Being the second eldest of five children, I was always very familiar with being around 'little people'. We lived in the middle of the country and enjoyed a child hood of creating our own fun! (with a little help from Mum and Dad, of course). Being a fifteen-minute drive from the small town of Church Stretton, taking a stroll to the shops or even the park, wasn't really an option. We found fun in being outside on our bikes, playing 'schools,' having water fights and, of course, annoying one another, as siblings tend to do. I'm lucky enough to say that we did, and still do, get on with one another very well. It often comes as a surprise to most people, that we actually do enjoy each other’s company.
Looking out from our house, situated on a very steep hill, there was a ‘yet-to-be- discovered’ hub of creativity, nestled in the countryside. Formerly a cow shed, this idealistic, rural setting, was home to an amazing Dance and Drama School, where I attended classes from the age of eight, until I was eighteen.
When I began dance classes at the, then, 'Stretton School of Dance and Drama' I was quite determined that I would only learn Ballet, and possibly tap. However, the Dance School Principal, the late Mrs Griffiths, had other ideas. Apparently, I needed to learn Classical Greek Dance too, and Drama, if I was to enjoy the full benefit of being at the school.
"Classical Greek Dance? " Yes, I can almost hear you asking yourself the very same question I have been asked time and time again over the years.
'Is this the type of dance where they smash plates?'
No. I can confirm, there is no plate smashing involved in this dance style. However, there is the opportunity to dance with bows, balls, javelins and cymbals.....but that's another story!
My time spent at the Dance & Drama school, was when my interest and passion for helping others to learn, began and grew. I loved helping the younger children to learn the dance steps and I thrived on feeling I'd played a part in teaching someone a new skill. My interest in supporting and teaching children continued, and when I was asked to assist in some 'Baby Ballet' dance classes, I jumped at the chance. I couldn't think of anything more exciting, than running around in a world of make believe, with a group of wide eyed, fairy winged five-year-olds, dancing to live piano music (another person's nightmare, was my dream).
By the time I was at secondary school, I attended dance and drama classes there four times a week and developed special friendships and memories to last a lifetime. I consider myself extremely fortunate to have been a student there, and will be forever thankful for all the opportunities it gave me. The late Mrs Griffiths (School Principal and much-missed friend) was one of life's ‘characters’ and undoubtedly one of the most influential teachers I've had the privilege to know.
In 2003, I qualified as a teacher of Classical Greek Dance and I have been fortunate to share my passion for this dance style, with many young children over the years, supporting them through exams and dance competition entries. Seeing my students experience the joy of dance, in the way that I had, has been extremely rewarding
You may wonder why any of this information is relevant to my '5 IN A BOAT BOOKS' venture. Well, I suppose the answer is that dance has been such an important part of my journey to this point. Ranging from all the support I've provided children in dance classes, (as both an assistant and teacher); my experience of reciting poetry on a weekly basis; the development of creative dance classes around popular children's books and themes; to learning about rhythm, Shakespeare's Iambic pentameter and how we breathe! These experiences weave through my interests and passion for creating beautifully illustrated stories for children. In particular, I am keen to share how a book can be explored through a range of mediums, including sensory play, dance, drama to name but a few. Attending dance and drama school whilst growing up, afforded me the opportunity to explore my creativity and recognise the importance of engagement in the creative arts, throughout education and beyond.
Having graduated in 2005, with a First-Class Honours Degree in Drama, something was calling me back to once again work with younger children. I didn't have a definitive plan of my future career path, but I was fairly certain that it would involve supporting or teaching children, in some capacity.
In 2006, I began, what I considered to be, my dream job, working as a Specialist Support Assistant for a child with SEN, in a mixed Reception, Year 1 and Year 2 Class. It was the perfect role for me and I can honestly say that it didn't really feel like work at all. I was in my element, leading arts and craft activities, supporting child-initiated learning and engaging the children in a very creative curriculum. I always reflect on this time in my life, with great fondness, and still find it difficult to believe that the little Reception pupils I greeted at the door on their first day at school, have now started university!
