Observing schematic behaviour in young children can aid their learning

schematic behaviour

Tamsin Grimmer, author of Observing and Developing Schematic Behaviour in Young Children, describes the 12 common types of schematic behaviour in young children, and how recognising and adapting these schemas can aid their learning, development and play.

Have your ever noticed a child lining up their toys or spinning around in circles?  Or that a child is often more interested in a cardboard box, rather than the gift that was in it?  Perhaps you are perplexed by the toddler who repeatedly throws their cup from their high chair?

Children do many puzzling things and will often repeat these behaviours.  It is highly likely that these behaviours are schematic.  In my new book, Observing and Developing Schematic Behaviour in Young Children, I unpick the most common schemas and provide ideas of how to extend children’s learning based on their schematic interests.  I also consider children whose behaviour may be misinterpreted as challenging when it could simply be schematic. Continue reading

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Our Early Years books offer valuable, jargon-free advice on a range of important issues in the field for any setting. From practical guides on positive learning environments to information on running your own successful Early Years business, each publication provides essential support and easy-to-follow activities to help you deliver the EYFS and enhance your practice.

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Strategies in Supporting Children with Special Needs around Death and Dying

“My grandma isn’t a dinosaur. Why are the dinosaurs in this book teaching about death?”

“My dad’s not a leaf. I don’t understand what falling leaves have to do with him dying.”

“My aunt died. Why is everyone saying she’s in a better place?”

Metaphors, symbolic language, euphemisms. These all present challenges for many children with special needs who process information in a concrete manner. The quotes above encapsulate some of the feedback we have heard during our work in hospice care and in special education, as parents describe their struggle with explaining death and dying to their children. We wrote I Have a Question about Death: A Book for Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder or Other Special Needs to address these challenges, and to create a book that parents and caregivers can read with all children.

Complicated subjects like death and dying can be particularly daunting to discuss with children, and even more so when those children have special learning needs; there is often no easy answer to difficult questions. The following strategies provide guidance on supporting a child with special needs around death and dying. Remember, every child processes information in a unique manner; consider which approach will work best for the children in your life based on strategies that have been successful in other scenarios. For instance, consider if the child learns best through visual cues, or through repetition. Do he/she process information best in short spurts? Does he/she have auditory processing or sensory-based challenges? Most of all, remember that special education is just good education! These strategies can work for all children.

  1. Straight Talk:

Though one might be tempted to “soften” the topic with “gentle” language, it can be more helpful to use the actual words, like “death” or “died” when talking with a child. Use concrete language and avoid euphemisms. Phrases like, “they are in a better place” or “they have passed” can lead to more confusion and anxiety.

  1. Preparation:

Consider using a short picture story, or checklist, to help provide a framework for next steps, especially if preparing them to attend a funeral or memorial service. Pictures, repetition, and perhaps even doing a “practice drive” to the funeral home, church or synagogue can help the child understand what to expect. Have a trusted adult on hand to be with the child if they need a break during the service.

  1. Emotions:

Many children with special needs have difficulty reading the emotional cues of other people. Preparing them for emotions they and others might experience can be helpful. Let them know some people may be sad and crying, and it’s ok if they feel the same way. Preparing for the emotional aspects of the experience with pictures or images, such as those provided by Symbol Stix (www.n2y.com), can be particularly useful.

  1. Sensory Processing:

After someone dies, disruptions in routines are common. Many more people may be in the child’s home, and there are likely new sounds, more hugs, and other changes that can challenge a child’s sense of order. Consider what sensory-based strategies have been helpful for the child in the past, and utilize those during this experience. Perhaps the child might need to take a break in a quiet room, hold a comforting toy, crash into a pile of pillows, or swing outside.

  1. Remembrance:

Support the child in remembering the person who died in meaningful and accessible ways. Ideas include creating a memory box filled with pictures or other mementos; helping to make connections for the child as to the impact of this person on their lives (i.e. if riding a train together, remembering a trip they took in the past with the person who died); or creating a short picture story about the person and their death, and ways they remember him/her.

  1. A New Normal:

When possible, try to maintain routines, as they are likely comforting to the child. However, do expect the possibility of regression, as the child may turn to self-soothing behaviors or show traits of an earlier developmental phase. Lean on your existing team of supporters, including teachers, school counselors, therapists, and friends.

