I have just spent a fabulous weekend at the wedding of my niece. It was so romantic and beautiful, not a dry eye in the house (or marquee). As always, there are members of the family you haven’t seen for years. So great to catch up with them. Today (the day after the big day) of I’m tired but thinking fondly about yesterday’s events. I was very touched that so many people remembered my Mother fondly (she died from cancer some years ago) and wished she was with us in person.

Family, one of our most influential groups we will ever belong to. As Early Years practitioners we have the privalidege of working with families and all their variable dimensions.  Not only do we work with them professionally, discussing their child’s development, but we often get insight into their personal family lives, whether it be happy or sad, good or bad. So we must go carefully when we make judgements, offer opinions or advice, so we are always supportive. Through the years we have been lucky to share parents wedding photos, celebrate parents achievements, we also support families when a member has been seriously ill or goes through a berievement. Families may need our support to cope with everyday life, and we may need to initiate more agencies who are best equipped to help our families. I take pride in both my settings support of families, and the ethos of creating a family friendly space.

Families are precious. Families mould our lives. We should celebrate the love, support the family and help them at vulnerable times, whatever the different dimensions of that family maybe. Embrace!


So, What’s New?

Haven’t been here for a while…because so much has been going on! So, what’s new?
Sometimes we try a few new things at once. Inspiration hits us from a few angles and putting plans into action takes time with planning and sourcing. Love it!

The Chatter Matters conference locally gave us the inspiration to start home learning bags. A zip lock A4 bag with some learning resources for families to use at home. Information for parents on areas of learning are enclosed to inform parents how amazing play is for learning. A short easy feedback form will help us to monitor how effective it is. Exciting!

One of my staff went on a course a while back, and was keen to investigate online learning journals. The ones we investigated we didn’t much like, until on Twitter (@EYTalking) Tapestry kept coming up. So we took a closer look, and after a free trial we will sign up. Again it puts parents in the picture as they cannot only follow, but contribute and reply to observations. Observations and photos can be uploaded from a tablet quickly and easily, saving so much time. Clear guidelines have been given to staff about its use and policies put in place to cover safeguarding and safe use. Permission slips have been obtained from parents, who seem very keen! Putting ideas into practice takes time and thought, but in Early Years, you can never stand still.

The @EYTalking Tuesday chats (8.00-9.00 Tuesday evenings, term time) one of my staff joined me, and we were inspired by transient art. This was hosted by http://stimulatinglearning.co.uk @hilarywhite3 on Twitter. What’s great about transient art, is most of us will be able to start this with what we have in the cupboard and add to resources later. Transient art as I understand and use it, is fluid art with carefully chosen objects for children to create pictures, sorting and moving the parts for their creation. Nothing can go wrong, because you can change it. Boosts self-esteem and engages all children. There are no barriers, the activity translates to all languages, genders and abilities. Enjoyed by all in the setting and shared with parents on the facebook group page.

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So some pretty amazing things are going on at my Sparkling Pre-Schools at the moment. So exciting when we go on new ventures together.

Did You Know?

One of my team came back from training with a brilliant idea! If we were exploring a topic we should find out something we don’t know about it. We can churn out activities, and if we’re not too careful, just repeat patterns of activities. This started the “Did You Know?” Board. It’s displayed for parents and children with interesting facts about our activities. For example, when we were looking at fruit…..Did you know, a lemon has more sugar than strawberries?….and strawberries are the only fruit with seeds on the outside? A few interesting facts. So now when I go into mt settings, I’m barraged by adults and children saying “Did You Know?”

B b&b.                    image

Looking after George

I love having children who have special and additional needs. There is always some anxiety about whether we will be the best place for a child, but when Georges Mum wanted us to take her child with Spinal Muscular Atrophy, we really wanted to be able to help. https://www.facebook.com/Georgetappendenfundraise

Taking George was a decision not to be taken lightly as it would have implications for feasibility of the practical aspects of care and could we give George all he needed to access the complete EYFS. We hadn’t taken a wheelchair user before, but had always had in the back of my mind how we could take a child with their wheelchair. Planning with other agencies was key to successfully including George into our setting. We were eager to find solutions to meet Georges needs, giving him the best time possible at Millies.image


There were financial implications as we would need extra staff for some of the time and special equipment that would need storing when we weren’t using the hall. The first conversation with the occupational therapist was interesting as she suggested fixture for hoist pullys and fixed height adjustable changing tables. Unfortunately we rent our hall so structural changes to the building wasn’t an option.  So we had to be inventive and resourceful. We had some council money to get the best we could to meet Georges needs.

