Books about... feelings, mindfulness and wellbeing | Upside down books

Upside down books have sent me some lovely new picture books.  Upside Down (@TriggerPub, www.triggerpublishing.com) publishes fiction and non-fiction books for children which encourage conversation around mental health and wellbeing. Their titles promote positivity, emotional intelligence and mindfulness for children, whilst being beautiful, age-appropriate and, most of all…enjoyable!  I highly recommend all these, or a look at their website or a browse in the local library.  We've really enjoyed all these books, and they will form a regular part of our story-sharing.

Puppy in my head, a book about mindfulness by Elise Gravel

ABC of feelings by Bonnie Lui

Tomorrow I'll be brave by Jessica Hische

Breathe like a bear by Kira Willey

What I read | January / February 2020

(my image - Afan Valley, South Wales, December 2019)

Movement - Your child's first language and some favourite picture books about movement and physical development

I've been reading Sally Goddard Blythe's "Movement, your child's first language" from Hawthorn Press, so here's a short review, followed by some of my favourite picture books dealing with movement & physical development; and some of our favourite things to do and explore locally to get us moving.

The book starts from a similar premise to the previous title I reviewed (Reclaim Early Childhood).  Sally Goddard-Blythe calls it "accelerationism" - a runaway pressure to learn end goals (like reading and writing) without first ensuring firm foundations are put in place (like fine motor development, listening, attention, hearing stories, gross motor development etc etc). The first 3-3 1/2 years are critical for brain development, and parents and carers can help through giving children opportunities, experiences and influences for "preparing" children for later formal learning by fostering the development of sensory-motor skills.  The author says "movement is our first language" - we begin to understand their postures, gestures and movements as expressions of needs and responses - body language - which incidentally forms a significant part of our communication throughout life.  
Development of posture, balance and co-ordination are all needed for later reading, writing and sitting.  Babies's basic needs are warmth, nourishment, closeness, attachment to carers who provide love, sensory experience, exploration and engagement.  In other words, simply holding, being there and engaging is enough, and as the author says, there is no real need for the endless plastic equipment we are encouraged to purchase which is a distraction from the basic needs.

Movement experiences help babies understand where they are in space and where their body parts are in relation to one another; and to be able to go from supine to standing in the first year or so.  This book is about how music along with movement assists brain development.  And interestingly (but a bit obvious if I think about it), music is essentially movement (rhythm) and the mantra is that we must sow the seeds of advanced skills like reading, writing and maths in a "fertile ground of attachment, physical development, sensory processing and socialisation".  

In chapter 2 Sally Goddard-Blythe describes the "primitive reflexes" babies are born with as a basic survival strategy, later being integrated into reactions controlling posture, balance and co-ordination.  These include the Moro reflex, that one where you think the doctor's going to drop your newborn baby and they react by reaching out and gasping.  Babies gradually learn to control their bodies, integrating these physical skills with cognitive processes if given the space and opportunity to do so - as the author points out this is quite different form being placed in a position and entertained by electronic devices. We then learn about the innate need for touch, and the touch reflexes - that one where the baby grasps your finger and won't let go.  The author shows how touch is important not only for sensing things like pain or heat, but also for working out where their bodies are in relation to other bits of themselves and the environment around them; and also how touch reflexes are important to speech development.    We discover the other innate reflexes babies have such as to suck, for obvious reasons, and those which help them to develop control over their posture, such as head control in the first few months.  Most of these reflexes disappear in the first year of life, but some are present throughout life (blinking, sneezing and yawning for instance).  

In the next chapter the author tells of meeting the Russian physician and musician Michael Lazarev who made the connection, in the unborn child, between "the music of language... and the language of movement", through the mother's voice.  Lazarev went on to write a series of songs and poems that use this connection to support children's development in the early years.  He looked to optimise the potential of sounds to help the prenatal brain develop.  The author goes on to make the point that singing enables children to start practising the sounds of speech - hence the importance (for me) all through the early years of singing nursery rhymes together.  

