Monday 22nd June. The power of the practitioner.

The Power of the Practitioner.

Some implications from research in the field of neuroscience and attachment theory for current practice in the early years.

When early learning and childcare is fully open things will be different. There will be restrictions on how resources can be used and on the amount of time children spend in establishments. Readjusting to the return will have an impact on children, practitioners and parents and carers. 

Something that will be the same however, is the relationships practitioners create with children, families and each other.

We know that relationships are at the heart of effective early years practice but perhaps it is more important than even to remember this.

In this short blog I will outline two examples of knowledge from the field of neuroscience and one from attachment theory, describe how these apply to practice and suggest ways we can use this knowledge to maximise opportunities to promote feelings of safety and support the conditions in which children can develop and learn effectively.

We must remember that brain development is particularly rapid in the early years and therefore we should be particularly mindful of our impact on this.

How children feel matters.

Consider the ways that children naturally like to ‘be’; thinking, making choices, supported by adults who are calm and pleasant. These are the conditions in which children will be emotionally invested in what they are doing. In such conditions with this emotional investment, the brain releases the neurotransmitter dopamine which makes us feel good. Dopamine also drives attention which in turn drives development and learning. 

If we ignore children’s emotional investment and perhaps veer towards more controlling and restrictive methods these may invoke feelings of anxiety. These negative feelings can lead to the release of other neurotransmitters and hormones such as cortisol and serotonin which decrease attention and effectively block learning.

We need to consider the environment, choices available to children and our interactions and ask how can we maximise children’s feelings of wellbeing and emotional investment and therefore their opportunities to learn? 

How practitioners and parents and carers feel also matters.

The same processes as described above for children also take place in adults, so it is important to consider this. We all have a responsibility to contribute to the ethos in our establishments, we are affected by and in turn affect this. How we treat each other matters, so what does this look like in practice? The environment and relationships between staff and parents will impact on this. 

Interactions really matter.

The way we interact and communicate with children has a direct effect on their brains. Mirror neurons trigger responses in children’s brains that are a direct result of our communication, verbal and non verbal. Babies are attuned to the nuanced responses of their caregiver and we need to remember that young children are too. Our facial expressions matter, do we physically go to their level when possible to communicate? What about our tone of voice and body language?

Perhaps we will be less likely to approach children and be close to them as a result of covid, and of course we must be mindful of guidance in this area but we also need to make sure that our communications and interactions with children still have the power to trigger ‘positive’ mirror neurons.

“A teacher’s moment by moment actions and interactions with children are the most powerful determinants of learning outcomes and development. Curriculum is important but what the teacher does is paramount” Copple and Bredekamp, 2009, p,xii

Relationships influence expectations.

We are all affected by the relationships we had in our early years. Young children develop ‘working models’ based on their experiences that shape their expectations of how adults will behave. Importantly, these will influence how children respond to adults no matter how the adult behaves. For example, two children with different experiences and views of how adults behave will respond differently to the same interactions as a result of their expectations. 

Children’s responses will perhaps be more influenced by their ‘working models’  and perceptions of adult behaviours after lockdown. Children who have had positive experiences and interactions that have supported them to have a positive self-view will expect the adults in early years settings and schools to behave in these ways towards them and they will respond to the adults accordingly. Children who have had less positive experiences will not expect things to be positive and may pre-empt adult interactions with ‘negative’ responses. Children’s views of adults and their own histories can therefore have a powerful influence on how they view themselves. 

The good news is that all of us who work with children have the power to influence their ‘working models’. For children who have negative expectations it takes more effort on the part of the adults to change their perceptions. They will need more positive experiences to begin to change their (unconscious) views of how adults will behave. Sometimes the children who are described as being ‘harder to engage’ and ‘confrontational’ are the very children we need to work harder with to begin to influence their views of adults. When you come across these children don’t give up. It may take time and effort but with persistence, positive interactions and by communicating a belief in children you have the power to make a difference.

