Egg-cellent advice: Twinkle toes

Egg-cellent advice: Twinkle toes

I do not know how he came to acquire the nick-name Egg but ever since he came along that’s what my youngest son has been called. I run The Sensory Projects www.TheSensoryProjects.co.uk (which should now really be called The Sensory Projects and Sons!) My work focuses on people with profound disabilities and sensory differences, but my son’s advice will apply to your work too.

In this series of articles we are going to share his insights with you, if you are keen for more there is an ever growing collection on my Facebook profile: come and make friends. www.Facebook.com/JoannaGraceTSP

This is article 3 out of a series of 10! To view the others click here.

Watching Egg before he could walk it was clear that he used his feet to explore materials as much as he used his hands. Of course this could be a consequence of having a sensory engagement specialist as a mother, who is prone to wrapping jangling belly dancer sarongs around the chair legs, but more likely it is simply to do with the number of nerve endings.

Our hands are very sensitive, lots of nerve endings = lots of sensation = a great tool for exploring. Tongues and lips are even better, so putting things in your mouth is a great way to explore the world. And feet! Feet too should join this party, their tickliness is a result of their many nerve endings, so providing things to explore with twinkle toes is a wonderful way to invite learning about the world.

The belly dancer’s sarong was a great hit, providing texture to explore, and rewarding that exploration with a light show and a cacophony of jingles.

My feet reach out for things just like my hands do.

You may only use your hands to touch and explore, but feet seem just as good an option to me.

When I am older more people will expect me to wear shoes. And I probably will because my feet will, likely, carry me around so I will need shoes to keep them safe.

But if wheels carried me around. Or if I was inside in a safe space, it would be nice to feel with my feet again.

If I had hands that did not work so well, my feet might be all the more important.

Mummy gets teased for me not wearing socks now. Think what you would say to her if she encased my hands in leather and put hard rubber soles across my palms. When I have my socks and shoes on, I learn less about the world around me.

If you are supporting people who enjoy the sensory world as I do, can you find times when they can be out of their socks and shoes so that they have four sources of information, not just two?

(These words first appeared on Jo’s Facebook profile you are welcome to send her a friend request to watch out for more insight https://www.facebook.com/JoannaGraceTSP:

Joanna provides online and in person training relating to sensory engagement and sensory differences, look up www.TheSensoryProjects.co.uk/online-college for more information. To view a list of her books visit www.TheSensoryProjects.co.uk/books Follow Jo on social media to pick up new sensory insights, you’ll find her at: @Jo3Grace on Twitter, www.Facebook.com/JoannaGraceTSP and https://uk.linkedin.com/in/joannagracethesensoryprojects

About the author:

Joanna Grace is an international Sensory Engagement and Inclusion Specialist, trainer, author, TEDx speaker and founder of The Sensory Projects.

Consistently rated as “outstanding” by Ofsted, Joanna has taught in mainstream and special-school settings, connecting with pupils of all ages and abilities. To inform her work, Joanna draws on her own experience from her private and professional life as well as taking in all the information she can from the research archives. Joanna’s private life includes family members with disabilities and neurodivergent conditions and time spent as a registered foster carer for children with profound disabilities.

Joanna has published four practitioner books: “Multiple Multisensory Rooms: Myth Busting the Magic”“Sensory Stories for Children and Teens”“Sensory-Being for Sensory Beings” and “Sharing Sensory Stories and Conversations with People with Dementia”. and two inclusive sensory story children’s books: “Voyage to Arghan” and “Ernest and I”There is new book coming out soon called ‘”The Subtle Spectrum” and her son has recently become the UK’s youngest published author with his book, My Mummy is Autistic.

Joanna is a big fan of social media and is always happy to connect with people via Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn.

Mark-making and the connection to reading acquisition in the early brain

Mark-making and the connection to reading acquisition in the early brain

Mark-making is as much a dynamic motor activity as reaching, grasping and manipulating objects. But think about it! It is the only dynamic motor activity that leaves a ‘trail’ or a mark behind! This is literally mesmerising for very young children, and with the use of colourful and bright crayons and marker pens, mark-making can become a truly rewarding activity.

And then there is reading – this is also a dynamic process. Some children can read at a very early age, but most children’s brains cannot integrate visual, verbal and auditory information rapidly enough until a child reaches five years or above. Mark-making is hugely important in emergent reading because it activates the brain in a way that fully supports future reading. We will be far more successful in teaching children to read if we offer plenty of mark-making along with shared reading of favourite stories, and wait for that natural rite of passage when children are developmentally ready for reading.