We had a specialist trainer in lifting to help us problem solve handling George so he could do everything the setting offered with minimal risk to the staff. The process of planning took a while, but we wanted everything to be in place for George’s arrival. Input from his family, particularly his mother helped us get to know George, and a home visit with key staff helped us to get to plan for his additional needs.

Planning, training and accessing extra funds for staff and equipment took a while but we got there, and had the continuous support of other outside agencies already involved in George’s life. George’s Mum  accompanied him to start with, helping us to handle him and a few “what to do if’s” like signs he was tired, when he was thirsty etc.
Having Gearge at our pre-school was fabulous. Children became aware of disability, taking it very much in their stride. They were very accepting, asking frank questions and not being perturbed by the answers given. They seemed to gauge when they could help George and when he could manage himself. The key person took on the enhanced role of giving him the extra support he needed. As a team we also had an awareness that the role needed to be shared and lifting and manuevering him would take two members of staff. George was quite adept at getting around the room. We made changes to the layout to allow easy access to all areas, also putting his favourite activities away from the doorway to avoid draughts and chilling. It wasn’t long before he could make his way independently around the room and the garden, even over uneven grass!


George himself had a giant personality, cheeky, creative and bundles of fun. He is a bright boy who engages fully in play and activities, enjoying discovering new textures and exploring resources to learn. He has a fabulous family who supported us while we got to know George. Even though he has moved on to a new setting, we still here through the family how he is doing. The family are always trying to raise awareness of SMA and have many fundraisers for George and SMA.

Enjoy this clip of his early days at Millies.


Chatter Matters Conference

I’ve been blown away by the Chatter Matters Conference in Croydon. It was a brilliant day where I was able to take 4 staff (2 from each setting) and I’m so glad I did. I find sending a group more powerful as they can support each other to act on what they have learnt and discovered to impact on practice for better outcomes for children.

let me take you there…

The first keynote speech was from Sue Palmer, author of “Toxic Childhood”. Needless to say…..amazing! She spoke about how we have become a “screen” nation, with TV, phones and computers. She wrote her first book before the IPad so it is even more relevant to look at the way this affects interaction with other human beings. It begged the question, how important is that the to our younger children? It’s two fold, one, we look at screens more often with answering texts and pinging messages back and forth. Secondly, the time children and babies are stuck in front of screens. American research suggests children don’t need to see a screen at all between the ages 0-2, not even telly. Research shows as our use of screens go up, communication and  language development, particularly listening skills dramatically decreases. She said so much more, but this quote speaks volumes:

“Children’s physical and psychological growth cannot happen at electric speed.” Sue Palmer

My first workshop was calle Angels and Islands. I thought it would be attachment theory and bonding as I know it with Bowlby and other such theorists. But I was in for a great suprise. Carrie-Anne Black told us all about “reflective function.” She started with some amazing facts. The average babies brain is the weight of a coke can, and yet it already has a billion activities going on! Cortical neurones develop between week 6 and 18 in pregnancy, so some people won’t even know they are pregnant when this process begins. Sensory development, that is hearing and vision happens mainly in our first year. So our carers are so important to our reflective function and how we develop, and the effect of deprivation can deeply affect our future ability and success.

Reflective function is how we read what’s happening and why. Carry Anne gave the exampl of reading emotions. We would say ” you look upset” if somebody was crying. We wouldn’t say “you’ve got water coming out of your eyes and liquids coming out of your nose” we can read the situation and communicate. Likewise with a child in a shop, where a child is having a tantrum. Somebody with good reflective function would say, “he’s having a tantrum because he didn’t sleep well last night, and he’s due his lunch, so he’s probably hungry” where somebody else might say ” he’s having a tantrum because he’s just attention seeking”. Adversity can have a huge affect on our reflective function, which could affect how we communicate and develop as a child and beyond. How our main carer attaches  to us and nurtures us has a huge impact on future relationships and our development of reflective function.

“Secure attachment is an advantage for life” Carrie Anne Black

I now have a favourite man (sorry hubby!). Nick Butterworth is just delightful. Our second keynote speech from the well know Childrens author. Apart from being so funny with all his anecdotal chat about his life experiences, he had so much to give. The main things I took away, was the power of spontaneity with rhymes and stories. How we read stories is so important. For example, do a squeaky voice for the elephant in the story and a big bellowing one for the mouse, wouldn’t the child giggle! The power of punctuation and font, (the former you will have realised, one of my big faults!) If I had been taught punctuation by Nick, I would have got it (honestly Sarah Stokes!) He obviously was brought up in a literacy rich environment. He talked a lot about imitation. If you want to be lie somebody, try to imitate them. He talked about so many things I’m afraid I was so mesmerised, I didn’t take many notes! When we applauded him, he applauded us back, saying it was genuine applause for the work we do, and the impact it has. Humbled!

