Archive for July 2016

Yet another end of a era – or maybe just a change of focus?   Leave a comment

2016 is proving to be a year of celebrations – and change, with many things ending after many years of involvement, but also some new adventures – and some changes to how things continue into the future.

So far I have retired as a registered childminder; gained enough credits to be awarded my degree; held a very successful celebration event marking my retirement from childminding and my involvement as a volunteer and campaigner; and been awarded a British Empire Medal in the Queen’s 2016 Birthday Honours for my volunteering.

Still to come are the ceremony where I will be presented with my BEM;  my degree graduation;  my eldest grandson’s 18th birthday; my 40th Wedding anniversary.

And a few more end of era things!

Mid July saw one of these  end of era things -namely my involvement as a volunteer with the Pre-school Learning Alliance.

However, I will still have some involvement until end of 2016  – and a possibility of a change of focus.

Those of you who have followed my involvement with the Alliance (or who have read previous blogs) may be surprised that I will not be an Alliance volunteer after the end of 2016.

I think it is fair to say I have been a very proactive Alliance member over many years – including before the name change from Pre school Playgroups Association to Pre-school Learning Alliance.

Since 2010 when I rejoined the Alliance (after a period of 7 years when it was deemed a conflict of interest to be a member,  due to my employment by Worcestershire Early Years) I have been a key player in re establishing the Worcestershire sub committee. I have been the duly elected chair since 2013, working hard with my colleague Linda to build the committee from just the two of us in 2013, to a effective sub committee of 6 elected members and two ‘Friends of the Committee’ – so a team of 8.

I also volunteered to represent Worcestershire at divisional level, and was voted in by divisional colleagues to represent them on the Volunteer Strategy Group.

Although not part of my official volunteer duties, I have also worked closely with / alongside  the Alliance on such things as the Ratio issue, baseline testing, 30 hour funding, and childminding agencies.

I have to say it is a bit of a surprise  even to me that things are going to change, as I really thought I would continue my volunteer roles with the Alliance  forever – well for as long as I had breath in me!

However, in life there always have been and always will be things that change, and times when you have to make difficult personal decisions – and earlier this year one of those situations happened.

A decision was taken by the Board of Trustee’s to change sub committees and remove the need for elected officers. I was not personally happy about this and had lots of questions ahead of the Emergency General Meeting (EGM) in April, and I attended the EGM to ask more questions – and as a member, to vote.

In the end I voted for the proposals because although I remained personally unhappy with the responses I received to my questions – I could see that for the Alliance this was a positive move forward, and I had to put the needs of the Alliance over and above my own opinion.

I then had a very difficult, and very personal decision to make -should I continue to be involved as a volunteer – and in particular as a lead volunteer once the changes were implemented in mid July?

I should say at this point, that I did have other reasons for considering my involvement as a volunteer which although not something that would have been part of my decision had things not been going to change anyway (ie were not of a critical issue on their own) they did need considering as part of the bigger picture.

On a few occasions my tendency to always be totally honest and up front about what I did and said – did not always follow the ‘correct’ procedures. I do understand the reasons for these procedures, and I have never shared confidential things with those I should not share with,  BUT as a campaigner and an advocate for children and early years settings – I have always (and will always) speak to anyone and everyone who is prepared to listen and to debate. In my humble opinion, following procedures is one of the ways that stops an individuals voice being heard, and stops like minded people coming together to bring about change – as a campaigner this aspect is vital – like minded people must come together – otherwise we are but one voice.

So as I say, my other reasons were not the reason I finally decided after many sleepless nights and debate with myself – that I should end my involvement with Worcestershire sub committee as a lead volunteer.

My main reason was actually quite straight forward and part of who I am and what I believe in.

