25 October 2007

MPs urge rethink on special needs

I was reading an article today about the Education and Skills Committee's repeated call for the government to rethink its refusal to separate the assessment and funding of special educational needs, to increase parents' confidence in the operation of the system in England.

Local councils are responsible for assessing what extra help children may need in schools, as well as funding it. In 2006 around 1.5 million children, or 19% of all pupils in England's schools, were recorded as having some sort of special educational need (SEN) and around 3% have an SEN statement, which sets out the extra help to which they are entitled and follows the formal assessment in question. It is the process of getting this extra help that proves troublesome for many parents, with some taking their cases to special tribunals.

The report said it did not matter how diligent a local authority was in assessing how much help a child might need, dissatisfied families would "conclude the assessment was tainted by the need to restrict costs".

The committee first called on the government to take the responsibility for assessing the needs out of the hands of the local authorities that fund them in a report published in July 2006. But the government refused, saying this would inevitably result in a new agency to carry out assessments having to be created. However, in its latest report, the committee suggests a range of options, including assessments being commissioned by local authorities or delegating the responsibility to schools.

Committee chairman Barry Sheerman said: "We were very disappointed in the government's response to our original report on SEN, which seemed to demonstrate an unwillingness to consider alternative ways of addressing vital issues on assessment of need and service provision." He added that children with special educational needs and their families deserved better. Evidence to this follow-up inquiry showed that assessment of need could be made more independent without introducing a whole new bureaucratic structure. The report also calls for much greater transparency in how money for children with special needs is spent and it asks the government for an explicit commitment to provide a national framework for special educational needs.

Schools Minister Andrew Adonis said improving the chances for children with special educational needs was one of its priorities, which was why funding had been boosted. He said "We agree with the report that ensuring parents have confidence in the SEN system is important." He outlined a commitment to undertake research to look at the experience of parents through the process (with the tribunals service) and identify how schools, local authorities and the SEN and disability tribunal can increase parental confidence - this research should be published next summer. In the shorter term, he said that careful consideration of the ideas that the committee has put forward for increasing parents' trust in the system.

The general secretary of the NASUWT teachers' union, Chris Keates, said changes to the assessment process would be unwise stating that the MPs' recommendations were based on anecdote and perceptions about alleged conflict of interest rather than hard evidence.

I think it's interesting that the NASUWT seem to agree that the current system is adequate when nearly all parents I know have had to fight to get their child the services that they believe they need - there definitely needs to be more research to assess whether it is anecdotal or whether it is factual.

What do you think? Did you have to fight for services / the education your child deserved? Let me know!

24 October 2007

The Bercow Review

John Bercow MP has been asked by the Secretary of State for Health and the Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families to carry out an independent review of services for children and young people with speech, language and communications needs.

The review's call for evidence was launched on 16 October and will run until 18th January 2008. School staff, students and parents are invited to contribute. The evidence will contribute to an interim report to both Secretaries of State in March 2008 and a final report making recommendations in July.

Visit the Bercow Review page for more information and add your evidence to help make a difference.

23 October 2007

Carnival of Family Life

We are pleased to announce that our post: Fun Fine Motor / Sensory Activity has been included in this week's Carnival of Family Life. Blog carnivals are a great way of finding out other blogs on subjects that interest you - take a look there is lots of reading there!

To check out the
Carnival of Family Life's Index for past and future Carnival Hosts or to submit your blog posts.

Free Handhugger Pen

Spend over £5 (not including any discounts / P&P) between 23rd and 30th October 2007 and get a FREE Handhugger Pen.

These triangular writing pens have a special chunky, hard-wearing nib and washable ink. The nib is designed to give slight resistance to the paper so that it gives greater control when first learning to write. These pens are popular and comfortable for all age groups including those with fine motor difficulties as well as children learning to write.

18 October 2007

Fun Fine Motor / Sensory Activity

I just came across this activity posted on a forum in a Facebook group I'm a member of - Babies Toddlers Kids Early Learning Group Help your kids take giant leaps. It looks a fantastic way to engage children in sensory play helping them develop their fine motor skills and encourage the use of descriptive language.

All you need for this game is a pillow case and househild objects. Fill the pillowcase with anything interesting you can find around the house. The objects should be preferably small and should vary in shape and texture (and of course be safe to touch under supervision).
Here are some of the objects that you can put in the pillowcase:
  • cotton reel
  • cotton wool ball
  • small sponge
  • building block
  • marble
  • toy car
  • key
  • small teddy
  • tennis ball
  • teaspoon
  • and anything else you might find around the house!

The more objects are in the pillowcase, the more interesting the game will become.

The first and the easiest stage of the game is to sit with your baby on the floor, get them to reach inside the bag and take out one of the objects. Let the baby hold and play with the object for a while. While you are examining the object you can say things like "How does it feel?", "Is it smooth?", "Does it feel soft?", etc.

The next stage of the game can be played with children who are a little older and are beginning to talk. Again, get the child to reach for the object in the bag but before they take it out they have to guess what the object is. After they take it out ask some questions about the properties of the object (for example; What shape is it? What color is it? What do we use it for? How do we use it?).

This activity could also be used as part of a circle time activity with children taking it in turns.

17 October 2007

Is your five year old meeting the targets?

I've just been reading a report that says 'Five-year-olds short on skills'. Assessments of children observed in reception classes show only 45% of five-year-olds in England meet government goals for their learning and development. The statistics are drawn from assessments made by teachers in a child's first year of formal education - reception class looking at how far children go in reaching what are known as "early learning goals" in areas such as: personal social and emotional development; communication, language and literacy; mathematical development; physical development; creative development; and knowledge and understanding of the world. Only 35% of five-year-olds in deprived areas were reaching the early goals compared to 45% of the population as a whole.

