Tuesday, 15 March 2022

The importance of Pen Green Centre for Children and their Families

Pen Green Centre for Children and their Families is facing the fight of its life. It's vital we all step in with our support. 

You may have seen the news that the centre is facing a huge cut in its funding. Lots of organisations are on the ropes and other Children's Centres have closed down all around the country. The other nursery schools around Pen Green desperately need extra funding, too. 

So, why does Pen Green matter?

Firstly, because Pen Green stands for something very special. We're always hearing about the deficits in children and families - what children can't do, or all about the latest programme to 'fix things'. Pen Green stands for a different tradition. It's about community development: celebrating and building on the strengths of children, their families, and their communities. We need that voice. 

Secondly, because Pen Green is a world-famous centre of excellence. We should be proud that we have this centre in England, that's celebrated all over the world. We should also be under no illusions. If a centre with this history, reputation and strength can be threatened and undermined, no nursery school is safe, anywhere. 

Lastly, beware the argument that's being made. Others need a share of this funding, so it's only fair to cut Pen Green back. That's an argument which opens a dangerous door a bit wider, letting in a very chill wind of hardship and destruction. 

We know how much love and support centres like Pen Green generate in their communities. I wouldn't put a price on that myself. But if you would like the economics, then Nobel Laureate James Heckman can offer plenty of evidence that 'skills developed through quality early childhood education last for a lifetime'. Centres like Pen Green are a great investment

Fight for the other nursery schools and early years providers around Pen Green to get fair funding because they matter, too. Don't pitch them against each other in a zero-sum game. 

Friday, 18 February 2022

Worries and anxieties of fussy eaters

Sarah Scotland writes:

In the early years, you are often in a position where you are feeding children. How do you cope when you have a fussy or anxious eater? 

At your setting, you may have fussy for anxious eaters and you may have children who find it difficult to sit at the table. You may get frustrated that they are not eating the food that you have provided. Encourage parents to talk to you about what happens at home, could you make a plan together?


Most importantly, think about what the child might be going through. Take a moment to understand from their point of view. Think what might be their reasons for not wanting to eat or sit at the table. Children don’t want  to be awkward and go hungry. Most likely, they want to please, but a mixture of fear, worry or a lack of trust may make mealtimes stressful places for them.

Enjoying a snack together

In order for children to be confident eaters they need to be able to understand the cues that make them want to eat. They need to have an appetite; they need to know that mealtimes will be enjoyable; and they need to have a good relationship with the person who is going to share a meal with them.


From an adult’s point of view it might seem crazy that a child will just not eat, that they need to be cajoled into eating, that they might have fears and worries that affect them.


Be aware of why a child might be worried, talk to parents about past experiences. Find out if they have suffered an allergic reaction or experienced traumatic gagging.

Monday, 27 December 2021

Creating the safe, happy space where children are inspired to talk, listen, play and learn: guest blog by Emma Davis

The publication of the revised Early Years Foundation Stage brought with it an increased focus on communication and language development.  With it being a prime area, educators were already aware of the importance of promoting this, but it is now a clear priority.  We know that communication and language development is vitally important in the early years as it underpins development in all other areas.  In prioritising communication and language, we are giving all children the skills to succeed in their future education and adult life.  

Developing skills in communication and language impacts on a child’s holistic development.  Children are able to express themselves, share their ideas, talk about their experiences, make friends, access play and learning opportunities, make sense of the world and influence our curriculum and planning.  We are paving the way for later literacy development, enabling them to understand instructions, ask questions and become independent, curious learners.

Creating a language rich environment

Communication and language can be prioritised through the culture and ethos of settings and schools.  

Saturday, 4 December 2021

Guest blog: Role Play as a Vehicle for Learning by Annalise Doe

Annalise Doe writes:

Development Matters looks to improve outcomes for children aged 0–5 years old, with a particular focus on the importance of speaking and listening skills. The new framework has 2 goals: ‘listening, attention, understanding’ and ‘speaking’. The need for quality adult–child interactions is also highlighted.