I personally do not think that I (or anyone else) should have authority to make decisions about things in a membership organisation – unless have been voted in by the members to act on their behalf. Previously this has happened at local AGM’s, where local members have voted in the officers / the sub committee members. To me this means that they are trusting you to make inform decisions about things that impact on members and services provided. It also means if something goes wrong or members do not think you acted in their best interests – you have to be accountable but not responsible for the decisions you make.  In my opinion there is a huge difference between accountable and responsible, and if members don’t like the decisions you make, they can hold you to account and don’t vote you in next time! In addition having a committee and committee meetings means each of the people voting has been elected by the local members thus ensuring that one person does not make decisions alone.

The new system means any member can come forward to lead on projects, and none of the people making the decisions have been voted in by local members (so in my opinion there is the possibility of only doing things that are in the interest of those making those decisions).

Other associations who no longer have subcommittees, have moved in a different direction and make the decisions nationally which are then implemented at a local level, which for me would have been a more acceptable approach as far as my values, principle and ethos is concerned.

I am not saying the new system at the Alliance will not work – and to reassure readers there will be a member of staff and a finance group over seeing things. In fact I hope it does all work out and the Alliance volunteer structure proves successful in encouraging and engaging with more members.

It is just that it is not for me (and together with my need to be able to communicate with who I want and when I want without worrying about procedures) – I decided that when the changes came into place I would no longer volunteer in the same way as previously.

So as from mid July I am no longer a lead or key volunteer for the Pre school Learning Alliance – I am saddened by this but I must remain true to my own values, principles and ethos.

I do still have a couple of divisional and national commitments to fulfil – and I will of course do this. And I have offered the Worcestershire sub committee my continued support – they know where I am!

Moving forward I had hoped to be able to remain a volunteer for the Alliance – but I am not sure that this will be possible – so I am exploring ways to work WITH the Alliance rather than FOR the Alliance, as this may support my campaign work and enable me to work more WITH other organisations and associations.

So an end of era that I did not foresee, and did not want to happen, but remaining positive, I hope that more doors will open than have closed. I will be remaining a member of the Alliance as they do represent many of my values, principles and ethos (just not around the need to have elected people leading sub committees).

I end with wishing the Alliance and in particular the Worcestershire sub committee all the best in the future – and because I am remaining a member, I will stay in touch you all.

 

Careful, wait – risk taking in a new environment   Leave a comment

These days I don’t have many opportunities to write blogs about children’s play as of course I am no longer a childminder.

However, I do still look after my granddaughter Annabelle two days a week and also spend time at family events with one or more of my grandchildren.

This very short blog is centred on one of those family events – which was a visit to Attingham Park (National Trust).

We had gone to Attingham Park as part of Garry’s 60th Birthday events. Annabelle had been a bit grumpy for some of the trip but had enjoyed running about and picking up sticks (which were all ‘Stick Man’) during our picnic.

Towards the end of the day we found ourselves in the ‘Play Field’ where we enjoyed an ice lolly and then the children explored the natural based play experiences. There are also swings and roundabouts but it was the natural based opportunities that attracted all the children – including Annabelle.

She found a small hill – which must have looked huge to her as a 23 month old.

She ran to it ahead of her mother and myself, and without a backward glance started to climb the hill, as you can see in the photo below.

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As you can see her footwear was right for the hot day but not so good for climbing hills, however footwear was not an issue for Annabelle – she found a way to get up that hill.

As her Granny I can not help myself from slipping into ‘professional’ mode and doing a ‘in my head’ observation. Because recently I have been reading a lot about language and communication difficulties in children, my mind tuned into that aspect.

Annabelle has a good level of language for her age, and a very good understanding of spoken language so I was not really paying much attention to the words she could say – it was her use of the words, in relation to her own risk assessment,  that I noticed.

Climbing the hill, she repeatedly said ‘Careful’ out loud but to herself, as she tackled the uneven surface. As other (older) children went to pass her, she said ‘wait’ – I am not sure if this was directed at the other children – I think it might have been, but as they took no notice of her (and why would they?) Annabelle waited while they went past, then continued up the hill.

On reaching the top she had a big smile on her face!

She then scanned the hill and the way down before selecting a place to descend.

‘Sit Down’ she said – and she did!

