Superheroes, Weapon Play and a Giveaway

Last month was all about Superheroes for me. It is not that I developed an overriding urge to wear my underpants over my trousers (although it has been known!). I just ended up doing a lot of talking, writing and idea sharing around the positive impact of Superhero and Weapon play for children in Early Years.


March saw the official release of 'Creative Role Play in the Early Years' in which I have outlined my thoughts on what makes really effective role play work and why. As Superhero and Weapon play does take up a considerable amount of a lot of children's role play time, there is a section in the book that explores the reasons behind why children play in that way and what you can do to enhance it rather than try to eradicate it (which never works!).


I have been writing a series of articles for Early Years Educator Magazine over the past year and this month was all about that Superhero and gun obsession that for some children, seems to punctuate every session of Continuous Provision and free play.


Good role play of any sort, allows children to explore questions and emotions that they encounter in every day life in a controlled environment and a safe context. They can explore what is possible and, equally as importantly, what is impossible. Exploring what is risky and dangerous through play is essential if we want our children to be able to acknowledge and accept the limits of reality.

There is a huge element of emotional exploration that goes on during Superhero and weapon play. Through power struggle and combat children can put themselves into semi-real situations that allow them to experience and combat negative emotions.


As adults we tend to me far more literal in our interpretations of children’s Superhero and weapon play, so when we see play fighting we see violence and aggression as the main catalysts for the play, which is rarely the case. I am not saying that play fighting doesn’t sometimes turn into actual aggression, but that was not the intention when the play started out. If it was then it wouldn’t be play, it would just be a fight!

By it’s very nature this sort of play involves struggle, chase, competition, noise! It is often adrenalin fueled play, there is a high level of thrill for the children taking part so it will be fast and loud. We cannot penalise children for that. If we accept that this sort of play is going to take place then we need to make provision for it, both inside and out, and make sure that the whole team have clear expectations about what is acceptable and what isn’t.


In cultures where they do not have guns, children still engage this this type of play only their guns are replaced with spears, bows and arrows. It is the same symbolism.

Is there any difference between children playing ‘robbers’ and pointing guns at each other and children playing ‘Harry Potter’ or 'Fairies' and pointing their wands to cast spells and kill each other? Does it feel better because it is not a gun? Surely the end result is the same thing – power. It is just that the symbolism is more acceptable to adults. 

Harry_potter_1Courtesy of Warner Bros.

The question that I always ask myself is: when our children are engaged in gun play, are they practising to become a man with a gun or are they just exploring emotions such as control, risk and a sense of power?

Lots of our children’s essential emotional connections, consolidation and development can be made through fantasy play. The more opportunity they get to rehearse them, the more proficient they will get at managing them.

EY04172_2_smallSuperhero Dress Up Set 2  - TTS 

Through Superhero and weapon type role play children can learn to manage their own feelings by displacing them. They can make things turn out as they want them to, reinvent the truth and explore other possible outcomes that wouldn’t be possible in ‘real’ life where there is only one.


Wrestling, chasing, play fighting all help children to experience ‘safe’ danger assess risk and take appropriate action. As a species we are ‘hunter gatherers’. Much of the way that children play is grounded in instinct and an innate desire to hone our survival skills. Our experience of current culture just dressed them differently from our days in the cave!

Most often, but not always, these children are boys who are attracted helplessly to this play for five key reasons:

  • making guns is an easily achievable task

  • weapon play relates to early communications skills
  • major themes of children’s play are represented in weapon-related playing

  • running in big spaces, outside is a preferred play style

  • it is a universal language that requires no language.

If you want to read more about this kind of play and what you can do to support it then get your hands on a copy of this month's EYE and/or enter the Giveaway below.

So, what am I giving away in this month? Well…

The lovely people at TTS have given me five sets of superhero figures to give away.


These are miniature, generic Superhero figures that would be a great enhancement to your Small World and other areas.


I am also going to throw in five copies of 'Creative Role Play in the Early Years' for good measure.

PicMonkey Collage

This of course means that this month there will be FIVE winners (I know, the excitement is unbearable).

All you have to do to stand a chance of winning a set of figures and a book is:

Leave a comment on this blog post and/or

Leave a comment on the ABC Does Facebook page and/or

Tweet me about the Giveaway @ABCDoes

All comments and tweets must be received by noon on Saturday 12th Aril 2014

FIVE winners will be drawn by random number generator and the lucky recipients will be informed via the method/s that they entered the Giveaway.

Good Luck!

Before I go, just a quick conferences update

It had been really good to see all of you that have managed to make it along to an ABC Does conference. As most of the current dates have sold out, next weekend I will be posting the dates for the next lot.

Alongside new dates for 'Excellence in Early Years' and 'From Mark Maker to Writer', I am also running two new ones. 

'Heads Up'  – specifically for Head teachers, Senior Leaders and Governors, looking at attainment and best practice in EYFS. How it works, tracking high level attainment in and out of direct teaching, auditing your provision for best outcomes for children, being 'Ofsted ready' and lots more.

'Transition – No Space, No Staff, No Stuff!' - to make sure that our lovely Year One teachers are not left out, a course that really gets to the bottom of how transition into KS1 can work effectively, how to plan for it, what it looks like and how to maintain levels of attainment for both EYFS and KS1 children.

Look out for details on the 'conferences' page of the blog.

For those of you who broke up yesterday – have a lovely Easter holiday. For those of you (like me) who have got another week to go – just keep thinking about the chocolate and it will be Friday before you know it!


What Ofsted are looking for in EYFS

From my experience of working with lots of settings across the country the story when it comes to Ofsted inspections is still mixed at best. There still seems to be a huge difference between what different inspectors see as 'good practice'. Although we should be primarily driven by best outcomes for children and not teaching for Ofsted, it is the system by which we are all judged, so we need it to be as fair and accurate as it can be.


This week, there have been a two publications that are clearly intended to help to make EYFS judgements more uniform and recognise Foundation Stage as unique and requiring its own explicit section in a school inspection.

On Monday Sir Michael Wilshaw sent an open letter to Early Years Ofsted inspectors. This is what he said…

Dear Colleague

Letter to early years inspectors

In January, I wrote to all school inspectors setting out what I expect them to look for when judging the quality of teaching. I emphasised that inspectors should not expect to see a preferred style of teaching or a particular methodology, but should focus on how teaching helps children to learn and reach their potential.

I am now writing to early years inspectors with a similar message.

Too many reports focus on describing the provision in early years settings rather than on how well children are learning and making progress. In other words, inspectors should focus on evaluating whether children are being adequately prepared for the start of their statutory schooling.

Research shows that children’s development is at its greatest between birth and five. Therefore, the activities they do are absolutely crucial in giving them a good start in life. This is especially important for children from poor backgrounds. Children as young as two can learn and be taught a range of things. For example, they can:

  • learn new vocabulary and begin to use it in a meaningful way.
  • recognise and sing nursery rhymes and familiar songs
  • enjoy listening to stories and looking at picture books
  • build small towers while counting play bricks.
  • make shapes from modelling dough and begin to make marks on paper.
  • climb stairs and begin to play with a ball.
  • start to get dressed and undressed.

In November 2013, Ofsted launched a revised early years inspection framework, emphasising that nothing less than good provision is acceptable. We clearly set out our expectation that adults must teach young children. How settings fulfil this is the responsibility of each provider.

Therefore, I expect inspectors to apply common sense when observing how well children learn and how effectively adults teach children to develop skills, knowledge and understanding.

During an inspection, it may not be possible to see all the things I suggest below, nor is this list exhaustive. However, in essence, the inspector should observe how well adults:

  • help children to learn
  • teach children to listen to instructions and be attentive
  • teach children to socialize
  • motivate children to try things for themselves
  • support children to manage their personal needs
  • challenge children to think and find out more
  • encourage children to speculate and test ideas through trial and error
  • provide good models of language
  • develop children’s ability to express their ideas and use their imagination
  • extend children’s vocabulary and teach them to use new words
  • teach children the early stages of mathematics and reading.

Inspectors must expect adults to provide more than just supervision and care for children. They must also evaluate and report on whether:

  • staff sufficiently focus on children’s learning
  • staff spend enough time engaging in purposeful dialogue with children
  • children have sufficient time to practise and reinforce what is being taught
  • staff assess children’s skills, knowledge and abilities accurately and use this information to plan how to improve children’s progress
  • staff have sufficient expertise to teach children basic skills in the three prime areas of learning as well as in literacy and mathematics
  • the setting has a well-organised, regular and effective professional development programme that is improving the quality of teaching. 

