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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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

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.

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.

Giving Children a Voice – Extract

How do you ensure that children’s voices and ideas are heard and valued in relation to the settings that form part of their everyday lives?

Presenting an easy to adopt step-by-step framework, this book argues in favour of children’s potential to advocate for themselves, in contrast to the current model in which adults take full control and advocate on the child’s behalf. By honouring and harnessing the involvement and contributions of children, social workers and education professionals will be able to improve their daily practice and positively transform key spaces within society to create environments where children experience a sense of belonging and purpose, full of potential benefits for both adults and children. Practical at its core, the book has wide applications, from examining the place of children in legal matters, such as divorce, through to the child’s engagement in decisions about their education. International case studies reveal how the model works in practice and encourages children’s voices and their participation.

Sam Frankel, author of Giving Children a Voice, is Creative Director of EquippingKids. He is Honorary Research Fellow University of Sheffield and part-time faculty at Kings at University of Western Ontario, Canada. Publications include Streetwise (JKP, 2009).

The book is broken down into three parts; the introduction, part 1 and part 2. Part 1 covers creating a climate for change through revitalised thinking and being spatially aware. Part 2 covers turning rhetoric into reality through speaking the right language, creating opportunities and leading the change. The below extract, taken from the introduction, covers creating a culture for advocacy.

Click here to read the extract.


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School Readiness and the Characteristics of Effective Learning

School ReadinessTamsin Grimmer explores the concept of school readiness by unpicking what the term means for children in her new book School Readiness and the Characteristics of Effective Learning, here is a synopsis of what you can expect from the book taken from the introduction.


Children’s firsts are celebrated around the world. The first smile, the first wave, the first time they crawl, walk, or talk and one hugely celebrated milestone, the first time they go to school.

When we consider the phrase ‘school readiness’ and its use and misuse in policy and practice, we perhaps open up a can of worms. There are conflicting views over definitions and the term provokes strong feelings. It is my hope that my book will play its part in the debate and ensure that the views of practitioners, parents and most importantly children are taken into account. It will offer parents ideas of how to support children at home prior to starting school, as well as practitioners in settings and schools. It aims to keep children central to the discussion because they are, after all, the ones who will be starting school.

The transition into school for the first time requires children to cope with many changes. They will have hugely different expectations placed upon them, major changes in their daily routine and changes in their learning environment. This necessitates children to have within them the ability to cope with these challenges and display attributes such as self-confidence and resilience to name but two. Continue reading

Inside food anxiety: Leah’s story

Inside food anxiety: Leah’s story

This article on food anxiety is by Jo Cormack, author of Helping Children Develop a Positive Relationship with Food.

Have you ever looked into a child’s eyes as they contemplate the plate of food you have served, and thought to yourself “what is going on in there?” Have you ever wondered what it’s really like to be a very picky eater, anxious about what challenges the next meal may bring?

Empathy is at the heart of my approach to working with picky eaters, because if we can’t put on a child’s shoes and walk around in them (as Scout puts it, in To Kill a Mockingbird…) we can’t hope to help that child. Seeing food from their perspective is essential.

This article is all about what it’s like to be a very picky eater, struggling with food anxiety. I wanted to share a child’s point of view, but with an adult’s insight and ability to articulate complex and emotionally difficult ideas. So I asked Leah (not her real name) – a parent in my facebook group for parents of picky eaters where I am co-admin – if she would mind recounting her experience of being a very picky eater as a child.

Leah told me how, until she was two or three years old, she ate pretty much everything. But then when her baby brother arrived, she explains that “in protest, I just stopped eating”. I have seen this before; sometimes big life changes can be incredibly hard for young children to process. They feel profoundly out of control and so they search frantically for something that they can control. Sometimes, this can be their eating. It’s one of the few things that a toddler can choose to do, or not do. Continue reading

Making therapeutic board games with kids

feelings

Dr Fiona Zandt and Dr Suzanne Barrett, authors of Creative Ways to Help Children Manage BIG Feelings, are clinical psychologists who currently work in successful private practices in Melbourne. They each have over 15 years’ experience working with children and families. 

Spider Squash, Temper Trail, Goodbye Worry Monster, and Beat the Anger Volcano are some of the board games we’ve created to help children with emotional difficulties. Board games are a great thing to make in therapy with children. While there are a number of excellent therapeutic board games on the market, making your own allows you to personalise them to meet the needs of the child you are working with. You can incorporate their interests and reflect on their individual strengths. Children often talk much more freely when engaged in play and the process of making the game together provides the opportunity for many helpful discussions. They require few materials, can readily be taken home, and are easily adapted for use with children with a wide range of emotional issues. Perhaps most importantly though making board games is fun.

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‘Eat your peas or you won’t get your ice cream!’: Five reasons why withholding dessert will backfire

Article by Jo Cormack, author of Helping Children Develop a Positive Relationship with Food.

When people ask me which question I get asked the most by parents of picky eaters, they are often surprised at the answer. It isn’t: ‘how can I get my child to eat more veggies?’ or even: ‘how can I get my child to try new foods?’ It is: ‘how should I handle dessert?’

For the last few decades – at least in the UK where I live – it has been standard practice in many families, for parents to tell children that they need to eat all or most of their main course before they ‘earn’ their dessert .

When you are already concerned about the lack of variety in your child’s diet, making dessert conditional can feel like good parenting because it is a way (in the short term) of potentially increasing children’s food intake.

It can work, for sure. If your goal is getting your child to eat three more peas than they might otherwise have done,  holding the ice cream hostage could possibly make that happen.

Instead of going for short term gain,  I want to argue that withholding dessert can actually be harmful to your child’s long term relationship with food.  Here are five reasons why: Continue reading

Winston Wallaby Can’t Stop Bouncing

Winston Wallaby Can’t Stop Bouncing is a fun, illustrated storybook that will help children aged 5-10 with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD) and/ or Autism Spectrum Conditions (ASC/ASD) to recognise their sensory needs and to develop tools to support them. To learn more about the book, who better to ask than its authors, K.I. Al-Ghani and Joy Beaney? Chatting to them, we learned a lot about hyperactivity in children, what to look out for and what can help. There’s even a downloadable activity sheet for teachers. Read on to find out more.adhd

What motivated you to write Winston Wallaby Can’t Stop Bouncing and who is the book for?

Joy and I have worked together in special education for many years. We noticed that there were not many books available that could explain hyper-activity to children in a story format.  We decided to collaborate on this project using Joy’s expertise in Sensory Processing Difficulties, my skills as a story teller and Haitham’s ability to bring it all to life, through his illustrations.
We think the book has something for everyone: It is a story all children can enjoy. A story in which, we hope, children with hyperactivity will be able see themselves in Winston.  They will learn that it is not their fault and instead of being the problem, they could learn to be part of the solution. Parents and educators will have tools and strategies they can use that can help the child to manage their hyperactivity and, if successful, perhaps avoid the need for medication.

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