Why children need to have familiar toys and stories when they start school. With help from Dire Straits and James Brown!
Date posted: Friday 9th September 2016
A few years ago I wrote a post about how young children benefit from having objects and books around the setting that remind them of home. I called it The Power of Sameness for Very Young Children. Someone commented, quite rightly, that what I was really writing about was children’s need for familiarity.
Around this time I was sitting in a hotel restaurant in Dubai, feeling shattered. I had just led two days of training for teachers working with young children in international schools. The course had gone really well and the next day I was flying out to lead the same course in the Far East. But I was a long way from home and already feeling totally exhausted. The jet lag was taking its toll and I hadn’t slept properly for three nights. When I go on these trips I’m very focused on the work, so don’t go sightseeing or anything like that. So I hadn’t left the hotel for three days and nights. My hotel seemed to be full of people like me: providing ‘consultancy’ and leading training, (though I’m certain I was the only one who involved their delegates in playing with play dough, wooden blocks and twigs). (more…)
Date posted: Thursday 16th June 2016
Take a look at this video clip. In a town square in Spain a man with a double bass stands still. A little girl drops a Euro into the musician’s hat. He begins playing Ode to Joy from Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony. To the delight and amazement of the growing crowd, members of a symphony orchestra and choir gradually appear from a nearby building, as they join in the crescendo of the symphony.
Ode to Joy (more…)
Date posted: Thursday 19th May 2016
We all mishear song lyrics. Some singers are particularly difficult to understand, but we try and make sense of them anyway. Can you identify the following misheard lyrics? (Answers at the bottom of the blog)
- The ants are my friends/They’re blowing in the wind
- Standing on your mama’s corpse, you told me we would last forever
- You’ve been outright offensive for so long now
- Is this the real life/Or is this just Battersea?
- Cod in a landslide/No escape from reality
- Spare him his life for his pork sausages
- The algebra has a devil for a sidekick eeee…
- Eeee-wheeeh! It’s me, I’m a tree, I’m a wombat
- ‘Scuse me, while I kiss this guy
- Rocket man: burning up his shoes with aerosol
- Shimu the mysterious whale
- Sue Lawley! Sue Lawley!
Children learn to talk so quickly because they are born with a drive to make sense of everything around them. As long as we talk to them in context, babies quickly realise that the sounds that come out of adults’ mouths represent objects and actions. However, some of the things that adults do and say, and what we expect young children to do, make no sense at all. What follows is a true story: (more…)
Mark making and early writing with young children, with help from Fleetwood Mac, Jean Michel Jarre and Captain Pugwash!
Date posted: Tuesday 10th May 2016
What does the word ‘pirate’ mean to you? If you are relatively young, (in other words born after the 1970 Isle of Wight Rock Festival), then you are probably thinking Johnny Depp and Disney’s Pirates of the Caribbean. If, like me, you were born before the festival, then you might be thinking about the terrifying depiction of Long John Silver by Robert Newton in Disney’s 1950 version of Treasure Island. (I saw it at a friend’s house when I was six and have never fully recovered from my sheer terror at the one-legged freebooter’s malevolent sneer and Newton’s appalling faux Bristol accent. My therapist traces my aversion to Bourneville’s Old Jamaica chocolate back to this early childhood trauma.) If you were at the I970 IOW festival, then you won’t remember a thing, but read on anyway.
Children say the funniest things: Or Sustained Shared Thinking Part 1. With help from Stevie Wonder, Talking Heads and a tin of evaporated milk!
Date posted: Monday 14th March 2016
Nestle Ideal evaporated milk
An expert mother?
When I was young I was very good at spelling. It wasn’t something I needed to work at, because I had always been interested in words. I guess it was an ability that came to me naturally, so I enjoyed honing my skills by reading anything I could get my hands on: books, comics, newspapers, magazines, the cereal packet at the breakfast table, even ingredients listed on toothpaste tubes. (Maths, on the other hand, was, and remains, a complete mystery to me. (Punctuation (along with the use of brackets) was a bit of a fascination: though; as you can see: I have never really understood how to use it.)
I was also fascinated by things I wasn’t supposed to touch, including all the little coloured bottles in the bathroom cabinet. One day I decided to investigate the contents of the cabinet. (Don’t blame my parents for leaving medicine within my reach – I was standing on a stool balanced on a chair.) Later that morning, as a kindly doctor examined my rapidly-swelling elbow, he asked my mum what on earth I had been doing. She was at a loss to explain my strange behaviour so I piped up: “Looking for something to read.” Being only seven, I was still learning about what I now understand is ‘the use of facial expression to convey non-verbal communication’, so I couldn’t understand why his eyebrows shot up towards the top of his impressively bald head.