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As she slid down the hill, I heard ‘slide’ but also more ‘careful’ as she navigated her way down.

On reaching the bottom – she – well yes you are right – she did it again and again – each time taking a similar but slightly different route – and each time using the words ‘careful’ and ‘wait’

And if you are wondering – as Granny, do I have any concerns about Annabelle’s language and communication?

The answer is ‘NO – none at all’

 

 

Moving forward into a new era for me   Leave a comment

Background                                                                                                                                    

At the end of March 2016 I de-registered as a registered childminder after a total of 26 years hand on childminding over two separate registrations. (In between the two registrations I was still involved with childminding through working for a local authority childminding team). This means that in total I have had over 30 years years experience within the childminding sector.

I also have experience across the early years sector as a tutor, an assessor and a volunteer over many years.

In April 2016 I held a celebration event to mark my retirement from childminding, and also to mark my involvement with many early years organisations as a volunteer and campaigner.

In June 2016 I was awarded a British Empire Medal in the Queen’s Birthday Honours for my volunteering, which was a real honour and recognition for all the volunteering that I do.

As a result of all of the above, during June and July 2016, with some doors closing, I began to consider ‘What Next’ and how I could continue to volunteer AND to advocate for children AND to share my experience and knowledge built up over many years, with others.

All without any funding from anyone other than myself, and any income that I can generate from providing workshops and writing articles. This I think will be the biggest challenge as my family budget is now much reduced and very stretched.

After considering all these aspects, I am now ready (at the end of July 2016) to announce what my next steps are, and how I hope to meet my aims and objectives.

Volunteering 

I have volunteered since I was a teenager, and have no plans to stop now. However, how I volunteer will be slightly different from now on and hopefully will benefit more individuals and organisations.

This is what I can offer as a volunteer;

Working with membership organisations, charities  and not for profit organisations                                                                                                                                

I am happy to speak at events, or provide workshops / keynote speeches; or attend meetings; or be involved in  ‘working parties’ on anything that fits in with my ethos and views about early childhood and related subjects, for both big and small national and local organisations.

I will give my time freely to membership organisations and charities, but I do ask that my travel expenses (and if needed overnight accommodation) are paid for. I am happy to organise and pay for this up front but would need my expenses to be reimbursed very quickly as I do not have any other funding to support my volunteering OR if you would prefer, I am also happy for travel / overnight accommodation to be booked and paid for in advance by whoever would like me to support them as a volunteer. If needed overnight accommodation can be a modest, basic  bed and breakfast or even a space room in someones house if they are willing to do this.

I am happy to attend things at weekends, in the evenings and during the working week, although I will have to ensure that fits in with my other commitments as a foster carer, mother and grandmother

For individuals                                                                                                                             

I am very happy to support individuals via email, or pre arranged phone calls. The support I can offer is my personal based opinion and advice, either about situations or documents: and by providing a listening ear as sometimes just being able to talk to someone really helps.

If you are interested in accessing my support as a volunteer, please email me in the first instance at Pennys.place@hotmail.co.uk

Further information will be available on a page set up for this and accessible from the home page of this blog By CLICKING HERE

Posted July 27, 2016 by psw260259 in Services I provide

The Lost Boys – No, not Peter Pan’s Lost Boys – Boys that you and I know   5 comments

I am referring to Save the Children latest report entitled ‘The Lost Boys – How boys are falling behind in their early years’

If you have not read it yet, you can do so by CLICKING HERE

The report was written by Claire Read for Save the Children, who I have met previously to discuss my views on childhood, early education, home based childcare and much more. I am sure neither Claire or Save the Children will be surprised at my comments and opinion about this report as I have commented before on another Save the Children report in this blog  and they know I will be honest in expressing my personal opinion.  Personally I think Claire was quite brave in meeting with me and I admire her determination to gather as many different views as possible to aid her work (and I know she has met with a few of my colleagues and various early years organisations)

So what do I think of this latest report ‘The Lost Boys’?

