Can I Tell You About Nystagmus?

Can I Tell You About Nystagmus?
Nadine Neckles, illustrated by Vikas Upadhyay
Jessica Kingsley Publishers

I’ve only ever taught one child who had Nystagamus (due to his albinism). Now having read this excellent little book – the latest in the ‘Can I Tell You About series’, I feel ashamed about how little I really understood of the condition.

Herein a girl named Amber talks in a user-friendly manner about nystagamus -her ‘dancing eyes’, what this means for her in particular and about how she and other children with the condition will experience it differently, although they may share certain similarities such as taking longer to learn things. (This doesn’t mean they are any less clever than others however.)

We hear about Amber’s diagnosis (her eyes jiggle from side-to-side);

how she has to have regular eye check-ups; how she has to carefully adjust the way she sits to watch TV, preferably sitting right close to the screen; the need for her to wear glasses to prevent her ‘seeing double’ as she also has a mild squint.

Starting school presented a challenge for Amber especially the frenetic-seeming playtimes. Amber’s school has made accommodations for her condition such as adding yellow tape to the stair edges, doorframes and potential places of danger; and her mum explained nystagmus to Amber’s classmates.

When in the classroom she has a special place to sit, is never asked to share a book or computer screen and has work printed on coloured paper.

Reading itself brings its own set of challenges but again there are aids to make things less tricky for her. Depth perception is a particular challenge, so ball games, (and other things requiring rapid hand-eye co-ordination), gymnastics and running are ‘tricky’.

Of course frustrations occur but Amber’s friends are understanding and Amber herself is bold, intelligent and resilient, refusing to let nystagamus define her.

The book concludes with some information for adults, an outline of associated conditions, an important checklist for professionals, a glossary and a list of recommended resources.

Easy to understand, this book, (written by a special needs life coach and mother of a child like Amber, with nystagmus and Chromosome 18q) encompasses all the important aspects of nystagmus making it an ideal introduction for anyone wanting to learn more about the condition be they children, parents, carers, teachers, and other professionals. Line drawings by Vikas Upadhyay show Amber as the sparky individual the author presented.

Teaching Social Skills to Children with Autism Using Minecraft®


Teaching Social Skills to Children with Autism Using Minecraft®
Raelene Dundon, illustrated by Chloe-Amber Scott
Jessica Kingsley Publishers

I know from my teaching experience that children on the autism spectrum often become obsessively passionate about and often developing an enormous competence in a particular thing such as  Lego building, drumming, a certain cartoon series or drawing specific items.

The strength of the motivation towards their chosen passion tends to result in a lack of social skills: participating in Minecraft® (which is frequently called digital Lego) offers a wonderful setting to enable neurodiverse children to develop both social and communication skills. Clearly the author of this large format book, Raelene Dundon appreciates this and to that end, has created a superb resource.

Having outlined in the opening chapters the importance of social skills and how these are impaired in children with ASD, she puts the case for using group programmes, in particular Minecraft® to develop those crucial social skills.

The second part of the book comprises information on how to set up a social Minecraft® group; how to use the game for supporting such skills as holding a conversation, being interested in other people and understanding the viewpoint of another person.
Each skill, for instance problem solving,

‘being creative’ or co-operation

is succinctly presented and related to what has just happened during the specific session – this is a great tool for developing awareness in the learner.

In all there are thirty sessions (around 150 pages of photocopiable material) with smashing illustrations by Chloe-Amber Scott, making this an absolutely invaluable and comprehensive resource – a veritable goldmine – for any professional working with primary children or older students, who have ASD.

All About Feelings

All About Feelings
Felicity Brooks, Frankie Allen and Mar Ferrero
Usborne

Emotional literacy is now part and parcel of the school curriculum right from the early years, yet seldom does a week go by when we don’t read or hear of the increased concern about children’s mental health and well-being, something we in education have been highlighting for many years. So, it’s good to see a book aimed at young children to help them become aware of, and thus better able to cope with their feelings and emotions.

It’s very visual and full of bright illustrations by Mar Ferrero that make it immediately alluring to its audience be that an individual, a nursery group or early years class.