Brain activity in mark-making

Try giving a child a mark-making tool that doesn’t leave a mark. The reward system in the brain is not activated and it is highly likely that the child will abandon the task within a few moments. The feedback from ‘marking’ is lacking. Only tools that produce a visual effect result in a child wanting to leave more marks. And the brighter the colour, the thicker the mark, the more the child will want to carry out this extraordinarily satisfactory motor activity.

There is a powerful activation of the reward system in the brain each time a child picks up and uses a mark-making tool. This will encourage them to try ever more complex ‘drawings’ over a longer duration of time. And this is where automaticity will take place – mark-making becomes automatic, and the child is able to make marks repeatedly without effortful thought, building up the letter recognition, drawing and writing with more and more ease.

Mark-making and reading

As already said, there is a powerful link between mark-making and reading. When children see the ‘trail’ made by a mark-making tool, be it a letter, a shape or anything else, the motor activity switches on a part of the brain that supports memory and cognitive thinking. The dynamic motor activity influences the brain activity, supporting the memory; children will remember the way something felt as they ‘drew’ it.

That isn’t all. When children write letters by hand there is more brain activity, and they show better letter recognition skills than when they look at letters or trace them or use a keyboard (James & Engelhardt 2012). Interestingly, it does not matter about any variability in the shape or size of letters children make, as it appears that this is a crucial component of their emergent recognition and understanding of letters.

Mark-making in the setting

Happily, we have plenty of research1 about what sorts of writing instruments and backgrounds best elicit mark-making. Here they are. Give them a go in your setting!


Crayons and magic markers are associated with more complex and mature drawing compared with pencils. The more pronounced, bold and bright the mark-making tool, the more a child will make marks, and also the more advanced the pre-drawing behaviour becomes. Offer brightly coloured, thick and thin marker pens/crayons, ones that leave a satisfyingly noticeable mark.


Paper that already has images on it not only elicits significantly more mark-making than blank paper but also encourages more complex mark-making. Provide paper with images of people, animals, shapes or nature. Draw them yourselves or find paper with images already on them.


Of all images on paper, it is human figures or animal images that result in the most complex and frequent mark-making2. Make sure you have paper with images placed in areas around the setting, e.g. role play.


Writing on a slant helps children engage in mark-making when they are using markers or crayons. For some reason, this does not apply for using pencils.


Structured and collaborative activities as opposed to unstructured child-led activities also elicits more lengthy and increasingly complex mark-making. As rewarding as child-led mark-making can be, children are more likely to join in and focus longer on an adult-led, captivating mark-making activity than on their own.


In short, the more drawing opportunities children have, the more they mark and scribble, and the quicker they make that transition to more complex drawing. And the more children are given plenty of fun opportunities to mark or scribble, the more intent and engaged they become in mark-making. Young children learn to enjoy mark-making which increases their skill in emergent writing, strengthens the visual and motor regions of the brain seen in letter processing and production, and facilitates their acquisition of reading.

It’s a win-win situation!


  1. Dunst C, Gorman E. 2009 Development of Infant and Toddler Mark-making and Scribbling
  2. James & Engelhardt . 2012 The effects of handwriting experience on functional brain development in pre-literate children

About the author:

Helen Garnett is a mother of 4, and a committed and experienced early years consultant. She has a wealth of experience in teaching, both in the primary and early years sectors. She co-founded a pre-school in 2005 where she developed a keen interest in early intervention, leading her into international work for the early years sector. Helen cares passionately about young children and connection. As a result, she wrote her first book, “Developing Empathy in the Early Years: a guide for practitioners for which she won the Professional Books category at the 2018 Nursery World Awards, and “Building a Resilient Workforce in the Early Years, published by Early Years Alliance in June 2019. She also writes articles for early years magazines, such as Nursery World, Early Years Teacher Organisation, QA Education, Teach Early Years, and Early Years Educator.

Helen is the co-founder and Education Director at Arc Pathway, an early years platform for teachers and parents.

Helen can be contacted via LinkedIn.

Chinese New Year

Chinese New Year

On the 1st January each year, many cultures celebrate a New Year according to the solar-based Gregorian calendar, and this year, most countries will celebrate the birth of 2022 at the stroke of midnight. But did you know, that although this is the calendar used in the international standard for representation of dates and times, known as ISO 8601, it is only one of many New Year celebrations that people mark over the course of a year? You might have read our recent article about Diwali in November which is the New Year celebrations for many Hindu, Sikhs and Jains in India. The Bengali people in India celebrate New Year in April, Jewish people celebrate Rosh Hashanah in September or October, and many Celts and Pagans celebrate Samhain as New Year’s Eve on October 31st, starting their New Year on November 1st. In Islam, they use an calendar that is based on the phases of the moon and is shorter than the solar year used in ISO 8601.

