Switching off and Back on Again

For the first time since managing my settings I went on holiday in term time! It’s a long story how that happened, but the opportunity to visit New York with my daughter (who works in one of my Pre-Schools) came up, and I couldn’t resist. I have good managers in place, good teams that are dedicated….no Ofsted visits due. So switch off, ok?

A few emails with contact details, phone me if you need to, I’ll pay you back for the call, email me if there’s a problem, any worries here are some contacts that may help you. Yes I really trust you, but just in case. Sorry managers, couldn’t help myself!

So off we went. Despite a shaky start with a yellow cab reversing into another car and dropping us at the wrong hotel (we can laugh now!) we had a fabulous time. Did I completely forget about work? No.

One of our first visits was the Museum of Modern Art, where Van Gogh’s Starry Night lives. So many inspiring pictures using all sorts of shapes, patterns, materials. Hmmm, could we do a version of that? I must put some pics of famous artists as provocations for art. Great ideas for our little ones.




We visited Brooklyn bridge. We both named children who would love this structure! They would be so excited. It snowed as we walked across, an amazing atmospheric visit. Then there’s the Statton Island ferry, seeing the Statue of Liberty. Lots of policeman around, the lovely American fire engines. We agreed that American trucks looked more “truckie” in their 50’s style cabs. There was so much to see and do. Central Park, Empire State Building, Top of the Rock. New York really does buzz with excitement.




As we looked for souvenirs for family, we still talked about what the children would like. I asked my daughter was it ok not to totally forget about work? She said it was ok. In Early Years we get to know our children well. It’s not that we don’t switch off, it doesn’t get in the way of enjoying a holiday, but it’s in our blood to think of our jobs and Early Years in general. We had many moments that weren’t thinking of children, but wherever we are, we can be reminded of our jobs and the children we care for, but in a good and positive way.

Thanks to my teams who, no surprises, coped very (almost too) well without me. You’re amazing!


After the staff training.

Well…following on from my previous post…it was brilliant! (Please read my previous post on Team Training.) The whole team (almost) went on the first National Early Years Safeguarding conference organised by Laura Henry. I’m not going to go into masses of detail, Penny Webb did an excellent blog about the whole day which you can read by following this link https://pennysplacechildminding.com/2016/11/11/safeguarding-and-protecting-every-child-conference-feedback/

Having said that, some of the team arrived early to help Laura prepare. We got frustratingly delayed by signal problems on the train, but once we got there we were excited to be involved in the setting up. Here we are organising the certificates.


It looks a mess, but we knew exactly what we were doing! We were privaliged to welcome delegates and guide them into the conference room, giving them their goody bags on the way.

So we were already excited. Laura had organised some amazing speakers, including our home grown ( and well used) Safeguarding trainer Susan Taylor from Tailormade Training Solutions (http://www.tailormade-training.co.uk). We all had our favourites, but every speaker had important messages, with the common theme that Early Years is the most important time to get things right. We all have our part to play in this to ensure children have the best start to continue to be successful in future life. We are all advocates for our children too, and need to speak up for them. We are their champions, we mustn’t let them down.

I want to return to my team theme here. As we caught the train home, we had very active discussions. It was interesting that some of us had different interpretations of what was said, which led to scrutiny of some of our own practices. Jane Evans key note speech led to different interpretations to what she meant. We all agreed we could have listened to the speakers for longer, and would reflect on certain aspects of practice.

My 1-1 supervisions are in full flow at the moment, giving me the chance to see the impact the conference has had. For the workshops I spread my team out. There were workshops that some of them didn’t think pertained to them, such as safer recruitment, that must surely be for managers! But they were greatful for the insight and realise it goes beyond recruitment. What ever level your at in your career, we are all responsible for monitoring staff, speaking out about maltreatment or safeguarding issues. It was useful that they knew why I’m so nosey getting them to make declarations about the people they live with etc! I tell them, but now they really get it! It doesn’t end at recruitment, but is ongoing monitoring that those we have recruited are safe.

Another theme running through the feedback is the use of real examples by the speakers brought safeguarding to life. The outcome is they know more what they are looking for, observing for with our children and families. More alert to get Early Intervention if a family need it. More confident to make the call should it be necessary to protect children.

As manager of two settings I am very confident that all members of staff have extended their safeguarding knowledge, and feel empowered to truly safeguard our children.

A great team experience! If you missed it, no worries, next year another  National Safeguarding Confernce already being organised with fabulous speakers! Follow the link http://www.laurahenryconsultancy.com/safeguarding-and-protecting-every-child/



Staff training…all of us…EXCTED!!

