Forest School and Autism

Upon the release of his book, Forest School and Autism, we spoke to author and practitioner Michael James about what exactly Forest School involves, and why it’s so well suited for autistic learners. 

What exactly is meant by the term ‘Forest School’?

The term “Forest School” describes a specific approach to outdoor learning. Forest School has a strong ethos of learner-centered practice combined with an understanding of the benefits to wellbeing which come from regular contact with nature. Forest School is attended by people of all ages and abilities.

forest school

How is Forest School suited to the needs of autistic people?

Well, I’m always very aware of the saying “If you’ve met one person with autism, then you’ve met one person of autism”! The learner-centered ethos of Forest School seeks to accommodate the individual needs of different learners, and this flexibility can allow autistic learners the space to be themselves and engage on their own terms. This space includes the physical space of natural settings, which is far greater than in indoor settings, and also there is more space in time afforded by the Forest School approach. In my experience, this approach can suit autistic learners very well. Another strength of Forest School is the heightened awareness of place which can encourage practitioners to consider the sensory environment which is obviously important when learners have different sensory needs. For Forest School to best meet the needs of autistic learners the practitioner needs to develop autism awareness, and this book aims to promote and encourage that.

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How can we stop anxious thoughts from spiralling out of control?

Anxiety losing controlClinical psychologists Sue Knowles and Bridie Gallagher discuss mindfulness as a way to relieve stress and anxiety.  Their article has been adapted from their new book, My Anxiety Handbook: Getting Back on Track, which provides young people with guidance on how to recognise and manage anxiety’s difficulties. The book is co-written by a young person with anxiety, Phoebe McEwen.

Do you ever feel like your mind is full of worries about what’s happening in the past or could in the future?  Sometimes we have so many things in our minds that it can seem like never-ending noise, a whirlwind or even a washing machine!

Mindfulness is a technique that helps us to calm our thoughts and focus on the present moment.  This means that we try to think about the here and now, and not the past or future.  If thoughts are racing around your mind, you may feel anxious, worried, overwhelmed or stressed.  It can be useful to take some time just to “be aware” in the present moment, accepting what is happening around you.  Mindfulness is quite different from relaxation, although it can lead to you feeling more relaxed.  With mindfulness, the goal is to focus your mind and be more aware of what you are experiencing; whereas with relaxation, the goal is simply to relax or release a tense body or mind. Continue reading

School readiness – Don’t judge a book by its cover!

 

school readiness

When I put together a proposal for Jessica Kingsley Publishers about this book – I debated long and hard about the title! Using the contested term school readiness might put many people off reading the book, simply because that horrible phrase is used in the title. I’m not sure if I would have picked it up. However, it is this emotional response that spurred me on to write this book in the first place and also to use the term. I want to spark a debate and claim the phrase school readiness in an appropriate way for young children.

I explore the fact that there is no nationally recognised definition of school readiness and there is even confusion about the phase of education that it refers to. For many people, school readiness is about a child starting school for the first time, usually entering a Reception class, while for other people, school readiness is about moving out of the Early Years Foundation Stage and into Year One.

School readiness could also involve a number of different skills and abilities. A reception class teacher may feel that school readiness is about a child being able to go to the toilet independently or change for PE, while for a parent it could mean that their child is emotionally mature enough to separate from them for a whole day. Policy makers may assume that school readiness is about academic ability on entering school and a nursery practitioner might believe it to include social skills and self-regulation. Within this confusion, it is vital that early childhood educators consider how they define school readiness and own this phrase, because not having clarity could leave the door open for a top-down approach where we are told what it means, perhaps in terms that we do not agree with.

I believe that we should be looking at school readiness in a holistic way which is firmly centred around the child. As part of my research for this book, I worked with a group of teachers and early years practitioners and we developed the following model of school readiness. We placed the child at the centre and around them are three main areas of influence: school, setting and home. Each of these areas has key issues that relate to school readiness and support the child.   Encompassing all of these areas are environmental factors which can affect the child in a broader context. This is, in our opinion, a comprehensive view of school readiness and is hopefully a helpful model for use when supporting children transitioning to school. Continue reading

Why Gender Diversity in Children’s Books Matters

Gender diverse children's booksAlice Reeves and Phoebe Kirk discuss the importance of gender diverse children’s books as a way of helping them to understand that expressing our gender identity in whatever way we choose doesn’t have to be a problem in today’s society.  They are the authors of The Truth and Tails series, which aims to eliminate prejudices and encourage inclusion in young children aged 4-8.