“Tell me more,” was his reply. (Looking back on it, I suspect he may have been a psychiatrist.) I blithely recounted the whole story: how I loved reading new words and how I had found this new bottle that said on the label ‘For EXPERT mothers’ and how I supposed that whatever was inside must have made my mum into an expert… (my mum beamed with pride and blushed with embarrassment)… because she must have bought it to make her more of an expert, because she didn’t used to be very good at it, because last week she shouted at me just because me and my friend went in her handbag and tried on her lipstick…
I may have been a good reader, but didn’t quite get the difference between ‘expert’ which my mum was learning to be, and ‘expectant’ which at the time she was.
When I was nine I asked my teacher, “Am I an idealist?” I was a bit surprised by her lengthy reply, that included words like dreamer, social change, intellectual and philosophical endeavour and names such as Rousseau, Plato and Simone de Beauvoir. Why was I asking in the first place? Well, I knew that a person who liked flowers was a botanist and a person who liked collecting stamps was also an ist of some sort that I couldn’t quite get my tongue round. What I was trying to explore was why someone who likes something a lot couldn’t just be called something simple, like a flowerist or a stampist. I loved a particularly delicious type of evaporated milk made by Nestlé, called Ideal. So surely that made me an idealist? I was just about to ask my lovely teacher why someone who likes to set fire to other people’s property is called an arsonist, but she breathed a sigh of relief as the bell rang for playtime.
Stevie Wonder: Superstition from his 1972 album ‘Talking Book’
What children say can tell us a lot about what they are thinking. What we think of as hilarious seems perfectly logical to them. My colleagues and I have been asked some great things over the years; ‘Do cats poo?’ ‘Is Elvis real?’ and ‘Is Santa really Jesus’s dad?’ being three of the most memorable. We know that getting involved in deep conversation, now commonly referred to as Sustained Shared Thinking, is important for children’s language development and learning. What is most important for the children, and most challenging for the adults, is to find time to answer their questions and explore their ideas fully. It’s particularly challenging to share ideas with children who are very difficult to understand, either because they are very young, or have a speech and language difficulty.
So how do we do it? Have you got 15 minutes? If so, have a look at this article that I wrote to explore this subject. If you have a lot longer, you can explore the topic in depth in my book Talking and Learning With Young Children.
Talking Heads: Love During Wartime from the film ‘Stop Making Sense’
Take care out there
Do children really find it easier than adults to learn a language? With help from Bob Marley and The Wailers!
Date posted: Sunday 17th January 2016
One of the biggest myths in language learning goes like this: ‘I am an adult trying to learn a foreign language. I find it difficult. Children find it so much easier than I do. This is because young children learn differently than adults.’ This is just not true. (more…)
Selective mutism in teenage. Building self-esteem, with help from Katherine Whitehorn and Reina del Cid
Date posted: Tuesday 22nd December 2015
Katherine Whitehorn, journalist and social commentator, famously wrote, “The best career advice to give to the young is, ‘Find out what you like doing best and get someone to pay you for doing it.’ “
It doesn’t take us long to know what we like doing best. Sometimes it can take us a while to find what we are good at. Sometimes it can take us an age to find someone who will pay us for doing it. It’s a very lucky person who can do what they love and get paid for it. (more…)
2015 is almost finished and it’s time to look ahead to 2016.
I hope you’ve all had a good year and that 2016 brings health and happiness to you and your family.
But that’s not all… at this time of year millions of people across the globe link hands across their chests, then sing a song that they don’t know the words to. Yes, that’s right, it’s Auld Lang Syne.
Finally I can reveal the meaning of this song and give you a translation from old Scots into English. If you’ve ever wondered what a ‘right guid willy waught’ is, read on…. (more…)
Date posted: Friday 27th November 2015
To all my blog post readers, here I hope, is a special offer you can’t refuse.
My new book about children’s language development has just been published. As far as I know, it is the only book that is based on experience of the Every Child a Talker (ECaT) project.
To take advantage of a special introductory offer, visit the publisher’s website and enter promo code UK15AUTHOR at checkout.
Take care out there!
Date posted: Thursday 12th November 2015
Is it really a whole year since I was in Chiang Mai, Thailand? Yes it is. Though the bruising has long since healed, the events of that trip will be etched on my mind forever. *
The delegates on the course I was leading were teachers from international schools across South East Asia. The course was called ‘Building Confident Speakers in the Early Years’ and a major discussion point was how we can support children who are learning a second language. One issue was what advice we should give parents about learning English. In the UK we usually suggest that parents talk with their child in their home language, so that the child has a good grounding in that language. From there the children can go on to add English. (more…)