Each colourful spread is given over to a different aspect and the language used is spot on for young children.

Sections include identifying how you feel (with reference to colours of the rainbow);

why do you feel a particular way; how would you feel if? (with helpful word clouds)…

how feelings can change during a day; ‘jumbled up feelings’ and discussing your feelings.

There are suggestions for things to do that help you remain in control;

ideas to alleviate worries; ways to express feelings and emotions; ‘being kind to yourself’ and ways in which an individual can help others of all ages feel good.

The final page is for adults – notes on how best to help youngsters; things to try at home (could equally apply at school or nursery) and some on-line resources.

Young children most definitely can learn to become more mindful of how they feel and thus be better in control of their feelings. The authors of this book have done an excellent job of facilitating this and I’d strongly recommend a copy for family bookshelves and all settings where young children are learning.

One thing that struck me about both it and The Unworry Book was that little is said about the benefits of being outdoors. I highlight this after returning from a walk around Ruskin Mill in Nailsworth, near to where I live. This is in part, an establishment for neurodiverse young adults that does amazing work educating its students, with a focus on the outdoors. And, I know from experience that being outside is of enormous benefit to people of all ages from the very youngest children.

Migrations Open Hearts Open Borders

Migrations Open Hearts Open Borders
Introduction by Shaun Tan
Otter-Barry Books

llustrators from all over the world responded to the request by The International Centre for the Picture Book in Society (based at the University of Worcester) to create an original postcard for the 2017 Migrations exhibition to be displayed at Bibiana, Bratislava. The exhibition’s creators felt that the installation should reach a wider audience and this wonderful book is the outcome, although the fifty or so images representing 32 countries reproduced in their actual size herein, are only a selection of the hundreds of postcards they received.

Each of the postcards in its unique way focuses on the positive impact of the migration of peoples the world over, showing how the flow of ideas and cultures transcends borders, barriers and even bans.

The book is divided into four themes: Departures, Long Journeys, Arrivals and Hope for the Future.

I would love to show every single one of the awesome, enormously moving postcards but can only make a very small selection for this review, so have included representatives for each of the themes, which spoke to me on my very first reading.

Departures: In the end we only regret the chances we didn’t take./ It begins with a single step …                 Rhian Wyn Harrison – UK.

Long Journeys: The skies have no borders.      Christopher Corr – UK

Arrivals: New friends coming from afar / bring us different tales!                        Marcelo Pimentel – Brazil

Hope for the Future: Share the world in peace and freedom. / The Earth and its people have no owners.           Isol – Argentina

On another day I may well have picked completely different ones, such is the power of each contribution, some of which use quotes from writers including John Clare, WB Yeats, Anita Desai and Robert Macfarlane.

If ever there was a time in our increasingly fractured world when we need this treasure of a book, it’s now. Let’s hope that those of us with open hearts who want open borders continue working to make a difference for, as Shaun Tan writes at the start of this book ‘All migration is an act of imagination, a flight of imagination. A hope that frequently exercises a previously unknown human potential. … What can be done? … That’s for us, the living, the thinking and feeling: descendants through millennia of successful migration – whose ancestors dreamed of something better … It’s left for us to imagine what to do, to pass on the dividends of hope that have been invested in us.’

Re-reading his message in its entirety in a week when our UK politicians continue wrangling about how – the universe forbid it happens – we should leave the European Union, brought tears to my eyes. Everyone needs a copy of Migrations; it reaches out to us all, offering another beacon on the uphill climb towards the creation of a better world for everyone, young, old and in-between.
(All royalties are donated to Amnesty International and IBBY)

Yoga for Children and Young People with Autism

Yoga for Children and Young People with Autism
Michael Chissick, illustrated by Sarah Peacock
Jessica Kingsley Publishers

Highly experienced yoga teacher, Michael Chissick has created another absolutely smashing book, for those who teach yoga to youngsters, specifically those with autism, although much of what is included here would work well with neurotypical children too.

At the outset Michael states his case explaining that perfection is not on the agenda, so an adult-style class approach is inappropriate as is chanting.