Having co-owned and managed a day nursery, worked as a lecturer in childhood, and having the benefit of hindsight, I would now base provision for 3- to 5-year-old children solely around role play. Role play, in its many forms, is a key way in which we can promote and enhance all aspects of receptive and expressive language.

Sunday, 28 November 2021

Curricular goals: reflections one year on from early adoption

Just over a year ago, we decided to pilot the revised EYFS as early adopters in the nursery school where I'm headteacher. We judged it would be a good opportunity to try out new approaches, and that the timing would be right too. During that period of the pandemic, we urgently wanted to put our major focus on supporting children's early communication, both in nursery and at home through our partnership with parents. We shared some of our findings about the special focus on communication, and working with parents, in a series of blogs for East London Research School (summarised here). We also shared some findings in a follow-up blog

One piece of work we did which attracted a lot of interest was to develop a top-level view of our curriculum. I blogged about this back in November 2020. With over 26,000 views, it's one of the most-visited posts on my site. 

So, a year on, I'm sharing a few key reflections and sharing our updated policy [PDF]. 

I'd like to thank my colleagues Lindsey Foster, Melissa Prendergast, Rahima Begum, Adam Mohamed, Fliss James, Stephenie Bostock and Tatiana Suliga who - with the whole team - have pushed so much thinking forward. 

You're welcome to re-use or adapt any aspect of that policy, as long as you credit the source. Because this is work in progress, the policy is long - writing and revising it is our way of thinking it through. 

How has our approach changed? Here is a brief summary.

  1. We judged that the policy didn't adequately explain the role of play and children's free exploration in their early learning. It sounded like two hybrid approaches (a curriculum, and play-based learning) had simply been pushed together. We've found a better way of thinking this through by reflecting on Ann Epstein's terrific book, The Intentional Teacher. The book argues that intentional teachers act with specific outcomes or goals in mind for all domains of children’s development and learning. Being clear about those outcomes helps us to support learning in all its different forms. It also means we have become sceptical of the notion of 'following children's interests' as if we are a step behind the children, just watching their learning unfold. 
  2. We judged that the goals didn't provide enough explanation of the different steps on the way. Also, by being clearer about those steps, we can see how to support children's key learning if they aren't interested in the specific activities we plan in-line with our policy. There is an important line we mustn't cross. We should be gently encouraging children to take part, and building their confidence and skills if they are a barrier to participation. But we should be extremely wary of anything stronger. It's all too easy to put very young children off learning before they have even started compulsory education. 
  3. We also judged that setting out key vocabulary alongside the goals would support the team better. It's very important to us that rich vocabulary is introduced and used in a natural way, so that children use and remember words which may not be part of their everyday conversation. We don't want to have word lists, and to hammer home vocabulary in a stilted way.

I'm sharing all this on our blog as I think there are still many important debates to have. I welcome your thoughts, and I would like to thank all the people who got in touch last time round with support, challenges and clearer thinking. 

Tuesday, 9 November 2021

Friday, 29 October 2021

Guest blog: the Early Years Foundation Stage Reforms – Reflections from an Early Adopter School

My name is Katherine Davis and I am the Early Years Lead at Penn Wood Primary School in Slough.  We are a three-form entry primary school with a 52-place nursery offering both 15- and 30-hour places.   Below are some reflections from our journey as Early Adopters: positives, challenges and take-away messages.

Positives arising from the new framework

·       Relationships

Relationships (between staff and between staff, children and their families) have been at the heart of our implementation of the new framework.  More time has been spent with the children rather than on pushing ourselves to gather evidence across the areas of learning.  We have spent much more time getting to know children and supporting their learning individually.  Building a dialogue with families, and truly valuing their input, continues to be central to our approach.  The pandemic and resulting lockdowns increased our engagement with families; regular phone calls and remote learning provision meant we got to learn far more about our families’ lives.  The challenge now will be to sustain this level of partnership in times that are more ‘normal’.