“Love is acts of kindness” Nick Butterworth


The last workshop was on the home learning environment.. No quotes here as it was a very practical and inspiring session. One we will certainly be actioning in our settings. the impact of involving home learning in your invironment is proved to have a success on children’s development and future success. The two ladies facilitating this session came at it from different directions. On workerd soley with parents (with a passion), helping them to play and use simple resources to create learning opportunities with their children, the second was a pre-school owner, who did home learning bags (which is what we will do ) for parents to borrow. The home learning bags had a variety of resources in each one. The bags had instructions where appropriate (eg cornflour) with a simple list of the learning to be gained. The parents filled in a form to say what they did with it and how they found it, and then they were given the next. What a way to proactively involve your parents. As a group we seemed to have all picked this workshop, so on the way home we discussed how we could do this. The bags were zip lock bags, and one of our girls also works for a stationers, any deals to be done? Could we do this in key groups, to strengthen that relationship. When we clear out cupboards we could think what will go I the zip lock bag. Planning already!

What an action packed day. Full of ideas and things to do. You should always come away from courses with things to do.

Did I mention the African drumming and dancing after lunch…no…fabulous. I would highly recommend Mango Tree Kids African Drumming session. Well worth saving up for the rhythm and the beat, making us smile and dance at the same time (50p fine if you didn’t smile). I’ve had these lovely people work with my children, but that’s another blog!





Plan-do –Review


Plan-do –Review at Millies and Sparkles Pre-Schools
Now, I wish I did a bit more of this in my day to day life to be honest, but hopefully Millies and Sparkles are helping the next generation to do get into this habit. After our annual group training on using pedagogy effectively in the setting, we were drawn to the HIghScope approach of Plan-Do-Review. It takes a bit of getting your head round, especially if you like the room to look set up and ready to go. All our resources for the day are stowed under the table, or still in the cupboards ready to get out.

HighScope say..
“…Within this broad framework, …. HighScope has unique features that differentiate it from other early childhood programs. One is the daily plan-do-review sequence. Research shows that planning and reviewing are the two components of the program day most positively and significantly associated with children’s scores on measures of developmental progress.” (http://www.highscope.org/Content.asp?ContentId=291)
It is a well researched long term pedagogy with longitudinal studies that show that children have more academic success and go on to further education, adults who have been exposed to the process in their early learning are happier, have better career prospects and are more socially responsible and independent.

How do we do it?
When your starting it needs a bit of preparation. You will want to buy some pegs and plastic baskets, notebooks etc. As you can see here, We’re ready!


Children are divided into groups of 5-8 children, preferably at the same table every day so children know where to go in the morning. We have linked these with key worker groups. In the basket are pictures of main areas of activity, and staff gather props to put in the basket from each area, to show the children some of the activities or types of activities they can do (or they may suggest an activity they want to do). Through a listening and talking process. The children tell us one or two of the things they want to do. They “write” what they are going to do and peg it to the card or basket. Quick note here, you may also want to write a brief note of what they want to do too for later. Then the children follow the routine you probably follow daily of free play etc. the children help to set up their learning environment giving them some control as to what activities come out. They actually enjoy setting up and being part of the process.

At the end of the morning the children gather in their groups again at the same table with the same practitioner. The children are asked if they did what they planned? Some children don’t do what they planned, one boy said he didn’t play with the water because he didn’t realise the trains were out, so he played with those instead. The discussion is brief at both ends of the morning but meaningful.

What we have found:
Children get to know where to go in the morning when they come in, it kind of gives a cleaner start. Parents have commented that children (even those who have been with us a while) are more quickly settled. The discussion is lively and children share control of what they do. They have a plan! The discussion at the end teaches children how to talk about their day. Parents have commented that when they ask them what have they done at Pre-School, they no longer say “nothing” but talk about activities, who they played with and show more pride in what they have done.
One parents says, “To me it seems a much calmer way to start the day. H seems to have settled into the new routine easily, which is always a good sign. I think that if this had been the routine when H started at Millies then perhaps it might not have been as overwhelming for him. I also think it creates an instant contact with the children’s key worker, which is lovely.”
A member of staff evaluates saying, “I have noticed it has built some new friendships. A couple of the children are leaving the tables together and setting of to their choice of activity.”
It takes a bit of a leap of faith to start the process, and I’d say talking to and preparing parents for the change will help the smooth transition of routine. We love it at Millies and Sparkles!!
A huge thank you to Futureworks for providing our training and to Debbie Sawh who freely gave of her time to support us implementing the process.