In general I agree with most of what is reported and the evidence provided BUT I do think there are lost opportunities to go a bit further and a bit deeper in looking at the bigger picture and ways to support all those who work with and support children – including parents.

To support my view, I will look at the report in a bit more detail, but as usual I am not going to share the whole report or back up my thoughts with quotes from others. This is just my personal opinion which I will express in ‘everyday language’. There are many others who I am sure will comment and who will include references to other reports and research.

 

Starting at the beginning with the Executive Summary and recommendations;

I like the opening sentence – it says;

‘We are allowing far too many children in England to fall behind in the crucial early language and communication skills they need to thrive and succeed – and boys are affected most’

I am really pleased that this opening sentence sets the tone for the whole report, because although later on in the report it does mention reading and writing, the focus is on language and communication – which in my opinion is essential as everyone needs to be able to effectively communicate their needs and their ideas in a way that other people can understand. This means that by the time a child starts school they should be able to use a recognisable verbal  language, or sign or use visual prompts. The Early Years Foundation Stage says a child should be able to use English, I struggle with that one as it does depend on how long you have had to learn English, those who have not had opportunity to learn English before starting school, should not be expected to have good language and communication in English at that point (it will develop once they have opportunity)  – but I agree that every child should be able to communicate and express their ideas and needs because as the report says not being able to communicate can have a huge impact on childhood, success at school and life.

 

As an aside I was watching TV the other day where a mother was explaining how she was supporting her child to communicate despite multiple additional needs. The child could only communicate by moving his eyes in the direction of the picture or word that he want to say – and it took a very long time. The mother decided that she needed to support her child and so only sent him to school part time, so that the rest of the time she could help him communicate. At 10, the child is able to express his feelings and thoughts very effectively through poetry – and can also describe how he felt imprisoned in silence wanting to be able to communicate but being unable to do so.

Although most children starting school do not have such complex needs as this particular child – they must feel some of the same frustrations when no one understands them, or they can’t take an active part in play.

 

The summary has a lot of facts and reference to research which of course is important, but for me the overriding issue which comes across, is that boys have less communication and language skills than girls, and boys who live in poverty (in general) fare the worse.

The report does note the progress that has been made in closing the attainment gap in recent years but the gender gap remains.

 

The summary then looks at what can be done to improve things and makes recommendations – I cannot fault these as they would like more graduates to lead settings, and note that if an EYT (or graduate) in every setting – and especially those in the most deprived areas that there will be huge benefits to everyone – including boys.

Something I am really pleased to see is Save the Children would also like to see support for all staff in settings at all levels. This is very important when you consider the wide range of staff with different levels of qualifications and experiences but all who have a valid and indeed vital role to play in enabling children to reach their full individual potential, including their language and communication.

 

As I say I cannot fault the recommendations BUT the bigger picture has not been looked at – and I will pick up on this later in this blog

 

Much of the following pages of the report after the Executive summary are about facts and figures, reason why there is a gender gap and the impact this can have on education and life skills, and therefore each child reaching their own potential.

I do agree with the reasons why boys might have less communication and language skills – and in particular I am pleased to note that the old nature / nurture debate is acknowledged as important but that there is not sufficient evidence to say how much either influences development in both boys and girls communication.

I will leave it to each of you who are reading this blog, to read all the facts and figures, and the reason why we have this gender gap, as I want to move on to the section that starts on page 17 and that looks at what can be done about it.

 

As I expected the report talks about high quality early years settings, and mentions the link between settings with staff with a level 3 or above being connected to the setting receiving a good or above Ofsted grade. It also talks about staff with higher qualifications being role models for other staff, and it mentions the difference a graduate can make to a setting in a disadvantaged area

There is mention about families and communities and the need for access to resources, and the need to encourage both boys and girls through their interests to engage in language rich activities and play.