Reference taken from. Copple, C., & Bredekamp, S. (2009). Developmentally appropriate practice in early childhood programs serving children from birth through age 8. 3rd ed. Washington, D.C.: National Association for the Education of Young Children.

Wednesday 17th June. Helping children remain calm with difficult emotions.

Helping children remain calm through difficult emotions


Many young children have difficulty regulating their emotions. What adults may witness and describe as tantrums, outbursts, whining, defiance, fighting, are all behaviours you see when children experience powerful feelings they can’t control. In the current climate and with yet more change ahead, we may begin to see these behaviours in our settings and the family home more than before, while children struggle to manage big emotions. Here is a quick guide with some ideas of how to manage this and contain the emotions.

One of the prevalent emotions around in our current climate in both children and adults is that of anxiety. Anxiety can be pictorially represented as below:

When children experience anxiety or a worry around something, the following may occur in their bodily changes.

Common Physical Symptoms of Anxiety in Children


Tummy aches

Nausea and/or vomiting




Fast heartbeat

Breathing quickly Tingling

Dry/tight throat

Tight muscles

Sometimes adults may think that children are “making these symptoms up” to get out of something, but there is much scientific evidence to prove that these symptoms are very real physiological responses to stress. They can become problematic if children get into a cycle of focussing on the unpleasant physical symptoms and then they increase therefore the anxious feeling increases.

Children can have a visual of all of these symptoms in order that they can see what is happening to their bodies and communicate. This could be created for or with them depending on their emotional maturity and physical awareness. I highly suggest Boardmaker as a tool for making symbols for children particularly those that are very visual. It is widely used for children with ASN and is a recognised and universal method of using symbols that are easy to understand by young children.

“In the Moment” Relaxation Strategies

When children are experiencing these unpleasant bodily changes, we as adults can guide them to managing them in order that they can understand their emotions and deal with

them in a positive way. I have outlined some examples below of dealing with the symptoms “in the moment” when you may not have resources to hand and children may be in fight/flight/freeze mode – using only the reactionary part of their brains.

Breaking the Cycle

In order to break the vicious cycle, we can try to not give too much attention to the physical symptoms. So try saying something like “So you feel your heart moving fast, that can’t be very nice……..” then move on and distract by playing a game, doing an activity together, or getting them to help you out.

Shifting the focus

For some children, they may already be further into the cycle of worrying about their physical symptoms and it may be more difficult to distract them. We can talk these children through focussing on their immediate surroundings. For example, notice all the different colours around them, sounds or even textures. Keep it short so they can keep paying attention. With practice children will become stronger at focusing their attention away from their uncomfortable physical symptoms. This is mindfulness used to bring back children from fight/flight/freeze.


The Hoberman Sphere

The Hoberman Sphere is a lovely visual aid for breathing that can be picked up cheaply online or in toy shops. It works to visually demonstrate the lungs expanding as we breath in and contracting as we breath out and so when played with children can help them understand how to calm and slow their breaths. Be aware of the following if you are demonstrating as it is not appropriate to slow the breath of a young child to that of an adult due to physiological differences.

An alternative would be for the children to use it to breath at their own pace and slow to a pace suited to them.

The Breathing Ball is a great attention getter, but you risk creating frustration in children if you don’t choose an age appropriate pace.

Blowing bubbles can also be a good way to regulate breaths by encouraging slow/deep breathing. I carried a bum bag around with this and some malleable resources at all times when working with a child with anxiety so that I had these to hand when things got hard for that child.

Structured Resources and Activities to Promote Calm environments

Some children may not be receptive yet to what we see as “structured” experiences of yoga or mindfulness and this is OK. You must know your children and be responsive and the above can help in a less structured way when children need it. We can also model as adults how to regulate ourselves in times of stress and anxiety and this has a huge effect on teaching children and allowing them to develop their own regulation system. However, there are children that can benefit from a regular practices that may help to prevent anxious episodes occurring and build their own internal regulation systems.

