Archive for April 2018

Product Review – Really Random Story Bags   2 comments

Preamble – Important Background Information                                                                     When I was a registered childminder I sometimes used to be asked to write product reviews for resources. This was great, as once I had tested the product, and written my honest opinion about it, I was able to keep the product and incorporate it into my resources, to use with the children.

Then when I resigned from childminding, all this came to a holt. However, I have been approached by Early Years Resources (who I have reviewed products for, in the past) to become a reviewer again, an opportunity I have jumped at.

The circumstances are different of course, I will not be reviewing the products within my own setting with children I childmind. Instead I will be using childminding colleagues settings, and with parental permission, writing about how the children use the resources, and adding my opinion about the resource, and making suggestions about extension ideas.

Naturally I will be safeguarding the children’s identity (especially in light of recent data protection changes), and so I will not be identifying colleagues settings in anyway, or giving children’s names or any personal details about the children, other than their approx. age, to the nearest half year. Giving an approx. age will hopefully help people decide if it is a suitable resource to consider buying for their setting. I will use pictures of the products and there maybe flooring / table surfaces visible, and unidentifiable arms / hands, legs / feet.

Colleagues who agree to me reviewing the product at their setting will be able to keep the product to use in their setting, if they wish to do so.

This way, I do not gain anything personally from writing these reviews, which fits in with my ethics – in that my opinion is free.

If you live local to me, and would be happy to help by allowing me to review a product in your childminding setting, ask parents first if they would have any objections, and if they don’t, contact me to express your interest. Then, if / when I get asked to review a product, I will contact you.

Really Random Story Bags                                                                                                             This is the link to the product within the online catalogue.

As you can see, once you have added VAT these Story Bags are quite expensive at £69.54, for a small childminding setting, and so any childminder will have to think carefully before spending that amount of money on one resource, and one which at first glance appears to have limited appeal for the under 5’s who usually are the main users of childminders – certainly in terms of number of hours attending. The ‘blurb’ about the resource claims the bags will support creative writing and story telling, but most under 5’s will not have sufficient skills to write their own stories – at least not in a format that adults can read.

So potential purchasers may be put off buying this item thinking that the children will be too young to get the most out of the resource – and this is where this blog will help by providing honest opinion about the story bags and their potential use.

First point I wish to make is that the picture in the catalogue makes it look like the bags are embroidered with images, but in fact this is a consequence of photographing the items from within the bags, on top of the bags . In fact the bags are one plain colour with one word stitched on each bag (apart from the yellow one which also says what they are)




I observed play with the bags on several different occasions with different children, ( one 3.5 year old alone, a 3 yr old and a 5 yr old together, and  two 3 year olds together. On each occasion the children wanted to make up different stories, and did not tire of creating their own unique stories. I found they were keen to have the adults undivided attention and to show an interest – as well as clapping at the end.

As an introduction to the bags, the children and I tipped out the bags and looked at all the items, tried to name them and describe them. Some items they found easy to describe and to name, others were more difficult, but they found ways to explain what they thought.

For example – the drill.                                                                                                                  ‘Like Daddy’s’ said a 3 yr old,                                                                                                            ‘It is a screwing thing’ said the 5 yr old ‘for mending things’

I was surprised at some of their knowledge –                                                                                 One 3 yr old told me ‘its a footprint, a dinosaur footprint, I think a T.Rex’                              While the other 3 yr old said ‘ it is a fossil, you find it on the beach’

As you can see from the photo’s, the claim that the items are totally random, is very valid. However, please not the comment in the catalogue – the content of the bags will vary – making them even more random and varied.


    Content of the ‘WHO’ bag 
















                                                   Content of the ‘WHAT’ bag 

I found I needed to explain to all the children the idea of the game, and how they needed to chose a ‘WHERE’ card first – they also needed some help with using the ‘WHERE’ cards as this was a new idea to them, they were used to having objects to play with, but not with having a card to ‘set the scene’. So I made up a couple stories – this excited the children and the were eager to have their turn


The ‘WHERE’ cards


Each time I used the story bags with the children, they wanted to tell their own story and did not want to tell a story together through taking turns to tell part of the story, nor did they want to share the props, they selected the props either randomly by putting their hand in the bag, or by tipping them out and choosing their prop. To start with the children chose one item from each bag,  and started to tell their story, but they quickly worked out that having extra things from the WHO and the WHAT bags meant they could create more interesting stories.

