking part as a collective and cheering each other on as well as the sense of achievement a team may feel in doing well at something.

Yes, let’s not teach ourselves to win at any cost; to not only beat our opponents but to grind them into the dirt, but let’s encourage those who can run, throw, jump, catch, dribble and so on so that these skills are seen and valued as something to be proud of and, that we, as a team, are right behind each other.


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.

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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’!

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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.

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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.

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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.