The book contains 2 CDs.  The first "Wings of Childhood" is Lazarev's series of songs to sing along or move to - as the characters of the stories, which are specially designed to practice early stages of movement and to strengthen neural pathways between brain and body, from sea anemones to lizards to butterflies.  There follow some stories "Early morning in the pond" and  "A day in the garden" encouraging children to actively listen and move.  It's stressed that all of this is part of "informal play", during which children practice emerging postural control and develop their senses of touch, balance and proprioception.  The stories are narrated on a 2nd CD enclosed in the book.  

We also discover the importance of movement and physical development in later learning of important concepts such as number.  And Piaget, Montessori, Steiner and Hebb all recognised the fundamental role of physical development and physical movement in learning.  Chapter 7 discusses these ideas, linking them to the need for rich learning environments as well as the need for play to continue throughout life, as "creative urges are explored and realised" - holding on to some of the awe and wonder of childhood (and we all know that continued learning is good for our brains as we get older).
Throughout the book the author gives charming anecdotes from her childhood or her children's early years to illustrate and enhance the material.

Finally the author goes on to look at the trend for boys to be behind on staring school and how positive aspects of the differences between boys and girls can be nurtured in educational environments, so that boys may have equality of opportunity in education.  She compares Finland where formal schooling begins at 7, with the UK where we often have over-high expectations (as in the current debate about the Early Learning Goals).  

The big connection to take home from this introduction to how music and movement assist brain development is - music developed from movement, because music is rhythm, drum beats... movement.  A highly recommended read for practitioners in the early years, and parents, who want to understand these important connections, and are interested in how to foster this at home or in the early years setting.

Here are some of my favourite books about...movement and physical development -

The animal boogie by Debbie Harter and Fred Penner

Giraffes Can't dance by Giles Andreae and Guy Parker-Rees

Angelina Ballerina by Katherine Holabird and Helen Craig

ABC yoga by Christiane Engel

From head to toe by Eric Carle

And here are some of our favourite "moving" things to do... chasing leaves, running races between the trees, giving the trees a hug, feeling a sense of well-being outside, making footprints in the snow, exploring yoga poses and listening to our breathing, climbing he little hills at the local woods.

Thanks to Hawthorn Press for the copy of Sally Goddard-Blythe's book.

Book Review | Reclaim Early Childhood | Too much too soon

Reclaim early Childhood - The philosophy, psychology and practice of Steiner-Waldorf Early years  by Sebastian and Tamara Suggate and Too much, too soon? Early learning and the erosion of childhood, edited by Richard House

Reclaim Early Childhood (Hawthorn Press) starts from the concept that, today, in much of the world, childhood is misunderstood, and this book looks at Steiner education, in which the authors are experienced practitioners and experts, the educational philosophy based on the thoughts of Rudolf Steiner and his phenomenological approach to childhood.  Steiner theorised that life is complex and therefore appropriate education must also be complex, observing the world to slowly discover the threads linking many phenomena together - how I understand it, lifelong learning starting from birth.  Steiner took this approach to learning himself, over decades, and he called it anthroposophy.  This book aims to "demonstrate the relevance of Steiner early childhood education in the modern world".  The authors believe that these elements of Steiner education are what is needed in today's world: a humane understanding of childhood, anchored in
  • deep philosophy
  • sustainable education
  • common sense
  • practical aesthetics
They encourage us, as we read to learn, change our minds and use only each unique child as "the only true book in which the principles of education are inscribed".

As I think about 2020 and our challenges of biodiversity, climate and politics, these words give me hope that if we start with good intentions and good foundations in early childhood education, plus a lot of kindness and compassion, we can change things for the better with, and for, our children.

