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Play

tiny book gif Gardening for Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder and Special Educational Needs
by Natasha Etherington
(Jessica Kingsley Publishing)
This inspiring and motivating book presents a thoughtful yet highly practical program that offers a wealth of opportunities to complement the indoor curriculum with outdoor gardening-based activities. In order that participants gain the maximum benefit from what is on offer, the author stresses the benefits of adopting the mindfulness approach with its focus on ‘being’ rather than ‘doing’ throughout. This ‘being in the present moment’ helps engender a feeling of connectedness with an activity, with others and with the environment.
    The program begins with digging and this then sets the scene for all that follows, be it identifying parts of a plant, planting, seasonal cooking, a game, art activity or sensory exploration. There are chapter specifically relating to ASD learners, another on adaptations and considerations for wheelchair users, one that considers ADHD in particular, as well as one focusing on children within a wide range of developmental (dis)ability. There is also a chapter on gardens for children who suffer from allergies of various kinds. Throughout though, the focus is on the importance of considering the specific needs of each individual child.
   ‘The garden,’ Etherington says ‘is everything… not only a sensory gym, but also a cerebral and physical gym.’ If teachers, and other who share in the education and care of the young take up the wealth of possibilities offered here, the children in their care (whether or not they have special needs)would indeed benefit enormously.
(reviewed by Jill Bennett)
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tiny book gif Focusing and Calming Games for Children
by Deborah M. Plummer
( Jessica Kingsley Publishers)
Grounded in the Buddhist practice of mindfulness, the author presents a model of interaction that she calls Mindfulness Play: a model that not only seeks to nurture children’s capacity to be fully present in the here and now, but also involves a heightened self awareness on behalf of the adult involved.
    The book is divided into two parts. The first gives the background theory to Mindfulness Play in a very accessible form; this is based on a model of well-being and perceptual intelligence encompassing seven elements. It also sets the context within which the activities and games are set, stressing the importance of a nurturing environment. Here too are reflective questions for practitioners to ask themselves as their practice develops.
    The second part provides a wide variety of over forty games and activities, aimed at children aged five to twelve, as examples of how to put Mindfulness Play into practice. These activities range from lively action games such as Duck duck goose to a guided meditation and peer massage. Each has detailed instructions, the time needed, adaptions and questions to ask participants to develop further thought.
     This ability to focus inwards (as well as paying attention to the outer world) that the author talks about is, something that I have on numerous occasions, observed very young children doing naturally. Sadly though, with the present preoccupation on easily measurable outcomes in education, opportunities to foster this state of being are all too frequently lost as children move further up the education system. For this reason alone, Deborah Plummer’s book is a timely advocate for building in this vital part of education at all ages. Neglect it and that ability is all too easily lost: So too, for many children, is the opportunity to reach their full potential.
     Presented in a spirit of openness, that same spirit underlies what the author seeks to foster both in those who read the book and the children with whom they work and play. Every teacher should have a copy: it is also a very valuable resource for youth-workers, therapists, nursery staff, parents and carers, anyone in fact, who seeks to foster and develop children’s emotional and social well-being.
(reviewed by Jill Bennett)
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tiny book gif Sandtray Play and Storymaking
by Sheila Dorothy Smith
(Jessica Kingsley Publishing).
Children playing in sand trays with small world figures and objects, and using the worlds they create as the basis for stories; that’s something teachers of early years children see every day in the UK. Such play is marvellous for developing a whole range of competencies be they social, emotional, language related or cognitive. Why then is it confined to the early years?
    That, in so many words, is what the author of this book asked herself. And so began her experiment with a group of disaffected children aged seven and eight in a school in Canada. These children were put into a daily, ninety-minute, nurturing workshop environment and provided with sand trays, small world figures and other items. There was a clear structure to the sessions: each would begin with individual greetings and end with a farewell ritual, thus setting each episode apart from the rest of the day. Mozart was to be the only sound heard during the building phase and children were to stay within their own workspaces.
    Photographic records of completed worlds were compiled and a number of these are provided in the book along with some of the children’s stories which resulted from the telling, listening and writing phases that followed the building. Smith, who is a highly experienced teacher of children with special needs, goes on to document examples of how other settings have taken and adapted the approach for their particular children’s needs. She gives clear explanations for those inspired by her approach (and who could fail to be?) wanting to offer similar opportunities, as well as providing firm theoretical underpinnings for such practice.
   I sincerely hope this book is widely read and acted upon, not only by teachers working with children with special needs but those teaching over the fives, many of whom feel forced to push children into writing without their having first had appropriate scaffolding opportunities such as those provided by the author.
(reviewed by Jill Bennett)
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Fun with Messy Play
by Tracey Beckerleg
(Jessica Kingsley Publishers)
The author of this very practical book is a powerful advocate for messy play. Having worked as a special needs teacher and now, a home visitor for the National Portage Association, she has a wealth of experience on which to base her writing. As she rightly says, all children need messy play, though it is even more vital for those with special needs, stimulating and engaging as it does, their sensory perception. In addition it has the potential to develop their cognitive, communicative and physical abilities, social skills and most importantly, boost their self-esteem.
The book has three sections. The first outlines how and why the author thinks play is so vital, what makes messy play different from other play and provides guidance for planning for, providing and evaluating messy play sessions. The second details the many and diverse benefits of messy activities and includes some examples; I was particularly pleased see that ‘relaxation’ was featured here. The final section offers a host of practical ideas for messy and not so messy play.
Whether you are new to the notion of messy play, not yet convinced, or looking for additional ideas, this book will be a valuable resource.
(reviewed by Jill Bennett)
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