Category Archives: Contemporary issues

I know the caterpillar is hungry but do I need to know why?

Another fun filled expedition with my Ruby to delve into the world of science. This time it was another impromptu discussion brought up by the world around us. The location was the cycle path along by Barry Buddon (army base), a lovely contrast of environments: golf and a train track on one side and gunfire on the other with a wildlife rich walk slap bang in the middle. We often walk along here to watch the trains, identifying the company names and cargo we think they might be carrying and to where. Ruby’s keen eye spotted something large and furry as she rode her horse Star (bicycle) along the path. I was welcome of the break as her four wheels move much faster than my two legs.

The following video is of her recalling knowledge, the catalyst for this being the presence of the caterpillar. Ruby appears to be hanging like a cocoon in this video and Ollie the dog is a bit out of puff (it isn’t me). My mini scientist then went on to discuss the different appearance of the cocoon and caterpillar in relation to whether the insect would be a moth or a butterfly. The brighter or greener the outside then it was more likely to be a butterfly. The darker or hairier the outside it was more likely to be a moth. Every day is a school day! Ruby deduced that our fluffy caterpillar would most likely become a moth but we would have to come back to see because it would be unfair to take it home.

As a child I learnt about the butterfly life cycle, read the Hungry Caterpillar, was able to dig and explore outdoors whenever I wanted at home and was amazed by their delicate but intimidating presence on a trip to Butterfly World in primary 1. Considering that was 24 years ago I believe this shows what a profound effect the whole topic and the teacher had on my love of creepy crawlies. Spiders are even included in that. I understood we were much bigger than them, we should care for them and they have very important jobs to do. Within the science benchmarks for early years, SCN1-01a discusses consideration of growth and sorting organisms by features. I find this a tenuous link really, which made me question why the humble butterfly’s life cycle is one regularly taught, what children gain from this and why did this work so much better outside.

Instruction from Education Scotland in the Science Benchmarks is to allow children to develop understanding and skills in a practical manner(Benchmarks, pg2). My memories are vivid due to hands on experience outside of a classroom. But does real life experience in the outdoors engage learners? Currently the Association for Science Education, a UK organisation, champions the need for outdoor education in the field of Science education. In Scotland specifically, Education Scotland have the Curriculum for Excellence Through Outdoor Learning document, that encourages “planning for spontaneous local visits when weather is favourable.”(pg13) Slightly confusing terms: having to organise something spontaneous and only head outdoors if it is sunny?! We live in Scotland. Furthermore, science education is explicitly mentioned once (pg8) in the outdoor education document and the outdoors are mentioned only once (pg2) in the benchmarks. Consider also that a recent (2016) paper by the University of Edinburgh, Outdoor Learning in Scotland:Issues for Education, identified that not enough was being done beyond policy making to insure children had true engagement in outdoor education. This was due to a lack of training, provision, awareness, facilities and accountability (pg3).

I am just doing as I am encouraged at University and questioning the didactic methods in the hope that this will help me be the teacher I want to be within the Scottish education system. I know, from experience in classrooms that last minute trips do happen whether it is a trip to the playground to read a book or wandering in the local area to discuss homes. I can’t however, help but think that maybe more teachers would feel more confident in utilising the outdoors if they felt wholly encouraged and at times told. Theorists such as Pestalozzi and Froebel championed outdoor education, an area I am passionate about. However more recently and most succinctly, Priest (1986) established outdoor education as a system that was dependent on six factors: it was a method; it utilises the wealth of knowledge from experiential theorists like Dewey and Pestalozzi; it is essential for learning; it provides learning opportunities across cognitive, emotional and physical development; it highlights that our curriculum is naturally cross-curricular and a key component is that many relationships contribute to a child’s education (Watchow, Brown, 2011, pg18). This encourages me to pursue my pedagogical stance whilst teaching science.

How could the butterfly engage children in outdoor learning? How can it not? The butterfly is just so magical! The charity, Butterfly Conservation have an interesting breakdown of the scientific and educational value the butterfly and moth hold within the UK, all under the heading Why Butterflies Matter. This got me thinking of a stimulus for a topic about extinction, migration and adaptation in the natural world. The butterfly is a prime candidate.

The gems are probably the best-preserved fossils of any butterfly  photo credit New Scientist

Imagine the conversations and investigations that could occur from placing this image or even better an imitation of this in a small wooden crate surrounded by shredded paper and handled with white gloves delivered with a stamp from the Scottish Museum? Or bury it in the play ground or shallow trough for children to excavate. Taking the children butterfly spotting in spring, can we find any? Why not? What can we do to bring them here? You could possibly explore life cycle, adaptation, extinction and most importantly conservation. The E&O being SCN2-01a the survival and adaptation of a species. I would be interested as an adult, let alone a child.