Story based relaxation using yoga poses as calming techniques

For children that are interested, a regular yoga practice can really benefit them by allowing them a safe space to gain a greater bodily awareness which can help to tune into emotions and associated physical feelings and it also teaches breathing techniques that can aid in emotional reguklation. A good way I have found is through yoga stories, I have posted some of my favourites below. All can be found on amazon but alternatively I have posted author read youtube videos that can be watched without purchasing the book.

There are also some lovely stories which deal with emotions in young children. I have posted these below along with author readings.

Blog Created after reading:

Helping with Child’s Fears and Worries: A Self-Help Guide for Parents, Cathy Cresswell and Lucy Willetts

Mindfulness for Parents: Amber Hatch

Playful Parenting: Laurence J Cohen

Blog written by Emma Williamson.


Monday 15th June. Arty Provocations.

Arty provocations and a little bit of culture.

Plus a few other key skills for young learners.

I have a very arty 3 year old who pretty much goes at 100mph from waking until bed. During lockdown I have been challenging myself to think beyond the normal blob paintings and glitter. Provocations in early years are basically things that interest and engage a child to explore, investigate, experience and generally be curious about. So here are some of the provocations I have used with R recently.

Abstract Aboriginal Art

Before babies my partner and I lived in Australia for many years. My job was working with Aboriginal communities around the New South Wales area. As a result I learned a lot about the very interesting culture. R loves to hear our stories of times before she was around. Instead of using our stories or showing photographs of our travels I decided to share some Aboriginal artwork and see what her reaction was. I had also set up some paint on a plate with cotton buds in each colour and some different coloured paper, glue stick and scissors.

We first looked at the pictures, talking about what they were of, how have they made them – emphasising the dots and wiggly lines. R at this point was more interested in matching the colours of paint to the colours in the artwork but we decided to try and make our own with dots and lines. I am not a great artist, I studied at high school but this was out of interest in art most certainly not talent. I am also not the kind of person who expects children to follow specific instructions, I am more about setting up the materials, providing a little provocation and then allowing children to interpret as they wish with the materials in front of them. Here is what we created – can you guess which pictures we were using as our inspiration?

1 – After her first attempt at loving the paint, R’s interest and concentration became more focused. She started to create her own picture using mix media. There’s a fire, a turtle and some clouds.

2 – This is the first picture R created, I basically just gave her free rein over the materials to see where she went. It might not look like much but R can describe each part in detail, eyes, feathers, toes etc. (Dad the made crown at R’s request).

3 – This is the one we did together. R was sitting on my lap, it is combination of R independently adding, hand over hand together and me adding some bits.

There are a number of skills developed in activities like this not just being arty. Cognitive development in asking questions, increasing attention spans, language development asking questions, talking through their play, developing emergent skills for writing, physical development in fine motor skills, social skills in a curiosity for the world. This list is not prescribed or fixed, each child and each adult will gain in their own unique way from activities.

I hope this gives you some ideas and not to feel like everything has to be perfect. I used something that was from a personal experience. We all have experiences, it doesn’t need to be fancy and perfect, just personal. Children love to hear our stories and about our experiences – even better when they can do something related to it.

Henri Matisse and Shape

This next activity was actually a Dad and daughter activity. He is not a teacher but he took my method and applied to something else to keep R busy. He is methodical one between us and a bit of a math wizard given that Grannie A was a math teacher. So he used this and his love of all things French to bring a little culture and math to mix.

The steps were the same – he had the pictures, scissors, paper, glue sticks and a variety of paper. They began talking about the colours and the shapes in the pictures. Trying to decide what they might be if anything. They then set about making their own versions.

Cutting out the shapes was the first part. R had a go but mainly just wanted to order Dad to cut out different shapes to her specifications including colour and size. They then started to glue on the different shapes to their paper. Here is what they made.

