Boy/Girl…Neutral?

Following a really interesting and informative chat last night on #EYshare (Read the tweets HERE), I’ve been thinking a lot about gender stereotypes and gender issues that need to be considered when working with children.

Firstly, I have to admit, this topic made me feel a little uncomfortable!  It’s an important topic and I’m glad that it was suggested (and so competently led by my wonderful guest hosts), but there was something inside me that made me doubt myself and double check anything that I wrote! However, this awareness of my own feelings has alerted me to the fact that, perhaps I need to do a bit more reading and research about this topic. In today’s world, we can’t bury our heads in the sand and avoid these kinds of issues!

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Image from morguefile.com

Anyway (back to the point), the overall consensus of the chat was that ALL children should have the opportunity to experience ALL activities and ALL toys. In other words; there is no such thing as a boy’s toy or a girl’s toy, there are just toys. This is something that I strongly believe and hope to continue to actively promote in all of my work, whether in pre-school or primary. We need to provide opportunities for children to make their own choices and decisions, without putting any of our own judgements or pre-conceived ideas onto them – for example, we shouldn’t giggle at that wee lad who has decided to wear the pink gown and the high heels. And we should reassure the girl who wants to play racing cars instead of baby dolls. The bottom line is, we need to respect each child as an individual. It is our job to open those doors!

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Image from morguefile.com

 

Another point that came up was that it is vital that we are introducing our children to role models which challenge unhelpful stereotypes. It is clear that film and TV are attempting to bring more women into strong, leading roles, however there are far less examples of caring and gentle male characters. As it was pointed out last night – this is YET ANOTHER reason why we need more men in childcare!

 

 

One of the big issues discussed was challenging parents/ families gender opinions. For example,

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Image from morguefile.com

if a parent doesn’t want their girl to be playing football/ their boy to be playing with barbies. I feel that it is important that EY practitioners and teachers attempt to talk to these parents and explain to them the value of these different types of play. However, it is also important that we do not disrespect parents and families. Children often have the firm belief that their parent is RIGHT and we need to be sensitive to this.

Finally, the chat got me thinking about my future practice as a primary teacher. Currently I have a pinterest board full of displays and ideas for ways that I would love to decorate my classroom. On second inspection, I realised that much of what I have pinned, and what I might choose could be seen as rather ‘girly’ and may not be appropriate for my entire class. I think that there is a simple way to address this – I will involve the children! Rather than making all of the decisions myself, I will ask the children’s opinions (where appropriate). Not only will this avoid suiting the environment more to one gender/ preference, it will also give the children a sense of ownership over their classroom.

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What do I think about me?

Self concept is something which impacts everyone from very young children to fully grown adults! Although it continually develops, a healthy self concept is something that must be fostered and nurtured from a young age to ensure the best possible chances for our children.

So what is self concept? Well Rogers (59) believed that it is made up of 3 aspects:

  1. The view you hold of yourself (Self Image)
  2. Your self esteem
  3. What you wish you were like (Your ideal self)

There are also 3 ways in which we develop definitions of ourselves and these are:

  1. Concrete – our physical characteristics and specific roles
  2. Abstract – our qualities, beliefs, feelings, morals
  3. Comparative – relational to others
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Image from Morguefile.com

At a very young age, infants and young children begin to see themselves as unique individuals – separate to others. Parents and professionals can reinforce this by responding to baby as he/she makes eye contact, smiles, babbles. Smiling, talking and singing to baby has so many wonderfully positive effects! As they grow, children will begin to be self conscious of their actions and therefore reinforcement or criticism has a very strong influence on their self concept. You may notice this as a baby starts to look at the adult before pushing a toy off the table or opening a cupboard that they maybe shouldn’t! Try to avoid becoming frustrated and always remain calm while maintaining firm boundaries for the child.

As they reach the ‘terrible twos’ they often start to become independent and want to do things for themselves. Allowing them to experiment and recognising their independence is really important for reinforcing the child’s self worth.

As they continue to grow (3-4)  children begin to understand themselves in new ways; they use concrete descriptions (e.g. I have brown hair and I’m a big sister) and start using comparative terms, while still focusing on their own qualities (e.g. I’m a good runner!) Even at this early age, children are beginning to think about the things that they are good (or not so good) at. They are continually interpreting the reactions of those around them to influence their self esteem and concept of themselves. Providing children with learning experiences designed around exploration and investigation is a really positive way of promoting an – ‘I can do it’ – self concept at this age as there tends not to be a specific end result.

