The Magic Notebook

I have a confession to make. I love a note book. Not just any notebook, a luxurious notebook. I’ve bought cheap ones, I’ve bought bumper packs of cheap pads, but now I value and love my posh notebooks.


I use thes for meetings, courses, webinars and for making work notes. Now, if I wrote thes notes in a  paperback notebook, or on an A4 pad, the notes would disappear, never to be seen again, or sometimes to be looked at years later, when the information is out of date and I can’t remember what I was writing about! With my posh hard back note books however, I tend to look back at my notes and revise the points I made. I also seem to know which to find the notes I made on  eg. CIF workshop, or this webinar.


Or this remark that made me smile, from Alistair Bryce Clegg training describing sometimes we get carried away with setting out an araea.



I get handbag sized, so it’s handy, I don’t have to take a huge bag to meetings and courses. The best thing, like any book they look lovely and feel good. They’re nice to write in, they tell a story of how I work and develop my settings. I love them! So please don’t judge me, but go and look for a lovely notebook that is worthy of your jottings!


If anyone’s interested in how much you can fit in this little note book (so well worth the extravagance!)

Alistair Bryce Clegg ABCdoes Excellence in Early Years training notes

Laura Henry leadership and management webinar

Laura Henry Personalised Planning course notes

Susan Taylor’s safeguarding update training

2 Staff meetings

British Values and Prevent PLA onLine course notes

2X Big Ofsted Conversation notes

Neytco An Evening with notes

Astec solutions notes from visit to Day Nursery and software chat

CIF LA meeting

Notes on Tapestry

Gina Davies training on autism

EYPodcast notes on safeguarding Debbie Alcock

Notes on new work website

things to do lists

And there’s still more room!!

See, they’re magic!




Careers Day

I always get so nervous on this day. I give a careers talk to a local school and talk to their year 11’s about Early years. My fears are always unfounded and I have an enjoyable day enthusing about a subject dear to my heart!

The sessions are 50 minutes. Quite a long time for those that don’t want to go into child care, so I take TOYS! The first bit I talk about all things childcare, and then we play.

I take a variety of bits, but I always take plenty of dough! they were making models creating scenes and all sorts.The students loved the transient art, using mirrors for symmetry ( and to check their mascara.) They made a fantastic butterfly with some chain links. These year 11’s love to play, and I get the feeling that they haven’t been so freely creative in a long while.

There is always a teacher in the room (just in case!) and this year she pulled me to one side. “Look at them,” she said “They’re loving it. They’re so relaxed, so happy. What’s the recipe for dough? I’m going to try and weave it into my lessons.” Needless to say I love this lady. The potential for learning through play should be life long!

So much achieved, so much fun!

In Early Years we never know which way an activity is going to steer. I was flattered when people retweeted my photo of a challenge we had picking up pulses rice and pasta with tweezers. A great game, and great excersise for little fingers. Ability ranged from the two handed approach to pick up pasta, to the one handed approach to picking up rice. All children succeeded, the most important component to build self esteem and confidence.


This however was only a snapshot of the activity. It mutated into cake making. And we  decided to choose whether they would be delicious, or disgusting. Much amusement as we had loud “blyuek” sounds.  Children did well to get there mouths round two big words, and what were those disgusting cakes made of, snakes?


Maths also covered as one child asked me “most or less?” as she scooped up the dried goods. Lots of predicting how much, and she did use “more or less” as we went on.  Good to remember whatever you put out can cover so many areas of learning. A lot of ideas developed from the children’s direction.


Great learning, developing and most of all, fun!

New year, new post.

Happy New Year!

It’s a good start at Millies and Sparkles. Children have settled back quickly and we are back on a fun learning journey. One of my lovely ladies painted an old table with chalkboard paint (thank you) and the children are loving it for Mark making as you can see. People think this may develop into a graffiti problem, but children are wiser than that, they instinctively know when they can draw on the table and when they can’t.




Im loving this book nook too. Very popular with torches and books inside.



We we haven’t banished the festive glitter either. Here’s some glitter with the shaving foam. Well…we are called Sparkles for a reason!




Jast a a little bit of New Year inspiration.

Looking back…and forwards

It’s that time of year to reflect and look back. As I finished work for the week on Friday, I just thought “I (still) love my job!”

l’m incredibly lucky to have two brilliant teams at Millies and Sparkles Pre-Schools. We have had another successful year with fabulous children and supportive parents.