When we’ve shared posts about our children’s book Vincent the Vixen on social media, a question we’ve been asked a few times is: “Hang on, isn’t a Vixen a female fox?”

We wanted the title of the book to spark intrigue, and give a small insight into its theme, and it’s been interesting to see that some people are more likely to assume that we’ve made a mistake than that we’re writing a book about a character that isn’t cisgender. Continue reading

Finding the words: Storytelling and Story-Reading in Early Years

Storytelling

A contract to write a book offers a fantastic opportunity to consider your thoughts. Storytelling and Story-Reading in Early Years was a challenge. It meant thinking back over 30 years of very varied experience as a professional storyteller, working with every age-group and in all kinds of venues in the UK and overseas. What could I crystallise about working with young children? The question meant far more than thinking about the immediate experience of a storytelling session – what stories to tell, how to gain and keep the children’s attention, how to manage the occasional difficult child. It also meant reviewing my regular practice in terms of arranging a session – where to get children to sit, how long the stories should last and how to relate to the members of staff who regularly worked with the children and also, maybe, to the parents who might later hear bits and bobs about what we’d done.

There was another issue too. Storytelling of the oral sort was to be only one side of this book. Story-reading was also to be considered. For this side of things, I found myself thinking back to the early 1980s and my four years of part-time work for the now-defunct Lambeth Library Storytelling Scheme. After all, this is what had got me into storytelling in the first place. It had been an important experience. Throughout the four years, I’d kept careful notes and on reflection there were so many ways in which it had taught me my trade not only with Early Years children but audiences in general. As I reflected on it, I also began to see the many common features between story-reading and storytelling and how one can lead to the other. This proved a helpful realisation.

Over the years as a professional storyteller, I’ve run innumerable training courses for Early Years staff and for parents. These have meant taking on board the fears and worries so many adults harbour about themselves. Fears of speaking up in front of children when other adults are nearby. Fears of things getting out of control and resulting in chaos. Worries people have about their voice: is it too soft, too deep, too boring? Plus for people from other cultures, there’s frequently a worry about whether their English is good enough. As well as all this, the idea of telling a story without a book is something completely unfamiliar to many today. Some are terrified of the prospect until they dare to try it and see what power it has.

Soon I realised that my varied experience across the years had taught me enough to write about the Early Years side of my work. Next came the actual writing. Type of language, style of presentation, numbers of chapters: all these became issues to resolve. Also it’s normal for me that my head is full of little anecdotes from my working life. Would I be able to include a selection from the Early Years work in such a way as to draw attention to them? I’m so happy this proved possible. For me, anecdotes capture so much about the realities of what goes on.

Surrounding the personal issues outlined above, there was also a strong awareness of how vital it is today to encourage the direct telling and reading of stories to children. Nowadays even very young children are spending considerable amounts of time with their devices. On screen are many stories in the form of games and cartoons. Yet the age-old experience of human beings all over the world is that the stories heard directly from parents and others when they’re young constitute some of their most formative experiences. It’s not just the stories. It’s how they are given and the bonds that are strengthened in the process.

Such concerns gave me a wider purpose in writing Storytelling and Story-Reading in Early Years. In my own childhood growing up in Wales, my father was one of my most important storytellers. There were others. I was lucky. Aware of my own good fortune and what importance so many other people attach to such experience, I feel it can now be a mission of mine to add to the growing awareness of the loss our society will suffer if children today fail to get it. A recent survey from Nielsen Book Research established that there has been a significant fall (almost a fifth since 2013) in the numbers of parents regularly reading to children. Parents are apparently too busy and too tired to make time for it. I’d like to help persuade them otherwise and meantime, too, to ensure that young children also receive the best possible experience of hearing stories at nursery or school. – Mary Medlicott

Storytelling

In this easy-to-read and essential guide, storytelling trainer Mary Medlicott gives professionals the tools to get the best out of oral storytelling and story-reading sessions, with management, performance and language techniques.

Included are examples of stories and post-story activities that are most successful with children of ages 2 to 5. Medlicott shows how to prepare for the session, spark children’s imagination with props, voices and facial expressions, and encourage empathy with thoughtful use of language and variety.


If you would like to read more articles like this and get the latest news and offers on our early years books, why not join our mailing list? We can send information by email or post as you prefer. You may also be interested in liking our Special Ed, PSHE and Early Years Resources Facebook page.

Autism as Difference Not Disorder: Insights from the Author

Drawing on 30 years of professional experience and detailed research, Difference Not Disorder: Understanding Autism Theory in Practice exposes the myths around autism and provides practical guidance on teaching and learning, behaviour management, addressing sensory and physical needs of children with ASD.

