A little while ago I blogged about the importance of family learning and gave some links to sources of information. This time, I thought I would share a few of the photos I showed on a recent course on the topic for an inspiring group of community development workers, children’s centre staff and library staff. They give an indication of the many forms good family learning can take.Rhyme times are fabulous in terms of fun, and for developing social and emotional skills and language. This is a great one run by Barnet Libraries.Enjoyable activities like this drop-in event at Orleans House Gallery support family bonding and give ideas for things to do at home.There’s nothing to beat story times for building a love of books and reading. Lots of engagement in this Bromley Libraries bedtime story hour.Everyone enjoys creative activites, and they support social and artistic skills. I was very lucky to be part of Historic Royal Palaces’ Curious Stories project.I loved contributing to this Barnet Libraries project. Lots of fun, and everyone got a real sense of achievement, an important aspect of family learning.For family learning to work it must be enjoyable. This is a wonderful collaboration between the Museum of Classical Archaeology and Fitzwilliam Museum.Research shows that family learning supports well-being. You can see how it happens in these photos from a Cardiff Story event.Family learning is inclusive and intergenerational. Don’t forget grandparents! These photos were taken at events in Liverpool and Enfield libraries.Lots of good family learning is very informal, as in this event at Crealy Adventure Park mounted by the Royal Albert Memorial Museum.Lastly, a reminder that play is an important part of family learning activities. Here is an Enfield Libary Service toddler time.
Family learning is transformative. For anyone interested in finding out more about its benefits and ways to support it effectively, there are still places available on two courses I’m giving later this term: Sheffield on 23 March and Cardiff on 28 March. I also deliver bespoke in-service family learning training for local authorities, schools, museums, and other organisations.
I have lots of training coming up on supporting reading in the Early Years Foundation Stage, and on working with babies and under fives in museums. Preparing them has got me thinking again about how important rhymes and rhyme times are. Then just today, I had a request for a rhyme time course.
There’s no question that young children love rhyme times, and that parents and carers value them greatly. The photo here of a wonderful session I attended in a Barnet library demonstrates just how special they are. There is also no question about the support they give for children’s well-being, their learning and their overall development. Research and anecdotal evidence show that they benefit:
• social skills
• self-esteem and confidence
• attention and concentration
• physical coordination and motor skills
• cognitive development
• understanding of the world
• communication skills
• speaking and listening skills
• phonological awareness
Quite a list! You might also be interested to read a recent article on the value of music and rhyme for children’s literacy development and another one on how using stories, songs and rhymes can support mental health.
I’ve just been putting together the handouts for a course for on effective provision and support for children with learning disabilities, a topic I feel passionate about. We will be exploring the needs of children with a wide range of learning challenges, the barriers they may face with learning and participation, and the implications, before going on to identify ways to maximise engagement, learning and enjoyment. This particular course is for a museum, but I also give lots of training on special needs for other cultural and heritage organisations, and for schools and libraries, and I find that many issues are common to all.
A Whistle-Stop Tour of Special Educational Needs by Clare Welsh and Rosie Williams is no longer in publication, though copies are still to be found. I have always found this section from it very pertinent and helpful:
‘As far as working with pupils with SEN is concerned, we must look at our assumptions and be prepared to challenge them.
- the assumption that pupils will be at the same developmental starting point
- the assumption that pupils will have the same knowledge
- the assumption that because pupils have experienced something before, they will automatically remember it
- the assumption that all pupils can understand the language that is being used around them
- the assumption that pupils will have the gross or fine motor skills to carry out certain tasks
- the assumption that all pupils enjoy social interaction
- the assumption that all pupils will understand and respect standards of behaviour’
Wise words. Assumptions and stereotypes are dangerous things. Every child has different needs, even if they have the same diagnosis. A flexible, listening approach is vital. So is a calm environment in which every child feels safe and supported. Many children with learning difficulties have very high anxiety levels. Change, in particular, can be scary. For children on the autistic spectrum, and plenty of others, providing information – preferably with photos – in advance so they know what to expect from new experiences and new places makes a huge difference. Noise, crowds and clutter are very stressful for some. It’s great that lots of cultural and heritage organisations now offer specific activities or opening times to support children and families for whom these are a problem.
Like other children, most children with learning disabilities love getting involved. I will blog another time about inclusive participation strategies and the value of multi-sensory approaches.
Hard to believe I’ve been a trainer for twenty years. It’s been a fabulous ride. Impossible to sum up succinctly, but pictures give at least a flavour.My path into training was accidental. I’d recently finished a master’s degree, and was doing a variety of reading-related work, when a head of libraries asked me for a course on how libraries can help children’s reading. It taught me a huge amount and was enormously rewarding. Gradually training took me over.I still love giving courses and inset on ways to engage children in books and reading, whether for very young children or much older ones, whether very able, or with reading problems, or anywhere in between, and whether as training for librarians or teachers or early years practitioners or parents and carers. Running courses on effective provision for children and young people in school and public libraries and museums gives me enormous pleasure too.I have been immensely lucky to have been asked for courses on all sorts of issues that matter to me, special needs, for example, and looked after children. It’s been great to work with practitioners in a whole variety of sectors: education, libraries, museums and more. I’ve learnt such a lot from that. Along the way I have met so many fabulous and inspiring people.There have been some great training venues over the years – lots of lovely schools and libraries, and some awe-inspiring museums. Giving courses in castles has been fun, and the race course was pretty spectacular. But nowhere before or since has beaten the circus tent I once gave a workshop in.Any sadnesses? One in particular: the tragedy of library and school library services cut-backs and closures. The impact on children will be dreadful.That aside, training continues to enthral me. No two courses are ever the same. I never know what to expect, and that’s really exciting. I never stop learning.
I felt immensely privileged and touched to be given this tile by a delegate on the UCL Qatar course I gave last week on working with children with learning difficulties in museums. It was made by a young Qatari man with very severe learning disabilities. His needs were not met by school, but working with an artist in a cultural organisation released his abilities, and enabled him to express himself. What a fantastic illustration of the positive impact arts and cultural engagement can have on SEN children.
I had an amazing time in Doha delivering the training. The delegates came from five different museums, one of them well-established, the others all in the planning stages. Because the course was five days long, we were able to explore issues in depth. There were so many fascinating and important debates about the needs of children with all sorts of learning problems and the implications for engagement with museums, and about effective methods for supporting their learning and enjoyment. It was great to have time to share a wide range of case studies. We talked a lot about autism-friendly approaches. I found the discussions on multi-sensory learning especially interesting, and the plans groups produced for inclusive activities and events were truly exciting. The lists of components of successful practice that each delegate came up with on the last day were extremely impressive.
We were very lucky to have the use of some wonderful artefacts commissioned by UCL Qatar. These 3D prints of the lid of an Egyptian canopic jar are amazing. They are different weights, sizes and finishes to enable a variety of learning methods. A fabulous way for children to experience history.
And these puppets, based on two very special and precious exhibits in the Museum of Islamic Art, made by the Little Angel Puppet company, and ably demonstrated here by Annie Rowbotham from UCL are superb. They are used to help children learn about conservation. The children ask the monkey and falcon questions, and the answers come via a ventriloquist. Such a brilliant idea. They are also going to play a role in museum story-telling events. Approaches like these can be totally transformative for children who struggle with learning.Many thanks to all the great delegates and to Qatar Museums and a big thank you to UCL for inviting me back to Doha. It’s a stunning city, so to end, a few photos: the souk, the royal camels against the inevitable background of cranes (they’re everywhere in Doha), two shots from the extraordinary falconry souk, some dhows, and the beautiful Museum of Islamic Art.