There are also tonnes of fun activities to be done around this stage; for example creating an ‘all about me’ book where children create self portraits, write words about themselves/their friends/ their family, include photos of themselves doing various activities. You could also involve some maths by creating tally charts/ bar graphs etc of various physical features within your classroom (e.g. how many of us have blue, brown, green eyes…?)

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Image from Morguefile.com

At around age 5-6, children are having to deal with the big change of going to school. Some children may be more confident around groups of peers than others but there is a possibility for all children to feel anxious. As they get older they begin to use more comparisons between themselves and others (e.g. My friend Billy is good at maths but I’m not) and they also recognise themselves as part of groups (e.g. I am a girl guide.)

It is important to help children to recognise the things that they do well, but equally important to let them experience failure. This is one of the reasons why I despise the stories of sports days where there are no winners and everyone receives a medal – children need to learn that everyone has their own unique abilities and that it is OK if you don’t win. If they are deprived of these experiences as children, then they will often lack the coping abilities that are needed within the real world.

I also believe that it is important to model a healthy self concept to your children. Of course, it’s not possible to feel wonderful about yourself 100%  of the time, but show off that positive mental attitude. This might even mean admitting to the children when you find something difficult. This particularly applies to me when it comes to maths – but I feel that (when I’m a teacher) if I am honest with my children and admit that even I need to continue to work hard in order to accomplish my goals then this is a positive and helpful experience for everyone.

 

I hope that you can join me on Twitter: Tuesday at 8:30-9:30 where we’ll be discussing this topic some more along with any questions, ideas or related reading from various knowledgeable tweeters from the world of childcare. It’s a very friendly and informal chat, just add the hashtag #childcarehour – see you there!

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Further reading:

Scholastic.com – How children develop self concept

Positive Parents – Building a positive self concept

 

On a slightly related side note – I was pointed to an interesting article this week which debates the idea of telling a child that they are beautiful even if they are not. In my opinion, every child is beautiful in one way or another – but it is an interesting read: TAKE A LOOK  – I’d love to hear your thoughts!

Fat Letters

This post is taken from my professional ePortfolio blog. To see this and many other posts, click HERE.

I was shocked to stumble across this article on the TES website. It applies to English Primary Schools but I feel that it is typical of the blame and shame attitude of today’s society.

Image from morguefile.com

The article describes how some teachers have been sending home ‘fat letters’ to inform the parents that their child is overweight. However (surprise surprise) this has not been found to be effective and health officials are now calling for it to be stopped.

Now, I’m not arguing that obesity is not an issue within the UK, the statistics clearly show that a large percentage of our children are overweight and this is a real concern for their health. My issue is that, of all the letters that were sent out;

Half (51 per cent) understood its purpose, while 20 per cent had received information as a result of the programme that had been useful in helping their child lose weight. (TES reporter, ‘Fat Letters’, Nov 2015)

This means that half of the families who received this letter did not even know why they were being contacted and even less were prompted to take action from it. In a way, this relates to my earlier post about feedback. It seems to me that these letters are likely to cause feelings of embarrassment, shame and guilt however, the statistics above suggest that they fail to provide the necessary information or guidance to allow the parents and child to tackle the problem.

Image from morguefile.com

The article also makes suggestions about more effective ways to approach the obesity issue, including healthy food vouchers and more access to after school clubs.

I feel that although steps have been taken including a focus on ‘Health and Wellbeing’ in Scotland, it is still vital that we as educators place higher importance on teaching children and families about healthy lifestyles and providing opportunities for children to be involved in healthy, active activities. In my opinion, the development out outdoor learning experiences is an extremely valuable tool in fostering a love and enjoyment out exercise. This is embraced within many early years settings however opportunities are less within primary schools. This may be due to time restraints of lack of outdoor environments that are considered suitable.

I hope to be able to encourage and promote this style of learning as I begin my teaching. I have been reading a wonderful book entitled ‘Dirty Teaching’ which is a practical guide to taking your school lessons outside – packed full of really useful advice as well as ways to approach challenges that may arise. I hope that my passion and enthusiasm for outdoor learning will be a positive influence to the children as well as with the teachers and staff that I will be working with.