Whilst meeting Es and Os is important and guaranteeing progression enables life long learning I cannot help but feel a prescribed curriculum could occur if sole focus of meeting E&Os is stringently followed. I understand it is discouraged within the Benchmarks and that they are not for assessment but I had to scour the Experiences and Outcomes to shoe-horn the butterfly life cycle in when I know it is covered so frequently and how exciting it can be. There is no doubt that science lends itself to inquiry-based learning, in the outdoors with field work and that is aided by interest, opportunity and passion. Not ticking of boxes.

As Ruby and I discussed her bike may well have ended that caterpillars hurried journey to safety and food. Being outside, being aware of the human role and responsibility in the world of nature is one that is dear to my heart. An area I believe science in the Scottish Primary can really uncover and have lifelong impact upon.


Science or… Magic?

Third year… how did that happen?!?

This year I have chosen to take Science as my elective and you will all be lucky enough to see me vlog my encounters as I rediscover knowledge and inquire further into the world of lab coats and STEM subjects. This will help me to enthuse the children I will one day teach and reflect on areas I must improve to enable a passion for science to grow. I am lucky enough to have my own child (here’s one I made earlier) and even luckier that i can ask her weird and wonderful questions that she just answers.

At university we got stuck right in conducting an experiment with various unnamed substances, water, test tubes, spatulas, safety goggles and gloves. All the fun stuff. The reactions all differed and got more exciting as we worked our way along. This evoked plenty of discussion and speculation, therefore it would be an experiment I could use with a class to judge the level of the children’s understanding and scientific vocabulary.

Crawford and Capps 2016, believe that in order for teachers to engage children in science there needs to be a level of metacognition, where the teacher challenges children’s interpretations through questioning (pg16) insuring they are thinking about how or why they think certain things. So that is where I started, asking Ruby questions to discover what she knows and scrape the surface of how she thinks, in order for me to challenge her appropriately and give a sPark to science.

I have none of the fun stuff at home, so i just asked questions as we went about our day. Ruby responded without prompts or helps and I tried my hardest not to impact her thoughts too much.

I believe she is roughly at first level regarding some materials and there is room to explore further impact upon soluble and insoluble substances, “I can make and test predictions about solids dissolving in water and can relate my findings to the world around me. SCN 1-16a”

Leading on from our discussion Ruby became fascinated with coffee and what would happen in different water temperatures. I promised her we would try her experiment, she informed me that it is of utmost scientific significance.

The next video is where we explored this concept with Ruby’s experiment about coffee, which plays a very large role in her mothers life. School days are long and she is very giggly…

To be honest, this ties in with me realising how little of the scientific vocabulary I could use with confidence. I need to brush up on my knowledge of what I want her to gain from these experiments, the learning intention if you will. As far as I am concerned I wanted Ruby to consider the effect of the water temperature on the changes in the coffee granules. From what I see looking back she understood that the hottest water gave the quickest change and from this understood that the cold water would be the slowest. Also we used mathematical language with volume and number or size of things. Inter-disciplinary learning is happening, not to any great degree but conversations allow for us to explore so many subjects. It was fun and we introduced some new words; soluble, granules, prediction.

Moving on I feel I need to further explore what children gain from science and specific lessons that I could provide them within a classroom. I think I struggle to comprehend how important and individual science as a subject becomes for each child. For every 5 children that love categorising living and non-living things there are 5 more who prefer to explore conduction. if they have passion for an area and we need experts in these fields surely I should nurture that? For me, science is all around us and it should be explored as children discover it, so I would prefer to allow children to learn through real-life encounters. These can be what I facilitate and then step back, becoming part of the scaffolding, watching and extending their discovery of magical science.  Opposed to, “oh what experiment will tick my Science Experience and Outcome box.”

What I have gained is a respect for the new world that children are constantly learning from, the more they explore the more questions they have. I think the magic of science can help open more doors and allow for many questions to be asked.


Eh ken how tae dae a poem

For being such a diverse and vast element of language and literacy, I feel poetry may not be utilised as widely as it could. Not only can poetry be instantly accessible and emotive, it also allows children to see language in a fun and concise way. Poetry allows a multitude of opinions to form and many interpretations to stem from, an often short piece of text.

In the classroom it can be used to expose children to current topics, provoke discussion and debate while showing that language can be a tool that can be adaptive and personal. If a child is given the techniques to create their own poem they have the tools to explore word use and actually (dare I say?) play with words. Roald Dahl, Tony Ross, Shel Silverstein, giants in the children’s literary world and they ALL have collections of poems. Instead of spending hours reading from a class novel, should we not be dipping in and out of poetry? Finding commonalities between poems and themes while possibly getting a truer vibe of who the authors are. Poetry can be so so personal and reflective.

