Forest School and Autism

Forest School and Autism
Michael James
Jessica Kingsley Publishers

Let me say from the outset, wearing my early years teacher’s hat, I’m a firm believer in the benefits of Forest School for all children be they neuro-typical or with an autistic spectrum condition, so I was excited to receive this book, the first of its kind on Forest School and Autism.

The author, Michael James has a wealth of experience of Forest School and now runs his own Forest School in Somerset; his enthusiasm shines through in everything he says.

Having provided background chapters on both Forest School, its principles and practice, and autism (wherein he asserts crucially, ‘In order to offer autism-inclusive practice, you must view each autistic person as an individual.’), Michael goes on to discuss with the help of case studies, the positive impact of Forest School on health; its sensory benefits and the opportunities it can offer for the learning of new skills. Fun however, so the author asserts, is a primary objective.

Sensitivity and positive relationships lie at the heart of the whole of Forest School practice and the importance of empathy is paramount.

So too is observation, which is the biggest responsibility of all practitioners; how otherwise can effective communication between learners and practitioners (who need to be clear, sensitive and frequently literal) take place (each can learn from the other) and true developmental learning take place?

Crucial to the success of an inclusive practice is preparation – preparation at the outset of a course of sessions – coupled with on-going reflection and further preparation. A chapter is allocated to this and a summary of its key points, such as the importance of individual learning programmes, is given at the end. Indeed a useful summary of key points concludes the other chapters too.

This most definitely is a book to be recommended for all Forest School practitioners rather than only those who work with learners who have ASC. After all, our connection with nature enhances our humanity and focussing on a child’s strengths, abilities, sensory preferences and likes is beneficial to every learner.

All About Ben / The Giant from Nowhere

All About Ben
Dorothy Markham & Aileen O’Donnell
Jessica Kingsley Publishers

Here’s a little book for children from around five to the age of Ben, the narrator who is eight, particularly those who have attachment issues, but equally for children who have a Ben character in their lives either as a friend, member of their peer group or relation. It aims to help children like Ben understand their feelings and emotions and how these cause them to behave in certain ways; and to develop the confidence to open up to an adult who can help them manage all their different parts.

Ben introduces himself, part by part: his action parts and nine feeling parts.

He goes on to talk about and give examples of, how different situations cause him to feel different parts – when playing with friends he feels his happy part whereas falling out with a friend brings his hurt part into play;

when he helps others he feels his caring part; and it’s the combination of all these different parts that makes him who he is.

Readers are then asked about their own feeling parts to add to Ben’s lists and we learn how feeling parts affect action parts (cause and effect) – which is important for children’s self understanding.

The final pages are devoted to the crucial roles of talking and listening (including the role of a trusted adult) in the development of a secure, integrated, happy and confident person able to understand and manage his/her emotions.

Reassuring and helpful, this is a useful book to have in primary school classrooms.

The Giant from Nowhere
Frances Dickens and Peter Hughes
Jessica Kingsley Publishers

When the Giant from Nowhere sets out to find a place with some company, little does he know that his sheer size is going to cause him problems. So it is in the little village of Somewhere. Its residents are terrified when he appears in their midst, and tell him in no uncertain terms to go away. His angry response causes damage to their homes and the Giant departs.

The villagers then decide to hunt him down and put him on trial. After a newspaper report and a police search, the Giant is found and eventually a little boy succeeds in getting him to answer some questions.

A trial follows and the defendant pleads guilty. The boy speaks up for him and the judge decides on a community sentence.

To reveal what happens thereafter would spoil the ending but suffice it to say all ends happily for everybody.

This is an insiders and outsiders story that should encourage plenty of discussion on such themes as empathy, mutual understanding and inclusivity.

A class of primary children could have fun acting it out in addition to participating in some of the activities included at the back of the book.

Can I Tell You About … Auditory Processing Disorder / Forgiveness?

Can I Tell You About … Auditory Processing Disorder?
Alyson Mountjoy, illustrated by Kelly Davies
Can I Tell You About … Forgiveness?
Liz Gulliford, illustrated by Rosy Salaman
Jessica Kingsley Publishers

These are two recent additions to the excellent Can I Tell You About series aimed at primary school audiences, their families, teachers and others who work with them.

Each illustrated book has a child narrator, and in the Auditory Processing Disorder (APD) book it’s Amy who herself has the disorder. After an explanatory introduction for adults, she talks about how the condition affects her; how she got her diagnosis and how she is supported both in school and at home.