In chapter 2 the authors, as I often do, suggest we ask "Why?" - in my case, usually to do with the question of whether children should climb up the slide (of course they should) or whether children should kneel down in the mud to look at a snail (of course they should).  I'm not intending to be awkward in my asking "why?", rather getting us to reflect on our practice.  So, as the authors say - why such an adult-centred philosophy of education?  In other words, why is education seemingly for the benefit of economies, not individuals?  Steiner's philosophy was called anthroposophy - combining the science of ideas with detailed observations of the world via a phenomenological experience-based approach.  Anthroposophy, we are told, can be broken down into "anthropos" meaning human, and "sophia" meaning wisdom, and it is intended to be an approach for better understanding of life itself - or understanding ourselves!  The author argues that education needs to avoid focusing on measurable short term gains (tests, goals) as opposed to the long term (lifelong) approach of Steiner education.  Many Steiner education practices are supported by modern evidence - and therefore we should consider it's relevance more than we do - the benefits of free play, positive effects of story telling, the value of nature, aesthetics & art in education, the importance of physical movement for learning & development, the dangers of electronic media, fostering imagination and so on...  All areas which many groups and educationalists are trying to bring to the attention of governments and regulators right now, such as Keeping Early Years Unique.  I also strongly believe that without creativity and the arts all the way through school (the most prolific cuts are in these areas), we would have less scientists, architects or engineers, and that well-being should be at the heart of policy.  In fact, as the authors tell us, the first Steiner / Waldorf School (the authors use these names interchangeably in the book) was set up when the owner of the Waldorf-Astoria (hence the Waldorf bit in Steiner-Waldorf kindergartens) cigarette factory in Germany in 1919 was concerned about the well-being of his workers and realised that a new educational approach was needed to help create "sustainable societal change".

Steiner believed that a human being was comprised of a body, a soul and a spirit.  In chapter 3 the authors discuss what is intended by these words as building blocks of a solid education, and how we have become socialised to recognise quantity as a measure of the quality of our experiences - exam grades, ofsted grades, league tables, economic growth, rather than, as I see it, using measures of well-being or happiness to determine success.  The authors conclude here that it is impossible to separate Steiner's "body, soul and spirit", as the soul/spirit is how we qualitatively experience the world - feelings, colours, emotions, ideas, smells.  Steiner later refined this to think of humans as "thinking, feeling and willing".

  • Thinking - consciously thinking through steps, utilising past experiences
  • Feeling - in the present moment, a dream consciousness
  • Willing - unconsciously acting automatically to do something (using the "will")
The "will" is important here as it is the future of children - the process of their "becoming", the instinct to start to crawl or explore the environment.  I made a mental link here with the Characteristics of effective learning in our EYFS (not enough emphasis is given to fostering these attitudes and dispositions), our equivalent of fostering the "will" in children as a building block for future development, nurturing learners for life rather than academic statistics.

I must admit, this was quite complicated philosophy, but a worthwhile detour to link the ideas together.  For educationalists, this means a more constructive view of children without fixed judgements, but rather with consideration of strengths and weaknesses as shaping future development, or "becoming".  This reminds me of the Te Whariki curriculum in New Zealand where the child is at the centre of a holistic curriculum, there are no expected developmental milestones, children are empowered to learn and grow, family and community are integral, and well-being & a sense of belonging are nurtured. 

Chapter 4 is dedicated to exploring the 12 senses as understood by Steiner (12? I hear you say...).  We generally think of the sense as biological pathways - receptors -> impulses -> brain processing - but there is also a qualitative aspect - sounds or smells make us feel something too - we qualitatively experience phenomena like sound - listening to music makes us feel a certain way.  Steiner's 12 senses as listed in the book are below:
  • sight (visual)
  • hearing (auditory)
  • touch (tactile)
  • taste (gustatory)
  • smell (olfactory)
  • balance (vestibular)
  • warmth (thermoception)
  • movement & position in space (proprioception)
  • well-being (visceroception)
  • language sense (phonic / sound perception)
  • thoughts / concepts
  • individuality (the "I" sense)
The authors inform us that senses are automatic (at least at first), bring quality to consciousness, exist discretely from one another, are "in the moment" telling us what we perceive "now", and they have accompanying sensory organs or networks.  From Steiner's perspective, the senses can be ordered into 3 categories:
  • lower (willing) - touch, well-being, proprioception, and balance
  • middle (feeling) - smell, taste, sight and warmth
  • upper (thinking or social senses) - sound, as well as phonological sense, thought and the "I" sense - the latter 3 were Steiner's own additions however he died before he finished the work.
It is also not this simple of course, as senses often combine to provide us with information.