I feel it also allows children to vocalise and experiment with a wider vocabulary. When they have to search for a word that conveys a statement or emotion in one word, opposed to using a few. I know from my own primary experience (over 18 years ago….) that getting up to recite poetry may not have been the most anticipated event but I did feel I had achieved something. Of course all children would relate to performing poetry differently but equipping them with coping techniques and cultivating an environment that celebrates the confidence and self assurance it can take. The process of practice, repetition, allocating time in class for peer input and support. The children could be allowed greater personalisation and breadth when choosing their poems.

You know yourself that when you are asked, while sat at your desk, to read a page from the class novel there is NO WAY you are actually taking in what you’re reading. You nervously wait your turn trying to guess what page you will be reading, you read as fast as you can and have no idea what you’ve read to the class, take a few minutes after to check your cheeks are not too red and return to breathing normally, by which point some other poor child is reading faster than you did about who knows what? Poems can enable a child to understand comprehension and exploration of texts in a more manageable way.

The following two poems (that took me, the computer illiterate fool that I am, over 20 mins to put together), would be a perfect introduction to a topic on War, present struggles and from two viewpoints . The view point varies from a young Syrian girl (left) to a soldier (right). Both are current, relevant and emotive.



Discussion central above!!! For an upper years class I feel this could bring relevant news stories into the class without having to watch the news or relying on playground fears.

In short, as that’s what poems do best…. Poetry is for all. For the now. For local dialect. For topic, discussion and engagement. Literacy =  language, talking, listening, writing, reading and poetry brings it together, let’s have a blether and allow poetry to untether, our passion for poetry, now and forever. BOOM.


Me, Me, Me or more importantly not Me

Due to recent bombardment of both placement, house moving, toddler parenting and essay writing my E-Portfolio has taken a back seat. I am here to rectify that, while also igniting debate on one of my favourite topics (mainly because it’s up for debate)… learning styles.

During my placement at a local Dundee school I was able to see children absorb aspects of subjects in varying ways, then all be “tested” in one general manner. That “test” may come in different forms dependent on subject but this, lets check to see if they understand assessment will happen regardless. It is how we see as teachers that we are doing our job right. So when it comes to teaching a child about that subject do we approach it in all of the supposed learning styles, Kinaesthetic, Auditory, Visual and Read/Write? I beg to say that it’s just not possible. There will be elements that allow factors to be more prominent but then every child’s certain style isn’t being met for all lessons or all assessments.

I think the disadvantage to approaching learning styles as a credible and prominent feature in the classroom is the uncertainty of knowing what each child’s “style” truly is. Just like a child will maybe one day embrace their inner Emo or even go down the route of fashion blogger extra-ordinaire, we are not to know or predict. That’s not to discredit the extensive research, I know myself that I retain information I say aloud and recite better at times than if I were to just read it. But that’s the crux, “at times”, my style is so inconsistent and varies that even I struggle to keep up with it.

I was taught in a very read/write way, with times tables and spellings being rote learned. What David McNamara states as an ability to learn regardless. “Despite what they are offered the vast majority of children learn to read”. The critical analysis needed to decipher an approach different to what comes naturally, in itself, is a skill that children should acquire, scientific literacy. There is no harm in allowing children the space and time to speak with their peers and learn how others have approached testing aspects of a subject. However, that should never come at a cost or at the possible confusion of another. The skill of being scientifically literate should enable the children to analyse and question the world, the learning, the teacher, their learning style.

The increasing use and impact of ICT in schools and at home throws the debate up for further analysis. Children are being catered to in a much more visual and auditory manner when they use iPads, computers, apps, Interactive White Boards even. The step from books and one teacher with only so much knowledge has leapt to having a room with upwards of one computer, an interactive white board and a teacher who can utilise the internet and all it’s knowledge. Does this mean we have more to help us or is it information overload and we then stretch our own knowledge so thinly? Allowing our knowledge to not meet prior neccessary depths because “google” can answer it.

I set a group of children on my placement a challenge to research a Roald Dahl word from the “Giraffe, the Monkey, the Pelly and Me” , geraneous…. Now the children automatically said “Miss. Muir can I search it on my iPad”, to which I replied that they could with their carer/parent or they could check if it’s in a dictionary. “We don’t have dictionaries” was the resounding response. I grew up with more than one and I needed it for homework etc but they don’t have such archaic needs. They have the internet. So they came back with no answer, it’s a made up word. But around the “Geran” section of the dictionary is the word Geranium. A flower, a sometimes pink flower, which is the only plant the Giraffe in the story eats. It’s also a fantastically made up word from Dahl!!

Children will utilise and explore what they deem the best route to a solution, the best style. But as a teacher it will be my job to give them options to apply this to variety of contexts. A style all their own.