One of the most famous and longest New Year celebrations is that of the Chinese New Year which occurs around January/February each year, and in 2022 will be celebrated starting with New Year’s Eve on January 31st, followed by New Year’s Day on 1st February. The celebration, also called the Spring Festival, lasts for 16 days ending with the Lantern Festival on the full moon on February 15th. It marks the end of the coldest part of winter and the start of new beginnings. Like Easter, the exact date is based on the cycles of the moon and begins on a new moon day, usually the second new moon after the winter solstice (21st December).

During Chinese New Year, most Chinese people will get 7 days holiday at the start of the festivities and many people will begin thoroughly cleaning their houses before that to sweep out the old year and welcome in good luck for the new one. Factories are closed and people return to their families from the big cities. The Chinese zodiac has 12 houses like the Western zodiac, but whereas the Western zodiac cycles last approximately one month, the Chinese ones last a year and are named after animals such as the pig, horse and dragon. The New Year starting in 2022 will be the year of the tiger and people born within that year are predicted to be competitive, brave, confident and unpredictable. Interestingly, when it is your Chinese zodiac birth year, (known as benmingnian), it is thought that people with that birth sign (i.e. the tiger) will have their unluckiest year rather than their luckiest one. The signs come around every 12 years, so the last year of the tiger was 2010. The 12 signs of the Chinese zodiac are shown above with their corresponding New Year’s Day.

How is Chinese New Year celebrated?

Around the world, many people from China and other Asian countries celebrate by gathering with their families, eating special foods and setting off fireworks although fireworks are banned in some places due to concerns about air pollution. Many children receive red envelopes containing money. Red is a colour that symbolises good luck and traditionally people prayed to their gods or their ancestors. If you’ve seen the film “Mulan”, you will know the importance of ancestors in looking after the people, even after death. In life, people visit their elderly relatives and pay their respects by doing 3 ‘kowtows’ to the elders. A kowtow is where people kneel on the floor and bow forward, putting their head on their hands which are on the floor. It is considered the ultimate mark of respect.

Chinese New Year is also traditionally a time for fighting off demons and monsters such as a demon called Nian, and there are many myths and legends about people fighting these creatures and overcoming them. Red is supposed to be useful in fighting demons so many people also hang up red decorations such as lanterns, red chilli peppers or red paper during this time to ward off evil spirits.

It’s traditional to eat dumplings every day, although you can have too much of a good thing! And since new clothes are also believed to bring good luck, many people will add some new red clothes to their wardrobes too. At the end of the festive season is the Lantern Festival or the Yuanxiao Festival, a night of partying and freedom.

As well as trying to attract good luck, many Chinese people actively try to avoid bad luck by avoiding certain things during the New Year period. So people avoid saying negative words and don’t demand debt repayments. It is also thought to be bad luck to break a ceramic object or to clean your house on New Year’s Day. You’re not supposed to take a shower on this day or get a haircut either since using scissors, knives or other sharp objects is thought to risk bringing in bad luck.

Celebrating in your setting

Chinese New Year can be celebrated in different ways and we’ve given you a few suggestions below to help you make the most of this season. It also lasts just over 2 weeks so there will be plenty of time to try a few of our suggestions.

  1. Make some red paper lanterns and decorate your setting
  2. Cut out some silhouettes of the different zodiac animals and make mobiles or pictures – you can introduce some new words by talking about their different qualities
  3. Make some Chinese dumplings – there is a child-friendly recipe here
  4. Introduce your children to the idea of different New Years through reading books and stories such as “Maisie’s Chinese New Year” by Lucy Cousins or tell the children some traditional Chinese myths and legends
  5. Make a paper plate Chinese dragon
  6. Run a movement session based on the 12 zodiac animals getting the children to move in different ways
  7. Do some mark-making with a traditional New Year greeting
  8. “Happy New Year!”

Whatever you do, remember to send us your stories and pictures to hello@parenta.com.

More information:

Pinecone birdfeeder

Pinecone birdfeeder

If you are planning to take part in The Big Schools Bird Watch, this pinecone birdfeeder might be the perfect activity, which has been inspired by the RSPB’s craft.

