Language & autism (4)
Language & gender (4)
Selective mutism (3)
Developing children's communication (8)
Children's emotions (5)
Children and introversion (2)
High sensitivity (2)
Language & maths (3)
Improving adult communication (3)
Children and ICT (2)
Children & sleep (2)
Improving storytime & assembly (2)
Building vocabulary (3)

Bad Breath!
Understanding mood swings
The silent phase of EAL
Overcoming stage fright
Food poverty/language poverty
Children and trains
Speech sounds
Nelson Mandela tribute
Combating low self-esteem
Children and colour
Men and childcare
Non-verbal communication
Language and autism
'Small talk'
Children's behaviour
Music and feelings
Spelling problems
Describing children accurately
Sharing books with children
Singing and language


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How to promote bilingualism, with help from Les Deschiens

Date posted: Thursday 12th November 2015

Is it really a whole year since I was in Chiang Mai, Thailand? Yes it is. Though the bruising has long since healed, the events of that trip will be etched on my mind forever. *

The delegates on the course I was leading were teachers from international schools across South East Asia. The course was called ‘Building Confident Speakers in the Early Years’ and a major discussion point was how we can support children who are learning a second language. One issue was what advice we should give parents about learning English. In the UK we usually suggest that parents talk with their child in their home language, so that the child has a good grounding in that language. From there the children can go on to add English. (more…)

Talking and Learning With Young Children

Date posted: Monday 12th October 2015


Read a preview of Michael’s new book here.

Take care out there


Young children do not need computers! They need bubbles and balloons instead! Or ‘Hawkwind: their part in my downfall’

Date posted: Friday 25th September 2015

My children (and now grandchildren) often ask me, “What was it like to be young in Britain in the early 1970s?” It’s so hard to explain this to anyone who wasn’t there, or who was there but can’t remember because they were enjoying themselves so much at the time. I’ll try and sum it up as best I can: you were either a ‘teenybopper’ who liked Chicory Tip, or you were a ‘head’ who was ‘into’ Hawkwind.

Chicory Tip: a rubbish song, rubbish miming, rubbish video and even rubbish English on the karaoke!

But these were two extremes of a continuum. If, like most teens, you were somewhere in the middle, you could quietly appreciate Mud and T Rex for their undoubted rock ‘n’ roll roots, while dressing like a hippy and walking around with Wishbone Ash and Barclay James Harvest albums tucked under your arm, hoping to impress a passing ‘chick’.

Now that’s what I call miming. Mud: The Cat Crept In

I was 14 in 1971, and plunging headlong towards the Hawkwind extreme of the spectrum. I honestly can’t remember how I exactly ‘got into’ Hawkwind. All I knew was that they were an ‘underground band’. To me this meant that they played for free at ‘benefit’ gigs, took loads of drugs and weren’t ‘commercial’, because they didn’t release singles and none of their albums had been in the charts. And they had a bubble machine and used strobe lighting. And they had a dancer with them called Stacia, who used to cavort around the stage totally naked, except for a smattering of luminous paint.

Hawkwind : Silver Machine

In Summer 1971 I was planning to run away from home. Maybe it was testosterone, maybe it was teenage angst, but to me everything focused on my trousers. It seems that throughout history, in many cultures, trousers have always defined the man. In 1971 some guys were very well defined, because their trousers left absolutely nothing to the imagination. Do the words ‘loon pants’ mean anything to you? Here’s a photo that clearly outlines the shape many men were in.


Loon pants: Imagine there’s nothing left to the imagination

The trouble started at the beginning of the summer holidays, when my older brother decided I was grown up enough to wear his bright yellow loon pants. This was clearly a rite of passage thing, when in his eyes I emerged from being a spotty teenager with sensible straight grey trousers into a spotty teenager with the maddest trousers known in the history of bad taste. My mum was furious. “You can’t wear those!” She yelled, “What will the neighbours think?” (I was hoping their daughter would think a lot about them.)