Difference Not Disorder

Our recognition and understanding of autism forms a recent story in terms of human knowledge. In my lifetime this story gained momentum, hastening to the current perception of autism as neurological in nature. However, across the globe this neurological nature, viewed at-odds with the neuro-typical one, is considered impaired or disordered. The over-arching aim of this book was to question this assumption while posing an alternative view of difference not disorder because of all the children I had the honour to work with, children with autism were some of the bravest.

disorder

There are limitless ways in which I witnessed their bravery. They included venturing every day out into a world with incomprehensible social rules and codes in which lack of or inappropriate response could result in unwelcome, verbal attention or even confusing reprimand. It also included perpetually manoeuvring through sights, sounds and textures that could overwhelm and/or aggravate the senses often without being able to express mounting stress and distress; and/or experiencing revulsions towards some tasks but compulsions towards others in situations where you had no idea of the duration or scheduling of either.

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Child Protection in the Early Years – Eunice Lumsden

Young children are among the most vulnerable people in our community. Protected, cherished and encouraged to explore their world, they will flourish, but exploited, molested or subjected to violence or neglect, they will struggle to do so. Because Early Years practitioners relate so closely and for so many hours with young children, they are key professionals when it comes to safeguarding.
The essential role of Early Years staff was brought home to me during the many years I worked at the front line of child protection. I observed that they are the experts in communicating with pre-verbal children or those with limited verbal skills. Furthermore, every day they see lots of happy, thriving children, and so instinctively recognise one who, despite a cheerful façade, is neglected and suffering. Those involved in Early Childhood Education and Care (ECEC) can appear approachable and non-threatening, so parents experiencing difficulties with their children will feel comfortable confiding in them. However, too often in the past staff engaged in ECEC had difficulty expressing their concerns or making their voices heard. I recall attending a case conference where the parents were absent.

The chairperson gave a young, female practitioner, introduced as a ‘nursery nurse’, very little opportunity to contribute, asking her to simply state whether the children attended nursery regularly. Before she could add anything else, the chairperson brusquely moved on to the other contributors. In the moments before the conference ended, the nursery nurse managed to mention that the mother had confided that she was pregnant again. Accordingly, just as everyone was preparing to leave, we all had to sit back down and spend another half an hour discussing the implications of this new development, given that it made many of our earlier recommendations irrelevant or inappropriate.
This example illustrates that while Early Years practitioners undoubtedly have superlative skills in observation, communication and in relating to young children and their families, some may need help and guidance to articulate their concerns or raise issues assertively with other professionals; Child Protection in the Early Years: A Practical Guide will assist with this. The book is designed to enhance basic knowledge of safeguarding and the impact of abuse on children’s development. It will help ensure practitioners know how to recognise, record and report concerns. Readers are given insights into the relevance of attachment theory, the significance of policy and procedures, and the importance of working with others. Finally, the creation of an environment that promotes the development of traumatised children is discussed. There are exercises, reflection points, case studies and practice points, all designed to help readers assimilate information while the material is presented in a highly readable form.
Child Protection in the Early Years will prove a valuable resource in providing those working in ECEC with the knowledge and guidance to help them take full advantage of their skills and understanding in order to safeguard children.

From the foreword by Dr Celia Doyle

Author Eunice Lumsden is Head of Early Years at the University of Northampton, UK. She is a registered social worker with over thirty years’ experience, specialising in children and families.


If you would like to read more articles like this and get the latest news and offers on our early years books, why not join our mailing list? We can send information by email or post as you prefer. You may also be interested in liking our Special Ed, PSHE and Early Years Resources Facebook page.

LGBT+ inclusive lesson plans for secondary school teachers

Draw on youth culture to encourage participation in positive social change

Educate & Celebrate engages with accessible youth currencies to stimulate the link between LGBT+ people and popular culture using book collections, YouTube links, videos
and songs. Lesson plans draw on teenagers’ sense of justice, giving opportunities for student critique of current political and social issues and empowering them to create ‘a society which reacts angrily to any case of injustice and promptly sets about correcting it.’ Our intention is to give permission for our young people to join us on the journey to institutional change where recognition of discrimination through the protected characteristics is encouraged.

Some of the secondary schools we have worked with introduced and enhanced their Educate & Celebrate programme of curriculum with key moments in the school calendar, including:
• year group assemblies
• visiting speakers
• impact days focusing on equalities
• in the library, the schools provided LGBT+ inclusive literature – both fact and fiction – and highlighted these with a display at key points on the calendar such as Anti- Bullying Week and LGBT History Month.