In summary, inspectors should report on what makes teaching and assessment effective rather than on its style. I would like you to think carefully before criticising a setting because it does not conform to a particular ideological view of how young children should learn or be taught. Too few reports make links between the quality of teaching and its impact on children’s progress. I want to know how well settings help children to catch up when they enter with skills that are lower than those typical for their age.

I expect reports to be clear about the extent to which a provider prepares children for school. They should also support and challenge providers to improve their settings.

Parents must have concise and clear information to help them make the right decisions about their children’s education and care.

I hope this message has reinforced the importance of making clear and effective judgements on teaching in the early years and communicating these through inspection reports. The work that you do is vital in improving the life chances of young children, so it is important that we get this right.

Thank you for all your hard work.

Yours sincerely

Sir Michael Wilshaw

There is lots in this letter that needs unpicking and expansion, but the call for a 'common sense' approach that is unique to each setting is refreshing and long overdue.

You can find the letter here


On Tuesday, Ofsted  published a consultation setting out plans to introduce separate inspection judgements for early years settings.

The proposed changes, due to come into effect from September 2014, are designed to ensure inspectors place as much emphasis Foundation Stage as on the quality of provision for 5 to 16 year-olds.

Ofsted are keen to hear from as many people as possible – so if it matters to you (and it will do if you are reading this), make sure your voice is heard.

You can view the consultation and respond to the questionnaire here

You have until 13 May 2014

Let's keep things moving in the right direction…


See you at the Ed Show?

The Education Show 2014 is taking place at the NEC in Birmingham again this year. You can get more details about where it is and what is on here.  I have been before as a visitor, but this year I am having to earn my keep!

I will be there all day on Friday (21st March). If you want to come and say 'hello' you will mostly find me on the A and C Black  stand – J49-H50 or the TTS stand – C20 where I am launching an enhancement box all about 'Exploration'.


 The 'Box of Exploration' has a selection of open ended resources for practitioners to use to support and inspire children's ideas and learning as well as a book of ideas and a disc of downloads to get you started.

When it came to deciding what I would like to put into a box for exploration, I came up with a list as long as your arm, but I couldn't have everything (there wouldn't have been a box big enough to fit it all in)! So, I have tried to include resources that will give the most scope for taking learning in any direction as well as link into some common interests that children have around exploration – like pirates.

The team at TTS have worked really hard to put it all together!

In the box, you will find:

a miniature magic lamp…


 a brass telescope…


 and compass…


a pouch and some silver coins…


an 'ancient' gold mask…



 a fossilised arrow head


a hollow 'hiding' stone


some writing quills…


and a code maker/breaker



So, plenty to get you started, plus a few ideas to help.

Screen Shot 2014-03-16 at 12.01.08


If you want to come and have a closer look at the box or just fancy a chat, it would be great to see you at the show. So, if you are there please pop over and say 'hello'. 


Continuous Provision Planning

Planning for Continuous Provision can be very time consuming and what gets written on paper often doesn't translate into actual practice. I have been working with a number of schools and settings looking at how they can make their Continuous Provision planning less of a chore and more effective so, I thought I would share what we have been doing in the hope that it might be helpful.

I would always start with the question 'What is Continuous Provision?' It is not just provision that is continually accessible. It is a selection of resources that have been placed in areas by practitioners that continue the provision for learning in the absence of an adult.


Differentiated prompt cards for children to support their attainment in Continuous Provision – Bidston Primary School

Your Continuous Provision must be linked to assessment and levelled around the ability of your children in that area. You would then enhance it with open ended resources that will encourage investigation, exploration and thinking as well as resources linked to children's interests that will encourage engagement.

There should be challenge in all of your areas of Continuous Provision. This will either be implicit challenge that will come from the fact that you have linked your resources to assessment and levelled them, or explicit challenge where children will have a direct request to complete a specific challenge within an area alongside their free play.


Explicit challenge in the form of a 'Challenge Book' – The Friars Primary School

Issue that often arises when we do our Continuous Provision planning is that children don't actually do what we write on the plan.

The key question to ask yourself when you are planning is 'will they do this when I am not there?' If the answer is 'no' or 'probably not', then you need to think again.

For example, lots of settings will put specific capacity objectives into their sand or water play Continuous Provision planning:

'Children will fill containers to the given mark and compare'

Will they?..Really?..Or will they just stand and pour?


Often mark making will make it's way into sand tray Continuous Provision planning: 

'Children will attempt to write the first letter of their name and then practise hand writing patterns using tools provided'

Hmmm, probably not!


Pictures under porridge oats  - Haygarth Primary. Great for motor dexterity and talk

These statements are not Continuous Provision plans, they are adult focuses within an area of Continuous Provision. The focus you might want an adult to have when they visit children in play IF they feel that the play they are observing would benefit from support, challenge or enhancement.

There will also be times when specific areas of Continuous Provision have been enhanced with a skill that you are focusing on or that contain an explicit challenge for the children to complete.

You might have enhanced your Creative area with a skills focus on printing

IMG_5637 Overchurch Infant School

 or used your Malleable materials ares to facilitate a focus on reading.

All of this information needs to be on your Continuous Provision plans without them taking 24 hours to write and reading like War and Peace! So, what could they look like?

The first method of weekly planning that I use for Continuous Provision is the 'what', 'why' format. This is a simple overview of your Continuous Provision that would still need a bit of explanation if someone was using it to track attainment through Continuous Provision.

This is a really simple grid where you list all of the areas of provision that you have created. Each area gets its own box.

In the box under 'what' you would list what you had enhanced that area with this week

Under 'why' you would say why you have added that enhancement (assessment,skill, interest etc)

I always then do a very brief levelling of any enhancement that I had added to show differentiation.

I also indicate any areas where I have added specific challenge. This is an example of a teacher's planning using this format.

Screen Shot 2014-03-08 at 09.00.17

The 'what' has been driven by assessment, the 'why' is a prompt for adults. Obviously, there is no guarantee that just because you put it there the children will access it in the away that you want them to, but if all adults are aware of what is there and why, it can help them to facilitate effective challenge and support.

The second method of CP planning has a little more detail to it. Mine looks like this.

Screen Shot 2014-03-08 at 16.55.10On this sheet the column 'AREA' is not the area of learning, but the area of your space.  This is because you will often use an area of provision as a facilitator for another area of learning. So, you might be looking at 'Shape, Space and Measure' but in your construction area.

Under  the 'OBJECTIVE' column you are going to identify

  • Area Of Learning
  • Objectives that your Continuous Provision in that area has been planned to support
  • Focus for the adult IF required to enhance play.

In the 'ENHANCEMENT' column you will list any specific resources that you have added, any differentiation and any explicit challenges.

The next step in the process is to share this information with the adults who will be working in your space. The most obvious way to do that is to give them a copy of the planning – but with the best will in the world, that is a great deal of information to store in your head along with everything else that you have to think about!

Lots of settings create adult 'prompt' cards that differentiate any particular skill focus that they have chosen to enhance an area of Continuous Provision with.

IMG_5646Overchurch Infant School 

 There are many and various ways of doing this. It is really a question of what suits your team best. I have seen some settings use the 'WALT' and 'WILF' format for prompt cards for children.  What I don't see very often (at all) are children in EYFS using 'WALT' and 'WILF' to plan and evaluate their play and learning.

If you are going to use prompt cards, then remember to audit their impact through observation. You don't want to spend your life creating laminated cards that no one reads!

Here are a few ideas of activities that worked effectively as part of Continuous Provision that I have seen in action recently.


Stabbing a fruit box with paintbrush handles – Church Drive Primary – Great for shoulder and elbow pivot development as well as sound and rhythm.



Make your own milk shake in self service snack  - Liscard Primary 



Find the objects in the rice by moving and shaking the bottle, then record – Croft Primary School



Create and add your own tubes to explore trajectory, cause and effect, gravity…St Peters RC Noctorum 



Give your friend a moustache and glasses! – The Friars Primary School



Fence weaving with natural materials – Devonshire Road Primary

Of course, any other great ideas that you have got around planning or activities for Continuous Provision then please feel free to share!

Have a great week.



Scorpions In Your Sand Tray and other Outdoor Play!

This February half term I was lucky enough to be invited to go out to Brunei and work with the team at Hornbill School. 