BUT More could be done – Looking at the bigger picture – my opinion

  • Even if there were enough graduates / EYT’s – how will settings in deprived areas manage to pay enough to get these graduates to stay (rather than just use the setting to get some experience under their belt)? Is there a way that the Government could support this by providing funding to those settings who match certain criteria? Or could a more sustainable setting ‘share’ their graduate say one day a week? And I know despite improvements in joint training and cascading of information – more could be done with this aspect. I also think that some settings lack knowledge around using free or recycled items and could be supported more with this (and that includes by those in disadvantaged areas who have developed these skills and are now experts in it) More could be done to use volunteer organisations to run services like toy libraries and training put on in settings in the evenings and weekends – to staff and parents.

I have lots more ideas (as do many others  – if asked) that could make a big difference for very little in government budget terms.

 

And just another thought – why is funding for volunteer organisations / charities being cut?

A bit short sighted in my opinion as volunteers provide a great deal in expertise and time – and only require their expenses and some training / supervision. As an example in my area just ONE of the organisations I volunteer for, has had the benefit of well over 300 hours of my time in the last year – and that does not include all the reading, meetings, peer support and CPD that I do, that is not done specifically under their name.

 

  • What about home based settings such as childminders? Even if the childminders were willing to undertake the training, how would they afford to do it – not just the cost of the course (which might be funded) but the cost of books, of travel, and lost earnings as well. And if studying who will look after the children – as there is often a shortage of childminders in deprived areas. The ideas above could also benefit those running home based settings, but it must also be noted that many are graduates / have level three qualifications, and much more could be done to utilise these skills not just within their own local communities or with their home based peers but also with in the wider sector.

One aspect that is often overlooked is the relationship between a registered childminder and the parents of the children – much more needs to done to make the most of these relationships – and some research needs to be conducted on outcomes of children – especially in language and communication for children who attend home based settings. Low ratios of children to adults has many benefits but one of the main things is the ability to engage one to one, and to support those important communication skills.

 

  • What about those children, who for whatever reason do not attend an early years setting? (This will include those for whom it is culturally not acceptable to have non family members look after the children, or those for whom language skills of the adults is a barrier). This is one of those situations where support in the community is vital – taking services to the parents and children. With the cuts to Children’s Centres and budgets of support services, this is another area where volunteers could play a very active part. It is also an area where staff from all types of settings could if they had a small amount of funding bridge the gap between home and setting – not just for a one off visit to those who are going to attend their setting but on a regular basis for those who are not attending any setting. Both settings and volunteers could include reading stories, setting up play environments, lending resources, providing information about free or low cost events, and even introducing other parents so friendships can be formed.

So much more could be done, but neither volunteer organisations or settings can do this out of their pocket – they will need some funding. I hope the Government will listen, if not to me , then to others they do engage with from the sector.

 

 

  • And perhaps most vital of all, there needs to be support for parents – and for future parents, so that they have a basic general knowledge about child development and how they as parents can do so much to support their child’s language and communication skills. So this means follow on groups for new parents once their child is born (and with discussions about Health Visitors maybe being cut, this will be even more important), some of the ideas above, child development in High Schools for both boys and girls, more focus on child development and play on college and university courses.

 

In my opinion just training for staff and employing more graduates / EYT’s is not enough and will not on its own make a bigger enough difference. We need to look at the bigger picture and we need to look at the long term as well as the short term.

 

 

The final sentence from the report’s recommendations I think is spot on and the Government need to take heed of this recommendation – and indeed listen to all the concerns being expressed by many, many people – from experts to everyday people like me.

As it says ‘We cannot wait for disadvantaged children and boys to get to school before they receive the support they need.

HEAR, HEAR

We can’t all be wrong – so at the very least the Government must listen – and hopefully then do something about this issue and the underlying problem of lack of funding, lack of respect for those who understand child development more than the Government minsters in charge of developing policy, and the expectation that every child will reach the same development levels at the same time despite their early years experiences at home, in childcare and in school.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Froebel, play, Klax and me – the links   Leave a comment

I need to start this blog with an apology for the delay in writing it, however as the reason for the delay is because I have been busy meeting the needs of children, I am sure everyone will understand  because the children must come first.

