Guest blog- *Every child is a star…give them the chance to sparkle*

I am delighted to introduce Amelia from Kicks Dance.

Now this makes me feel very old… Amelia was in Year 5 or 6 when I first moved down south to continue my teaching career, her gorgeous mum used to be a fab colleague of mine, and I taught Amelia’s youngest sister Florence for a year too! I also need to own up to accidentally banging in their dad’s prize Audi TT one day too!! ooppps (sorry Graham!!)

Here Amelia talks about the joy she feels from making children sparkle……

“You make me feel like a fairy”


That isn’t something most people hear on a typical working day. This is why I love my job so much. If I can make a 4 year old feel like a fairy every time she steps into my class, then I’m doing my job right.
My mum started ‘Kicks Dance’ nearly 8 years ago. After being a primary school teacher for 20 years, she decided that she would take her passion for performing arts and her love of children and start a dance school. My sisters and I all danced from the age of 3 and are trained in the usual Ballet, Tap and Modern. It didn’t take long for my mum to see the benefits. We stayed fit and healthy, coordinated, had good rhythm, musicality and posture…and these were only the physical benefits. She also noticed how dance helped us become motivated, hard – working, disciplined, driven and confident. Many of our best friends we still have today are from dance. I was a very shy and timid child and suffered from anxiety and childhood depression. My mum would be the first person to tell you that I was not the same child in my dance class. I took part in competitions and danced on the stage at a young age. I felt alive when I was dancing. The child I was at school and at home was not the same child that put on ballet shoes and twirled around the hall. Dance gave me a purpose. It gave me the confidence I needed to realise I could do anything I wanted. If I learnt a really hard new step in my dance class, then I could do anything. It didn’t happen overnight, but dance made me the happy, confident person I am today.

I started dancing when I was 3 and by the time I started school, I had made friends and taken part in a class that gave me the social skills and discipline that others maybe didn’t have. My first year at school was daunting and scary, but school was always ok on the days I knew I had dance class. Dance made me excited and a happier child. However, there was never enough dance at school when I was younger. When we did do ‘dance’ classes, it was always run by a reluctant teacher, to a cassette tape, where we had to roll along the floor pretending to be a plastic bag (ironically…I had to do that in my degree as well! It isn’t any more thrilling when you are 19!).



“The best dance class I have ever seen! Bringing dance to our school was the best thing we ever did. I have never seen the boys so engaged” (a happy teacher).

Whilst there is always a place for Ballet and dance schools that offer a stricter syllabus, Kicks Dance is more about having fun, getting fit and enjoying dancing. You don’t have to be able to do flips or hold your leg behind your head. You just have to want to dance and have fun with your friends; “‘Kicks sessions are very inclusive, so even those who don’t have natural talent can participate fully” (a happy mummy). Dance often (or used to) make children feel very segregated if they weren’t good enough, or if they couldn’t get that step as quickly as everyone else. That is absolutely not what dance is about. Programmes such as ‘Strictly come dancing’ and ‘Got to dance’ have made children want to learn how to dance and it is the teacher’s responsibility to take that passion and turn it into something worthwhile.

At Kicks, we run mainly after-school, weekend & Pre-School classes, but we also teach dance as part of the curriculum in schools, during P.E sessions for Early Years to Year 6. We try to make our classes engaging for both boys and girls (yes…the boys love it too!) and when a class is delivered with passion and enthusiasm (which is very easy to achieve when teaching dance!), the children are hooked from the beginning. Without giving too many of our secrets away (!), our classes always start with some warm up songs, which the children get to know off by heart over the 6 week course…dance teaches children memory and muscle memory. We then do exercises in a circle, routines from the corner, learn a dance in the centre and then play dance based games. It is so lovely to see the excitement on a child’s face when they walk into the hall and see us and realise they don’t have to sit down and do a science lesson…they can be free! The smiles when they work out how to do a step that they have been struggling with, is what makes our jobs worthwhile. Dance teaches children perseverance and patience.