The teacher sits at the core to the debate. A teacher is one person with up to 33 eager (or not so eager as the case may be) children looking to them for help, guidance and empathic engagement. They way they pull those children to them speaks volumes. A child who has as many approaches as possible may feel overwhelmed or confused. A child who has only been reached by one method may feel like they can’t do something or anything. Growth mindset is about the ability to do one day. Learning styles are about children taking information on board when they are taught a specific way.

My argument is that we should believe all children can learn, all ways. Back in October last year I said teachers should, “Take an onus for their holistic learning,” and I stand by that.

Upstart, let’s get started

So I walked into the Upstart presentation/talk/debate with a definite bias for upping the school age to 7! I have always believed the rigidity of primary school was a drastic change at an impressionable age and too much of a downgrade in child led play.

However after tonight I realise that I am surrounded by like minded people in my field and beyond. It’s not that we don’t understand the importance of play. We do. It’s just these children arrive in uniform, to sit at desk, with the parents expecting reading and writing work brought home within a week. Why shouldn’t they? I do believe I was at school at 5, my mother was… Her mother was. Mini adults as young as 4. The worst thing we can do is ignore the blatant fact we all survived and many flourished going to school at 4 or 5. I’d hate to discredit the amazing work teachers have done in early years for many years!
That doesn’t mean that change isn’t possible just that it will take implementation. It’s not “Presbyterian Scottish” views that are stifling that play, this was often referred to in the presentation. Scotland is a culturally and socially diverse society still leading in aspects of education, and if we are still producing innovative young people many WILL be apprehensive about upping the school age. Those against change should be heard too. Instead of frowning and culturally shaming the nation why not just encourage a more play based environment into early years. Let the teachers choose to spend the afternoon playing, our curriculum allows for flexibility…. utilise that.
I have explored how people lived in the past and have used imaginative play to show how their lives were different from my own and the people around me.
SOC 0-04a

Our own lecturers encourage us to question and utilise the expression available within Curriculum for Excellence. I don’t feel it’s the school age that needs upped but that simply play should be happily extended. Choice should be extended. Individuality should be encouraged.
My questions are not on why are we scared of play; they are… Why a uniform so young? Why am I suddenly a title and not a person…? Why shouldn’t I encourage reading and writing in its simplest forms, if that child is switched on and ready. It’s about the individual. (In regards to talk play read bus! ) What bothered me was the assumption that it was school that stifled play. I’ve never looked back and thought oh I was so bored at school!!! I do however look back and smile at the quantity and quality of the play I engaged in out-with school.

I feel it’s the lack of play education with parents that needs addressed. Teachers having a more open policy with parents or community organisations venturing into the classroom. We change the adult to child ratio massively in just a few short months. That’s not ok.
Another point I want to probe is technology. The statistic that two thirds of 5-16 year olds have a tablet speaks volumes. The schools do not give the children these, the families do. That number being so high may be in correlation with the deterioration of play. We should utilise not demonize this information. Swiping instead of turning pages. Let me think back… Chalk instead of print, pencil instead of chalk, typing instead of pen… Progress. If as an adult I find it socially acceptable (if not encouraged) to use technology and smart phones daily then what stops me and others finding it ok to hand that device to a child? I am a mother and my 3 year old will “Google” info with me. I can show her quickly what I mean by the phrase “ominous clouds”. It’s not detracted from our engagement, it’s eased her understanding of a difficult word and it’s made my job easier as a mum! Books are still to be enjoyed and by my daughter loving books I’m not depriving her of play but feeding her imagination for her to then excel in play!
Information is to be accessible. When the changes we have made in education over the years they should maybe have touched upon the positive influence and impact of technology. We can’t poo poo or blame a tablet for the deterioration of play. We have to, ourselves, step back from our all encompassing reliance on our devices and engage in talk, interaction, contact with people. I will never lose my ability to play because I make a choice not to. As an educator I will make a choice to encourage play. We need to help everyone make informed choices for their children’s sakes.

I am 100% behind further utilisation of play in early primary. Upstart is a campaign that could revive the children of Scotland and give them back their youth. A vision shared with the vast majority that showed up on Tuesday night.


Do you believe in magic?


“Science is when I use my experiment table” this was the response my three year old gave when I asked her, “what is science?” That experiment table is used for mixing paints, baking, building, popping balloons, doing float/sink tests in a basin and much more. It’s a well-loved wee table.