Tweet Tweet

Ok, it’s a corny title, but I have tried to do Twitter for years and always given up. I think because for friendship messages Facebook works better for me. After going on a course delivered by Laura Henry (www.laurahenryconsultancy.com, CEO NEyTCO) she made a fleeting remark to another delegate who was following her on Twitter. Idea bubble suddenly floats above my head! Try again because it may help me keep up to date with local and national childcare issues and support my role as provider for two Pre-Schools. It has taken a while to “join in”, I was mostly observing for the first two months. The temptation to join in the weekly @EYTalking professional chat (Tuesday evenings 8.00-9.00 pm) finally became to great and I jumped in. Love the very lively topical conversations which is a great source of personal professional development. I’m not saying I’m great at this new skill but I feel so much better networking with good people in Early Years, sharing thoughts and ideas and seeing what’s current. Laura Henry….thank you!

Christmas Play 😃😁😳☺️

I love the Christmas Play, apart from one thing! There always seems to be one parent who doesn’t know a thing about it! How, I don’t know. They seem to miss the letter, the email and all the signs which get bigger and bolder as the day approaches, and then they turn up and turn on you! Understandable, they are so disappointed to arrive and all the other children are in costume, the tension mounts, and for all your efforts to tell them you have advertised in every way you know possible, your family get angry with you, this year email you to say how the setting have upset them. Then as a manager you have to decide when they have said they will not come back in January whether to accept it, or use your powers of persuasion to turn the family round. This year I decided to try and “massage” the situation. Although you stick to your guns about the methods of letting parents know, you empathise with how upset they must feel, and recognise their feelings. It worked! We don’t want to lose the child, they don’t really want to look for a new Pre-School. They have been hasty in their decision, and you have met in the middle. Staff will make an effort to inform them verbally of anything that happens (especially as the family have had a new baby) and it upsets us if people leave us, particularly when it’s in the heat of the moment. We are all happy. A few nicer, kinder emails are exchanged as we wish each other a Happy Christmas, and we genuinely do look forward to seeing you in the New Year. Peace!

Professional Development

There was an interesting conversation on EYtalking on continuous professional development, (speaking of which I must get better at Twitter!) there are many ways as discussed to nurture a culture of professional development other than the classroom. Also staff have different learning needs and styles.

Supervision itself is a form of improving and impacting on practice. Taking photos of good practice and sharing ideas in the team is particularly helpful to progress as a practitioner. Having said that, ther is nothing as effective as an inspiring study day with a motivating speaker. Staff meetings are a great chance to share the ideas initiated on training days and working out how they can be implemented in our daily childcare sessions.

Regular reading of articles that relate to our work can be shared, something I am finding Twitter really usefull for (thanks to Laura Henry @LauraChildcare for introducing the thought on a training day!) I am encouraging my staff to follow early years this way as it has usefull updates and links to professional blogs.

The training I find that has the most impact on our practice is our annual team training. The two Pre-Schools join together and we have a trainer in to inspire us. Because the training is delivered to all staff, there isn’t the problem of diluting the impact through trying to disseminate information. Everyone is on board, and we agree to try new pedagogy in our daily routines with the children. Last year it was the “plan-do-review” in HighScope pedagogy. A huge change in our routine, leaving some of us taking a huge leap of faith. I have to say, my staff prepared well and we were supported by the trainer as we set up the new process. that’s a whole other blog!

Professional development doesn’t just take one form or directive. We learn from each other and seek out good inspiring people to help us improve. Just one more thing, in Early Years…never stand still!


This morning spent time with my staff reviewing their work and discussing their professional development. It’s good to talk! Two members of staff mentioned the same aspect of our practice and the value of it. So we reviewed the value of focus activities for next steps. Are they necessary all the time or are some best steps achieved and documumentable (does that word exist) in a good observation? We came to the conclusion that this is a historic task of habitual beaurocracy which we could see by the evidence in the children’s folder was not always necessary. Reflecting on how and why we should have focus activities and to maybe think of groups of children to target with focus activities and more meaningful to children’s learning. Good reflections from staff. Love it when they question what we do! It all helps to improve practice.