So a bit of back tracking first, just to set the scene but also to enable new readers to have opportunity to read some of the blogs linked to this one.

In early May 16, I was very lucky to take part in a trip to Germany to ‘Rediscover Froebel’ with Community Playthings. I wrote two blogs at the time – first this one

Froebel Experience   and then this one Links to Froebel and me

During the visit I met a lady called Antje Bostelmann who works for Klax in Germany,  and over lunch one day we chatted and exchanged contact details. From our chat (luckily Antje speaks very good English as I don’t speak any German) it seems we have a lot in common.

Roll on to June 4th 2016 and I receive a parcel in the post from Klax containing some of their publications. A quick glance at the photo’s on the covers of the publications told me I was going to like them. A look at the publication on ’25 years of Klax Education’ told me I was going to like them a lot – and I was going to be able to read them as included a  English translation.

Then life took over and I had to postpone both fully looking at the publications and in writing the planned blog to share with others.

Which brings us up to date and the start of this blog.

First a couple of photo’s of what was in my parcel

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As not the best photo’s here are the titles of the publications I received

25 years of Klax education

The Klax Kindergarten

The Marble track, Clever Can, and the Feelie- Rug

Activity trays – experiments and play activities

Glitter bottles and more

I hope even with the poor photo’s that you are interested in reading on.

Of course I will only be giving you an insight in to the content as these books are available to buy – and easily via Amazon (Please note I am not connected to either Amazon or the books and will not profit from passing on this link)

Link to Amazon page for the books

One of the things I found very interesting was the history of Klax, their reflective practice and how they have moved from directorship about everything including early years education in East Germany , to implementing their own ethos and practice now the wall between East and West Germany no longer exists.

Of course this is a very clear link to Froebel who also established his kindergartens in East Germany and who challenged the thinking about education at the time.

I note with interest that Froebel is not specifically mentioned in the publication ’25 years of Klax Education’ – although other pioneers such as Reggio and Montessori are.  However I also note that it mentions that information was not readily available when the wall was up, and those living in GDR were largely unaware of what was happening elsewhere in the world.

In many ways this links to my own development of my ethos and practice as I was also not very well informed about the pioneers of education – not because of lack of information but because of my difficulties with written words.

However there are differences in our own early years experiences – mine being more positive than Antje’s. Despite this our views appear very similar – and although of course the shared experiences on the ‘Rediscovering Froebel’ are not recorded in the publications because they were printed prior to the trip, I know from discussion’s with Antje than like me she was making links between Froebel’s ethos and practice and her own.

 

Antje – who speech at ‘Summerfest 2015’ is recorded in the book, speaks about their own ideas and how they developed their ethos. One line from this book stands out to me

‘ Our respect for our pioneering educational mother’s and fathers should not result in us switching off our own thoughts and becoming mere copyists’ (25 years of Klax Education, pg 25)

I totally agree – and although some like to provide childcare and education based on specific principles such as Montessori or Reggio, I personally think it is better to develop your own vision and therefore practice taking everything into consideration including your own ideas.

I find it interesting that many people have developed a similar ethos to me, without having been very informed by the education pioneers or indeed each other. This indicates to me that these principles, values and ethos which are based on observations and reflection over many years are universal truths and not restricted to one idea being shared directly or indirectly – it is just people observing how children learn and following children’s lead and interests. And this is children worldwide not isolated to children from one country  or culture.

Moving onto mention a few other things from the publications – ‘The Klax kindergarten’ publication contains a wealth of information much of which I totally agree with, and which though not identical to the practice I had when I was a childminder – is very similar in many ways.

All 3 ideas books are fascinating and inspiring. The ‘Glitter bottles and more’ has 33 ideas included to use recycled bottles and tubes. There are lots of photo’s and step by step instructions. I have used bottles filled with various things over many years but admit I never thought of joining two bottles together with a length of tube – Klax did! Maybe you have already discovered this extension idea yourself – but if not, why not do some research or just experiment with the children and see what you come up with (the book of course has lots more ideas, should you wish to buy a copy).