  1. Communication:

If the child can communicate verbally, through assisted communication devices or in other ways, continue to encourage questions, even if the questions have no easy answer. We received much feedback about this issue when researching our book, as parents shared how difficult it had been to support a child around the questions that do not have a clear answer (“Why does someone die?” and “What happens to someone after they die?”). Continue to keep the lines of communication open, and acknowledge the frustration around not having a concrete answer to difficult questions.

Death and dying brings up myriad emotions for each of us, which certainly affects how we help our children cope. Keep in mind that you are already an expert when it comes to your child.  Relying on previously established strategies and support systems will go a long way in helping your child process this change in a healthy and developmentally appropriate way. This will lay the foundation for coping with other unexpected events and challenges throughout his/her life.

Arlen Grad Gaines, LCSW-C, ACHP-SW is a licensed clinical social worker with an advanced certification in hospice and palliative care based in Bethesda, Maryland. She is co-author of I Have a Question about Death: A Book for Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder or Other Special Needs (Jessica Kingsley Publishers).

Meredith Englander Polsky, MSW, MS Special Education, founded Matan (www.matankids.org) in 2000, and has helped improve Jewish education for thousands of children with special needs. She co-authored  I Have a Question about Death: A Book for Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder or Other Special Needs (Jessica Kingsley Publishers).

Please visit their website at www.ihaveaquestionbook.com for more information.

10 ready-to-use solutions that will help schools meet Ofsted criteria for excellent playtimes

playtimesMichael Follett, author of Creating Excellence in Primary School Playtimes, provides 10 tips to help primary schools meet Ofsted criteria for excellent playtimes.

Imagine childhood without play. It sounds unthinkable but for around 50% of UK children school playtimes are the only time they get to play freely in an open space with their friends. When you think that out of 7 years at primary school, 1.4 of those years is time for play, it is clear that schools are ideally placed to enable children to access 180 days a year of great play opportunities.

As a former teacher, playworker and school improvement adviser I have dedicated the past 17 years to helping schools understand how to improve playtimes. It’s a great project as everyone wins, children are happier and healthier, teachers get more teaching time, leaders more leading time and playtime staff a much more satisfying job. So here are my top ten tips, condensed from my work developing the OPAL Primary Programme with over 200 schools in three continents.

1. Change your culture – A school that values play is a school that understands that play is essential to children’s physical and mental wellbeing and that the recipe for play requires some dirt, some risk, plenty of choices, quite a lot of freedom and a growing amount of trust. Once your school develops a culture of valuing play and understanding the simple conditions it requires to grow and flourish the rest is relatively easy.

2. Use what you have – OPAL’s research has revealed that the average primary school uses its field for between 8-16% of the 180 days there are in the school year. If you have space, don’t spend money on equipment until you find ways to use your valuable space for at least 80% of the year. (OPAL School’s average around 95%).

3. Put someone in charge – Good play in a school takes planning, resources and persistence. 20% of the school day will not improve itself. Traditionally schools dedicate very little leadership attention to the management of what is often the trickiest part of the school day to manage.

4. Be Generous – How many children are in your school – 100, 200, maybe 500? How many hours play is that a year? In a school of 200 children the answer is 160,000 play hours a year. So be generous – don’t build one play house build ten, don’t put in a sand table, build a beach! Children need lots of space and lots of stuff to avoid conflict at playtimes and access to plenty of fuel for their imaginations.

5. Make use of free stuff – Children much prefer to play with stuff than on things. They don’t really mind what you give them to play with, they just need lots of it. So don’t worry about asking the PTA to raise thousands to build a thing to play on, instead think about how you can provide children with many, many things to play with. We are not talking about toys, we are talking about the secret magic ingredients of play called loose parts, which is virtually anything you can think of that is safe enough to play with, from and empty box to an old pan or a bit of wood.

6. Use Nature – Nature changes every day, it re-grows, it is naturally calming and attractive to children. Instead of a play catalogue why not go to a garden centre and see what resources they have that would provide lots of open ended play value?

7. Provide Choices – What is the essence of play? It is surely the freedom to choose for yourself. To be able to decide for your own reasons and motivations where you go, who you play with and what you play with. Look around your playground. Is it an oasis of potential choices waiting to be discovered? The more variety on offer, the more freedom of choice actually means something.

8. Allow time – Play is a human right under the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child Article 31 and every school has a legal and moral duty to implement the convention. So don’t regard playtime as a problem to be whittled away or used up with finishing work, but as an opportunity to provide an essential part of a good childhood.