The school  caters for both Nepali children of Gurkha soldiers and children of serving British military and civilian MOD personnel.  It has over 480 children from 3 – 11 years of age.  Usually the school has around 85-90% of children with English as an additional language (EAL), with high mobility as a result of unit moves and redeployment.

So not without it's challenges! Having said that they were judged 'Outstanding' at their last inspection.

I was working with the Senior Management Team and the Early Years Department doing a mixture of observation, action planning, data analysis, training and conference delivery. Granny's teeth came along with me (more of that coming soon on the 'teeth' page of the blog) and a great time was had by all!

The weather in Brunei is pretty constant – other than in the rainy season. It is warm in the morning and warm in the evening and HOT in the middle of the day. The school need to ensure that they use their outdoor play opportunities wisely and provide plenty of shade for the children when they work outside.

I was talking to the Headteacher (Kathy) about the use of tyres in the outdoor environment and she told me that they used to have a lovely collection of tyres but had to get rid of them as Black Cobras like to nest in them! What with that and having to check your sand tray for scorpions, puts moaning about a bit of cat poo in your outside sand pit into perspective!

Throughout the school there are interesting and inviting places for children to rest and play.


There is an outdoor 'round table' where groups of children like the School Council can meet to discuss important issues.



Places to be active 

SAM_2410Places to reflect



and chill out!


 and a gong for the end of playtime…


 The outdoor space is full of interesting planting, scent and texture. The focus is very much on experiencing  and investigating the outdoors which is what outdoor play should be about wherever you are in the world and whatever the weather is where you are.

On an ABC Does conference recently I was talking about what effective outdoor play might look like and one lovely lady said that her school had had a recent Ofsted and the Ofsted inspector had told her that she didn't have enough permanent alphabet and number lines in her outdoor space, which prompted me to ask the question (which I often do)…why would you have permanent alphabet and number lines in your outdoor space?

It doesn't make any sense to me on a number of levels:

Outdoor play is different from indoor play.

Your outdoor play space should be different from your indoor space

There is a BIG difference between outdoor play and indoor play that has been taken outside. 

But mostly because no child ever stopped their game of Super Hero baddies and said 'I know we are having a brilliant game of chasing but let's just stop here for a moment and access this lovely number line and use it in our play!' It just doesn't happen.

As an adult with a teaching focus outdoors you might want to take counting/alphabet resources with you to enhance a play experience or deliver a focused teaching session but they don't make effective permanent features as part of your outdoor Continuous Provision.


Haven Nursery

Apart from the fact that children don't access them, they get tatty, faded and generally unkempt very quickly. They don't enhance an natural environment. They are an eyesore! It is not just number lines and alphabets, the same goes for all of the generic downloadable laminated labels that we stick up all over the place.

Labeling your outdoor environment in this way does not make it print rich. Because the children don't engage with the print it actually encourages them to ignore it. 


The golden rule to outdoor play  is that is NOT the same as indoors. It should look and feel different and while you can build on some of the experiences that children have had indoors, it should offer them something different.


Heygarth Primary

A sand tray that has been pulled outside is not outdoor sand play. It is indoor sand play taken outside.

Lego on a blanket on the grass in not an outdoor construction experience it is an indoor one taken outside.

I am not saying that I think indoor experiences should never be seen outside (on pain of death)!

You might well be encouraging a child to pursue their particular interest with cars or Lego, and support them in carrying this interest into the outdoor environment.

Lots of children will enjoy mark making, reading and creating outdoors using resources from their indoor environment. I think we just need to be clear in our planning for learning in an outdoor space what experiences we are planning, who we are planning them for and why.


'Outside' play should offer children different experiences and the opportunities for different types of skill development.

In schools like Hornbill the weather is so warm and sunny that lots of children choose to be outside. Therefore indoor experiences are available, because that is where the children are. There are some children in our cold and rainy climate who prefer to learn outdoor who you might provide indoor learning experiences for, but your team needs to be aware that they are offering indoor skills and ensure that there are lots of other specific outdoor learning opportunities available.

I have worked with settings that have split their outdoor space up into areas of learning. There will be mark making area and a mathematics area, reading space, construction space etc. It is just like an indoor learning space with the roof lifted off.  The issue with this kind of set up is that it is just offering indoor learning opportunities with the roof taken off!


Children who don't engage with these opportunities indoors are not going to suddenly start engaging with them outdoors. If I associate an alphabet line with phonics sessions that make my brain ache, I will apply that same association regardless of where the line happens to be hanging!

When children are working in their outdoor environment they are usually physically more active than they are indoors both in the type of movements that they make and the range of movement.

Outdoor play should offer the opportunity for children to initiate and take part in games that encourage them to engage in personal interactions, conversations, negotiation and often conflict resolution.


Stanley Primary

Societies attitudes to outdoor play at home have significantly changed over the last twenty years. Children just don't go into the outdoor environment the way they used to. The use of the car and parental anxiety, the advent of the computer and even 'garden pride' keep children indoors. All the more reason to give them access to a quality space in your setting.


Ladybrook Primary

The outdoor environment should be filled with things that stimulate children's curiosity, things that are interesting to look at an investigate. A good outdoor space has pockets of ambiguity that are open to interpretation and exploration. The more 'themed' and structured your space is, then the less opportunities there are for children to really engage. A bit of mud never goes amiss either!


Haven Nursery

 When you are working with younger children, the outdoor space really supports their emergent interests and schemas in a way that the indoors often can't. How many times have you set up an activity just to find that your inquisitive 2 year olds have picked half of your resources up and stashed them somewhere else for safe keeping? (Often down the toilet)!

Outdoors has the potential to allow them to transport, fill and empty to their hearts content without causing major disruption.


Noah's Ark Pre-School

A well planned outdoor space supports children in very tangible skills like gross and fine motor dexterity, coordination, proprioception etc. It also develops children's concentration, creativity and ability to socially interact.


The Friars Primary

Being active has also been linked to antidepressant effects. Physical exercise can be a mood enhancer for all children but can have a real impact on children who present some behaviour management difficulties.


Penguin Pre-School

Exercise is also really good for enhancing brain action as it increases the intake of oxygen and the flow of blood to the brain. Studies have shown that children who exercise before academic testing improved their performance, so your outdoor engagement will have a definite impact on your indoor attainment!

When I watch children in outdoor play, they appear to feel less accountable than they do inside. Our expectations for the indoor environment are usually really clear and where as outdoors, although we will have expectations for behaviour and safety etc the lines are a little more blurred, the space is less predictable therefore there is greater freedom.


Thorpedene Primary

It is in this sort of environment that children begin to take more risk and in turn feel more confident to embrace challenge. In a totally risk free environment, you end up with risk averse children.

Outdoor play benefits children in so many ways, emotionally, socially, physically, aesthetically and intellectually. The fresh air, sunlight, movement, engagement, risk and challenge enhance both their physiological development as well as their state of mind and self esteem.


Hamstel Infant School

Sometimes it can be hard for adults to see outdoors as an environment for learning because it is so alien from what we perceive in education to be a 'normal' setting for teaching and learning, but outdoor play is not just playtime it is a fundamental part of children's development.

So, if it doesn't look like indoors taken outside, then what might it look like?

You want to make use of any 'space' that you have, however small, so it is a good idea not to fill it with large or fixed structures that will limit the potential for play and exploration and also space for movement. IMG00445-20110505-09491

If you are going to introduce any fixed structures, try and keep them open ended like a mud kitchen or a den space. If you start to introduce a permanent 'train' or 'pirate ship' then these outdoor items will only ever be a 'train' or a 'pirate ship' for most children. Rather than enhance and develop their outdoor play, the over theming actually restricts it.


Lots of portable equipment like crates, boxes tubes and guttering are ideal because you can move them about as well as offering great opportunities for children to use all of their communication, problem solving and collaborative thinking skills to build and create.


Try and keep your Continuous Provision outdoors open ended and ambiguous. You can then enhance that with resources that follow childrens interests or ideas that you want to introduce to the children.


Look for resources that encourage engagement, talk and play.


Hazelwood Infant School

Revisit the old traditional games like Hop Scotch and ring games. Spend time teaching the children how to play so that they can use them in their own play as well as alongside an adult. All of the features that we want to encourage in our outdoor spaces are included in many of those 'old fashioned games'.


Heygarth Primary

Consider the power of 'Super Hero Play' which is often perceived as being dark and dangerous. Actually, when encouraged and managed appropriately is actually the opposite and can be a very powerful teaching tool.