Happy Halloween

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Halloween is a wonderful excuse for some silly, spooky fun! I’ve been having a think and here are some of my favourite Halloween themed activity ideas:

  • Spiderweb threading – using a paper plate with holes punched around the outside, encourage the children to thread wool across as many times as they like to make a wonderfully tangled web. For added fun, try drizzling some glue over the top and sprinkling with silvery glitter (Health and Wellbeing, Creative, Science)Spider
  • Spiderweb on floor – Using masking tape, map out a large spiderweb on the floor, then add colours/ numbers or shapes and turn it into a fun game by shouting out one (colour/number/shape) and having the child jump on it/stretch to it (Health and Wellbeing, Numeracy, Science)
  • Pumpkin carving – for more on this see Enjoying Autumn
  • Dancing – play some spooky music and get involved in some dance and movement! Think about the different ways that different Halloween characters might move – a stiff skeleton, a floaty ghost, a slimy monster… (Creative, Health and Welllbeing) One of my favourite pieces of music for this activity is Greig’s Hall of the Mountain King (I love how it builds up to an exciting climax!)

  • Haunted castle bingo – use an outline of a spooky castle (plenty to be found on google), then add numbers – using either computer skills or by hand. Numbers can be hidden in windows or could just be added onto the castle using clear white circles/stickers. Remember to blank out a few so that not everyone has the exact same sheet! Then practice number recognition either by matching the number to the one you hold up, or identifying it by name alone. (Numeracy) 302589_10150902988750374_423956221_n
  • Spooky slime – Halloween is the perfect opportunity for some gloopy fun! Why not experiment with adding hair conditioner or even soap flakes for an exciting sensory experience!
  • Darkness and Shadows – set up a dark den or create an area which is as dark as possible, then let the children explore with torches, glow sticks and other light up toys. Develop this further by shining a light on the wall/ floor and experimenting with creating weird and wonderful shadow shapes. You could even try telling a story using shadows as your pictures. (Language and Literacy, Science)
  • Go for a torch walk – everything looks different in the dark, and now that the dark evenings are closing in we have more time to enjoy it! Take the torches outside and use them to look at the trees, buildings, landmarks etc. My favourite time to do this would be at dusk, however ff the light levels are really low when you go out, please make sure to use an enclosed garden or very safe space. (Health and Wellbeing, Science)

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Other people’s ideas that I love:

These fruity treats from One Little Project

This super cute masking tape mummy from No Time for Flash Cards

Cotton bud skeletons from All Free Crafts

Pumpkin potato prints from Roaming rose

Have a great week everyone!

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Enjoying Autumn

Autumn is one of my favourite times of year! The cold, crisp and clear skies, the colours of the falling leaves, the cosy feeling of being snuggled up in wooly jumpers and scarves…

There are many lovely activities on an autumn theme – some of which I explored in a previous blog post (see Bonkers for conkers) and I feel like blogging a few more – particularly focusing on getting outdoors:

Nature walks (H&W, Social, Lit&Lang, Num, Creative, Science)

Oh yes, this one again! Never underestimate the learning that can take place on a walk! You can:

  • Look for changes that are happening around your area2015-10-21 14.03.12
  • Collect interesting leaves to be sorted and compared
  • Jump in the leaves or over the puddles
  • Listen to the crunching of the dry leaves
  • Look out for any animal homes
  • Explore the light at different times of day – what happens to your shadow? (Try standing in the same place and having someone draw around it with chalk!)

Leaf sorting (Science, Num)

When you return from your walk – or anywhere where you can collect lots of leaves; have the children sort them into categories of colour, size, shape or whatever else they are interested in (or skill that you’re working on). Then look at different ways that you can display the information, for example – make a pictograph by gluing the leaves onto the paper – making it easy to identify which category has the most/ least. What a wonderful, practical way to introduce some comparative, mathematical language!