9. Don’t waste your money – Children will always be attracted by newness, so any play equipment, however poor its play value, will be investigated by children for the first six weeks of its presence, but children are around school play equipment for around 1800 hours a year, for several years and it is only worth investing in capital equipment which will continue to present interest and challenge, building strength, fitness and coordination over a number of years, otherwise you are just buying very expensive benches to hang-out on.

10. Keep it up – Providing great play for every child should be the concern of every adult who cares about quality of childhood, because making play better in schools is not up to children, it is up to us the decision makers and power holders, the leaders, staff and parents. We are the people who are in charge; of their time, and their space, and the rules. Governments are not, and children cannot make us provide for their play, it must be done because we ourselves care about children having fun, joy and happiness.

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Strategies for growing your early years business

early years businessJacqui Burke, author of Building Your Early Years Business, describes the everyday challenge that early years practitioners face in providing a quality childcare service that is also a successful business. Founder of the award-winning specialist people development and training consultancy Flourishing People, and with over 25 years’ experience in the Early Years and Childcare sector, she provides some very sound practical advice for ensuring your early years business takes the next competitive step in order to thrive and grow.

Click here to read the extract

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What does the government mean by British Values and the Prevent Duty in the Early Years?

British ValuesAs a formal part of the Early Years Foundation Stage, educators are now required to deliver instruction of British Values and the Prevent Duty in classrooms, nurseries and other early years settings.  In response, Kerry Maddock, author of British Values and the Prevent Duty in the Early Years, outlines what exactly the government means by this legislation and offers clear advice to early years practitioners on how to implement British Values in such a way that also fosters individual liberty. Through case studies, research, and interviews with OFSTED inspectors, her book is an essential guide for any Early Years professional seeking guidance on this statutory requirement.

Click here to read the extract

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Tips for promoting young children’s wellbeing

Young children's wellbeing

Sonia Mainstone-Cotton, author of Promoting Young Children’s Emotional Health and Wellbeing, provides some very useful and easy tips for supporting young children’s happiness at this important stage in their development.

Wellbeing is a term we hear a lot about for adults and young people, but we don’t hear so much about it for young children. We know that the rates of teenage mental health problems are rising alarmingly, and we are aware that children and young people are feeling increasingly stressed and distressed. I passionately believe if we can help young children to have a good wellbeing then we are setting them off to a great start in life. But to help children have a good wellbeing, we need to be proactive about it.

One critical aspect of a child having good wellbeing is by them knowing that they are loved – that they are loved for the unique and precious individuals they are. Parents and grandparents clearly have a crucial role in letting children know that they are unconditionally loved, but I also believe that key workers, teaching assistants, children’s workers also have a role in showing children that they are loved and wanted. We show this through the words we use and the way we hold children. Part of my job is as a nurture consultant; I have seven children and schools that I support throughout the year. Every time I see one of my nurture children I ensure I show delight in seeing them that day. I smile at them, I look them in the eyes and tell them how lovely it is to see them today, how much I have been looking forward to our time together. Continue reading

Why We Need to Break the Silence Around Suicide, Especially for our Children

Louise Moir explains why she wrote Rafi’s Red Racing Car, details her own experiences, and expresses the need for a breakdown in the stigma that surrounds mental illness and suicide.

I lost my husband to suicide in 2011 following his brief decline into mental ill health that was triggered by a job redundancy. My sons were aged 4 ½ and nineteen months. Rafi’s Red Racing Car is the book that I wished I’d had at that time to help me with the terribly painful and bewildering task of trying to explain to my boys what had happened to their Daddy.

Before their father’s suicide, my children had not yet experienced death of any kind, so they had absolutely no understanding. I quickly learnt that their grief was too raw and overwhelming for them to be able to tolerate me talking directly about the tragedy that had enveloped us all. Very young children are very visual and respond well to explanations in pictorial or metaphoric realms. I found a wealth of good, age appropriate books that helped to explain death and the emotions that surround loss and these helped tremendously. Identifying with the character in the book who was experiencing similar events and emotions to themselves enabled my sons to externalise their own feelings, begin to understand their experience and led to them asking me questions about their own loss.

Continue reading

Early Years List Launch

Early Years behaviourWe’re delighted to announce the launch of our Early Years list. As of now, we’ll be publishing a range of resources written by Early Years specialists offering valuable advice on important issues such as behaviour management, positive learning environments and how to run a successful Early Years business. We’d like to make you aware of a number of ways you can interact with the list:

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