Thursday, 28 February 2019

The importance of curiosity (with some wonderful quotes)

IMG_0773I was delighted to watch this little boy exploring this lovely Narnia bench. Curiosity in action. A while ago, in preparation for a training day I was giving called Enquiring Minds, I did some research on curiosity. It is becoming more and more apparent that if children are to thrive – mentally, emotionally and academically – they need curiosity.

I love this quote by Eleanor Roosevelt: ‘I think, at a child’s birth, if a mother could ask a fairy godmother to endow it with the most useful gift, that gift would be curiosity.’ Actually curiosity seems to be innate to humans, but it requires nurture and support.

Years of working as a clinical psychologist have led Todd Kashdan to the conclusion that cultivating curiosity is the key to wellbeing. Research demonstrates links between curiosity and self-confidence. It supports resilience, and has been shown to impact positively on empathy, sociability and relationships. It’s linked to creativity too.

The Statutory Framework for the Early Years Foundation Stage sets out the characteristics of effective early years teaching and learning: playing and exploring; active learning; creating and thinking critically. It seems to me that we shouldn’t restrict this outlook to the early years, nor to educational settings. In Einstein’s words: ‘Play is the highest form of research.’

According to psychologist Sophie von Stumm ‘The most reliable predictor of achievement is a hungry mind.’ Ken Robinson has called curiosity the ‘engine of achievement’ (though I’m not sure I totally agree with his view that ‘If you can light the spark of curiosity in a child, they will learn without any further assistance.’) The historian Sir Richard Southern said ‘we learn by being puzzled and excited.’ Over two millennia ago Plutarch wrote ‘The mind is not a vessel to be filled, but a fire to be ignited’.

This is Einstein again: ‘The important thing is not to stop questioning.’ In the view of cognitive scientist Daniel Willingham ‘It’s the question that stimulates curiosity. Being told the answer quells curiosity before it can even get going.’ How vital exploration and enquiry are, whether at home, in pre-school or school, in libraries, in museums, in the open air, in fact anywhere and everywhere. Great when initiated by children, and valuable too when prompted by adults.

The more we encourage children’s curiosity and sense of wonder, the more we help them towards a thirst for and a joy in learning and new ways of thinking.

Here is 12 year-old Megan Jo Tetrick: ‘If we didn’t have libraries, many people thirsty for knowledge would dehydrate.’ Important to remember what a crucial role books, libraries and librarians perform in nurturing curiosity. Not just libraries of course. These are the words of a parent, reflecting on the effect of a university outreach programme on her primary-age daughter: ‘It took ages to walk home from school last night because she was wanting to stop and pick up every piece of rock and look at every stone we walked by.’ Lovely to read this parental response following a visit with a young child to Manchester Museum: ‘Cerys is wide-eyed and open-mouthed at the things here that we don’t have at home or anywhere else. It’s helped her notice things more in other places too.’

To end, here’s a snippet from Jan Mark’s wonderful children book Thunder and Lightnings. This is a conversation between Victor, who has a learning disability and finds school work demanding and difficult, and his friend Andrew.
‘I thought you didn’t like learning things,’ said Andrew.
‘That wasn’t learning that was finding out.’

Monday, 28 January 2019

Reading for mindfulness and wellbeing – a new course and useful links

SloughI loved seeing this girl immersed in her library book, oblivious to all that was going on around her, stress-free. There is growing evidence that books and reading can play a valuable role in supporting children’s wellbeing. I was delighted to give a course about this recently. We explored the links between reading and mental health and identified ways to use books to build children’s self-esteem, self-awareness, mindfulness, resilience, empathy and understanding. The discussions were inspiring. (Details of this new area of training are now on my website.)

I thought it might be useful to share links to organisations, reports, articles and a video that I have found particularly illuminating and helpful, some of them about children’s mental health, others specifically about books and reading.

Friday, 14 December 2018

Children’s and young people’s reading – recent research and articles

family in Daunt BooksI loved seeing and hearing this family’s shared reading in a bookshop recently. What a perfect illustration for my latest round-up of reading news and views.

Author Cressida Cowell argues strongly that if we want our children to thrive, teaching them to read is not enough – they must learn to enjoy it.

‘When screens are more appealing than books, we need to teach children how to be biliterate’ is worth a read.

New research shows that the home literacy environment is a correlate, but perhaps not a cause, of variations in language and literacy development.

Another recent study highlights the importance of a book-rich home environment in adolescence. Teenagers in homes with almost no books went on to have below average literacy and numeracy levels, whereas teenagers with only lower levels of secondary education but who came from homes filled with books become as literate in adulthood as graduates who grew up with only a few books.

Young people who read fiction have significantly stronger reading skills than their peers who do not, according to new findings from the Institute of Education.

School librarian Sally Cameron’s article ‘Why incentivising reading does not work’ makes interesting reading.

