Introducing woodwork in the early years – find out how

Educational consultant and writer Terry Gould and I have written The Little Book of Woodwork  to encourage early years teachers to consider  introducing woodworking experiences into their settings.

The book begins with an outline of the many learning benefits of woodwork, including the way in which it develops  children’s levels of concentration, perseverance and ability to problem-solve.

Descriptions of 30 easy-to-follow ideas  follow, organised into four levels, with practical advice  about tools, safety, the role of the adult and key vocabulary. The book is available for £6.74 from

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A Chinese New Year (Feb 10th) inspiration station

Set up a laptop or mini DVD player next  to your small world animal play. Show the section telling the exciting story of the Chinese New Year animal swimming race , in Child’s Eye Media’s Festivals DVD Plus. (Conveyed very simply in five pictures, this section, with the narration turned  down, is ideal for encouraging children to re-tell the story in their own words).

When the children have seen the section, encourage them to create their own version, drawing and cutting out any animals they do not have already. Ask how the animals can be be made to swim  (e.g. with string). Ask what would  make a good smooth surface for pulling the animals along  the ‘river’ (e.g. a large sheet of polythene on the floor). When all is ready, the fun can begin! As we know, this story  is an  excellent way to help  children learn about ordinal number, too.  To see an excerpt from this award-winning  film, go to

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For Christmas learning ideas inspired by Holland, see my article in Teach Nursery magazine.

In this  article in Teach Nursery magazine (Issue 2.7), read about fun  Christmas learning ideas inspired by the Dutch  St. Nicholas  Day (December 6th). Find out about how, on St. Nicholas’s Eve, children and  their families, in their homes, meet Sinterklaas and his helpers and how  Sinterklaas ‘interviews’ each child about their thoughts and feelings on their past year, and  their plans for the coming year. The ideas in this article are ideal for nurturing in children the characteristics of effective learning.

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Celebrating Diwali (Nov 13th) – see my article in the Oct/Nov issue of Teach Nursery

Celebrating Diwali (Nov  13th) –  I have written this article  in the Oct/Nov issue of Teach Nursery from the perspective of  the Revised EYFS Framework -Understanding the world: People and Communities. The article includes ideas  on ways to encourage children to talk about  their  experiences and feelings celebrating the festival and there are also ideas for hands -on activities  for everyone to share.

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Revised EYFS – great self-evaluation audits

All set for the  Revised EYFS, there’s a  new  book, Learning and Playing Indoors, by Terry Gould, Cathy Coates-Mohammed and Judith Brierley( It’s extremely readable and full of practical wisdom, with some very useful self-evaluation audits.

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A great new free teaching resource

A great new free teaching resource for young children from the BBC is Counting with Rodd, a series of  10 films  on the  Class Clips website:  Search: counting with rodd

Each  6-minute episode  features the  irrepressible Rodd Christensen, who played  Spencer in the much – loved  Balamory series.  In Counting with Rodd, Rodd encourages  young children to delight in making their own number discoveries – just as he  does: ‘You know, a car has  4 wheels and a horse has  4 legs and so does a chair!’ There’s  counting ‘one at a time’, fun movements to join in and an action song  for each number.

Rodd’s quirky take on activities that will be familiar to early years children and their adults  will inspire lots of chatting and hands-on learning. The films are ideal  both at home and as a starter for circle or small  group  times in early years settings.

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Playful practitioners

An inspiring way to start implementing Development Matters in the Early Years Foundation  Stage  is to become engrossed in the distinctive Cosy catalogue ( Tel:  0133 370152). It really is full of truly imaginative resources, with an emphasis on outdoor learning. For example, there’s the  3-in-1 Anyway Up Worm Table – lie underneath the perspex tabletop and watch worms,  snails and other mini-beasts  meandering along above you, or look up at the clouds and draw what you see or imagine… There are hanging nature keepers for displaying patterns of leaves and irresistible, natural wood, small world accessories , and hundreds more original and creative resources.

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What turned my children into bookworms

In the eighties, Stockport Schools Libraries ran a highly successful Book Club, in association with the area’s primary schools. Children were given  a printed leaflet of book titles, went to their local library – how tragic that so many are closing –  and chose a book from the list. When they had read ten books and written  a very short review or drawn a picture on an official form, followed by a chat about it with either their class teacher or their local librarian, they were awarded a bronze badge. After twenty-five books it was silver, and after fifty, they struck gold! All gold badge winners were presented with their badge and certificate by the Chief Librarian at a school assembly, and photos of the event often appeared in the local paper.

My nine-year-old son was galvanised by the Book Club and began devouring books. His six-year-old brother, not to be outdone, soon followed suit. What a pleasure it was to eavesdrop occasionally as they chatted with one another and with friends about books they had all read. One gem I remember was: ‘Nah! didn’t really like that one ‘cos, you know, the lock on that treasure chest would definitely’ve been corroded by then and they could never’ve opened it, just with the key they found!’ My sons are now both in their thirties and remain avid readers of fiction.