4 – There had to be some glitter in there too at R’s request.

An idea for a provocation can literally come from anywhere. A favourite artist, place, memory, person anything at all. Have a go at creating some of your own and see where the journey takes you and your child. Above all else remember that you are not there to dictate what must happen or be done. Just take part and follow your child.

Thank you for reading!



Monday 8th June. We are all Different: Promoting Equality and Diversity in the Early Years.

We Are all Different. We Are all Unique and Special.

  • Equality and Diversity in The Early Years

A few days ago, I was travelling home from the shop with my 3 children and I happened to have switched on the radio when the news was on. Usually we listen to a children’s podcasts or music, I tend to avoid having the news on as I find it so depressing and I don’t like the children hearing a lot of what goes on in the media. Anyway, this week my daughter had heard a report about the recent ‘Black Lives Matter’ protests going on across America and Europe . It sparked a conversation about racism and equality. I decided to read up and find out more when I got home, as it is such a big issue at the moment. I live in a small village with a predominantly white demographic and so race issues and conversations are easy to forget.

In brief, equality and diversity, or multiculturalism, is the idea of promoting and accepting the differences between people. More specifically, equality is about ensuring individuals are treated fairly and equally, no matter their race, gender, age, disability, religion, or sexual orientation (The Equality Act 2010). Diversity is about recognising and respecting these differences to create an all-inclusive atmosphere.

As a parent and teacher, I sometimes stumble to know the ‘right’ way to approach this sensitive subject with my children. However, there are many resources and activities that would be a great way to open up the subject in settings and in the home. Here are a few activities, games and resources that you might like to consider.


Find three different apples of different size or colour. Examine them with the children – what is their colour/weight/size smell like etc. Then cut all the apples in half, show the children that they are all the same on the inside – just like people all over the world.

And a few more ways to look at differences in skin colour –

Children’s books about race :

Gender & Sexuality

During children’s play, avoid commenting on children’s appearance, for example if a girl/boy chooses a dress to wear from the role play corner – try not to say things like “what a pretty dress you’re wearing”, but rather focus on children’s traits and attributes when offering compliments. You can foster self-esteem in children of any gender by giving all children positive feedback about their unique skills and qualities. For example, you might say to a child, “I noticed how kind you were to your friend when she fell down” or “You were very helpful with clean-up today—you are such a great helper” or “You were such a strong runner on the playground today.”

Offer a wide range of toys, books, and games that expose children to diverse gender roles. For example, choose activities that show males as caregivers or nurturers or females in traditionally masculine roles, such as firefighters or construction workers.

Provide dramatic play props that give children the freedom to explore and develop their own sense of gender and gender roles.

Avoid assumptions that girls or boys are not interested in an activity that may be typically associated with one gender or the other. For example, invite girls to use dump trucks in the sand table and boys to take care of baby dolls.

Use inclusive phrases to address your class as a whole, like “Good morning, everyone” instead of “Good morning, boys and girls.” Avoid dividing the class into “boys vs. girls” or “boys on one side, girls on the other” or any other actions that force a child to self-identify as one gender or another. This gives children a sense that they are valued as humans, regardless of their gender. It also helps all children feel included, regardless of whether they identify with a particular gender.

Books and stories –


Play games to raise awareness of different physical disabilities. Can your students put on a jumper with just one hand? Can they guide a friend around the classroom with a blindfold on? Can they lip-read what the characters on TV are saying with the sound off? Use these activities to show the difficulties that people face and explain how these people learn to overcome them.

Stories and Books:

Religion and Cultures

Try and include days to celebrate different cultural and religious events such as Diwali, Ramadan, Chinese New Year, Easter. Try and include opportunities to eat traditional foods and games played during these times.

Play music from different cultures, and have a go at creating your own procession instruments from around the world.

Stories and Books:

By Hannah Polland.