Comprehension is a crucial aspect of reading skills. ‘Comprehension is a long and wide game’ by Simon Smith is interesting and useful. Michael Rosen’s blog ‘What does it mean to read and understand a text? The “reader-response” processes’ is packed with detailed ideas.

This month saw the release of the latest ROGO Index. The annual index brings together data on the reading skills, reading enjoyment and reading frequency of eleven year-olds. These are this year’s headline findings:

  • children’s daily reading levels have risen slightly since 2016/17
  • daily reading levels continue to be an area of great concern, lagging significantly behind levels of reading skill
  • levels of reading enjoyment have remained relatively unchanged
  • national curriculum reading scores increased by 3 percentage points over the past year while reading scores from GL Assessment and Renaissance have remained relatively stable
  • girls continue to outperform boys in all areas of reading, with a particularly marked gap in daily reading levels

Wednesday, 14 November 2018

Reading in the early years – links to useful websites, reports and books

you choose 1##I’m giving lots of courses on creating a love of books and reading in the early years at the moment. It’s one of my favourite training topics, and a crucial one. I will blog soon about why it is so important. Meanwhile, I thought it might be useful to share links to websites, research and books that I find particularly valuable. Many of these are relevant across the board, while some are particularly applicable to early years practitioners and teachers, some to librarians, some to parents and carers.

And what better way to illustrate the list than this fabulous photo of a 20 month-old, sent to me by a course participant last week.

Book Finder
Bookbug
Books for Keeps
Bookstart
Core Books Online
Developing Early Literacy 0-8: From Theory to Practice, ed Virginia Bower, Sage, 2014, ISBN 9781446255339
Digital Technology and the Early Years, National Literacy Trust, 2017
Early Literacy Practices at Home, National Literacy Trust, 2016
Federation of Children’s Books Groups
Foundations of Literacy, by Sue Palmer, Featherstone Education, 2013, ISBN 9781408193846
Healthy Books
Library Services from Birth to Five: Delivering the Best Start, ed Carolynn Rankin and Avril Brock, Facet Publishing, 2015, ISBN 9781783300082
Love My Books
Love Reading 4 Kids
Preparing for Literacy, Education Endowment Foundation, 2018
Read On Get On
Reading Zone
Rhyme Time and Seven Quality Principles Toolkit
Road to Reading, by Jillian Harker, Early Education, 2011
Universally Speaking – Ages and Stages of Children’s Communication Development for Children Aged Birth to 5, The Communication Trust, 2013
Words for Life

Thursday, 1 November 2018

Equal Play: What does gender equality look like in childhood?

Equal Play 1The Mayor of London’s Equal Play conference was fascinating and important. (And how lovely to see children’s toys in the Council Chamber of City Hall!) These were some of the most significant take-aways for me:

  • children’s brains are not gendered by nature, and are malleable
  • gender stereotypes are pervasive and set in even before birth: expectant parents speak differently to babies in the womb according to gender
  • children are treated differently at home, in settings and in schools according to gender, both in terms of language used and what they are praised for
  • children are surrounded by messages about how they should be and these are overwhelmingly gendered
  • gender stereotypes are more pervasive now than they were a generation ago
  • ads targeted at girls use words like magic, princess, beautiful; those aimed at boys use words like power, battle, adventure
  • the collective impact of gendered marketing, language, attitudes, clothing, books, toys etc limits girls’ aspirations, confidence, self-image, career choices, earning potential
  • gender stereotypes limit boys too and fuel toxic masculinity
  • the UK is one of the worst countries in Europe in terms of the numbers of women in STEM careers
  • society needs both boys and girls to become tomorrow’s problem-solvers
  • encouraging girls into STEM subjects is critical for our future
  • play is a vital first part of this
  • inclusive toys, books and clothing enable children to see and explore a range of options
  • gender-neutral attitudes, language, and marketing can reduce the negative impact of stereotypes
  • manufacturers and advertisers need to adopt gender-neutral approaches
  • the Advertising Standards Agency is changing its rules to limit gender-stereotyped advertisements
  • campaigning by Let Toys Be Toys, Let Books be Books and others is making a difference
  • increasing numbers of manufacturers, publishers and retailers, including big names such as Boots and John Lewis are adopting less gendered approaches
  • London has a new Gender Action Award to encourage schools and pre-schools to put gender equality at the heart of all aspects of school life
  • there is a very long way to go
  • we all need to foreground gender equality in our professional lives

We heard from inspiring speakers throughout the day, not least Sam Smethers, CEO of the Fawcett Society, Gina Rippon, Professor of Cognitive Imaging, Rosie Rios, the 43rd Treasurer of the US, Olivia Dickinson of Let Toys Be Toys, Shaddai Tembo, founder of Critical Early Years. Who had the most galvanising impact? Without doubt the Science Leadership Team from Gillespie Primary School. These children made their resentment of gender-stereotyped products and marketing very clear. Why do all girl dolls have long hair? Why when they go into bookshops are the boys directed to science books and the girls to fairy stories? Why should they feel judged when they go into toyshops? Yes indeed. Why?