Each story started with ‘Once upon a time …’ without any prompting by me, and in my experience with these children, the 3 yr olds were better at telling a story than the 5 yr old., but this will be due the uniqueness of the individual children, so every child will use the story bags in different ways and with different skill levels. The adult will also make a difference and depend on how well the children know the adult, and the adults own ability to tell stories.  However all children, on each occasion used their imagination to tell a story, and all children used their hands to move the props about. All stories ended with ‘THE END’

The 5 yr olds story contain a lot of ‘and then…’ and towards the end appeared to be enjoying making it funny, and getting the adults attention. Humour of course is developmentally normal and it should not be forgot that some people make a good living from telling funny stories. However it was noted that the vocabulary used was more ‘advanced’ than her normal conversational vocabulary.

The second time we used the Story Bags, I did suggest the children might like to use more than one scene card, and the 5 year old though this was a good idea, and was able to use 3 scene cards at once with the characters moving between the different cards, while although the 3 year olds did want more than one scene card they stuck to using one card for each story, but later started a different story used a different card.

Some stories were told while sitting at a table, but most where told from  floor level.

The main thing is the children enjoyed telling stories and maintained interest for over 30 minutes on each occasion. They also requested to play it again – and I noted that even when I moved away the children continued telling stories and speaking out loud so others could hear. in fact I have had a request to visit the setting again and to take the Story Bags – which now I have finished the blog and taking photos of the resource, I will do.  At the end of that visit I will leave the bags at the setting, so they can use them as often as they want to.

I will need to seek feedback in a few months to see if interest was maintained and if the Story Bags became firm favourites or if interest waned over a period of time

Personal opinion                                                                                                                                 I do think this is quite expensive for an individual to buy, but I also think it has huge potential for extending vocabulary, and encouraging creative story telling. I don’t think it matters that most under 5’s will not be able to write down their stories (and I have some suggestions about this) because to be able to verbally tell a story from your imagination is a very important skill that will in due course lead to being able to create stories using the written word. During my observations I saw the children develop story telling skills, expanding their vocabulary and creating stories with a beginning, a middle and an end.

I think over time, the children could be encouraged to create stories with others, maybe starting with telling a story with an adult and then later on involving other children.

If you like the idea of this resource but really can’t afford it – think outside the box! How about clubbing together with one or more other colleagues and sharing the resource. I did this in the past with colleagues for expensive items, and it worked really well – and had the added bonus that did not have to store it all the time because colleagues were using it.

Or how about if you do have that sort of money to spend, getting together with other colleagues and each buying a different similar price resource and then sharing all those resources? Sort of like your own Toy Library. Maybe if you belong to a childminding group you could use this idea to create your own Toy Library.

If I was still a childminder, I would consider buying this together with a colleague.