Once a year I organise training for the whole team. Extravagant I hear you say! Well, I would say it’s a must! The reason I’m so excited this year is it’s a conference. Safeguarding and Protecting Every Child http://www.laurahenryconsultancy.com/safeguarding-and-protecting-every-child/ where we will be listening to fantastic speakers, some renown for their work all over the world! I almost feel like we’re famous ourselves. My team are buzzing, that are so happy to be part of what is going to be an inspirational day. I’m looking forward to seeing our home grown safeguarding trainer Susan Taylor who is amazing!

CPPD takes many forms, and in our settings we do use all types from online ( recently Kathy Brodie’s Early Years Summit) to sending individuals on courses, picking things up from EY twitter and FB groups, books and magazines. BUT the one thing that has the most impact is team training. Last year we had Laura Henry’s Keep it Simple Planning (KiSP). Amazing impact. It has not only made the whole system so much easier, but it means so much more. Less is definitely more! Less work and happier staff.

Here are some of the other reasons I believe team training is the best!

Team spirit

The team rarely get together all on one shift. On a staff inset day all staff are with you. It’s a chance to bring them all together and treat them to top class training. You are on the same page when you start, you are on the same page when you finish. “Together” is the word here. Together because we are dedicated practitioners, together because we will embrace changes from the training as a unit together.


If you sift through my posts you will see that some of the great changes we have made in our settings have been as a direct result of team training. Laura Henry and Debbie Sawh have been our main contributors to changes and improvement. This is far more effective than sending one member of staff, who with the best will in the world has to disseminate the information, convince us it’s great, (and they do) and then try and action the plan. I’m not saying it’s not possible, but with the whole team the change is quick and seamless, together we have more power to make the changes.


Some may see these as chores or hard work? Training should impact to make your life easier. The team uses new skills and with Laura armed with instantly usable templates, ready to go! We changed to KiSP in a week. Impact powerful and improvements could be seen on children’s outcomes.


We all know we shouldn’t do things for Ofsted, and I agree. Do this for your setting. It’s cost effective for the reasons above. Ofsted will love the impact of your team training, and you can show off the impact this has on your children. They will nod so loudly you hear the whoosh of air as their head goes up and down, well maybe not that much! Throughout the last inspection, many of our outstanding features were team training based. It also shows outstanding leadership, even if I say so myself!

So for you, for your team, for you children and families, please endulge in staff training days. Enjoy the day, and enjoy the results. Let me know how it goes!





The Cap and Gown thing.

I very rarely (honest!) get a bee in my bonnet about other peoples practice,  but this Cap and Gown graduation, I really don’t get it. I see endless posts on FB on how bored children get while they are asked to go up and get their scroll. Sometimes a line of 40+ children. Questions about how to speed things up ping back anf forth. Fine if you’re first! If you’re last and aged 3, it must be torture. Somebody has just posted that children’s behaviour deteriorates during this ceremony…..no suprise there then!


Who are the graduations for? I can’t see that they are for the children. They don’t understand the concept of graduation. Neither have they passed a test or done research (thank goodness)  to achieve cap and gown status. My daughter has just finished High school with an age appropriate Prom to mark the end of an era. So why do we give our youngest transition such an adult ceremony? Give them something age appropriate as we would always do and advocate in practice.

Our last day is fun, we have family craft, sports, play activities, and a family picnic. No waiting, no dressing up in gowns that the children don’t understand, the day is for all the family to have fun all the time, and celebrate their time with us. A thoroughly enjoyable day for all of us!

Early Years Podcast @EYpodcast

There are some people I know who are inspirational in Early Years. Richard Duddy and Heather Stallard have started to do great Early Years Podcasts, about all things good in Early years ranging from safeguarding, what to do when the manager goes sick, to musicality in the Early Years. When they asked me to do a podcast on our recent outstanding Ofsted inspection, I of course said YES! Just one problem Richard….how do we do this? “It’s easy” he said, ” you just need Skype,  headphones and Internet connection.” Well….one out of three isn’t bad!  A slight panic attack for a minute, but with Skype downloaded, a new set of head phones, I was ready. Thanks Richard and Heather, it was great to talk to you. Here it is:-

Kim Benham – Early Years Podcast 009

A Bit of DIY

Now your probably thinking I’m getting the children to decorate and make the furniture, but no! The DIY at the settings is in the form of making our own resources for their learning. We have done this in the past, but it has been a bit “token” so we are now inspired thanks to Alistair Bryce Clegg http://www.abcdoes.com to make this more the norm in our weekly plan.