Middlefield Primary

When we try and ban the making of weapons and guns, it actually makes them more attractive to some children because by outlawing them we have upped the level of 'thrill' in creating them. The fact of the matter is that they will do it anyway, but because they know they are not supposed to, the weapons they create are low level and basic.

When we embrace their high level of engagement and provide support and resources to facilitate their interest the weapons that they create become infinitely more complex and show a significantly higher level of thinking and creativity.


Middlefield Primary

If we want our children to be self motivated educators, then we have to give them an environment to interest, puzzle and inspire them.

When you are considering the impact of your outdoors, stand back and watch what children (and adults) are doing  in the spaces you have created. 

Are the resources that you have provided really outdoor or are they just indoor taken out?


Sudley Infant School

When the children are engaged in their outdoor play, can you see challenge? Areas like the track are common for getting high levels of engagement but minimum levels of challenge and attainment. If your children really are whizzing round the track at 90 miles an hour on their three wheeled scooter then they are showing you that they have well and truly mastered that skill. 

If that is the case, then you need to capitalise on the engagement but add some challenge either by enhancing the track or changing the wheeled toys.

Here at Hornbill, they added speed bumps, railway sleepers and a turning circle as well as different road textures to effect the movement of the wheeled toys.



I do appreciate that this is a BIG space, but the principle remains the same even on a small track.

I have really only just skimmed the surface of what outdoor play could and should be. There is no one blueprint for an 'good' outdoor space, because each one will be different. But no matter if yours is huge or tiny, concrete or grass, the fundamentals are the same.

Outdoors HAS to be Outdoors and NOT just indoors taken outside!



Cool Canvas Giveaway – Winner!

Admittedly this is a little later that I anticipated due to a 9 hour delay to my flight home from working with Hornbill school in Brunei (more about them later)!

Thanks for all of your entries, I had LOADS!

The winner of the Cool Canvas Outdoor Structure is…


Well done Fiona – either Oliver or I will be in touch soon. I am sure you will make good use of it and of course we would love to see some photos when you have it up and running.


Outdoor Structure Giveaway – Cool Canvas

This week I have got a brilliant outdoor structure to giveaway courtesy of Oliver from Cool Canvas. I have seen Oliver's amazing outdoor structures in use in a number of settings and they really do enhance the outdoor space whilst challenging children's learning and experience.

Before I tell you how you can win, here is a bit of information about Oliver, Cool Canvas and that very exciting outdoor construction platform…

SelfieOliver Wotherspoon designs and creates bespoke, open-ended play environments across the UK. His unique designs are rapidly becoming renowned nationwide as must have children's outdoor areas.

As a boy, Oliver worked alongside his dad in the landscape gardening trade and enjoyed driving from job to job in a classic series 2A Land Rover with the two becoming affectionately known as 'The well spoken Gypsies'. These formative years together with a deep love for the Isle of Arran and the Lake District formed over family holidays as a child, ignited his passion for working both in and with the natural environment.

Following his graduation in Fine Art in 2002, Oliver began working in local schools developing art and landscaping projects that involved both children and teaching staff in a 'hands-on' capacity whilst simultaneously enabling Oliver to gain an understanding of the National Curriculum.

While Oliver's work has continued to progress organically over the past decade, his earlier vision of those formative years remains the same:

to create natural play environments for children which both inspire the imagination and make playtime as exciting and as fun as possible.

Just like the old days, Oliver and his dad Richard are a team again and are now considering buying an even older series 2A Land Rover as Cool Canvas's new company car!


What is the Giveaway? Here is some essential info from Oliver…

You have the opportunity to win a construction platform kit worth £1250 + vat


What is a construction platform and what does the kit include?

A construction platform is our latest EYFS concept it's a chunky raised platform that can sit in any play space or can be installed around a tree (Installing around a tree may require professional advice).  It comes with a kit that allows children to slot in wall panels, attach material, install pulleys and build their own steps.  And that's just the start.


The kit includes:

  • Wooden wall slats.
  • Material attachments.
  • 14mm mooring line and lanyard for pulley making.
  • 2 x box steps.
  • Material attachment hoops.
  • Wooden platform.  The structure is 600mm off the ground so it doesn't need to sit on a safety surface and it doesn't need to be concreted in to the ground. The size of the platform is 1200mm long x 1200mm wide (4ft x4ft).  





Please note the structure in this picture is a double tiered structure with tree house platform.  The competition is for a single platform

          How did the design come about?

  • For me the most exciting stage of a project is the process of creating. I enjoy looking at a structure when it's in its frame work stage and the thought of the building process that lies ahead.

    I love making junk sculptures with children and it’s this concept that led me to design this simple platform that acts as an open ended stage for problem solving activities.

    Can the kit be developed further?

    The platform kit is just the beginning I would suggest having piles of card, tape, string and material to hand, so children can develop the resource in their own way.  I think a loose set of small ladders or a step ladder are awesome and totally add to the excitement of the structure.




If you wanted to enhance the surface under foot I would recommend buying some bark from your local garden centre or better still a local tree surgeon and scatter around the base of the structure.

Come summer a nice idea is to attach hanging baskets to the upper legs to add some natural colour, texture and smell. 


“The construction platform has been an excellent addition to our outdoor environment, opening up a wide range of opportunities for the children.

There are three access routes to the platform at three different levels of physical development challenge. Successful building in the construction section requires teamwork and cooperation to add and remove the panels. The children love the fact that they can change the dynamic of the platform by adding and removing walls. The whole structure presents fantastic opportunities for children's imaginative play with hooks for adding materials as required.

Oliver and his team gave real thought to the structure and produced something which exceeded our initial request. The team are clear about the learning benefits that each element offers and we have no hesitation in recommending their work.”

 Alison Marshall

Head Teacher of Nevill Road Primary

How to win the platform…

To stand a chance of winning this Giveaway you can…

Leave a comment on this blog post and/or

Tweet a comment to @ABCDoes and/or

Leave a comment on the ABC Does Facebook page.

All comments must be received by noon on Saturday 22nd February 2014

The winner will be selected by random number generator and posted on the blog (this will be shared on Twitter and Facebook)

Once the winner's details have been confirmed then there will be a minimum 3 week delivery time from Cool Canvas (this will give the elves time to make it).

The structure will be delivered in individual parts.

To see more Cool Canvas inspirations you can log on to their website HERE (look out for thr Hobbit holes!)

Good Luck!



And the winner is….

The winner of the TTS mobile phones and headsets is….


Well done Lynda!

Don't worry if you didn't win, there will be another TTS giveaway at the end of February.

Plus, I have got an astounding £1,500outdoor structure to giveaway from Cool Canvas coming up!

(It's a really good one, so look out for it!)

Granny’s Teeth on Tour!

A couple of weeks ago I posted a blog about my dear old granny's false teeth.

Well, it turns out that quite a few people fancy the idea of working with a pair of old ladie's teeth – so I have decided to send them on tour!

TeethIf you would like to have the teeth in your setting (you could be a childminder, nursery, children's centre, school, stay at home parent – anyone who works with children, or who has a penchant for false teeth!) all you have to do is…

  • email me with the address that you would like the teeth to be sent to
  • record any activity that you do with the children around the teeth (this can be REALLY simple)
  • send any evidence over to me so that I can blog about it
  • send the teeth on to their next tour venue or back to me (I will let you know the address that you need)

The teeth are getting their own page on the blog which you can access from the tabs at the top. I will update their page whenever they go somewhere new on their travels.

Their tour has already started at The Friars Primary in Salford so check out the 'teeth' tab at the top of the page to find out what they got up to….

They have also been requested in Scotland, Stockport and will be traveling out to Brunei with me where I am working for the M.O.D…

Go on…get your name on the list…you know you want to! Lets see what sort of diverse and engaging learning we can get from a pair of teeth.


ICT in Early Years AND a TTS Giveaway!

It is sometimes difficult to think of ICT as being anything beyond a computer or an iPad, but ICT in EYFS takes on many different forms and can be promoted in all areas of continuous provision – and beyond.

Undoubtedly there has to be a taught element of ICT, but as many aspects as possible should be integrates into the Continuous Provision that we create to make it real and relevant to children.


ICT should be viewed as a tool that will support all of our teaching and learning, rather than just a single focus for teaching. As well as getting children to be familiar with the ‘operation’ of equipment we need to try and ensure that they can access, experiment and practise with various forms of ICT in their play.

  IMG_0887Nice bit of hairdrier action in a deconstructed role play hairdressers!