I stormed out of the house, and nearly broke my neck as my 38-inch flares became trapped under my six-inch platform shoes. Somehow I managed to get the train to Guildford and headed straight for the record shop. A poster caught my eye (it had been carelessly attached to the wall with sellotape): Hawkwind were playing tonight at the Civic Hall! I couldn’t believe my other good eye! Why hadn’t I seen this in the NME Gig Guide? I rolled up the bottoms of my trousers and legged it as best I could over to the Civic Hall. Round the back of the building preparations were not in full swing. A lorry was parked up, but a solitary roadie was struggling to unload mountains of gear.


Stacia: Imagine the rest

“Oi mate!” he shouted at me, “You with the stupid trousers. If you give me a hand with this lot I’ll get you a free ticket for the gig, and you can come backstage and meet the band.”

Well, what would you have done? I rolled up my sleeves, and my trouser legs, and began heaving all sorts of weird and wonderful stuff out of the back of the lorry. There were massive rolls of cable, boxes marked ‘strobe lights’ and, lo and behold! an enormous crate with the bubble machine inside it! This was going to be some gig!

‘Del’ the roadie kept looking at his watch and getting increasingly agitated. “How are we going to lug all this stuff into the hall and get it set up ready for the sound check? “ He answered his own question: “I know. While I’m in the hall testing the bubble machine, you press-gang any youngsters who pass by into giving us a hand. Tell them you’re with the band and you can get them backstage tonight.” In no time an army of 14- year-old boys were heaving gear out of the truck and dragging it into the building. Del emerged from the hall just as one of the lads had discovered a small drawstring bag made of purple crushed velvet and fashioned with gold runes.

“Cheers mate!” beamed Del. “I’ve been searching for that little beauty everywhere! That’s Stacia’s sacred bag of luminous paint, and she refuses to strip off without it. The other night she wore a dress on stage and half the audience walked out. Then the bubble machine packed up and the only people left in the hall were the organisers of the benefit and a few ‘heads’, who had no idea where they were anyway.”

We all suddenly turned as we heard the tinkle of broken glass. One of the ‘road crew’ had just dropped a tiny phial containing a dark brown liquid. “Oh no!” wailed Del. “Now we are really in trouble. That was Dik Mik’s magic potion.” (Dik Mik, AKA Richard Michael Davies was Hawkwind’s legendary electronics expert. )

Del was true to his word and we all got to meet the band before the gig. They were surprisingly funny and friendly, and very ‘together’. And they all ‘digged’ my loon pants, and understood why I should want to leave home. All of them , that is, except Lemmy, who was a tad sarcastic: ” I agree with your mum,” he snarled in his trademark Brummie brogue, “Don’t leave home over a pair of trousers. Anyway, from what I can see, there’s nothing in there to be imagined.” Lemmy, not surprisingly, was eventually fired from the band.

But there was to be more drama. It was Del’s job to go to the nearest chip shop and get the band’s fish and chip super before the gig. I volunteered to go with him. As we left the dressing room Dik Mik shouted out, “And remember, I never have any vinegar on my chips!” As we were queuing up in the chippy Del explained about the vinegar. “We were doing a benefit with a few other bands and Dik Mik started hallucinating just before we went on. Ever since he’s been convinced that one of The Pink Fairies spiked the vinegar he sprinkled on his chips. The gig was a disaster, because without Dik’s electronics we sounded just like any other rock band. Then the bubble machine packed up and Stacia got the hump and refused to strip off.” The little bottle had contained Dik’s private stash of malt vinegar that he guarded as if it were the elixir of life itself. Dik was very temperamental and claimed that without vinegar on his chips he couldn’t get his ‘audio generator’ to make the right noises.

Back at the gig there was a carnival atmosphere outside, as hundreds of ‘heads’ (and 14- year-old boys trying to look like ‘heads’) queued up to get in. There was even a guy making balloon-art (You know the sort of thing, twisting thin, sausage-sized balloons into little dogs, or maybe a sword or a hat to wear.) Either he wasn’t very good at it or he was ‘on something’. He thrust one of his creations in my direction. “What’s that, man?” I drawled in my best ‘head’ manner. ”Use your imagination man, he drawled back.”It’s cosmic. Search your soul, man, and tell me what it reminds you of.” It looked like half an octopus. A chick dressed in a kaftan and a rather fetching cheesecloth smock, denim flares and clogs was listening in, so naturally I said, “My yin and yang. And my tantric karma as well.”