We also learn that APD isn’t the same for all those affected: one of her friends, Tom has the condition too but has different challenges to cope with. Amy’s dad also has APD but received his diagnosis after his daughter.

One of the most important things for teachers to know is the emotional strain that children like Amy are under and in addition to this being a helpful book for young readers, it’s one teachers should read too.

Amy herself ends on an upbeat note: having described both her own and Tom’s particular strengths she says, “Work hard, believe in yourself, and you can make your dreams come true too.” How adults can help a child make this so are listed in the final pages.

Forgiveness, as author Liz Gulliford states in her introduction, is a complex, frequently misunderstood concept. It’s one that she has researched for many years. Liz feels it’s important for children not to be made to apologise automatically after a dispute between classmates for instance, something that can happen in schools or between siblings at home

Here she uses Joseph as her narrator and together with his family offers a story designed to stimulate discussion on forgiveness at home and school.
Joseph talks about different scenarios – his best friend telling others something Joseph confided in him, thus breaking his trust in Billy.

He then goes on to talk of an instance when he took his sister’s ball without asking and lost it, which required not only Joelle’s forgiveness, but also self-forgiveness on his own part.

There’s also the important consideration of another of Joseph’s school friends, George who is being bullied. Perhaps forgiveness in this instance is not appropriate in case the perpetrator then goes on to bully another child. Could a degree of compassionate concern, at least from Joseph be better?

These are some of the ideas explored in this book that will certainly be a valuable resource in starting explorations of forgiveness in PSHE lessons at KS2. To this end the final pages are devoted to notes and key learning points.

Little Mole is a Whirlwind

Little Mole is a Whirlwind
Anna Llenas
Templar Books

I’ve had a Little Mole in some of the classes I’ve taught over the years: ADHD, whether or not it’s so labelled, is challenging for all involved but underneath the child who is at times making you feel deskilled is usually a youngster who is desperately trying to reach out for reassurance and help. It’s certainly the case in this new story from Anna Llenas.

With his bounding, bouncing and bellowing, Little Mole exhausts his parents.

At school he finds it almost impossible to concentrate and is constantly distracted, fiddling, fidgeting and forgetting so it’s no surprise that his classmates shun him. Sadly the little creature has all sorts of labels assigned to him.

His teacher is at the end of her tether; try as she might, she just can’t help Little Mole to focus.

A note goes home asking for a parental conference but almost simultaneously a newspaper is delivered advertising the services of ‘Serena the Forest Bunny’ offering ‘creative learning for wonderful children’. Could this be the answer?

Little Mole’s parents take him to meet Serena who thinks she might be able to help.

The following day Little Mole tells her about his worries regarding his end-of-year project, about his inability to stay focussed and his lack of friends.

In response Serena takes him to a room filled with creative materials and gives Little Mole free rein. At first he’s over-excited and soon chaos reigns.

Serena remains calm and supportive both then and on subsequent visits as they play, cook …

and even stargaze. Most importantly though, they talk, and gradually over the course of several months his concentration span increases.
Serena helps her pupil discover what he really likes to do and with her reassurance that he’s wonderful just the way he is, Little Mole is ready to work on that end-of-year project.

Come the last day of term his teacher has a wonderful surprise when it comes to project showing time. Little Mole has finally found his passion and his outlook on the world is completely changed.

Anna Llenas understands all this so well and her story, with her trademark collage style illustrations, portrays Little Mole as a thoroughly likeable character deserving of the tolerance and understanding shown by Serena.

Roxy the Raccoon / Carlos the Chameleon / Molly the Mole / Vincent the Vixen

Roxy the Racoon
Molly the Mole
Carlos the Chameleon
Vincent the Vixen

Alice Reeves and Phoebe Kirk
Jessica Kingsley Publishers

Roxy the Racoon introduces a physically challenged racoon living in the forest along with her three friends. Needing a wheelchair means that she can’t always do the same things as her pals. Visiting Brad Beaver in his dam is impossible as is playing football with Sammy and the other squirrels. Climbing the tree to call on Cherry Chipmunk is also too much of a challenge.
However after some thought each of Roxy’s friends manages to make adaptions that allow the racoon to be included in all their activities. Beaver builds a ramp, Squirrel changes the game and then the animals work together to make a hoist so that the four animals can view the sunset from the top of the tree.
The story ends with Roxy and her friends deciding to collaborate in making the whole forest an all-inclusive environment.
Part of the ‘Truth & Tails’ series this little book will help young children understand the importance of working together to remove barriers so that the differently abled can always be included. It’s a good starting point for discussion whether at home or in a classroom. To that end the author has included circle time suggestions at the end of the story.