In Richard’s introductory lecture we had to come up with a small experiment in order to show ourselves how easily science can be implemented into the curriculum but mainly how fun it can be. For me, the science subjects in High School meant I was always sat at a dilapidated wooden bench that was covered in menchies. The teacher stood up front writing down endless equations, making us watch documentaries and we may have seen the occasional Bunsen burner or test tube. Way, way back in primary school (over 16 years ago) I can’t remember a “science” lesson… I remember getting to construct a bridge, make string telephones, study the life of a plant, cut up big plastic bottles to measure rainfall, a whole mesmerising project on mini-beasts and getting to be hands on at the Edinburgh Butterfly Farm. I can remember back even further, to playing with water and sand in nursery, as well as a “find out who is tallest” activity.

It just goes to show that science is all around us, we can choose to engage and ask questions of the world we live in and the universe around us. That, to me, is science. Children should be able to tactically, visually and cognitively approach queries they have. That work can be solo or in a group environment. The key is letting them figure it out… the mistakes can be half the fun.

For my TDT I decided to investigate forces, in relation to the experience and outcome SCN 2-07a in the Curriculum for Excellence; by investigating how friction, including air resistance, affects motion, I can suggest ways to improve efficiency in moving objects. I am not going to lie, the internet is a wondrous invention. After various “Fun children’s force experiment” Google searches I saw how to lift a bottle of rice with a chopstick. It looked simple, inexpensive and fun. Perfect. Then I started to read into the science, the how? How would I explain this to a room of children? What would they gain? The answers were simple.

The combined weight of the rice and bottle were less than the force of the friction when the chopstick was forced into the bottle of rice, thus making it “stick” and act as a handle to lift up the heavy bottle of rice. The answers only left me wanting to know more. I feel it would be beneficial next time to do a comparative experiment with either less rice or a different substance. To show that it is not just the weight but the friction. Friction force can only happen with solid objects, unlike air resistance and fluid force (viscosity). There is then the opportunity to develop on to discussing aero-dynamics, building there own cars etc.  How is force measured though? How do you find out how much rice is enough? Does it have to be a wooden chopstick or would a screwdriver achieve the same? Could it work with different substances in the bottle? Our bodies have joints, why does the force of friction not erode them?

I stumbled upon the Co-efficient of Friction; how easily one object moves in relation to another. The higher the co-efficient of friction the less movement and the lower the co-efficient of friction the more movement. These are basics but they can open up onto a breadth of activities and lessons or tie into a number of projects: space, the human body, travel, properties of substances and even history if we spoke about the discovery of friction. A healthy balance and inquiry into a few of these areas should be explored.

If I have the opportunity to help a class get involved in this experiment the avenues of investigation to go down are so vast. Linking to the current interest in the UK based astronaut and the re-entry of the shuttle or even a topic as simple as travel and the need for aero-dynamics. However, I also feel able to delve into specific aspects of the science behind it with them. I made a huge mess, went through a lot of rice but it was all part of the interactive fun and communication. For younger children it is magic and it could then be revisited and developed later in their school careers. The varying complexities depends on the engagement and interest the children have and how I can spark that! I was considering a montage of people slipping on ice… the need for friction!

My SMART plan would be-

SPECIFIC- Create a fun experiment to open up the concept of force and develop current understanding

Measurable- Develop a lesson plan and cost of materials

Achievable- Use online resources, Curriculum for Excellence, peers, teacher on placement and gauge the children’s interest

Relevant- Links to sparking lifelong interest, creativity and inventiveness

Times- aim to utilise the placement time and then reflect on the lesson a week after completion of placement


My Tired

Language acquisition fascinates me. It’s The theory of Noam Chomsky and the Nativist Theoretical approach that intrigues me the most. I agree that no child is born Tabula Rasa, we must have some sort of base to build upon, the inclination and thirst to learn. The skills needed to acquire language therefore would be, according to Chomsky and other Psycholinguistic theorists, innate; we would then draw upon it to communicate as part of society.

“Chomsky argued that children will never acquire the tools needed for processing an infinite number of sentences if the language acquisition mechanism was dependent on language input alone.”Henna Lemetyinen. (2012). Language Acquisition. Available: Last accessed 5th Nov 2015.

Chomsky suggested that children learn the words but have what he coined as the theory of Universal Grammar. Children simply have to learn the word but then can group them instinctively into verb and noun: My tired. Thus creating a meaningful and communicative phrase. This would explain why children say things that an adult would never say, dismissing some of the behaviourist and social-interactionist’s theories. Language is such a vast and powerful tool that only human’s possess, thus Nativist’s argue it must have intrinsic value. Children are exposed to finite sentences but have the ability to create infinite sentences without exposure to them before.

But… as a nursery nurse I found it impossible not to kindly correct the way children first use language and initial phrases. This was done by reiterating the sentence with more advanced grammar and trying to tease out conversation….”I’m tired, maybe we should read a story and have a wee seat?” It is human nature when something doesn’t sound right to correct it, even if that’s in our own head. We want to teach others and enable children to improve their language skills.