A plan is vital; intuitive teaching won’t work with children on the autism spectrum: I know from experience they need a structure and that is what the book provides, whether the teaching is done in a mainstream school that includes children with autism or a special school where everyone being taught is on the autism spectrum. If the latter is the case, Chissick suggests three groups(his are named after trees) which can be fluid but are based on the degree of challenge both students and the teacher of the class face.

He then goes on to offer four different lesson plans – one being suitable for all students (universal) and three others – and each of the latter is progressive.

Much of the remainder of the book contains the differentiated tried and tested games, thirteen in all, some of which require additional resources that are flagged up at the outset. There are also sequences such as the Sun Salutation and some sequence games, followed by the postures themselves including ‘good sitting’

(illustrated by Sarah Peacock whose work will be familiar to those who know Michael’s other books such as Ladybird’s Remarkable Relaxation and Sitting on a Chicken .)

And of course, there are ideas for the vital ‘calming stage’ and final relaxation.

There’s a chapter on teaching yoga to children who have ASD in a mainstream classroom, followed by some case studies and extremely useful visual resources.

A wealth of experience has gone into this book: it’s a veritable treasure trove for anyone who teaches yoga to children, whatever the setting, but especially children with ASD.

Your Mind is Like the Sky / The Go Yogi! Card Set

 

Your Mind is Like the Sky
Bronwen Ballard and Laura Carling
Frances Lincoln Children’s Books

Psychologist and mindfulness teacher, Bronwen Ballard has written a book to introduce children to mindfulness. She uses similes and metaphorical language to show that our difficult thoughts and feelings are an integral part of everyone’s life and demonstrating that we all have the power to deal with them.
Sometimes she says, the mind can be like a clear blue sky but at other times it might be ‘fizzy, stormy, black and crackly’; or perhaps a ‘bit grey’.
Thoughts come and go constantly; they’re likened to the clouds – sometimes positive, pleasant white ones but at other times they become dark and negative.

For example ‘raincloud’ thoughts may well make one feel sad, cross, irritated, confused perhaps.

However there are ways to deal with them, even those that seem at first to be overwhelming and this is what the second part of the narrative discusses. The important thing to do is to acknowledge the thought but realise it’s only one of many, many in the entire sky of your mind and that way you can let that dark thought slip gently away.

The more one practices being mindful, the easier it becomes to take control and choose which thoughts to attend to.

The main narrative ends on an upbeat note reminding the young reader that, like the sky, his/her mind is bursting with amazing thoughts each one different in shape, colour and size.

There are two final spreads aimed at adults explaining concisely what mindfulness is and offering some basic ideas to try together at home.

Award-wining illustrator Laura Carlin’s soft focus, smudgy, mixed media illustrations are the ideal complement to Bronwen’s gentle narrative. Together they offer parents and carers a really helpful book to help youngsters overcome their worries.

The Go Yogi! Card Set
Emma Hughes and John Smisson
Singing Dragon

Using little humans rather than animals this time, the author, very experienced yoga teacher, Emma Hughes and illustrator, John Smisson, of the Go Yogi! book have created a set of 50 cards of popular yoga poses; and Emma has written an accompanying explanatory booklet.

The latter briefly gives the benefits of yoga for children, sets some ground rules to use and talks about how to work with a group, the names of the poses, some words on pranayama and suggests ways the cards might be used in a session – in games or for storytelling being two ideas.

It’s concise and especially useful for those who aren’t practiced in teaching yoga to children. One proviso though, I was taught that young children (under 7) should not attempt headstands as the skull may not be fully hardened.

The ‘flash cards’ themselves have a child showing a yoga asana (pose), (or in the case of paired poses, two children) set against a brightly coloured background on one side, while the reverse side shows how to get into the pose. Each card has a coloured border that suggests a possible emotional or physical benefit doing the pose might bring. Orange signifies energising; green is for calming; red for strengthening and yellow for balancing.

All in all, and I speak from experience as a specialist early years teacher and teacher of yoga to children (and adults), this little box is a real treasure for those wanting to introduce yoga to young children. I thoroughly recommend it.

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.