The children coloured their own rice last week with food colouring. The joy of this is you get a whole lot of learning skills in  the making process. Armed with pipettes, food colouring, spoons, plastic trays (bit of recycling!) we set to work


So much to learn, from fine motor squeezing the pipettes , to discovering colour mixing, the children were engaged and challenged.

Weve also been making our own paints. The green accurately described as slime by one of our young learners!



Lots of descriptive vocabulary. That’s before you use it for play! You have double, treble the learning value if you have a hand in making the resources you use.

There’re a few “yikes!” moments, but best to bite your lip as the children soon get the hang of more water not making the paint thick enough. They are learning through experience, the best way. Although I may still need sunglasses for a few of the colours!

Phonic Advice for Parents

Early Years Phonics, advice for parents.

I wrote this blog post on our old PreSchool blog (now replaced with a FB page) for parents who were anxious about phonic development, not realising they were probably doing all the right things to build the foundations for learning phonics.

“Children start learning phonics really early. You may not realise how much they are taking in and you probably don’t know some of the basic skills you are already building by playing with your child. The clue to successful phonics is have fun, and don’t be pressured!

Listening is key to phonic awareness. Learning about different sounds. So when you’re out and about listen to different sounds. Are they quiet or noisy? Be sure to take time to keep quiet while you listen. Sounds obvious but it’s very easy in your enthusiasm to talk over sounds.

Having said that talking and listening to your child is very important to build confidence with words, demonstrate listening and enjoy conversation. Most children are very chatty at this age! Listening to what they have to say will also boost their self esteem.

Let me teach you a new phrase. ‘Beat Competency’ is being able to say or clap a simple rhythm. Nursery rhymes are great for beat competency. They’re fun and easy to join in with. Having beat competency is hugely helpful to future reading and writing, so make time for rhymes and songs. Its a proven fact that children who regularly sing or say rhymes do better with reading and writing when they go to school. This particularly shows when they get to juniors. See Sparkles songs on the blog and get singing!

Play with words that have the same sound at the beginning, eg. silly sausages, smelly socks, bonkas bananas, croaky caterpillar and any other words that have the same initial sound. Also rhyming phrases such as ‘the parrot ate a carrot’ ‘the snake ate a cake’ have fun making up silly rhymes.

Many children’s books follow these ideas. ‘Shark in the Park’ follows a rhyme the whole way through. ‘We’re Going on a bear Hunt’ helps with alliteration, rhymes and sounds. They are both fun to join in with. “The Naughty Bus” is one of my favourites showing fonts that reflected what is written.


Books are very important for future reading and writing skills. Having fun with familiar books is just as important as finding new ones. Favourite books are great for learning story content and structure and by reading regularly to your child you are having a very valuable time together enjoying literacy.

All the above suggestions are building the foundations of reading skills and research tells us the more time we spend building these foundations the more successful your child will be with literacy skills. So don’t feel pressured to push them onto letter sounds or writing letters. Enjoy the early stages of initiating enjoyment of words, rhymes and books.

Learning letter sounds will be a natural progression from this. When yo get there remember to use the letter sound, not its name. This will help your child build words later on. I don’t want to go into this too much as this is a skill for school age, but learning the sound a letter makes before learning its name. For example c-a-t, put these three sounds together to make the word cat. However the names of these letters ‘cee’ ‘aye’ ‘tee’ don’t sound like the word. I hope you get what I mean. Please ask if you don’t

As you see, children are learning about phonics constantly. The main points I would stress for early years is sing and say lots of rhymes on and off during the day. Read to your child every day, old favourites as well as new ones. spend time talking and listening. Do these and the rest will follow!”

To be (levelling) or not to be (levelling)?

I innocently replied to a tweet recently on levelling continuous provision. Laura Henry also offered a reply with a great link to her guest blogger Alistair Bryce Clegg http://www.laurahenryconsultancy.com/2014/09/29/continuous-provision-two-words-that-can-end-up-causing-a-great-deal-of-confusion/ The term “levelling” created lively discussion and debate. However I would question those who challenged the term, do they not level when creating a next step, isn’t that helping children achieve the next level? How about we enhance the setting to accommodate individual next level? It’s a term, not a threat!
I recently went on Alistaires training “Excelence in Early Years” I’d read a lot of his articles, and I liked his style. Apart from his website articles being very readable, the ideas and inspiration for improving practice and making learning exciting has driven better practice at both my settings. I’ve bought many of his books. My team would fight over who took them home first, and they acted on the fabulous ideas, producing more excitement in the learning environment.