Lack of self-confidence and feeling the need to be the same as the peer group is something that troubles many children and so it is with Carlos the Chameleon.
Herein we discover that Carlos is in the habit of changing his colour from his own bright green to that of which ever of his animal friends he wants to fit in with at any particular time. One day however when the animals discover what he’s been doing, they assure him that looking different isn’t a barrier to being friends: it’s what he is on the inside that matters. At last Carlos is free to be himself – kind, caring and a beautiful shade of green.
Molly the Mole too suffers from low self-esteem and despite being a very helpful friend she is constantly comparing herself with the other animals rather than being happy and celebrating what she has to offer. Thankfully though her friends help her to come to understand that everyone is unique and that she should believe in herself.

Vincent the Vixen introduces the tricky and complex topic of gender identity.
As is the case with Roxy the Racoon, after each story, author Alice Reeves includes helpful circle discussion points, and follow-up resources.

A useful set of books to have in a teachers’ library available to all primary school staff.

I Don’t Like Reading

I Don’t Like Reading
Lisabeth Emlyn Clark
Jessica Kingsley Publishers

Meet Harry: he likes lots of different things – drawing dinosaurs, playing football, climbing trees and playing with his friend, Tom; but if there’s one thing Harry doesn’t like, it’s reading. In fact he hates it. The words tend to make him feel dizzy; they might look so tiny he can barely see them, or huge and blurry.
Reading for Harry is total frustration and it’s worse because his little sister is always asking him to read to her.
Worst of all though, is having to read aloud at school. The mere thought of it gives him tummy ache so nervous is he.
One night though, he tells his mum how he feels.

She speaks to his teacher and from then on, with a team of helpers including the special needs coordinator and an educational psychologist, together with some aids such as coloured acetate, and Harry’s own willingness to try hard, he realises that he can read and keep on improving.
‘Harry is a very clever young boy with a dyslexic profile,’ explains the letter his mum receives a few weeks later.
And then, gradually, read he does, especially to his sister.
Written by someone who was diagnosed with dyslexia in her late teens, this illustrated story, with its strategic use of different fonts gives a taster of what reading is like for Harry and perhaps for others with dyslexia. Harry however was lucky in that his issues were dealt with relatively quickly: not everyone is that fortunate. Children who have reading problems, whether or not they have a dyslexia diagnosis shouldn’t beat themselves up about it; rather they need to treat themselves kindly and not be afraid of asking for help; this little book will, I hope, help them do just that.
All our brains are different: we all need to follow different paths to become readers.

It’s Raining and I’m Okay / Remembering Lucy

It’s Raining and I’m Okay
Adele Devine and Quentin Devine
Jessica Kingsley Publishing

Children with autism frequently show distress when unexpected changes are made to their routines. Now here’s a little book with bold, uncluttered illustrations to help such youngsters feel less anxious particularly when out and about.
The text takes the form of a little girl’s first person rhyming narrative wherein she tells how she uses focused breathing and other techniques to help her through such experiences as waiting in a long queue, going into a crowded café with challenges including spilling her drink and worrying about the consequences, an over-chatty adult and a noisy hand-dryer.

At the back of the book are details of additional resources that can be downloaded to further support emotional literacy.
Particularly useful with ASD children; but the focused breathing technique is helpful for all anxiety-prone youngsters.

Remembering Lucy
Sarah Helton and Anna Novy
Jessica Kingsley Publishers

Coping with the death of a classmate is extremely difficult whether or not a child has special needs, but often children attending a SEND school find a bereavement can be confusing and sometimes, overwhelming.
In this story young Joe talks about his particular school and friends; and in particular the death of his friend Lucy: what it meant for him and his classmates and how he coped.
Remembering is his key, for Joe tells how photographs and talking help him bring to mind the good times especially; times shared in messy painting or dressing up for instance. ‘As time goes by’ he says, ‘you will be able to think of the fun and happy times … rather than just feeling sad they are no longer there. … remembering her makes me smile.

The final seven pages are a user’s guide aimed at adults and contain lots of helpful suggestions for what to do whilst reading the book and afterwards, not only immediately afterwards but in the longer term for as the authors remind us ‘… supporting children with loss and grief isn’t a one-off event… children will re-grieve at different points in their lives … Our support needs to be ongoing.’
A down-to-earth, sensitively written and illustrated book to have on the shelves of any school where there are SEND pupils.