Steiner's work and theory as applied to child development is complex (as I have discovered!) and sometimes overwhelming - I found some of the philosophical theory hard to grasp.  But one important part of his theory is that of "freehood" - learning to develop the capacity to act freely, as opposed to "freedom" - being able to do as one wishes.  This distinction, the authors say, is important in education - children need to develop "freehood" but having total freedom may be counterproductive to this.  We need freehood to help us to inhibit desires and weigh up choices - what we know as executive function in neuroscience, and what Steiner would probably call the "I" functions.

Steiner divided child development into roughly seven-year phases.  So in Steiner's terms early childhood is approximately birth to seven (dentition or losing the first teeth).  During this time the senses are rapidly developing - I liked the author's reference to thinking about a circle; the senses work together over time to explore the concept of circle - not only vision but also movement, and proprioception.  I was prompted to think of some reading I did recently about embodied maths - we need to allow children time to develop and explore these concepts with their whole bodies - so we are not doing maths, rather we are exploring concepts that will become maths later on.  Another example given is that of "a table" - a child comes to perceive a table from first seeing this object through vision, then depth, balance, touch, movement, as they experience the concept of "table".  Here I was reminded of children we have worked with who did not own a table so sitting at the table with us for lunch was a new concept for them - to develop, perceive and understand the world, children need time, rich experiences and close relationships.

Chapter 6 tackles Steiner's educational principles - chiefly to facilitate the development of freehood.  The previous chapter prompted me to "google" Steiner's stages of development and it explained a lot when I read the section on adults aged 49-56 and 56-63...  Back to Steiner's principles:
  • Imitation - children observe / explore and imitate in their play
  • Imagination - free play, sensory play, artistic activities and mindful language guide and develop imaginations
  • rhythm, structure and security - orderly surroundings with aesthetic activities & atmosphere sooth and support development (here I am reminded of our treasure baskets and natural objects for exploration, and of Maslow's hierarchy of needs)
  • nutrition - appropriate nutrition and the ability to help prepare the food
  • meaningful relationships - my understanding of this ties in with key person theory and attachment - we actively listen and tune into children's thinking, interacting, taking an interest and joining in if appropriate.
Steiner kindergartens around the world don't all follow the principles to the letter, they vary depending on where they are and on the children who attend - teachers carefully observe children and each kindergarten meets the needs of its own cohort of children.  The environment is the 3rd teacher and the rhythm of days, months and years follows natural routines, seasons and cycles.  This again reminds me of my own ethos of aiming to instil a sense of awe and wonder through exploration & experience of the natural world and the rhythms of life.  And as the authors say, it transcends international differences as it is adopted in countries and cultures as diverse and Britain, Tibet, South Africa, in Brazilian Favelas and Israeli kibbutz, with the commonality of nature, rhythms of life, and in the moment experiences.  An interesting comparison follows of Steiner and other educational philosophies including Montessori, Pikler and state systems.

The final chapter deals with challenges to and for Steiner education, much of this stemming from a misunderstanding of the why and how behind the philosophy - hence the importance of this book.  I'm no expert (and I will admit to not totally grasping some of the phenomenology and anthroposophy - but at least I learnt to spell it!), but reading this has done exactly what the authors set out to do - helped me to understand the way of Steiner education, to ask myself some reflective questions, and to see that it really does fit with many practitioners and experts' current thinking that too much, too soon is detrimental and that childhood should be about a journey of "becoming", of being in the moment, and experiencing nature, exploring concepts in rich language environments, and having the freedom to have ideas and to run with them as we learn together.