LGBT+ lesson plans

(Full plans and resources are available on the Educate & Celebrate website)

Key Stage 3 French – Name the colours on the Rainbow Pride Flag and talk about what they mean: red for life, orange for healing, yellow for the sun, green for nature, turquoise blue for art, indigo for harmony and violet for spirit. Listen to the song ‘Ziggy’ by Celine Dion. This is about a heterosexual woman who is in love with a gay man. See how many words you can catch and translate. Analyse the text to understand the words used to describe Ziggy and how her friendship with him is different.

Key Stage 4 ICT – To understand the concept of the binary system in computing, discuss the meaning of ‘binary’ in different contexts, understanding that human gender is not binary. Students can learn to add eight binary numbers and be able to explain the words that describe different genders.

Key Stage 5 PE – Look at the golden triangle of success in professional sports – sport, media and sponsorship – and discuss how this idea of success might be implemented in the case of an LGBT+ footballer.

For more activities for secondary school teachers, check out  How to Transform Your School into an LGBT+ Friendly Place by Dr Elly Barnes MBE and Dr Anna Carlile. 

Follow this link for more LGBT+ inclusive books for use in the classroom. 

Follow us on Facebook @JKPGenderDiversity and Twitter @JKPBooks for more exclusive content from our LGBT books and authors. 

How can primary school teachers make their schools feel LGBT+ friendly?

The importance of an inclusive environment

Your aim is to increase the visibility of LGBT+ people, issues and equality by utilising the all-powerful, accessible tool of the physical environment. In this way, you can make information widely available to all stakeholders (staff, governors, pupils and parents) to stimulate conversation.

Considering the environment enables the process of change to flow into the corridors, classrooms, reception areas, school hall, staffroom, social media and publicity. Your plan is to make the entire physical environment a safe space through visible displays and key words in prominent areas and teaching spaces, for everyone to experience.

How to make your environment LGBT+ friendly

  • Decide on a key message, like ‘We Educate and Celebrate!’
  • Link displays to your curriculum
  • Get the children and young people to participate in choosing and creating display content
  • Don’t forget the internet as well as your school’s physical walls
  • Make a real impact on visitors and potential families in your institution’s reception area

3 examples that primary school teachers can implement

1. A positive poster in the reception area affirming LGBT+ identities can make a huge difference to the confidence, productivity and self-esteem of a parent or staff member.

2. A primary school in a rural area in the north of England has an electronic message on the digital signing-in station in the reception area, stating: ‘Our school welcomes everyone from all walks of life. Everyone must welcome and celebrate others in our school.’ The visitor then has the choice to ‘accept’ or ‘not accept’. If they do not accept, then they cannot gain access to the school. Each visitor who accepts then receives a printed lanyard with an equality statement mounted on a rainbow background. The theme continues on the wall, with a flag display representing all the different nationalities of students, with a Rainbow Flag among them showing an intersectional approach to the school’s equality agenda.

3. Don’t forget how uniform and uniform policies can impact on your school environment. A gender-neutral uniform can really send a message out about how all children, regardless of the gender roles imposed on them, have the right to express their gender as they need to.

For more activities for primary school teachers, check out  How to Transform Your School into an LGBT+ Friendly Place by Dr Elly Barnes MBE and Dr Anna Carlile. 

Follow this link for more LGBT+ inclusive books for use in the classroom. 

Follow us on Facebook @JKPGenderDiversity and Twitter @JKPBooks for more exclusive content from our LGBT books and authors. 

How to make your nursery gender neutral: activities for early years teachers

How can you develop an LGBT+ inclusive curriculum at the early years phase?

What are we saying to our children and young people through our curriculum? What messages are they receiving through what we teach and the activities we provide?

Once you start to notice the discrepancy between your curriculum and the diversity of the real world, you won’t be able to stop! For example, in your nursery, do you set up the table of cars and trucks with the boys in mind?

Our research shows that the roots of homophobia, biphobia and transphobia are deeply fixed within perceptions of gender. For example, being a lesbian means falling outside the social expectations of what it means to be female; or having a gay dad can mean a child experiences bullying because their family does not fit the usual gender roles people expect. If all the stories in your book corner show children with a mum and a dad, those who live with a grandparent, foster carer, or LGBT+ parented family might feel that their family is not important. Children put in this position can find themselves unhappy because they or their families don’t fit within expected gender roles.

Here are some gender-neutral activities that nursery school teachers can employ to develop an LGBT+ inclusive curriculum at the early years phase.

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