Many refute the theory of Nativist language acquisition and highlight a more usage-based theory. Originating from theorist’s like Wittgenstein, who thought language was a means to get by socially and therefore it had to emerge: believing that language use isn’t to be understood (cognitively) but is to be used in a learning, social context. A child may know it is polite to say “Good morning” even on a rainy day when the morning is not “good”. It is about understanding the social context of language, then we know what to use and when. Wittgenstein saw language as a tool box, believing in the multi-usage of words and their on-going acquisition.

Tomasello follows on from Wittgenstein and gives a robust modern-day argument to Chomsky; believing children learn firstly how others use language then use it themselves. All people have general cognitive processes that, for language acquisition could be separated into two distinct groups-

1-Intention Reading; the functional aspect of language and how humans are able to use social cognitive skills to understand symbols.

2-Pattern Finding; cognitive skills used in the abstraction process

Tomosello believed it was through the schemas children create that language is acquired. This makes sense and holds more weight in today’s classrooms as it is a usage-based theory. Teachers can help build upon a child’s schema and introduce new methods to cement the use of words in coherent sentences.

This got me thinking…. how would I help their language acquisition, it is something that never stops developing and at such varying rates. Firstly I wouldn’t underestimate the children, give them a class project about news. Let them bring in newspapers, leaflets, magazines and see what catches their eye. Develop a class newspaper and get them engaging with a thesaurus as well as peers. Reading is vital but doesn’t have to mean silence! Let the children create a library corner for them to enjoy. Read to the class and analyse books; what language was used and how. It is undoubtedly the greatest way to build a varied vocabulary. Introduce a new, wildly long and impractical word every week, i.e. Abecedarian- arranged alphabetically… this could introduce word grouping; noun, adjective, verb, adverb etc. Reading out-with the classroom environment has such benefits and can engage those who feel somewhat constricted by reading time; opening up the chance for role-play, interaction, physical play and peer learning. No child should feel ostracised and it is our job to make reading and language acquisition a tool for all.

reading outside

Also of great importance to me is how we can teach children that language is a tool and then allow a child to express themselves and eventually thrive in the wider world. Language acquisition is what makes humans distinct and we should embrace that. Many children may well want to see other animals communicate to appreciate what we have with our language skills. Get the chance to take part in plays and see how language use can create mood and feeling. Aesthetic education is another way to engage children in language. They could describe pieces of art in a gallery, use visual aids for word association and make words come alive in sculpture and shape… Giant human letters in the playground (think ArtAttack, can you guess what it is?).

Decades on language is still a topic of controversy, debate and budding research, yet much of this still draws upon initial theories. So as a teacher it is important to understand the varying linguistic skills of children stepping into our classrooms, then help them become linguistically eloquent.


I’m telling on you….

We have been learning about stage theory as part of the Thinking Child inputs with Carrie. Automatically as a mum your mind races to your own child. Ruby is three and has spent nearly all of her life with myself and significant adults; only recently starting at a nursery for 3-5s. I was lucky enough to warm to Vygotsky’s Zone of Proximal Development when I studied my HNC, so this unwittingly became part of my parenting style.

The key root being that age old, nature v nurture debate. Vygotsky introduced the concept of becoming ourselves through interaction with others. The basic concepts within the theory resonated with me because they made sense. Of course children will pick up on how to do things from adults and peers around them but they must be given an encouraging environment to practice these themselves, then a knowledgeable adult to guide them onto new challenges. We take for granted how child-led teaching, indeed parenting is today. It was theorists like Vygotsky who highlighted the importance of positive reinforcement and the support system it takes for children to reach potential.

This concept of cultural and interpersonal forces impacting on who we are was clearly seen in a recent documentary on Channel 4, The Secret Life of a 4 Year Old. Baring in mind my own daughter is not 4 till April, I wanted to snoop to get a heads up on what I should expect from my already flamboyant toddler. The fly on the wall style and minimal adult interaction was the perfect situation to breed peer relationships and witness behaviours that adults can somewhat impair. Piagetian Stage Theory, appeared to me, to be contradicted.

The children all being 4 would fit into the pre-operational stage; remaining egocentric and unable to see thing’s from another’s perspective. This was not the case for a few of the children, you could see those who grasped empathy, were shaking the schemas of those who had not quite got there. Unlike how an adult would approach children being negative to their peers, a sense of self governance took over and moral justice had to be served. Creating a ZPD between children and allowing progression through adverse situations often persevering with the quieted children in the group to form budding friendships. From a teacher’s perspective this could well support the concept of peer learning but refute the claims that it is age we should be grouped by?