I understand that now the Library Club has evolved into the equally successful ‘Reading for Gold’ club, at which children meet once a week to choose a book, and come back the following week for a ‘Who wants to be a millionaire?’- style session of chat and quizzes, with special visits from authors, storytellers and poets.

Initiatives such as this are vital to nurture the reading habit. I have just read about the Department for Education’s plan for a national reading competition in the autumn for children in the last three years of primary school and first year of secondary school. There will be local, regional and national prizes for children who can read the most books. The Department for Education is considering bids to design and deliver the competition, and will make a further announcement later.

Based on my own experience, I’m totally in favour of such a plan and hope that librarians and libraries will be fully involved – and that there will not be any further closures.

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Daily reading to children boosts social and emotional development

New research finds daily reading to children could reduce number of 3 to 5 year olds with socio-emotional problems by 20% . Whilst making clear that these findings are only part of a complex picture and should not be seen as a panacea for problems caused by inequality, Professor Yvonne Kelly, who helped produce the research for the Institute for Social and Economic Research, says that “There is something intrinsically positive about that level of intimacy between parents or carers and young children which helps foster emotional security and develop verbal skill.”

No-one could argue with this. What’s often overlooked, too, are the enormous benefits of continuing to read bedtime stories (and not only stories) to older children, including those who are accomplished readers, for just as long as they want you to continue. All children love this special one-to-one time. For a child of any age, being read to, especially at bedtime, presents the perfect opportunity for a cosy chat, perhaps about a character in a story – ‘Do you think he should’ve done that?’ A story can be way for a child to start talking about something troubling them, as well as a peaceful moment to leave behind the preoccupations of a daily life that is becoming increasingly busy for both children and adults alike, and step into the world of the imagination – a treat for the grown -up, too, after the daily grind! Parents can be forgiven, in today’s hectic world, for feeling too tired or busy for reading to children at bedtime, but if they can do this, the spin-offs are enormous.

Please see also my blogs about bedtime stories, What’s the story, Evening Glory?; In your night time garden and Encouraging parents to read bedtime stories. This last blog mentioned the recent TalkTalk Tales competition to find the country’s best bedtme storyteller. The competition was judged by Bernard Cribbens, and you can hear some of the entrants at .  You don’t have to be a Bernard Cribbens – your child will love your reading!

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Create a Thinking House and Bodhi Tree for Wesak

Celebrate the Birthday of the  Buddha at Wesak time by encouraging children to create their own Thinking House , like the children  in the  film ‘Sian’s Wesak Day’ on the award-winning   ‘A Child’s Eye View of Festivals 2’  DVD Plus.


 On Wesak  Day, Theravada  Buddhists celebrate the birth, Enlightenment and the death of the Buddha. Mahayana Buddhists celebrate only his birth on this day. They celebrate his Enlightenment and commemorate his death on two further, separate occasions.  Before his Enlightenment, the Buddha was called Prince Siddhartha. He was born 2,500 years ago at Lumbini Gardens, Northern India (now Nepal). The festival story tells of the Prince’s kindness to an injured swan. In the film ‘Sian’s Wesak Day’, Sian and her friends find out about the Buddhists’ respect for all living things and the natural world.

 Create a Thinking House

 Encourage children to create and decorate a quiet nurture area where one child at a time can go and sit and ‘think about being happy’. Children can use, for   example, blocks, crates on their side threaded with leaves, cardboard cartons, rugs and cushions. Alternatively, use a ready-made willow shelter, tent, or gazebo. Decorate with streamers, leaves, real or artificial flowers, tissue paper flower garlands and wind chimes. Let children decorate old CDs using collage materials and glue, then hang the discs up inside and outside the House. Children  can make  miniature ‘water gardens’ by   putting a little water in disposable clear plastic bowls, and adding pebbles,  petals, blossom, dandelions and leaves. Arrange the bowls on a builders’ tray in a space of its own to avoid knocks.

 Talk together about how the children feel in the ‘Thinking House’, for example, calm, quiet, peaceful, still, cool,  tranquil, serene. Encourage them to think of their own name for this special place, and to make a sign, for example, ‘Our Peaceful Place’, ‘Our Calm Corner’ or ‘The Quiet Space’.

 Our Bodhi Tree

 The tree under which Prince Siddhartha meditated until he reached the state of Enlightenment is known as the Bodhi tree, or Tree of Knowledge or the Tree of the Awakening. The Bodhi tree is sacred to Buddhists.  Bodhi trees (pipal or peepul trees) grow widely inIndia, and the tradition of writing or painting on Bodhi leaves is an ancient art form.

Have a supply of green paper ‘Bodhi leaves’ (roughly heart-shaped), inside the House. Beforehand, punch a hole through each ‘leaf’, towards one end. Put a clipboard with pencil attached on a string, next to the ‘leaves’. Say that children may, if they  wish, write down their ‘happy feeling’ on a leaf, then tie it  , with colored parcel ribbon, on your ‘Bodhi tree’  – small branches stuck in a large plastic pot of soil, outside the ‘House’. Ask children to tie their leaves on the ‘tree’ loosely so that they flutter in the breeze.

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