The world of ICT moves forward at an ever increasing rate and often we find that children’s skills in operating equipment are just as good, if not better than ours! There is no shame in adults being learning partners with children when it comes to experimenting with new gadgets. After all to teach someone else can be the most powerful way to learn.

I watch my pre-school Niece and Nephews navigating their way around an IPad or playing apps on my iPhone and I am struck by how accomplished they are performing tasks that some adults find challenging. We cannot underestimate the high level of ICT capability that our very young children have. We need to make sure we acknowledge it and reflect it in our environments and planning.

 When showing my 2 year old Niece a picture (in a frame) of my boys when they were little, she swiped her finger across the glass and asked me why the picture didn’t change! Many young children have high expectations of the level of ICT that should exist in their little worlds.

IMG_1922 Sometimes one iPad just isn't enough!

Having said that ICT is SO much more than an iPad or a computer. ICT in everywhere around children in many different guises. We need to help them to recognise it, explore it and apply it to their investigation and play.

Lots of you will already be familiar with programmable toys like Bee -Bot. These have many uses and children really enjoy working with them. Ideally, alongside a focussed input, this sort of toy should be part of your Continuous Provision, so that children can access them in their free play.


When we are thinking about areas like Role Play, think about including ICT resources that children will experience in their everyday life. Has your role play area got a cashpoint machine (a cardboard box with a slot)? Does your ‘shopping’ enhancement box have a self service till? Does your restaurant enhancement box have a chip and pin card reader and calculators for working out the bill?


Anyone who has ever been on a staff night out will know that you have to allow at least an hour at the end of the meal to work out how much it will be per person (‘but I didn’t have a starter’…’I only had one glass of wine’…’we shared a desert, so can you split the cost between three’…)!

If you haven’t got the real thing (there aren’t many spare cash machines knocking around) then you can make it. Better still get the children to make it. There is huge fascination though, for children with ‘the real thing’, so if you can, go real.


Effective ICT is also good for helping children to develop creative and critical thinking. Operating and applying the technology that they come across helps them to make sense of what they are experiencing and also make new connections about how things work and how they can use them.

Try to keep your ICT experiences relevant and meaningful to children. If it matters to them and engages them then they are far more likely to learn.

One really effective and engaging way for children to learn about how things work  is to take them apart. I guarantee that you will get huge levels of engagement from children if you provide them with a selection of screwdrivers and a pile of ‘stuff’ to unscrew. (Obviously, remove any really dangerous bits!)




Switches, wires, circuits, connectors, bulbs, batteries – it is all there waiting to be discovered and tinkered with.

With a clever bit of recycling you can even create something new. You might need to raid the Y2 electricity topic box – just don't tell them!


Snack is another great opportunity to get children using ICT. They might be using an electric timer to demarcate how long they can spend in the snack area, a bread maker to make their snack, a toaster to toast their bread, an electric apple peeler, a juicer or a talking tin to give them a talk prompt the possibilities are endless.


Bread making


Using 'easy to follow' instructions.


Nursery and Reception children self serving toast

You can have endless fun at the photocopier (as long as the Office Manager isn’t looking!). I have yet to meet a child who doesn’t get a bit giddy when they get to press the big green button and have a copy of whatever they put under the lid pop out of the other end.  Try copying their hands to create a number line.


Lots of settings have a Visualiser now, but if you haven’t got one, you might want to consider it. You can attach it to your lap top and your Smartboard. Anything the children put underneath it gets magnified. Great for sharing interesting ‘stuff’.


Equipment like metal detectors are relatively cheap and highly engaging both indoors and out. Just make sure that whatever they are looking for is worth finding. No one wants to find a word card with a paper clip in the corner!


 Simple video cameras are very easy to get hold of these days. There is also lots of really simple software out there that lets children turn their videoing into short films. There is something VERY empowering about being in charge of a video camera or camera. It gives children a sense of power in that they can capture images that are important to them.


Video cameras and cameras are also a really good social prop for children who are shy or lack language, because they give a valid and accepted reason to approach other children and engage.


A video also allows children to re-visit and reflect. This can be a very useful and enjoyable thing for children to do.

If you are in a setting with a working kitchen then try and make as much use of that as possible. Not just when it comes to ‘baking’ but work with the children to use the other electrical items that are in there like the washing machine, the microwave and the dishwasher (if your setting is dead posh!).



Bring in from home items that children might be less familiar with like a sewing machine. They will be fascinated by how it works.


Make sure you let them have a go. Under supervision of course!



You can also add to your everyday provision with equipment like a light box, torches, microphones, remote control vehicles, voice changers, talking tins, torches, listening centres, headphones, karaoke machines…the list is literally endless.




This is a 'black light' torch. It makes highlighter pen water, tonic water and anything white glow in the dark!

Don’t forget that if you have access to two laptops/computers and an internet signal you can Skype or Facetime either from the room next door or get your friend's school to do it from the other side of your County, the Country or even the World.

I am working on a project at the moment using Xbox and Wii in Early Years, with some fantastic results – but more of that in a longer post at a later date!

ICT can bring really high levels of engagement, learning and interest from children. There is so much out there, make sure you have plenty of it in your setting and LET THE CHILDREN USE IT. It is no good it is still in the stock cupboard.


To help you along with your ICT provision. The lovely people at TTS are donating quite a spectacular ICT package for this month's giveaway.


You can win a set of these Mini Mobile Phones worth £119. They were Shortlisted for BETT Awards 2014 – Early Years Digital Content – Category


These six walkie-talkies, realistically styled like the latest smartphones with bright colours are a fantastic addition to your ICT resources.

So simple to use, they are ideal for outdoor play or even used from room to room.

  • Up to three pairs of children can speak to each other simultaneously, each having their own conversation without the need to select different channels.
  • Colour coordinated buttons make 'dialling' easy. Simply press the button that corresponds to the phone you want to call. If the other phone is busy, you get a realistic 'call waiting' function.

Answering is simple – just press the 'answer' button and talk, just like you would with a real phone. Children can talk together naturally and enjoy real conversations without pressing extra buttons to talk or listen.

If that wasn’t enough, they are also letting me have 2 sets of Walkie Talkie Headsets worth £38.34 each. These headsets allow the children to communicate with each other whilst on the move or from their secret hideout!  Or, if the fancy takes you, you can use them to chat to the person on outdoor provision! (If you win, you will need 2x9v batteries per headset which are not included in the giveaway.)



So, all you have to do to stand a chance of winning the set of mobile phones and the two sets of headphones is:

Leave a comment at the bottom of this blog post and/or

Leave me a tweet @ABCDoes and/or

Leave a comment on the ABC Does Facebook page here

All comments and Tweets must be made by noon on Saturday 1st February 2014. The winner will be selected using a random number generator.

Good Luck


Talk for Mark Making and Writing – Granny’s teeth!

At the grand old age of 93 years, my Granny passed away last year. She will be sorely missed and has left behind the great legacy of a long life well lived. She also left a number of things for us to remember her by  – but one unexpected (and unintentional on her part) heirloom was her teeth!

Not her everyday set, you understand. Theses were her ‘spares’, her ‘just in case’ set. Kept in bubble wrap at the back of a drawer – just in case…

I was really chuffed when I found them, because I knew I would be able to put them to good use!


Imagine coming into your setting to find these in a jar in the middle of your snack table! Now if that doesn't get you talking, I don't know what will! There are a million questions, statements, stories and exclaimations that will come from one pair of flase teeth.

When a child has limited language acquisition and wants to talk about the temperature of something then they can only really refer to its state as either hot or cold. They do not have the words for anything in between. As adults we can provide them with a wide range of words supported by a relevant experience. It is no good just getting the child to learn a list of words, for that learning to stick those words need to be attached to an engaging and relevant learning experience so if we say something is, luke warm, tepid, ice cold, warm, boiling, scorching or freezing the child will be able to put that into the context of their experience.

Not forgetting that children have to hear a word used in context on a number of occasions before they can assimilate it, make sense of it and then regurgitate it in their talk.

If they cannot talk about it, then they cannot write about it, as writing is only talk that comes out of the end of your pencil instead of your mouth!


There are so many exciting words in the English language that nearly every activity that they do will be an opportunity to try one out! If you decide to take one of those opportunities and extend a child’s vocabulary, first of all be sure that they have a basic word to describe whatever it is that you are going to extend. Use that word first as that is their point of reference and then extend. The more engagement you can get from the child. The more chance you have got of that word sticking.