The great thing about a blog is that you can look at what you’ve been doing, what’s improved, and what’s changed. Just when we thought we couldn’t get any messier, we of course did. I was influenced by Alistair Bryce Cleggs training and changed some of the things we do. Getting children to make their own dough….well we haven’t achieved it this term, as children lead the ingredient amount, we’ve made goo. But the children are getting the idea now of how to correct the goo, and occasional balls of dough have occurred! It’s all about the process.



We have encouraged children to be more experimental. Creating challenges  for children is fun and helps to achieve next steps. Here we are experimenting with colour mixing with pippettes and kitchen roll. Even the ducks are enjoying it!


We started home play bags to link our learning with home. 45 zip lock bags with goodies to help children’s learning. (See previous blog post). A simple instruction sheet included to encourage learning through play at home.

To round our year off, we had some fantastic team training from Laura Henry, (Separate blog for the new year). Huge impact too, reducing paper work, improving child centeredness (? a word!). It has shifted the mood of the whole team to a higher place! I’m sure there’s a song in there somewhere! Thanks Laura.

Just a few of the changes we have made to make our year successful! Looking forward to the next one.

I wish all my blog readers a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.

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 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!”

Futureworks, Future Success!

I have just had lunch with a very lovely person. Debbie Sawh heads up level 2 and 3 training at Futureworks, Croydon. I have used Fureworks for many years. Debbie’s team deliver high quality training, which produces confident and competent Early Years practitioners. It’s lovely to see staff develop in knowledge and confidence as they progress through the course. The team of assessors, with Debbie support the learners through their journey, encouraging them to question practise and improve quality.
Futureworks works closely with the setting manager, so that coaching can be seamless between setting and the classroom. We are informed of progress, we are included in reviews we work closely together to get the best out of our student employees. We look for the same qualities in people to work with children. As Debbie once told me, as well as enthusiasm for working with children they need lots of “oomph.” I know exactly what she means!
Anyone who knows me, (or my blog) will know my enthusiasm for high quality team training which Debbie has delivered to us. From her fabulous training, we have introduced HighScope Plan-Do-Review and self-regulation of children’s behaviour using the HighScope approach. Not only has she trained us, but she has supported implementation of her training. If your willing to give things a go, Debbie is your mentor and supporter 100%.
So we agreed at lunch, we don’t see enough of each other. Roll on the next lunch…and thanks Debbie, most of my team have been trained by yours! A great partnership and collaboration.

Futureworks information:

Deborah Sawh, BA (Hons), EYP/TS

Managing Director

FutureWorks Education Ltd


Tel no: 020-8916-2078


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 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!


Further reading

Confident Talkers Conversation Cards

Before I start my story about how I used my Conversation Cards today, let me explain these little gems. There versatile and multi purpose cards are by Laura Henry titled “Confident Talkers” They contain cards with open ended questions to use with children to encourage conversations. Of course as good practitioners, we use open ended questions on a daily basis, but we could  all do with some help to enhance and build on what we do. It’s good to have a different question, which not only help the children to be confident talkers, but confident thinkers too.


Back to my story. I love talking to parents about all things children. I often have coffee chats with the parents of my settings about the many facets of childcare. Recently I have been developing a collaboration with a  Children’s Centre near to one of my new settings. The new manager and I share visions of child and family care. I was honoured that she asked me to talk to the parents in her centre about the importance of play.

Now I’ve done this before, but somehow this time, I couldn’t get my preparation quite together. I wrote a few notes, changed them round, and I was feeling restless about the presentation. Then I had a light bulb moment, and decided the way to show and talk about the importance of play…was to play! What do I consider one of the most important points? Has to be communication and language development through play. I raised my cupboards for ingredients for cloud dough (7cups of flour/ one cup of oil) borrowed some toys from the setting. Ooh a bit of transient art, some nature resources plus some maths games. You’re never too old to play!

And then in the corner of my eye I spotted my new Conversation Cards. Hmmm, brilliant! This will weave it all together beautifully with the importance of  language and communication at the heart of my chat, developing children as confident talkers is central to our practice, and should be promoted in family life.

My Conversation Cards were a huge success. Parents were interested in using the questions with play ideas. Some parents struggled to ask their children questions, other than those which the answer was “nothing”, usually to “what did you do at school?” (Not my pre-school of course!!!)  That brought the discussion to what questions would be interesting to children, maybe they don’t want that regular questions when they get home from school. All the parents had a good rummage, choosing their favourites. I was so happy that the parents showed such genuine interest in encouraging their children to be confident talkers..thanks to my little gems, Confident Talkers, by Laura Henry.







P.S I have lots more ideas for my new cards!😉