Image source: Preschool Inspirations

birdfeeder steps

You will need:

  • Dried pine or fir cones
  • Bird seed
  • Raisins
  • Peanuts
  • Grated cheese
  • Suet or lard
  • A mixing bowl
  • Scissors
  • String


  1. Make your bird mix with the bird seed, raisins and peanuts and grated cheese.
  2. Leave the lard out to warm up to room temperature and then cut into small pieces.
  3. Add the lard and the bird mix into the mixing bowl and use your fingertips to mix together until the fats hold the ingredients together.
  4. Get all of your cones and loop the string around the top of them so they are secure.
  5. Use your hands to pack the bird mixture around the cones. Try to fit as much in as possible.
  6. Once you are finished put your cones into the fridge for around an hour to set.
  7. After this, you can hang up your feeders on the trees and watch the birds coming to visit for a snack!
Supporting staff and apprentices with SEND

Supporting staff and apprentices with SEND

According to The Labour Force Survey for the six months ending June 2020, employment rates in people with SEND were:

  • Depression, bad nerves or anxiety: 54.3%
  • Mental illness or other nervous disorder: 33%
  • Severe or specific learning difficulties: 26.5%
  • Autism: 21.7%

People with a learning disability have the lowest employment rate amongst disabled people. Just 5.1% of people with a learning disability have a paid job, yet around 80% can work.

For a lot of people with special educational needs such as autism, dyslexia and dyscalculia, some of the things they struggled with a school can become a positive attribute in a work situation. People with autism and ADHD can thrive in environments that suit their particular skills such as details and logical planning. Dyslexia has held many back at school but at work, people are able to focus more easily on what they can do well (such as caring for others or being creative), and work with their SEN, rather than constantly having to struggle to fit into educational ‘norms’.

The Government is committed to supporting people with SEND into adulthood and to help them secure jobs and thrive independently. It has introduced legislation to ensure that employers do not discriminate against anyone on the grounds of disability and has made it compulsory for employers to make ‘reasonable adjustments’ so that it is easier for people with SEND to find work. However, there is no doubt that there are still many barriers to full employment and promoting a culture of inclusion, diversity and understanding at work will help your setting become part of the solution.

So how can you support adults or employees with SEND in your setting?

Leadership and management

How you support your employees or apprentices will depend on each person’s needs but making a clear commitment to support any SEND staff you have is good start. It is important that this comes from the top and is written into your policies and procedures which might mean reviewing your policies on disability and inclusion, or making budgetary decisions and allocating money as necessary for any changes or adjustments you need to make.

Communication and transparency

It is vital that you also have good and honest lines of communication, and this means having a two-way dialogue and encouraging a culture of open communication and respect. You will obviously have to find out what the needs of your employees are, be they physical, sensory or supporting their mental health, so encourage staff to be open and honest. It also means being honest about what you can and cannot do within the law, but you should work towards a win-win solution if you can. It can be helpful to set up suggestion boxes to encourage new ideas and put SEND issues onto your weekly meeting agendas.

Think too about how you issue your staff communications – are you accommodating all staff if they have dyslexia, hearing- or sight-loss or need extra time to process information?

Changes to the environment

The Equality Act 2010 makes it law for all public sector organisations and some employers such as shops, local authorities and schools to make ‘reasonable adjustments’ to remove barriers that some people with disabilities face, although it is not set out as to what these adjustments are and it depends on the size of the company, the cost of the changes and whether they are practicable to make. Employers and employee should decide but they can include things like:

  • Changing the physical environment such as steps and stairways
  • Providing ramps or wider entrances and exits
  • Changing internal doors
  • Making adjustments to lighting and ventilation
  • Installing noise reduction panels or providing noise reducing headphones

Remember that small and simple changes can make a huge difference to people with sensory needs, which can boost your productivity, efficiency and staff loyalty. Think too about your other staff who may not have SEND but who may be aging as the age of the general workforce increases, who might welcome some adjustments to make their life easier.

Advice, advocacy and mental health

Be proactive and become a source of advice and information for your staff. Promote awareness days/weeks/months within your setting and take the opportunity to improve everyone’s awareness of SEND to promote inclusion and tolerance. You may be lucky enough to have an HR department if you work in a larger company, but many early years settings are small, owner-manager organisations where this is unlikely. You can still seek advice and information and there are many organisations who help people with SEND get into work such as Remploy, so do some research and see how you can help (see below). The Government runs an Access to Work scheme to help people initially apply for and get into self-employment, training or start working which you could promote at interviews or when thinking about CPD for staff. The Government’s Disability Confident scheme is designed to help employers make the most of the opportunities provided by employing disabled people. It is voluntary and has been developed by employers and representatives of disabled people to improve their employment prospects. Remember too that offering an understanding ear can go a very long way to make people feel included.


People with SEND also want to progress in their careers when they start them, so make sure you consider opportunities for CPD and career progression in your setting for people with SEND (and all staff for that matter). Many courses can be done online and remotely nowadays, removing a lot of barriers for people with SEND. Parenta run many CPD elearning courses through their training CPD webpage on everything from tissue viability to time management.

More information:

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