  • Stress the word that you are using within the sentence

‘Look at that big (insert word). It is not just big it is enormous!’

  • Tell them what the word you have used means

‘Can you see it? It is really big, huge, massive, really enormous’

  • Act it using gestures, actions or tone of voice.

It is really e-nor-mous, even bigger than this (fling arms apart) 

  • Relate the word to something that is personal to that child’s experience

 ‘It is as even bigger than that enormous piece of playdough that you were playing with this morning. Do you remember?'

  • Talk it again and again and again! There is no harm in overusing a word on first introduction as long as you don’t put the children off!

 ‘What else can we see that is enormous? That rock over there, is so much bigger an the others it’s enormous. I Once wrestled a shark that was as big as a double decker bus – it was enormous and had enormous teeth!’

 If the child is keen to join in and have a go at using the word then that is great and you should encourage then to have a go. If they are showing no signs of wanting to join in then this is also fine. I is not so much about the child saying the word, but about them hearing it in context and making sense of it. enough to use it.

For a quick mental reminder of what you need to do, just think


Stress it, Tell it, Act it, Relate it and Talk it.

Learning to write is not hard, painful or boring if you do it at the right time and in the right order. Many practitioners still put too much emphasis on the physical mark making element of writing pushing children to do things that they are not physically or mentally equipped to do.


(Not sure what is scarier – me or the teeth!)

Once we understand the process of how children develop their mark making and writing skills then we can make sure that we are accurately assessing their progress and then reflecting that assessment in the environment that we create and the planning that we put into place.

Alongside that we should be spending a HUGE amount of time talking with children and giving them something that they want to talk and write about.

Getting children with limited interest or vocabulary to talk can be hard work. So pick things that will provoke a reaction.

Something to make them laugh


make them think, make them go ‘Yuk!’


or give them a mild fright!


(This is one of my activities where you make 'dinosaur poo' out of playdough with soil and coffee grinds mixed in. In some of the poo, you put boiled chicken bones, in some vegetation. The children have to disect the poo using tweezers (and hygienic gloves) and work out if the dinosaur who did the poo was a herbivore, carnivore or omnivore and then record their results! Get's them talking and writing every time!)

Once you have got them talking – then you will get them mark making and writing. Hold on, that sounds like a good idea for a conference. It just so happens I know a bloke who is running a really good one on just that subject! You can find the details here. If you're lucky he will bring his false teeth!

Thanks for the inspiration Granny. I am sure you are smiling down on us all (albeit a gummy one due to the fact that I have got your teeth!)

Happy talking…and writing


Best iPad Apps for Early Years

I often get asked if I can recommend any good apps for iPads in Early Years. There are a few that I have come across that I have listed below, but I thought it would be a better idea if I asked you what you (and your children) like and then we can all share.

I know you can do a google search for Early Years Apps and you will get hundreds, but lots of them are dire! It is much better to buy on a personal recommendation.

There are (unsurprisingly) lots linked to Literacy and Numeracy, I would be really good to find a few more that were linked to the other areas of learning.

If you have got a good one, then please leave a link and a short description as a comment here on the blog or head over to my face book page here and leave a comment there.

Here are a few to get started with…

I am going to kick off with a phonics app that I know is very popular in The Friars Primary School 

Hairy Letters: £1.99

Interact with animations and trace the letter shape onscreen with your finger. Play games to reinforce learning and build letters into simple words. Letter sounds come to life with animated characters. Learn to form each letter shape with your finger. Play games to blend letter sounds into first words. Includes upper case letter names. Multisensory learning by UK specialist teachers.

Swapsies: £1.49

What do you get when you cross a baker with an astronaut? Just one of a few thousand clever combinations in the fun-filled mix-and-match game built around 10 different occupations and community helpers.




Bee-Bot: FREE

The new Bee-Bot App from TTS Group has been developed based on our well-loved, award-winning Bee-Bot floor robot. The app makes use of Bee-Bot's keypad functionality and enables children to improve their skills in directional language and programming through sequences of forwards, backwards, left and right 90 degree turns

My Story – Book Maker for Kids: £2.49

Create and share ebooks by adding drawings, photos, and stickers. Then record your voice on every page and share your story with friends, family and classmates. We’ve made My Story super teacher friendly by adding multiple authors and syncing across multiple iPads! So now you can have all your classroom iPads in sync! Perfect for the home or classroom.

Amazing Coin: £1.49

7 interactive games about GBP coins learning, counting, paying, making change, matching and etc.
20 pence rewards for each correct answer, with the rewards kids can buy food in the store, and eat them later.
Uninterrupted and unlimited play: game continues as long as the player desires.

Little Digits: £0.69
Little Digits is a fun educational app that teaches children about numbers by putting a new spin on finger counting.

Using the iPad multi-touch screen, Little Digits displays number characters by detecting how many fingers you put down. Children can learn to associate the number on the screen with the number of fingers they place down, whilst enjoying the unique characters and animations of the Little Digits world.


Forest Phonics: 1.99

Forest Phonics is a spelling game. Choose a spelling pattern and you will be prompted to spell ten words using that spelling pattern, e.g. 'ay' words. The sounds are easy to move around using the drag and drop sound cards. Each correct answer is rewarded with a funny animation. The game covers 30 spelling patterns suitable for children between the ages of 4 and 7 years of age.


I look forward to exploring more…



Promoting Attainment in EYFS – Gap Analysis

I know that I go on about it a great deal, but if you are going to have a really successful learning environment, then your provision has got to be linked to assessment and broadly levelled. If not, then you don't really create learning spaces, you just create holding spaces.

The environment you set up should change to match the needs of your current cohort. Not just on an annual basis, the change should happen termly in response to the information that you get from your summative assessment.


At the risk of sounding like Miranda's mother, that is what I like to call a Gap and Strength Analysis.

Not only does your Gap and Strength Analysis help you to create an appropriate learning environment, it also helps you to demonstrate how you can achieve high level attainment in Foundation Stage, which as we know, can be tricky!

So, what to do and how to do it…

A Gap and Strength Analysis uses the information that you gain from your summative assessment to show where the greatest areas of need and strength are within your cohort.

You would then make sure that they environment and provision that you put in place directly reflects the needs that you have identified.


Where there are areas of particular strength then you would ensure that you planned explicit and implicit challenge.

If talk or physical development shows up as a need then I would expect to see lots more areas of the environment and resources in place to support that development. There is no point having a 'maths' and 'handwriting' area with no one in it, when that space could be given over to providing more learning opportunities in an area of identified need.


You will fill in your Gap and Strength Analysis three times a year following summative assessment. This will probably be October, December and April. 

If you have a constantly changing cohort (like playgroup or day nursery) then you would carry out a Gap and Strength Analysis every three months and 'tweak' your environment in response to any specific need that you have identified in the interim.

What do I assess?

You are assessing children's development against their age related statements in the Prime and Specific areas

What am I looking for?

You want to identify children who are working below, or at risk of working below their age related expectations.

You also want to identify children who are working above their age related expectations

Target Areas

Identify target areas of development where a significant number of children are performing below their age related expectation. The larger the number of children the more prevalent the need in that area.

Make a graph!

I like a graph – it really helps my visual brain. It also really helps anyone who isn't very familiar with interpreting EYFS data make some sense of what you are doing.

On your graph list the areas in order of need. This will be your starting point for organising your environment and creating the beginnings of an attainment audit trail.

Here is an example of a Reception Gap analysis using Autumn 2 summative assessment. In this particular setting, there are no children who are performing above the expected level for their age, therefore this is a pure Gap Analysis

300 jpeg Scan

What Next?

Well, once you have identified the areas of need (and challenge if you have any) you need to sit down as a team and talk about how these translate into your environment and the provision that you create.

Some areas like 'People and Communities' can often score highly because young children often have limited knowledge and experience of other people and communities outside of their own. Their knowledge in this area will grow through the experiences that you give them and this takes time.

It is still worth asking the question how you make your children aware of people and communities. Do you have to wait until the 'People That Help Us' topic title comes along, or do you have a really good range of stories, songs, games etc that you use consistently?


One setting I was working with got a very similar result from their Gap Analysis and decided to use some of their space to create a 'Multicultural Area'. This area was full of various multicultural costumes, artifacts an images. The children used the area a lot and the team felt that it was therefore having impact. When we watched and listened to what the children were doing in the area during Continuous Provision, it had very little to do with other cultures and a great deal to do with familiar domestic role play.

When an adult was working in the space, then it was a different story but we need to focus on what the children will do when there is no adult there, as that is when attainment is most at risk.