Whilst working as a Specialist Support Assistant, I became aware of the power of children's literature in supporting learning. I was completely engrossed in using popular picture books to develop cross curricula links and realised that the possibilities for creative learning had no limit. From Jasper's Beanstalk, to the Ginormous Turnip, The Animal Boogie to Oliver's Vegetables - we were able to sing, dance, draw, cook, plant, count, act and most importantly, play! Books were treated like treasure, in this class, and ignited an interest for me, in the learning power that books have, to inspire, enthuse and create.
It was during this time, that another new interest began and, in many ways, this period in my life, was to shape the path I took for the 15 years to follow. It started with my interest in learning more about Autism and my keenness to find strategies to support young people on the spectrum. It became a passion and, in many respects, my own special interest! I was ‘hooked’ on learning about ‘all things autism-related’ and even more motivated to find the best possible strategies to help.
I remember going to Waterstones to buy my first book on Autism. From the moment I opened it, I learnt for the first time, what it truly felt like to find a book that I honestly couldn't put down. To this day, apart from my love for children's picture books, I'm an ardent fan of reading factual books that extend my learning and understanding. Since buying that first book, I haven't really looked back. I have lost count of how many books on Autism that I have stashed away, and I am certainly running out of room for resources! I like to find as many different ways as possible to reach children and am an advocate of learning as many different approaches as possible, in the hope that at least one, will provide the 'way in'.
In 2009, I gained my Post Graduate Certificate in Autism with Edge Hill University and alongside, secured a post as a Specialist Teaching Assistant for children with Autism. In this role, I would be working for the Local Authority, alongside an Autism Advisor, visiting schools in Shropshire, to provide support for young people in mainstream primary and secondary schools. Once again, I felt I had found my dream job. I worked for Woodlands Outreach, under the supervision of Val Jones, whose support and encouragement were invaluable. I had the pleasure of working with, and supporting, hundreds of young people around the county for four years. I loved my job and learnt an incredible amount from all the children I worked with. It certainly reaffirmed the well know quote 'that when you've met one child on the autism spectrum, you really have only met one child!'.
In 2013, I qualified with my Master’s in Education, specialising in SEN & Inclusion. As a result of my research, I had been able to study two curriculums, designed to support emotion regulation, and was able to bring the learning from my previous studies, to the team and to schools in the area. I began to support staff training in schools on a wide range of topics and developed an interest in the creation and provision of more bespoke training opportunities.
After having my first son Theo, in 2013, I decided it was time to embrace the next challenge and began working for Spectra Inclusion Support Team in 2014 as a Specialist Advisor - ASD (http://www.spectraautisminclusionservice.co.uk) I continued to work for Spectra, on a part-time basis, for six years. During this period, we welcomed the arrival of our daughter (Zara, now aged 5) and another son (Max, aged 2).
It has been an absolute pleasure and privilege working as a Specialist Advisor with a wonderful group of professionals and friends, that make up the Spectra team. I have been given some wonderful opportunities to develop and share my practice with schools, through both whole school and small group training sessions. I have also delivered training on Mindfulness for children with Autism at the Autism West Midlands conference.
In 2018, under the supervision of Lorraine Murray (https://teachchildrenmeditation.com/connected-kids-tutors). I qualified as a ‘Connected Kids’ tutor, enabling me to lead sessions in meditation and mindfulness, which was a huge turning point for me, both personally and professionally. The emphasis on adopting a heart-centred approach, really appealed to me and provided a welcome breather from the head-centred approach of academia and studying. I have continued to be inspired by the impact that mindful approaches can have in supporting anxiety and, more importantly, the benefits this work has, in developing a stronger sense of self.
I have recently taken some time out from my role with Spectra, to explore my interest in writing. My aim is to write a series of stories and resources for young children to help support emotional wellbeing and emotion regulation. It feels like the perfect opportunity for me to bring together my various interests and experiences, to create something tangible, that I can share, and that will hopefully support the mental health of young children in a wider context.