Well aware of what is right and wrong the young girl Tia told the boy Jake that he shouldn’t be repeatedly shouting that the girls won’t win a race because it will hurt the girls’ feeling’s. Showing a level of empathy for her peers. The group was then given a task to not leave their seats as the adults went to get them presents, if any one moved none of the children would receive their presents. The looming threat did not deter both Tia and Jake who left their seats… then Tia understood she wouldn’t be getting a present (watching the idea dawn on her face was priceless) so tried to bribe her peers into not telling. A healthy debate ensued between Tia and another morally robust little girl named Charlotte. It was fascinating to watch as they brought in the mild threat of not being each other’s friend, then onto “no one will get a present then”, that then escalated to “I’ll tell my mummy, daddy, granny and santa clause”. The girls knew that the idea of an adult backed their argument. Adults are seen as morally just and they will agree with me!

charlie brown

This machiaveillian approach shows a small step into understanding the Theory of Mind. By introducing mild threat then escalating into mild bullying, Tia wasn’t showing empathy she was using her knowledge that adults and deprivation of presents can insight fear. Ipso facto Charlotte will then do as she is told and not tell the adult’s myself and Jack were out of our seats and we will all get presents. It’s this juxtaposition of empathy and apathy that surprised me, arguably one cannot be grasped without the understanding of the other. The understanding of the Theory of Mind was further supported when one of the children queried another child on how to approach the situation; asking advice on how to move forward from a peer opposed to an adult. This shows a distinct understanding that people act differently, therefore they think differently and their way of thinking might work best for me here.

My own daughter is quick to correct the wrong doing’s of others when they impact upon her or those she deems close. She has such extreme moral views that she is confident enough to question and correct adults. If a child doesn’t want to play with her friend at nursery she can easily tell me how that must have upset her friend and that she told the teacher but she will easily dismiss a friend if they don’t “fit in” to her game.

Just to clarify the video above is an example of what I see as wrong in today’s classrooms and early years settings. Children’s feelings should never be quashed or deemed unimportant.

This must be seen so often in classrooms, especially in early years. I believe that instead of imposing ourselves as the governing official and keeper of all knowledge we should attempt to impart morals and then allow the children to reach their own outcomes; settling any disequilibrium with their peers. Showcasing ourselves as morally just and honest. Quite like Piaget advocating children being active in their learning, not passive. As a teacher I hope to be able to give quarrels or disputes the credit they deserve as an invaluable learning opportunity. When a child comes to me with a problem I want to be able to engage in meaningful dialogue to explore why? how? what? and where do we go from here? Being able to introduce children to the theory of mind would open doors for the whole curriculum.

You can learn from me

Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is the mental condition resulting in a lack of correct social behaviours and interactions. Currently identified through parental interviews and observational studies, it effects an increasing number of today’s children and can be identified from as young as 2. Although signs can be seen from as early as 1, they are too ambiguous and traits too common at that early stage.

When autism was first identified by Leo Kanner in 1943 he suggested it was a result of cold parenting. Later in 1967 Bettelheim considered autism as an emotional disturbance resulting from early lack of attachment. It is currently known that autism or Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a neurobiological condition. Many argue that it errs on the side of genius, dependent on what part of the spectrum the child is on. Indeed extensive research carried out by Carper and Courchesne have shown consistently that the size of an ASD child’s brain is larger than average, namely 5-10% bigger in volume from 18 months. Backing the idea that people who have ASD are unable to do necessary pruning to synapses and carry information and knowledge that people without ASD would have “cut back”.  There are current studies that are trying to link genes – to areas of the brain – to patterns of behaviour. Tracking the neural pathways when people are given facial expressions to recognise, then seeing the neural activation this causes, can help understand a person’s ASD. When specific patterns are observed within generational studies they can be linked to the genetic alleles (psychological and physical traits of a gene) thus binding behaviour to genetics. I found the study fascinating.


But how does ASD impact upon the learning environment? Autism is a condition that can ostracise and compartmentalise a child and their family. However, this is happening less and less through early identification of needs and the implementation of working solutions to aid these children to lead happy and accepted lives. Social skills and interaction are somewhat challenging for children with ASD. Having worked closely with children who have ASD I know all too well how personal it can all feel. What have I done wrong? Why can’t I engage with this child? But the truth is the connection takes time and effort, delving into their complex world’s one step at a time. Continuous routine and the use of PECS (picture exchange communication system) were tools used to assist the individuals who were immersed in mainstream education settings.  As a teacher it must be a challenge in itself to get that framework in place quickly, while involving and informing the class as a whole. There’s nothing worse than it being a “oh that’s for Billy, don’t touch” within a class, children are tactile and inquisitive, I believe involving and informing them can only be a beneficial thing. Children are very different to adults, the unknown doesn’t evoke fear within the majority, they just want to know why? Inform them so it’s not just a condition or a picture they can’t touch; it becomes a tool for a peer and in doing so it becomes personal.