Shape and Space often comes up as a key area in early Gap Analysis, again that is because it something that needs to be explicitly taught as well experienced. It does not however,  give you license to put 2d shapes in the sand and water or just scatter a few around your environment! This is more likely to put children off than engage them. There aren't many children who get excited about the prospect of digging up a triangle! Even when they do, how does that experience impact on their learning? DON'T DO IT! (The same goes for burying words in the sand – but that is a whole different rant!).


If Shape and Space does come up you might want to think about how you can get more exciting and interactive shape into your environment. This can be done through things like puzzles, jigsaws, construction, outdoor and also cutting your snack into shapes or serving it on different shaped plates. You can be as creative as you like as long as the children are going to engage with your ideas and what you do is actually going to have an impact.

For every need identified, you can fill in something like this. This sheet will identify the term you are carrying out the analysis as well as the area of need/challenge that you thinking about.

The 'Area that promotes facilitation' are areas of your environment that will help you to deliver the need you have identified.

'Possible Resources' is just that. Possible resources that you might want to add to your Continuous Provision in that area of the environment to help you to tackle your need.

Screen Shot 2014-01-07 at 11.23.21

You can download a copy of this as a Word document  here Download GapAnalysis

You then need to swap, change and enhance your space to match all of the work that you have just done. Take time to stand back and watch not only where your children go during Continuous Provision, but what they do when they get there. Yes, your Maths area is full of children, but are they doing Maths? I would hazard a guess from experience that they are probably engaging in some good old domestic role play.

The last thing I would do is to create a SIMPLE overview document that outlines what your data has told you in each area and what you have done about it.


So, to create your Gap and Strength Analysis you will have…

Collected lots of lovely data that shows children's attainment in the Prime and Specific Areas against age related criteria

Identified the areas where there is the greatest need for support and challenge

Created a graph to illustrate those needs

Discussed how the need can be translated into direct teaching and opportunities within Continuous Provision

Evaluated how you can change your current environment to support the solutions that you have come up with.

For each area of need you will have recorded what you have added to your provision to support children's learning and development and how it might be used.

Finally you will have created a Gap and Strength Analysis overview that explains all of the above in BRIEF!

Each term (or summative assessment) you carry out the same process. Ideally your gaps should shrink and even change as the year progresses.

If your children are performing below their age related expectation, it is important to record what age band they are starting in. When you come to do your next analysis, it can appear that they haven't moved because they will still be below expectation, but they could well have moved in terms of their attainment, they are just not at expected level…yet!

This document is really handy to show why you are doing what you are doing and also provides a starting point for anyone who is coming to look at attainment, provision and practice in your setting. It helps to join up the dots!

Happy dot joining


TTS Giveaway – Wooden Tool Kit and Me!

I can't believe it is already a month since the last TTS giveaway. How time flies, especially as we hurtle towards Christmas at breakneck speed. In every setting I have been into recently, there has been a slightly frazzled looking teacher in the hall shouting 'Slow down and speak up'! 

This week I also confirmed that there will definitely be an ABC Does… Australia tour this summer. I have been asked to be a keynote speaker at the Inspired EC conference (details here) out there in August and am going to be delivering ABC Does conferences and training for the 4 weeks leading up to that all over Australia. All of the details of 'what' and 'where' will be on the Inspired EC website. I am looking forward to finally meeting some of my Australian blogging buddies!

Now for this months giveaway…

Last month it was a till, this month it is a tool kit – and a bit gorgeous it is too!


To stand a chance of getting your hands on it, all you have to do is…

Leave a comment on this blog post and/or on my Twitter account (@ABCDoes) and/or the ABC Does Facebook page. You need to do this before midday on Saturday 7th December 2013. As always, I will use a random number generator to pick the winner. Good Luck!

EY04704_EY_13_26_07 3_tts


Two funny things happened to me in the last couple of weeks. The first was in the staffroom of a school (which shall remain nameless). I was shown into said staffroom and asked to wait for the Early Years Coordinator. There was only me and two other members of staff in there, and they were sitting at the opposite end of the room (the room wasn't big). 

In a whisper that should have been quieter, one said to the other 'Who's he?' The other one replied 'He's the bloke for Early Years' to which the first one whispered (with some indignance) 'Him?! She said he was  dead fit. He's not fit!' At which point they both got up and left.

Funny on so many levels, not least that anyone would describe me as 'dead fit'!

Anyway, that same week TTS contacted me to ask if they could give me away in their new catalogue. 

If you order Early Years resources before the end of January you stand the chance to win me. This would be for a days EYFS consultancy you understand, it is not some male escort business that they have set up (which is probably just as well as I am not 'dead fit')!

Look out for the 2014 catalogue for all of the details.

Have a great week. Remember, it's only a Christmas play! (Deep breaths and count to 10!)

Good luck with winning the tool box.

I am off for a spray tan, botox and a collagen peel!


Challenge in Continuous Provision

Challenge in Continuous Provision can be a tricky old thing. It is hard to get that balance between 'encouraging' children to take on a challenge whilst maintaining a high level of engagement and 'telling' them they have to do something and risking low levels of engagement and low levels of attainment.

There are two main types of challenge in CP – Implicit and Explicit

Implicit challenge is what underpins how your environment is structured and resourced. Your environment should be linked directly to summative assessment and the areas of provision that you put in it should be levelled to reflect children's ability in that area.

Implicit challenge also comes from a large 'dollop' of ambiguity. You need lots of open ended resources and experiences that encourage children to explore, investigate, think, ask and answer. When it comes to challenge, ambiguity is always your friend!

Explicit Challenge usually comes through direction or request. It can be very informal where adults in provision will prompt or ask children to carry out a particular task on an adhoc basis, depending on who they are working with. Or, it can be more formal and apply to all children. 

Two of the settings that I have been working with have been experimenting with explicit challenge in Continuous Provision through the use of a Challenge Book or Challenge Passport.

Both are still at the 'tweaking' stage, but are experiencing very positive responses from the children and positive results.

Although neither is yet the finished model, I thought it might be useful to share their ideas so far.

St Andrew's C of E Primary have introduced a Challenge Card for their Nursery and Reception children.


The children have been split into groups. Each group has it's own symbol. Each child has their own card which shows their group's symbol and their name.

The idea is that new challenge sheets can be inserted inside the Challenge Card every week, thus keeping a record of the challenges that the children have completed across the year.

This is what one of the prototype inserts looked like:


Staff chose the areas that would have a challenge in them based on assessment, observation and need. There was NOT a challenge in every area (that would be completely unmanageable).

There is also a space for any member of staff to create any extra challenges.

In the areas that had been chosen for challenge the team created a talking postcard on which they wrote the challenge and also recorded it. 

You knew which was your challenge because it had your group's symbol on it.


During sessions of Continuous Provision, children could choose to take their Challenge Card into play, find their challenges and complete them.

When they had completed a challenge and adult 'signed it off' and/or gave them a sticker for their book.

On the day I was there it was very popular with all groups.




Points worth considering….

As the children are in 'broad' groupings for all subjects it means that differentiation between areas isn't possible on the Challenge Card, so the adult would need to take on that role.

If you put all of the challenges in all of the areas on Monday morning , not only is that a lot of work, but also some children will just motor through them all at the exclusion of everything else. 

It might be worth considering putting challenge in 3 areas on Monday, 3 on Wednesday and so on. This way you stagger your week and your workload.

The Friars Primary are also having a go at using a Challenge Card in Reception and Nursery.

In Nursery, the children are grouped by their Key Person , so at this stage their challenges are very generic. This is to get the children used to the idea and the system. Nursery are going to try a more differentiated system after Christmas.


Each Key Group in Nursery has a 'mascot'. It is these mascots that Emma has linked to specific challenges. The challenges are recorded onto talking tins and written.



The Friars has grown to be a two form entry Reception for the first time this year. They are running their Continuous Provision sessions together so they are devising a challenge  system that will work with up to 60 children over 2 classroom spaces.

Sarah has given the children 3 challenge groups each, one for Literacy, one for Mathematics and one for more general challenges.


For the Literacy and Mathematics challenges, the children have a book for each


Like St Andrew's, the challenges are linked to the symbol on the front of their book. They are also written in the appropriate area and recorded onto a talking tin (or similar).



The challenges are differentiated according to ability.


So, Spot's group have to fill the bottle with the correct number of peas – all numbers are below 5. (You can see a visual reminder of groups in the background).