I am not going to give any more information as this is just an insight into Klax.

I am very grateful for being sent such inspiring publications and would like to thank Antje and everyone at Klax. I would really like to make more links with Klax and the work they do – and if possible I would like to visit a Klax kindergarten and to have discussions about our similarities and differences so we can learn from each other

 

 

 

 

A end of term play with inclusion at it’s best   5 comments

Today (7th July 16) I had the pleasure and honour of watching my grandson’s school play.

So what? I can hear you saying – lots of Granny’s go to watch their grandchildren’s school play. This is true – but this play was something very special because it represented something I value – inclusion.

My grandson Dominic has Asperger’s – and in his own words attends a ‘school full of children with Asperger’s and other things’

He really wanted me to go and see his school play – I knew because he told me several times during his calls to me towards the end of the school day, when he makes a almost daily phone call with his teachers permission to tell me about his day at school. That in itself shows not only Dominic’s relationship with me but also his schools efforts to support him. As it happens I was going to attend on Friday but due to his mum having to attend an appointment with one of Dominic’s siblings I was able to go today (Thursday).

I had never been to Dominic’s school before but it is a specialist school and also very new. I arrived in plenty of time and parked in the car park. Another lady parked at the same time and we chatted on the way into the school building and while we waited – and even sat together. She told me that her son who is 14 was also in the play and that he had come on leaps and bounds since starting at this school. We chatted about some of the difficulties with understanding the children have, and how difficult it can be when not the only child in the family (her child is a middle child, and Dominic is the eldest child in his family).

As soon as we sat down in the hall, I knew we were in for a treat. We spotted the respective children – her son came up to her and said ‘Hello Mummy’ before being encouraged to go back to his place. Dominic was sat with his back to the room at a piano, but he kept turning round and scanning the room – I saw his smile when he spotted me. I have to admit that I was surprised to see Dominic sat at the piano as I had no idea that he could play one!

The play started and as I thought we were in for a treat – and a lesson in inclusion.

Each child taking part was supported in one way or another to take part. Some had their words on small prompt cards, some had large folders with lots of pages with a few large  words on each page, some did not have prompt cards.

Staff were dressed as if taking part – some turned pages of the prompts,  some pointed to words, some said the words which the child then repeated, some signed, some sat on the floor near a child signing or using gestures for the child to follow, some guided the children with hand on elbow or back, some physically supported the child to stand / move.

Some children were visible for the whole play,  some were out of the main room but came in for their part.

Some had speaking parts, some did not, some sang, some did not, some did things alone, some did things as a group – but all did something.

I saw children supporting their peers with reminders, with picking up dropped props, with waiting for lines to be said, with guiding to the front of the group or to where they needed to stand.

I saw smiles, I heard laughter, I saw clapping, I heard cheers – I saw very well behaved children, enjoying what they were doing – each in his or her own way to the best of their ability.

And Dominic?

Well he did ‘play along’ on the piano to the all the songs – and tunefully, he sang a solo and had quite a few different lines to say through out the play – supported in keeping track of where he was, by a member of staff sat to the side of the piano.

Once all the cheering and clapping had finished, Dominic came over to me – as did his teacher. Dominic’s teacher told Dominic how proud she was – and that until the play started she had no idea that Dominic had piano skills (that made two of us). She also told me how fond Dominic is of me and how he is always talking about his Granny and asking if he can go to Granny and Granddad’s after school.

We (Dominic, his teacher and myself) all walked to Dominic’s class room where we chatted a bit more, and where Dominic collected his things – including some scones that he had made that morning – cheese and onion ones (but no bacon as Dominic reacts to bacon). Dominic was then released into my care as going home with me. I felt very honoured to have seen a little bit of Dominic’s school and to have experienced a truly inclusive school play where every child was valued and included – no matter what their individual skin colour, size, or ability is.