Give this book a chance - I think that you will notice that much of the philosophy evident in Steiner principles sits nicely with what many know to be the right thing for early education now - child-centred, in the moment, mindful experiences to develop skills, dispositions and attitudes for lifelong learning and an appreciation of our world - highly relevant today.

A nice accompanying title to this is Too much, too soon? Early learning and the eroson of childhood edited by Richard House (Hawthorn Press).

This collection of chapters from an amazing collection of "educators, researchers, policy-makers, carers and parents" guides us through the problem of "too much, too soon" for our youngest children.  The Open EYE campaign, led by Richard House, argued that the new EYFS (2008) would increase an already top down curriculum approach in the early years, without consideration of current research and developmentally appropriate practice.  Too much assessment and too little time for genuine play was (still is...) eroding childhood.  The book argues that more emphasis on formal learning in the early years is detrimental to what really matters - laying the foundations for lifelong learning, and avoiding a "toxic childhood".  Well-known names such as Sue Palmer, Lilian Katz and Sally Goddard Blythe guide us through the arguments and evidence.   This review is just in time for the latest review of the Early Learning Goals, which have also come under much scrutiny and objection, not surprisingly. 

If this has all sparked your interest, then the too much, too soon website here is a great place to start.

[Thanks to Hawthorn Press https://www.hawthornpress.com/ for the review copies]

What I read | November / December 2019

What I read in November and December 2019

The Voyage by Robert Vescio and Andrea Edmonds (ek books).  A beautifully illustrated story of fleeing and new beginnings.

What's down there? by Alex Waldron (Ruby Tuesday Books). 

That's my willy by Alex Waldron (Ruby Tuesday books)

The orangutan who sang by Jay Vincent and Stew Wright (meze publishing)

The Early Years Teacher's Book by Leonie Abrahamson (Learning matters an imprint of Sage publications)

Keeping up with Findus by Sven Nordqvist (Hawthorn Press).  Hilarious capers with Findus the cat.

Skip through the seasons by Stella Blackstone and Maria Carluccio (Barefoot books).  Autumn words and pictures, combined with Autumn walks and chats.

This Changes Everything by Naomi Klein (Penguin books).  Changes the way you think too, bringing realisation that we have known about the problem of global heating and climate change for decades now, and have nowhere near done enough...  A book that everyone should read.  I'll be on the look out for Naomi Klein's latest "On fire, the burning case for a green new deal"

Banana! by Ed Vere (from the library).  Brilliant tale of really wanting that banana...

Pumpkin Soup by Helen Cooper (picture corgi books).  Squirrel, cat and duck fighting over who's going to stir the soup.  Friendship wins over in the end.

Earth shattering events (Cicada books).  This lovely hardback takes an illustrated look at volcanoes, earthquakes, tsunamis and other natural events.  Brilliant for inquisitive young children.

Gut Garden (Cicada books).  A fantastic look at our insides and the microbes that reside there, beautifully illustrated and explained for young children.

Jackson Superhero - Jackson's solution to pollution (Untold books).  An island plastic clean-up, saving the home of all the sea creatures.  A great introduction to why we should think about what we consume, and the consequences.

Aaaarrgghh! Spider! (Egmont, my own copy).  A classic brilliant rhyming tale.

Verti-goat by Austin Mackle (@austinbooks.uk).  Vertigoat overcomes his fears.

Postpixie Missing in Action by Gillian Seale.  Written as an illustrated story form of a memory box for families who are living with terminal illness. (@tailoredyarn)

The Fabulous Lost and Found by Mark Pallis and illustrated by Peter Baynton.  One of a series of "story-powered language learning" books.  

Kipper's book of weather by Mick Inkpen and Maisie goes to the library by Lucy Cousins

The Ferocious Chocolate Wolf by Lizzie Finlay (Five Quills books, @5Quills_kids)

Follow the It's all about stories facebook page for regular picture book ideas, reviews and suggestions.