Extension Ideas

  • Add photo’s of your setting – including the garden
  • Add photo’s of your local park or wood
  • Add photo’s of the children and if possible their parents and their pets / family members/ houses as  children love to tell stories about their family. It may encourage less confident children to tell a story if it is about their family. (Remember to get permission to use / keep the photo’s in the setting)
  • Add other random little plastic objects, for example from charity shops, or ‘borrow’ from small world playsets.
  • On occasions add items to support current interests – like some shells if recently been to the seaside or some trains if like trains. The possibilities are endless
  • Add some natural items like a pine cone or a pebble
  • You write down the stories for the children
  • Record the stories –  just a voice recording or a short video recording, but remember you need appropriate permission, and must abide by the latest data protection laws.
  • Use those child friendly recording things (that just press a button to record or listen back) Ask the children to record different sounds like a doorbell, or a phone ringing or a running tap and so on. Put these in a bag or a basket to add an extra dimension to the story
  • If the children have a popular story book or you have a theme or celebrating a particular festival, add some props that would support implementing aspects into the children’s own stories for example a small Diva, or a wooden spoon, or a gingerbread man cutter, or a teddy sized scarf. I am sure you will be able to think of lots of different ideas
  • Use the WHAT and WHO bags to play a ‘feely game’ with the objects
  • Challenge the children to count out 5 or 10 objects from the WHAT and WHO bags and to try to make up a story using all those objects
  • Play a version of ‘My Grandmother went to market’ – put all the objects in the big yellow bag take an item out, look at it, say what it is then put in the red bag. Next persons Says ‘my Grandmother went to market and brought   (name of first thing’ and (pull out anther object) Repeat. The good thing about putting the items in the red bag is – if someone forgets what Grandmother brought they can look at the things in the red bag and work out what they have forgot.
  • Put some of the items on a tray – look at them for a short time, cover with the empty yellow bag and try to remember what was on the tray.
  • Playing a guessing game – one person describes an item and the rest try to guess what is being described. For younger children put the things on a tray or on top of a bag so they can see the item while trying to describe it / trying to guess what is being described.


So just a few ideas to help make the best of this wonderful resource, I am sure you will think of other ideas.



A Day To Remember   Leave a comment


It is a good thing that the day in question, was a day to remember because due to my ill health and the necessary medication making days roll into weeks and weeks into months , it has been months since that day in January 2018 when I received a Honorary Life Membership to NEYTCO.

You may be wondering why I was given this honour – and so I will explain…….

I was part of a series of discussions( not the very first ones, but some of the very early ones)  about the need for an organisation to represent early years trainers and consultants, and the need to find a way provide quality assurance, and support.  Up to this point  trainers and consultants had sort of ‘done their own thing’ and to be honest before 2010 most trainers had been linked to Local Authorities (LA’s) in one way or another, in that they were either employed directly by the LA’s as staff members, or the LA’s commissioned the trainer to their set criteria and bench marking. However, things were changing and Government cut backs meant LA’s were having to reduce staff levels, and reduce the amount of training they offered – especially the free training. Although we did not know at the time just how bad things would become there was a general ‘gut feeling’ within the sector that we were on a crest of a wave of change – and that change could spell disaster but also could create opportunities for individuals. The one thing that was clear was that to prevent a disaster, we would need to take control and ensure any training and consultancy was of the highest quality, and that standards were set and maintained. This together with the fact the we were about to take a collective step into the unknown meant there would be a huge need for support – 2 way support as no one would have all the answers, no one would have had experience – or at least not all the range of experiences, and so we would need to support each other in many different ways.

In the days before NEYTCO even had a name, I was involved in discussions by phone, by email and at meetings. I would take time off from my day job as a childminder to attend meetings in London. I felt this was important so that I could represent the views of my childminding colleagues to ensure there was joined up thinking across the sector, because childminders were still not seen as equal professionals. Their unique situation of working alone in most cases (or maybe with one other person), and so needing to have an understanding of all aspects; their need for affordable training because income from childminding was limited due to ratio’s – but with every childminder still needing to have training to comply with the EYFS; the time restrictions due to the extended working hours, and the legal inability to leave someone else to run the setting on training days, and so needing evening and weekend training; the need for trainers who preferably had childminder experience or had an understanding of childminding because had used a childminder for their own children’s care. Due to all of these reason I felt it was important that childminders were represented at these meetings. Luckily Laura Henry who founded NEYTCO and who had the vision for what was needed, agreed and so actively encouraged me to be involved. Actually she did more than that, she opened doors for me to carry out this self appointed role as childminders ambassador , and asked me if I would take on the volunteer role as Lead Person for the West Midlands.

I agreed and became even more involved, I was lucky that I had understanding and supportive parents using my childminding service, who provided I gave them sufficient notice would arrange for alternative childcare for their children, so that I could attend meetings in London.

And so it was that I became involved and was invited to attend the launch of NEYTCO in December 2014. You can read about the NEYTCO launch in this blog which I wrote at the time.