The balloon tamer was suitably impressed: “Wow man, that’s far out. It’s yours for 10p” The girl in the kaftan sneered and muttered, “Bloody teenyboppers” under her breath.

Unfortunately I had made a classic schoolboy error by going outside, because as the doors opened, the bouncer taking the tickets refused to listen to my plea that I was ’with the band’. I went round the back, but my way was barred by another bouncer: “Listen kid. Either buy a ticket or sod off’ was his advice. I had no money (I’d given my last 10p to the balloon artist.) So I sat outside the hall and tried to listen to the space rock music coming from inside. Suddenly the doors were flung open and a mass of 14- year-old boys stormed out. “What an absolute swizz!” complained one of the boys in a decidedly posh accent (they were from the local public school, Charterhouse). “We paid £1.50 and the bubble machine won’t work, the lights keep flashing on and off, there are no cosmic spacey sounds and dash it all, Stacia has kept all her clothes on!”

He must have realised that he was talking to a ‘head’ because just then he spotted my yin and yang tantric karma balloon. “Wow, man, that looks far out! Is it an octopus? How much do you want for it?” Without thinking, I replied, “I was with the band, but I’ve just quit for ideological and spiritual reasons. It’s meant to represent Stacia’s Shakti. Have it for nothing.” (At the time I had no idea what a ‘Shakti’ was. Now I know, because I have seen a lot of them recently in temples in Cambodia.)

I didn’t run away from home (the loon pants were too dangerous). After ‘Silver Machine’ reached number three in the charts, and their album ‘Space Ritual’ peaked at number 18, I decided the band had become too ‘commercial’ (man) and listened to Gong instead, safe in the knowledge that their albums were never going to make the charts, because they were only accessible to the initiated (i.e. discordant rubbish).

So what has this all got to do with young children and technology? Well, Hawkwind, like Pink Floyd, relied heavily on technology, and without it they would be quite ordinary. I see a lot of young children with tablets that have apparently amazingly educational games and apps on them. There’s even an app for your smartphone that when you blow into the microphone it inflates lots of virtual balloon animals. But I can’t help feeling that this type of IT is really pointless. Many games are designed to be highly addictive, and I see many young children with tablets concentrating for literally hours on their games and getting very upset when their parents tell them it’s time to stop. And by ‘very upset’ we are talking rage and even violence against parents.

But I still see young children in a state verging on ecstasy when they are given some bubbles to blow or a balloon to play with. My grandchildren love it when I get my bubble machine out in the garden. (Strangely, they are not so keen on me playing Hawkwind at the same time, with the hi fi cranked up to 11.)

And before you accuse me of being a hypocrite, because I have obviously used a computer to write this post, I’m not against IT per se. I just don’t want adults to give it to young children, and I don’t want to see it in early years settings either. But surely children need it to learn to write? Give them nice pencils and paper and spend time chatting with them about what they are creating. What about helping them to read? Share a book with them. But there are great programs to help them create pictures. Use a brush and paint and a nice big piece of paper instead.

I’m writing a book about children and mark making and early writing, and there will be no mention of using IT, apart from links to useful websites. The whole process involves hands, talk and fun. In other words, being ‘unplugged’.

To research this post I’ve been looking at loads of Hawkwind-related stuff on the net. If you don’t believe me about the balloons, take a look at this clip. If my eyes don’t deceive me, there’s a guy in the crowd holding up a bright green alien made out of balloons.

Hawkwind: I’ve got a green inflatable alien

And finally, click here to find out all about Hawkwind, but be warned, it’s NSFW (Not Suitable for Work)!

And finally finally, if you ever wonder what Hawkwind would have been like without technology here’s a frightening insight

Hawkwind unplugged : Where’s Stacia?

And finally finally finally, even The Clash and The Sex Pistols had to grow up and go acoustic. Has the world gone mad, or is it me?

Take very great care out there (man)!


Football crazy? Or how to help young children to talk, and get involved with role play. With help from The Jam and David Bowie!