Blog | www.itsallaboutstories.blogspot.co.uk

Blog Tour | Fred and Woody's Fantastic world

What's down there? - a book about girl bodies for curious kids, and That's my Willy - a book about boy bodies for curious kids by Alex Waldron, published by Ruby Tuesday books.

Alex Waldron writes about Fred, Woody, their cousin Stevie and Big Nan whose advice is invaluable, in these ground-breaking and informative new picture books for young children that encourage parents to talk honestly and factually about normal stuff that's sometimes difficult to put into words.

What I read | September / October 2019

My bi-monthly round-up of all the books I read, reviewed, borrowed from the library, read to the children or just like the look of...!

The Terribly Friendly Fox (Simon and Schuster) - a tale of a goody (or a baddy?) Read it to find out.

The Overstory by Richard Powers (from the library) - novel about nine individuals with a common thread - trees play a large part in their lives.  Lets all look after trees, and do our bit to spread the word about global heating and the climate emergency.

Blog Tour | The ultimate survival guide to Monsters under the bed

The Ultimate Survival Guide to monsters under the bed by Mitch Frost and Daron Parton.

Blog Tour | Danny's Dream

Danny's Dream by Ian Parker and Victor Margiotta

A heart-warming story of "dreams coming true, although sometimes in the most unexpected ways", the story written by Victor Margiotta, and beautifully illustrated by Ian Parker, who paints with his mouth as he is unable to use his hands.  The advised age range is 3-8 but I'd probably start a little older having read it, and recommend it for age 5 and up, key stage 1 - it would be a lovely text to form a discussion about inclusivity and playground friendships, but we don't always need a topic or a theme to share stories, and this is a lovely story for anytime.

What I read | July / August 2019

A pictorial look at everything I read and reviewed in the past couple of months.

Roald Dahl's Colours, illustrated by Quentin Blake (penguin Random House) - beautiful board books for tiny hands

And the abc one too

Peppa's Muddy Festival (Ladybird Books) - with flaps, tents, bunting and of course, mud.

Iced Out by CK Smouha and illustrated by Isabella Bunnell - lovely story and beautiful illustrations

Who's going to bed by Abie Longstaff and Eve Coy - the baby isn't going to bed, not until he's had a bit of an adventure...

I am Malala, the girl who stood up for education and was shot by the taliban by Malala Yousafzai and Christina Lane - starting well before the shooting, we learn about Malala and her family in the years leading up to this and the struggle to secure girls' education in Pakistan.

To the Moon (Ladybird Books) - flaps, lift-up and pull-out pieces combined into a sturdy board book all about the Moon.

And In the City (Ladybird books) - more flaps, lift-ups and pull-out pieces, lots to discover and talk about.

Baby Touch Animals (Ladybird Books) - a touch and feel board book for the youngest book-lovers

And Baby Touch Playbook - more touch and feel pages for exploration and discovery

Ten Minutes to Bed - The Little Mermaid by Rhiannon Fielding and Chris Chatterton (Ladybird Books) - a lovely bedtime story

Notes on a nervous Planet by Matt Haig - chatty and informative look at the modern world and how to be mindful within a fast-paced and fact-packed life.

The Inner Child - a book for kids about what it's like to be an adult -  I liked the original idea of this one - every page illustrating a different adult and their inner child.

The Tap-dancing pigeon of Covent Garden by Serena Hassan and illustrated by Jon Davis - quirky illustrations wonderfully highlighting the pigeon's expressions, and a lovely tale of survival in the big city.

The Story of the little mole who knew it  was none of his business by Werner Holzwarth and Wolf Erlbruch - all the Mole's animal friends and their variously shaped poo!

The Board Game family by Ellie Dix - one of the parents, ideas for encouraging essential family connections in a world of social media and video games.  Full of ideas and explanations.  A worthwhile project.