They don’t realise that the clapping they are doing in that routine is helping them with their rhythm, which in turn is helping them grasp that really hard step in the other routine. They don’t realise that when asked to “freeze on one leg” their core muscles are engaged and their coordination is improving. Whilst they are stood watching in delight as their friends dance from the corner, they are learning to wait their turn. When they decide to hop on one foot, with their arms circling above their head, all they see is fun. We see creativity, coordination and an improvement in gross motor skills. When the Early Years children come into our after-school classes and get changed for dance, they are continuing what they are learning during the school day – getting dressed without mummy’s help! Learning in disguise…the best type of learning in my opinion!

“He is a much happier boy and Kicks has done that”

At Kicks we don’t make our children do anything they don’t want to do. Our catchphrase is ‘Every child is a star…give yours the chance to sparkle’. We want to help give children the confidence they deserve. We have met so many children who come to our classes as shy, timid little girls and boys who won’t let go of mummy’s leg. Within less than half a term, the change in them is immense; “My daughter always comes home happy after class. Dance class has also helped her gain some much needed confidence”.

If you look at the words I have highlighted, I don’t know how you can argue that dance and the arts isn’t one of the best privileges a child can be given:

Fit. Healthy. Coordinated. Rhythm. Musicality. Posture. Motivated. Hard – working. Disciplined. Driven. Confident. Purpose. Happy. Social. Excited. Memory. Perseverance. Patience. Creativity.


Remember, you have the ability to make a child feel like a fairy or a superhero.

*Every child is a star…give them the chance to sparkle*


By Amelia Russell
Owner Kicks Dance Horsham & Kicks Dance Crawley


Herding Cats Whilst Juggling with Ferrets – Why would anyone want to work in Early Years?

I am absolutely delighted to welcome Alister Bryce Clegg as a guest to my blog. Alistair is my favourite EYFS guru! What he says, just makes sense! I hope you enjoy reading his article here x 


Herding Cats Whilst Juggling with Ferrets – Why would anyone want to work in Early Years?

Young children are truly remarkable beings and masters of ‘the unexpected’. There is one thing that you can be certain of when you work in Early Years and that is that you can never be certain of anything!

Like the moments that you have them eating out of the palm of your hand, they gaze at you wide eyed as you deliver pearls of wisdom. Then from amongst the crowd a hand slowly rises and you pause with anticipation, waiting for confirmation that you are indeed the Worlds best teacher and that this child is going to utter a statement of learning and understanding – only to be met with the phrase ‘My Granddad’s dead’. Just three little words that can completely kill a moment! Continue reading

Anna Ephgrave- Guest Blog “In The Moment”

I am very excited to welcome the lovely Anna Ephgrave this morning…

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If you would like to read more about Anna’s work and philosophy please pop over to …


If you visited the nursery class at Carterhatch Infant School, you would see 45 children who are purposeful, calm, confident and independent.  You would see adults moving to where the children are engaged and interacting with them as they play.  You would see a superb environment that is equipped to meet the needs, interests and stages of development of each child. You would see children who are making outstanding progress.

You would not see any forward planning, nor would you see any focus activities and you would not see adults telling children which activity to do.

To work in this way involves complex arrangements and yet the reasoning is simple.  After more than 25 years teaching I am confident that this child-led approach to teaching in the early years (including Reception) is best for the children. 

In summary this is my pedagogy:-

Children are born with a natural desire to explore and learn and practitioners can support them in this.  We do this by creating an enabling environment (both physical and emotional) and through the relationships and interactions that the children experience.  We do not plan ahead, rather we remain “in the moment” with the children as they explore and learn.  We observe carefully, and enhance the learning whenever we spot a “teachable moment”.  Our observations, interactions and the outcomes are recorded afterwards.