My involvement with NEYTCO continued to be very active, as I organised the West Midlands events and shared news and information, and as I continued to attend NEYTCO events. You can read about one of those NETCO events by clicking on this link

Things were all going to plan, and in May 2016 I retired as a registered childminder, fully intending to become a full blown trainer and consultant (and maybe write a book or two). I had had ‘early days’ conversations with Sally, a childminding colleague about the possibility of launching a specialist childminder training company under the umbrella of NEYTCO. Everything was looking very positive and my dream of ‘making a difference’ within childminding  and to benefit children and families was on the verge of becoming a reality.


…… everything stopped in February 2017, I became very ill, doctors did not know what was wrong, I saw many consultants, had many tests, scans and so on. The only thing I knew was I was in the most awful, constant pain, I could not walk , or lift things or care for myself. I needed constant pain relief and constant support from family and friends.

All my plans were halted, the future looked bleak and due to financial difficulties, I knew I was going to have to make really difficult decisions about my future. I could no longer volunteer – including the volunteering I did for NEYTCO, and because no one knew what was wrong with me, it was proving difficult to access benefits , and I knew that without any personal income, I would not be able to renew my memberships to NEYTCO or any of the other Early Years membership organisations that I belonged to – and this in turn would mean I could not attend events (assuming I was physically able to), I would not get member magazines or emails, which in turn would make it difficult for me to remain up to date – to have my eye on the ball. I tried not to think about it too much as the mere thought was very depressing.

And then just before Christmas 2017, I received a completely unexpected phone call from Juliette the admin person (and a whole lot more) for NEYTCO. She wanted to know if I would be able to attend the next West Midlands  members meeting in January 2018.

I said I was not sure because I could not drive far, I could not meet my own care needs and I tired very quickly. OH said Juliette, we very much hope you can because we want to award you with a Honorary Life Membership to NETYTCO. You could have knocked me over with a feather – I was not expecting that all! Then I became excited not only about the award but about the possibility of seeing some of my NEYTCO colleagues, as while I had been ill, I had become very isolated. So I promised Juliette that I would do very best to be there and set about finding a friend who would be willing to drive me to the meeting, and to help with my personal needs.

I found such a person in my friend and ex LA colleague Lynn Edwards. Lynn had been going through her own difficult time and we had not seen each other for over a year – but Lynn kindly offered to collect me from my home, to drive me to the meeting, to stay with me all through the meeting and then drive me home. I was so excited as I was going to the meeting and going to spend time catching up with my friend.

My award  presentation was at the end of the meeting (which in itself was interesting, and both Lynn and myself took an active part), we had a lovely buffet where Juliette had taken the trouble to ensure my dietary needs were met. The venue (at one of NEYTCO’s members training rooms), was ideal as on one level and with a super disabled toilet.

Catriona Neson CEO of NEYTCO (who can be seen in the photo at the beginning of this blog) did a little speech before presenting me with my certificate – the speech was all about NEYTCO and my role since the formation – and the role they hope I will play once I am better. I really hope I do get better and that I can be an active member and volunteer in the future. Volunteering is part of who I am, engaging with the early years sector is what I do, so in a nut shell myself and NEYTCO are bound together in many ways.

For me though the best bit of the whole day – beside the networking, the genuine love shown to me, the lovely buffet and so on – the best bit was contained in Catriona’s speech. It appears that not only do I have a Life time membership and will never have to pay a single penny in membership fees, I will also get all the member benefits including the fantastic weekly updates sent by email –  I can also attend any member event without paying to attend – all I will have to do is a) get better so I can travel, b) cover my own travel costs and where needed accommodation cost.

Catriona – NEYTCO – I can not express how much this means to me – you are giving me the opportunity to keep in touch, to keep updated, and as and when I am well enough to attend member events. This is a lifeline to me – I am not going to left ‘out in the cold’, I am going to continue to be very much part of the warm, loving NEYTCO family.

Thank you from the bottom of my heart – If there is anything I can do to help NEYTCO – just ask. I hope that as I recover, I will be able to represent NEYTCO – and all it stands for – and as intended by Laura Henry when she founded NEYTCO, and as discussed in those early days meetings – everyone supporting each other, in whatever way they can.


If readers of this blog would like to find out more about NEYTCO please click on this link