Natural art (Creative, H&W, Science)

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  • Leaf or bark rubbings
  • Painting leaves/ twigs
  • Using glitter and glue to make some wonderfully sparkly autumn decorations
  • Explore autumn colours – mixing and experimenting
  • Use a hole punch on some sturdy leaves and then thread them to make leafy jewellery or even some fab autumn bunting

Cooking on the campfire

If you take part in forest school activities, or have a setting where this is possible – outdoor cooking is a favourite activity all year around. Just be sure to complete the correct risk assessments and ensure that you and your children are 100% confident with safety procedures

Pumpkins (H&W, Lit&Lang, Num, Tech)

No list of autumn activities would be complete without a mention of that halloween tradition: pumpkin carving! My preferred  method is to cut off the lid, then allow the children to get stuck in – scooping, scraping and picking out all of the insides. Don’t let it go to waste! The insides are great fun in your sensory tray as a squelchy, slimy experience, and the seeds can be roasted to make a tasty treat (see method here and perhaps add some literacy and numeracy by following a recipe).

Once the innards are well and truly gone, I allow the children to draw a face onto the pumpkin. This is often the job for just one child, so you might like to get the others involved by researching different designs and offering their own ideas.

Depending on the age of your children, you might allow them to do some of the cutting out of the face/design, but please be very careful (we don’t want any missing fingers!)

Finally, add a battery powered candle to complete the spooky effect!

More Halloween themed activities to follow in my next post. For now, wrap up warm, get outside and enjoy!

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I like to move it move it!

Following on from my last post, in which I contemplated our responsibility to ensure that children are getting enough exercise, I have been thinking about some of the fun ways that we can get them moving and active throughout the day!

There was an interesting article in the Daily Mail about a school which has it’s children run a mile a day, in an effort to tackle childhood obesity!

While this might seem quite extreme, daily exercise can be really easy, and fun!Here are some ideas which I feel are easy to introduce into any routine:

Music and movement – You could try and learn a line dance, do some action songs or just move to music

Sports and team games – Some children really enjoy a competitive element, others may just enjoy trying something new. There are so many options; football, tennis, running races, basket-ball, rounders…

Parachute games – There are so many lovely parachute games to play which can also include other elements such as friendships and turn taking. Click here for a website with lots of parachute game ideas.

Throwing and catching 

Image from morguefile.com

Image from morguefile.com

Nature walks – One of my favourites. No matter what the weather, everyone can benefit from a walk! Try using different focuses such as a listening walk, a measuring walk with rulers/measuring sticks, a scavenger hunt walk…

Yoga – There are lots of simple yoga stretches and positions that are suitable for children and including these as part of a relaxation or circle time could be a nice gentle form of exercise. The ‘Yoga Pretzels‘ cards are a colourful and attractive invitation to get the children interested:

taken from amazon.co.uk

Balancing/ climbing – indoor or out, using anything from climbing frames to a large tree – climbing involves some risk taking, problem solving, co-ordination and strength

Hopscotch – This is a wonderfully active way to work on some counting or simple numeracy

Roll a dice – do an action – If you are lucky enough to have one of these dice:

then you could add photos or instructions, if not then just assign a movement to a number. Take turns throwing the dice and then everyone needs to do the correct action.

Pushing and pulling buggies/ cars/ trailers 

Bikes, scooters and roller-skates

I know that you’ll all have tonnes more ideas! Remember; it’s so easy and yet so important to include active, physical play every day!

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P.S. Don’t forget to lead by example!

Get the children outdoors!

While driving home today, I heard a news story about children failing to get enough exercise and the potential dangers of this including cardio-vascular disease and even diabetes.

This got me thinking about the responsibility of schools and teachers with regard to the health and wellbeing of young children. How can children be expected to achieve high academic grades if their health is poor? Some children may not have gardens or outdoor spaces, or have opportunities to join sporting clubs due to money or family situations and therefore it is essential for teachers to plan energetic and outdoor opportunities into school time.

I also started thinking about the types of exercise and energetic learning that is offered to children during school. In my experience, it is fairly limited within PE, sports days and ‘play times’ or breaks.

During my own childhood I was not very sporty and I found organised, competitive games very off putting. As an adult I continue to avoid competitive sport and I am useless at the gym, however I have discovered a love for walking and exploring natural areas such as hills, beaches and forests. As a teacher I hope that I can bring a variety of experiences to the children that will allow them to be active in ways that they all can enjoy. I am very passionate about outdoor learning and feel that, if planned and implemented carefully, this could be used as a helpful tool for instilling a healthy lifestyle from an early age.

Read article “77% of children not getting enough exercise” here