Continue reading

Guest Blog:- Elaine Bennett, EYFS Leader, Consultant and Author

I would like to welcome Elaine Bennett- Elaine kicks off the first of our “Expert” guest blog! I hope you enjoy reading about her EYFS philosophy. Please do tag friends and colleagues, and feel free to ask any questions. I am sure Elaine would love to answer any you have! Happy reading #eyfsmatters

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I am currently the EYFS/Yr1 Leader at Friars Primary School and Nursery in Southend, Essex. My career began many years ago when I became a NNEB…I later became a teacher. As a Nursery Nurse I studied play, child development, early learning and observation in depth for two years and I strongly believe this is what has made me the practitioner I am today. I believe that the Early Years truly are the foundations for life and that every child deserves the very best opportunities to play, learn and develop at their own pace in a enabling environment supported by adults who are interested, enjoy being with them and understand them. I am in a unique position as I support practice in my own school, across the LA (as a former EYs advisor at the LA) and nationally as a consultant/trainer and writer. My particular focus in my training and writing is how children develop mathematically, the research I draw upon highlights the importance of high quality interactions, rich environments and spontaneous play to not only develop mathematical learning but those all-important characteristics of effective learning and crucial disposition and attitudes. I strive to develop positive, can-do attitudes towards maths with children, families and practitioners…in a culture when many admit to feeling the polar opposite!
I am increasingly concerned about the push towards formal, inappropriate, abstract, specific focussed learning in the EYs and into KS1. All of the evidence shows how this is damaging but still it is happening. Worryingly its happening more and more up and down the country. I believe that if we want children to flourish as readers, writers and mathematicians and (learners in general), they need strong firm prime areas, and the basic concrete understanding, knowledge and skills to enable them to fly for when they are ready and not before. I do not agree with set rigid over planned themes that follow the adults agenda instead of the child…where provision is over themed, tenuously linked and over enhanced and ultimately limited by the adult agendas…stifling creativity and child led learning. The pressure on teachers to get through so much in a day is resulting in children not being able to develop at their own pace, limiting their time to play and develop…as they more from one group to another, eg guided reading, phonics, set playtimes, assemblies…these disruptions ultimately impact on children’s progress as they never truly have to time to develop their thinking skills….and the adult who care for them do not have the time to truly get to know them. I would argue that this is in breach of the EYFS statutory requirements. It is in response to these concerns that I started the “Keeping Early Years Unique” group on Facebook…after one week we have over 750 like minded members, enjoying discussions based around best practice.
There are so many trains of thought out there about the early years…so many initiatives and schemes…and many not based on any solid theory, research or child development. I would say to anyone working with children: don’t follow anything blindly. Always know and understand why you are doing what you are doing. Develop your own ethos and principles based on what you have learned. I once heard Judith Stevens say “don’t throw the baby out with the bath water”. I stand by this…what’s good is always good no matter which government in power and what their agenda is. Ultimately children are always children and in today’s busy world with children’s mental health and poor communication in the news regularly, psed and communication have never been more important!
I am inspired by the work of pioneers such as Montessori, Froebel, Reggio Emilio, Bruner, as well as the more recent work of Ferre Laevers ,Linda Pound, Helen Bromley, Jan White, Sir Peter Williams, Community Playthings, Anna Ephgrave and Ruth Moore amongst others. And what is it that’s always good??? Play… play…play and play and practice based on children’s holistic development.

Learning and Development is one part of the EYFS. Without positive relationships (staff ,children, parents, outside agencies), enabling environments (inside and outside) and the unique child….true learning and development will not happen. These principles are so tightly woven and interlinked. So why are so many schools and settings just focussing on one of them??

Elaine is the author of the Storybook Maths series (BEAM), Everyday Maths through Everyday provision (Routledge) The building blocks of early maths (Routldege) More than Numbers (Early Education). She is also an associate consultant for Early Education and SMART Pd, (a maths specialist training company) whilst still being based in school. Her “Building Firm Mathematical Foundations in the Early Years” EYPP case study focussing on the approach to maths she has developed in her school can be found on the Foundation Years website.