The government has put a lot of resources into schemes designed to help lift children out of the poverty trap and improve their life chances, believing that early intervention is crucial.
Sure Start children's centres have been set up in 1,500 of the most disadvantaged areas, offering nursery or play group sessions as well as health advice and parenting classes, however this has yet to significantly improve the outcomes for these children.

So what can you do to help ensure your child meets the standards?
  • work in partnership with your child's school, attend parents evenings / curriculum advice sessions, join in with school activities and help your child with their homework,
  • don't assume that your child will learn everything they need to know in school, spend time sharing books, playing games and teaching them informally through outings and household activities

15 October 2007

My Child Magazine

I'm pleased to share with you that as Littlesheep Learning is run by me as a 'work at home mum' (WAHM) I am featured in the October issue of My Child magazine in an article about Mums in Business. The article aims to help inspire other women to take the plunge and go self-employed and begin to run their own businesses from home.

My Child is the leading magazine for parents of 3-13 year olds and covering many subjects including learning and development, the National Curriculum, family days out, health and nutrition, special needs, and great articles like riding a bike, getting enough sleep, children and technology and all the things that concern parents.

Enterprise Nation - Home Business Awards

A while back I entered Enterprise Nation's Home Business Award. In the last few weeks they announced Wendy Shand from Tots to France as the winner and distributed Finalist's Awards - you can see ours here! You can read Wendy's entry here. Some of the entries will be featured on their website and in a book that's coming out in March - so fingers crossed they include me!

10 October 2007

Littlesheep Learning Sponsor Mumszone!

We are pleased to announce that Littlesheep Learning now sponsor Mumszone; a great friendly forum for mums (and dads) to chat about parenting and every other aspect of their lives! Mumszone also has a really friendly work at home (wah) parents section.

Come and take a look!

Mumszone Parents Forum

08 October 2007

Littlesheep Learning's New Banner

I'm pleased to announce that we now have a new banner - anyone who had linked to the old one should now be seeing the new one! Thank you to Alison at Daffodil Design for all her hard work. If you would like to display our banner please contact me and I can email you the link or the file.

05 October 2007

BT Tradespace

I've just found out that Littlesheep Learning's BT Tradespace has been declared BT Tradespacer of the week - see here for details!

National Bookstart Day

Today is National Bookstart Day and the theme is Jungle Party!
Bookstart aims to provide a free packs of books to every baby and toddler in the UK, to inspire, stimulate and create a love of reading that will give children a flying start in life.
There are lots of events taking place all over the country to celebrate - we're off to one later, but if you are reading this too late to join in there are ideas for jungle related activites you can do at home; including a monkey mask, colouring sheets and special rhymesheets. There is also a suggest list of jungle related stories to share.

Our favourites from that list are:

From the author and illustrator of The Gruffalo; Monkey Puzzle, is full of the same fantastic rhymes and beautiful illustrations. Our eldest child loves to finish the rhymes and spot all the different animals.

The traditional tale Dear Zoo is a favourite from my childhood which has now been shared with both our children. We have the board book edition which has sturdy flaps so they can look at it on their own. Our youngest loves lifting the flaps and especially likes 'roaring' at the lion!

Another favourite in our house which isn't on that list is Rumble in the Jungle. From the very first poem it is an open invitation to enter the jungle and experience this wonderful collection of animal poems. This book is great and has been popular since our eldest was a toddler and now he knows most of the rhymes by heart! Written by Giles Andreae, (known to many as Purple Ronnie), and illustrated by David Wojtowycz using bright colorful pictures, the whole book an amazing combination of words and colour and fun.

Any of these three books would be ideal for use in story sacks, and check out these lovely finger puppets to celebrate the Bookstart Jungle Party.

04 October 2007

The Changing Treatment of Children with Disabilities

I've always been interested in the history of health and social care in the UK and the developments of improved understanding, care and integration for people with disabilities.

I've just read this article about the changing attitudes surrounding care for children with Down Syndrome over four generations of families with a child with Down Syndrome. It's quite eye-opening to read how recently systematic institutionalisation still occured. The article reminded me of a school my aunt taught in who were among the first to welcome children with Down Syndrome into mainstream schools which is no-longer considered unusual. I think it's great how attitudes to inclusion are improving (although I'm sure there is still a long way to go).

Well done everyone who has helped to make a difference and change the care systems - I hope that things continue to improve for all children with disabilities.

03 October 2007

New Fine Motor Activities

At Littlesheep Learning we've always stocked a range of items to help children with writing, drawing and cutting but we appreciate for children with fine motor difficulties these activities are not fun. We are now stocking a range of fine motor activities to help children develop the manipulation and dexterity skills needed whilst having fun.

I introduced you to the Floopy yesterday, in addition we now have:
  • Snap beads - brightly coloured, textured beads that snap together easily

  • Tactile beads - large tactile foam beads that make threading easy and fun
  • Chunky threading shapes - colourful and chunky, soft shapes that can be threaded in many different ways

These fine motor activities are all great for developing mathematical, sequential and sorting skills, learning colours and shapes as well as improving hand-eye co-ordination and fine motor dexterity whilst having lots of fun.

Look out for more fun fine motor activities to be added here in the future!

02 October 2007

Floopy - Threading Toy

A long time ago a friend who has a daughter with down syndrome mentioned a great threading toy - I think it was her Portage worker who showed it to her.

We've tracked it down and are now pleased to announce that we are stocking the 'Floopy' at Littlesheep Learning.

The 'Floopy' consists of a chunky, flexible, stripy pipe and six brightly coloured textured jumbo sized foam beads that can be threaded onto it. This toy is great toy for children who are starting to develop threading skills and can help improve dexterity, hand-eye co-ordination, colour recognition, tactile and fine motor skills.