Many techniques used to help a child with ASD are also good for the classroom as a collective; creating quiet spaces, giving children time to process information, setting clear classroom rules, buddy systems for the playground and teaching social skills. It must then be of benefit to have these systems in place from the offset. Unlike behaviour issues, ASD should be seen for what it is, an entirely different way of thinking and at times, a way that is insightful. So the more exposure and information we have on the condition as students the more able we will be to meet the needs of an ever growing demographic of the classroom.


Children come to teachers, on average, at 5 years old. This is just after a big growth spurt, just as they have learnt the right word for that odd looking fruit in tesco, just as they have established that first ‘best friend forever’, just as they can kick that football as far as the park gate. The trepidation they must feel walking into the classroom full of somewhat unfamiliar faces, a crisp white shirt on and some itchy trousers. Then the added assumption that these 5 year old’s are walking into that classroom with what is deemed a “normal” family and a secure attachment .

Now imagine you’re that 5 year old, who for no fault of your own, have had a far from “normal” childhood. Walking into yet another unfamiliar space, another adult they have to listen to and another environment where they lack control. Many theorists believe healthy, predominantly maternal, attachments create a balanced adult: Bowlby, Ainsworth and Harlow. But what happens to those children who have lacked this prior to primary school? Do they become insecure, vulnerable children who we can’t help?

The psychoanalyst Francoise Dolto went through a difficult childhood herself and created a theory based on a lack of adult understanding and sought to help children release and discover their individual inclinations. She believed the adult should be a role model and example opposed to imparting methods. This approach resonated with me, children today will experience and be savvy to much more than even my generation would have known. Dolto believed the educator’s role was to teach children how to lead themselves. Amazingly a nursery was opened in Paris in the late 20th century that was based on Dolto’s theories. The Maison Verte was a nursery setting for the child and their parent, to help create a stepping stone into the education system and reduce separation anxiety. These settings are still around today. Indeed it is a setting I would love to experience myself. I believe it is best to facilitate a child’s own interests, engage in their positive aspirations alongside them.

There are other psychologists who advocate multiple attachments. Bruno Bettelheim helped give insight into childcare systems, he studied children living communally in what was called a kibbutz in Israel. The children all lived away from the family home in special houses. This may have developed less one to one attachments but they thrived socially and built meaningful friendships. Contrary to his presumption that the children would become mediocre adults they, on the whole, thrived and became successful individuals. So peer relationships can help form meaningful attachments.

If a child’s attachment isn’t insecure but is enough to cause occasional ambivalent behaviours what challenges do educators face? There is little chance that in the 35 hours teachers have a child each week they can reverse or overshadow the home environment. It is therefore crucial school can be a place of trust and understanding, where a child can be a child. Encouraging play in the classroom as much as possible, engaging with the outdoors and allowing education to occur as naturally as possible. Indeed psychologist Michael Rutter, who refuted Bowlbys claim of a single secure attachment to the mother, voiced that family discord was the source of antisocial behaviours, not maternal deprivation. I have to side in favour of Rutter, a child may have always lacked a steady, loving mother. In no means does that label the child as unloved and lacking attachment.

Virginia Satir also highlighted the importance of the family unit on attachments. Her study delved into the role a person plays and adapts at times within the family and the seed this plants for adulthood. She voiced the importance of positive emotional connections in order to stay true to ones authentic self. This, to me, shows the compensatory role some children adopt when they feel unsure of an attachment. They want to feel included, loved and their needs attended to. So if a mother lacks the drive to provide all of these the wider family can. Families come in all shapes and sizes, even foster families. I have been witness to the wonder of a good foster setting, the turn around in that child within a short space of time was so encouraging.

Being exposed to attachment theory and all it’s complexities it’s hard not to notice obvious lack of meaningful attachments. When we hear the horror stories from Romanian orphanages or see grave images of children systematically left to fend for themselves on the streets of other countries we are shocked and appalled. This stark need for care and love may not be as apparent in a small council school in Dundee but it may still be there. 1 in 5 Scottish children are living in poverty, in Dundee that becomes 1 in 4 and in the worst affected areas within Dundee that becomes 1 in 3. Half of these children are from “working families”, the effect this can have on family dynamics and the level of stress and anxiety within the home is cause for concern. Away from the home the teacher can adopt the Social Learning Theory advocated by theorists like Bandura, where positive interaction can lead to healthy attachments.

It is hard to disconnect our own experiences and childhoods from those children we come into contact with. Expecting their lives to mirror our own, in some strangely ingrained manner. Not all children will have a mother at home. Not all children will have a sole attachment. That doesn’t discredit the attachments they do have and the ones they deem beneficial and important.