The training stressed the importance of the support of the practitioner in play, and yes, we “levelled” some activities. Now some people seem to have an objection to the word “levelling.” Levelling is not sinister, it’s not regimental. We talk of ages and stages in Early Years, next steps etc, and to my mind, levelling added clarity to the developmental stages. I don’t have lists of levels, I don’t put children on levels, however if I provide different levels in the activity I can support children to progress. It’s subtle, it’s implicit, it’s an invitation to “have a go.”

So what has levelling done to practice in my settings? It’s made practitioners think about what they provide. Are they providing challenge, are they providing open ended play, are the enhancements added helping children progress? Children play in mixed ability groups, so we should provide for mixed and therefore individual abilities. The activity of aeroplane making in the picture was spontaneous, so staff sometimes have to think quickly to provide for different abilities. Thinking In levelling terms can aid this spontaneity so all children have an individual take on the activity, they all took risks and all were challenged (and that aeroplane in the top picture flew REALLY well!) It’s all been good and improved practice. It’s not massively different, but it is better. If you don’t like the word, change it. We are always changing terminology in early years, early learning, goals, next steps etc. Training with Alistair puts levelling in perspective, I would highly recommend it (especially if you’re judging it!) It puts children in the driving seat, it helps staff support next steps, promoting progression and children enjoying the process. It’s made my team think more about continuous provision, and how to enhance it. It’s not the term you use, it’s how you use it. Always be open minded to an idea, always strive for improvement, always make learning fun!

Link: http://www.abcdoes.com

Further reading http://www.amazon.co.uk/Practice-Outstanding-Teaching-Professional-Development/dp/144113834X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1438082990&sr=8-1&keywords=ABC+does

My top 5 bloggers – #TwitteratiChallenge!

I’d like to thank Kathy Brodie for nominating me for the twitteratichallenge. I have been honoured to be one of your guest bloggers and have some really favourite blogs on her site that are so uplifting and inspiring. I’m fairly new to Twitter, and it has been a fabulous media to connect with such fantastic people!

My nominations are:

@beckmakesthings Becks you have a great blog which has energy behind it. I really like the presentation and your style of writing. You’ve made me think about creativity, and you blog demonstrates your point!

@Totstars although I don’t think you have a blog(!) your mission to get all preschoolers physically fit is inspirational. You have come such a long way in such a short time. The last trip was Dubai, so watch out for Totstars International! You have a dream. Watching you follow it is such a pleasure.

@ABCDoes Mr Bryce-Clegg, you are amazing. I have “shared” lots of your ideas in my settings. Both have an Incredible Hulk board with incredible work. You make activities fun, meaningful and challenging. Your blog is packed with creative ideas to get all children mark making, particularly boys. Super Hero’s rock! Very child centred learning. On your course in June, so excited!

@rockmyclassroom I love your pictures of good practice.  I am often directing my team to your fabulous ideas. I think I picked up Tapestry Online learning journals) from one of your posts, life changing for my settings, especially for sharing learning with parents an carers (and a grandparent in New Zealand!) Engaging with parents is a value we both (and all great EY practitioners) share and you have plenty of ideas to achieve this.

@JeniHooper You give me insight into children’s minds and self esteem. Your “easy read” blogs packed with information, which makes me think about the children’s emotional welfare in our setting. Emotional well being and supporting emotional literacy is so important, especially as children will start to be tested so early at school. Time to think of holistic well being of children, and take heed of your good advice.

Just to say there are so may inspirational people on EY twitter network. Love you all!


@teachertoolkit rules are:

You cannot knowingly include someone you work with in real life.
You cannot list somebody that has already been named if you are already aware of them being listed on #TwitteratiChallenge.
You will need to copy and paste the title of this blogpost and (the rules and what to do) information into your own blog post.

What to do?

Within seven days of being nominated by somebody else, you need to identify colleagues that you rely regularly on and go to for support and challenge. They have now been challenged and must act as participants of the #TwitteratiChallenge.

If you’ve been nominated, please write your own #TwitteratiChallenge blog post within seven days. If you do not have your own blog, try @staffrm.
The educator that is now (newly) nominated, has seven days to compose their own #TwitteratiChallenge blog post and identify who their top five go-to educators are.