Owls on the other hand have numbers beyond 10. In the photo you can see and adult checking the challenge before the Challenge Book is signed.

For more general challenges Sarah doesn't use a book, she uses Mini Me's. She has created a challenged area. In this area every child has a Mini Me stuck to the wall. 

Each week the type of challenge in that area changes and staff just move the Mini Me's around to create differentiated groups depending on what the new challenge is.


You complete the challenge below your Mini Me. This time when you have completed your challenge, your Mini Me gets a sticker! It is very easy to see who isn't visiting the challenge areas.

Once again, on my visit, the children were very enthusiastic about getting their challenge books out and completing their challenges. There was lots of evidence of adults asking the children to do a 'bit extra' if they achieved their challenge too easily.

If a child completes all of their challenges, they get an extra 'Star Slip' which is part of the school's reward system.


Although this system was working extremely well and it was making challenge in CP very visible, my only concern was around the amount of preparation that Sarah and the team were putting in on a weekly basis.

After some discussion, Sarah is going to try giving the children a Challenge Book or Challenge Passport each. (Just the one)!

The outside of their book will be laminated and folded with holes punched for treasury tags.

Each child will get a weekly insert sheet with a new set of challenges on it.

The challenges that go into the areas will be differentiated by colour. (They could have been differentiated by images like Spot, but this is much more fiddly to produce)

So in my Challenge Book, next to Mathematics, I might have a red dot or sticker. Next to Mark Making, I might have a purple dot or sticker. As I go into each area I  look for my colour, making differentiation a much less time consuming task.

I will let you know how it goes!


Explicit Challenge should always remain FIRMLY FIXED in the ethos of good Early Years practice. It should be activity based, dressed around children's interests and FUN. If it is dull then children will not do it. Their Challenge Books should be a choice, not a requirement. If children don't want to do them it says more about the type of challenge you have set up than it does about  the child!

Make sure that Explicit Challenge is an enhancement to your Implicit Challenge, where your areas have been structured and levelled based on accurate assessment with a large dollop of open ended ambiguity….


 Grip Assessment


How could you free Power Rangers from ice?

Enjoy the challenge of a challenge!












Linked Provision

'Linked Provision' is a bit of a hybrid that I first used with a Reception setting to help them to get round their issue of hearing guided readers, without compromising their Continuous Provision.

Since then I have worked on versions of it from Pre-School to Year One.


So, what is Linked Provision? Well, the clue is in the name…

It is provision that you link to a need that had been identified by observation or assessment. 

I would run it as a daily session – usually at the very beginning of the day.

Everyone is engaged in activities that are themed around the identified need.

The same activities are repeated every day for a week and the children get to experience and repeat all of them.


How can you use it?

I have worked with settings that have used Linked Provision in a variety of ways. 

You could use it:

  • to re-enforce teaching and concepts from the week before
  • to support social development – so lots of activities that involve turn taking or sharing
  • as a designated talk time, where the children have been encouraged to work in large or small groups around particular aspects of talk
  • to teach concepts that will then be made available in Continuous Provision, so children learn how to play games like dominoes or lotto 
  • to support fine and gross motor skill development
  • to have a focus on problem solving or thinking skills
  • to work on number recognition, number bonds, shape or measure

The list is literally endless.


A session of linked provision would last anything between 10 and 20 minutes depending on the age of the children and their stage of development.

Like Continuous Provision, Linked Provision MUST be activity based, child led, active and fun.

Linked Provision is NOT sitting down at a table with a handwriting sheet, or sitting on the carpet with a white board and pen. (Or practising your Christmas songs!!!)

It is active and engaging!

During a session of Linked Provision, I wouldn't make all areas available. Ideally this would be great, but realistically it is just too difficult to manage and maintain.

I would set up 'key' areas or 'stations' that were linked to subject that I was focusing on and let the children work in those.

What is the role of the Adult in Linked Provision?

In some settings, each adult had managed an 'activity' or 'area' especially when the link is to something like the rules of game play.

Sometimes one adult has taken an overview of the provision while the other adult or adults, had withdrawn children for interventions like speech and language support or reading.

If you pull a child out of good Continuous Provision then you run a great risk of compromising their learning. The provision isn't continuous if you keep stopping it.

Because Linked Provision is a much shorter session, themed around a more specific focus and repeated across the week, children have multiple opportunities to revisit a concept in a variety of contexts.

I would always have my Linked Provision sessions first thing, following self registration. This also allows some  time for any late comers who then don't miss out on any direct input.

At the end of Linked Provision, I would then come to the carpet for a good old talk session, signposting of the day or a direct teach.


Linked Provision is by no means an essential part of your day. It is just a strategy that I have used with lots of settings now that has not only solved some timetabling issues, but has had a significant impact on attainment.

So, just to recap…

Linked Provision is a daily short session of play based, child led activities that have been planned around a specific area of need or consolidation that you have identified through observation and assessment.

The role of the adult may change depending on the focus, but primarily they are there to facilitate, teach and support quality learning through play.

Children will have the opportunity to experience and then re visit key concepts across the week

Adult will have the opportunity to withdraw individual or groups of children for focused intervention or teaching.

Have a go and see what you think!


And the winner is….

Thank you for all of your tweets and comments. The Random Number Generator has spoken, and…


The winner of the lovely TTS wooden till is…..


Nikki Reid

Well done Nikki. if you email me with the address that you would like the till to be posted to, I will make sure it gets to you ASAP!


TTS Giveaway – Wooden Till for Role Play

How do you fancy getting your hands on one of these from the lovely people at TTS?


I really like it because even though it is a till, it is ambiguous enough that it could be a variety of contraptions depending on who was using it.

Of course, as adults we can identify it as a shop till. Although, how many shop tills look like this one? When I am standing at the self service till in Tesco (being told that there is an unexpected item in my bagging area), I am not looking at anything like this. So lots of our children may not know what it is as they have never seen one like it.


Don't forget that children can only role play with the language and experience that they have got in their head. So if you create a role play area that is full of gorgeous objects that the children don't recognise or don't have language for, then you are not facilitating effective role play.

Good role play allows children to practise, imagine and rehearse
problems and possibilities before they happen. Lots of opportunity to do this
will equip children not with the solutions to every eventuality they will come
up against, but the strategies for problem solving and a wealth of experience
to draw upon. Role playing with other children not only reinforces social
interactions but gives of the children involved the opportunity to learn about
the thoughts, reactions and strategies of others, which will in turn enhance
their own.


 Over structuring and theming of role play
spaces can significantly get in the way of children developing these skills. It
is difficult to expect children to be able to explore and make sense of their
own personal experiences when they are being asked to do it in a Garden Centre or the Post Office! Although, theming around interest can add value
to a role play experience, it should be an enhancement to your provision and
not the provision in it’s entirety.


For a real quality role play experience you
need to provide lots of opportunities for social interaction and objects that
will promote open ended play. What is crucial is that the children have lots of
opportunities to interact and socialise, that their imaginations can run wild
and take a leap – if that is what they want to do. 

EY04744_EY_13_22_08 7

So, for me this 'till of loveliness' would be an enhancement to your open ended role play. Something that you could put into a box or basket themed around 'shopping' that would enhance your open ended role play.

Having said that if someone came along and took it out of the 'shopping' box to use it as a control panel in the Tardis, on their space ship or to type in a secret spy code to open a locked door –  that would be fantastic. (no shouting over and telling them to put it back in the 'shop' box would be allowed!)

The great thing about good role play spaces is that all of those things have the potential to be happening at the same time.

So, to win this till all you have to do is…

Leave a comment on the bottom of this blog post


Leave a comment on the ABC Does Facebook page HERE


Send me a Tweet to @ABCDoes

All entries must be made by Midday on Sunday 3rd November 2013. The winner will then be drawn by a random number generator.

Good Luck



Thought you might like to have a look at this 'hot off the press'

This annual Statistical First Release (SFR) contains the latest information at
both national and local authority (LA) level on achievement outcomes at the end
of the Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS) in 2013. 


In 2013, 52% of children achieved a Good Level of Development.

More girls achieved a Good Level of Development than boys, 60% girls compared with 44% boys.

The average score achieved on the EYFSP is 32.8 points. 34 points is
the equivalent of children achieving the expected level across all early learning

In each of the 17 early learning goals, a higher proportion of girls than
boys achieved at least the expected level. 

It makes for interesting reading. You can download a copy to the full report here –  
Download Statistical First Release

Happy Reading