Date posted: Friday 18th September 2015

Dundee. What does that word mean to you? A type of cake, maybe? A city in Scotland? The birthplace of marmalade? (According to legend a Mrs Keiller invented marmalade in Dundee in 1797 and exported it all over the globe.) The place where more jute was manufactured than any other place in the world? The city of journalism, where DC Thomson & Co produce such legendary titles as Sunday Post, The Broons, Oor Wullie, The Beano and The Dandy?


The ‘essential difference’ between men and women: or why it’s not our brains we should be focusing on. With help from Kate Bush, Ólöf Arnalds and 10 Finnish social workers!

Date posted: Saturday 12th September 2015

Britain, 1985: Margaret Thatcher’s Conservative government has a stranglehold on power. The Miners’ Strike is over and the Left are licking their wounds and preparing for what they hope will be a ‘big push’, to retain hard-fought-for rights and to save jobs and welfare benefits.

London, 1985: ‘Red’ Ken Livingstone is at the helm of the Greater London Council, and seems hell-bent on provoking Maggie Thatcher, through his support for a wide range of radical groups and actions.


Morrissey, with ‘Red Ken’ Livingstone, and Mari Wilson


Hope you are having a rockin’ summer!! (or winter) with help from Rory Gallagher, The Allman Brothers Band, Status Quo and Hale & Pace!

Date posted: Thursday 27th August 2015

Hi guys! I hope you’re all havin’ a rockin’ summer, (and are so far away from the internet that you won’t even consider reading this post, until you’re safely back home/back at work,(and have looked through all your much more important emails first.)

On the other hand, if you’re working this summer, (or live in the southern hemisphere and are in the middle of winter) I still hope you enjoy this brief trip into the crazy world of rock ‘n’ roll! (more…)

Asperger’s syndrome, autism, and bi-polar disorder: separating fiction from fact. Or did Sherlock Holmes have Asperger’s? With help from REM, Rory Hoy and Talking Heads!

Date posted: Sunday 12th July 2015


Benedict Cumberbatch as Sherlock: Elementary or plain confusing?

I read once that Sherlock Holmes probably had Asperger’s syndrome. ‘Evidence’ supporting this deduction included his attention to minute detail, ability to collect obscure facts then classify and memorize them, his social aloofness and brilliance at deduction (but not his drug dependency, I hasten to add.) Similarly Christopher, the teenage main character in the novel and play The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night- time is generally described as having either Asperger Syndrome, ‘high functioning autism’ or ‘savant syndrome’. This is despite the fact that author Mark Haddon has stated that this was not his intention and that the book is about ‘difference’. (more…)

Men’s brains/women’s brains and swearing in sign language. Or how sexism becomes entrenched through research and dodgy journalism. With help from Carly Simon, Emmylou Harris, Little Feat, Grace Slick and Jefferson Airplane!

Date posted: Monday 29th June 2015

‘Wake Up, Shake Up‘ for the Woodstock Generation?

When the truth is found to be lies/ And all the joy within you dies/
Don’t you want somebody to love?’
Jefferson Airplane, ‘Somebody to Love’ at Woodstock, 1969

“How do I prepare when a girl asks to visit my bedroom for the first time?” (more…)

‘The trouble with girls’. Or how to avoid sexism by thinking about the true meaning of common expressions, with help from Sheryl Sandberg, Kate Rusby and Dire Straits, but no help from Elton John, Eagles, The Faces or Sir Tim Hunt!

Date posted: Sunday 14th June 2015

Now you may have observed if you walk into a wall
You get a certain sensation of reality
The Incredible String Band: The Puppet Song

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Bob Marley: No woman no cry?

So far in my life, I’ve only been slapped round the face once by a woman. It was in 1975, I was 17 and we were at a party at a friend’s house. It wasn’t an extravagant bash with loads of loud music and dancing and people like me huddled in the kitchen discussing the meaning of Incredible String Band lyrics, or whether Bowie should have kept All the Young Dudes for himself rather than giving the song to Mott The Hoople. It was a small affair with a few people sitting on the floor in a circle smoking and talking about the Incredible String Band, Bowie and Mott The Hoople. (more…)

Men behaving properly in traditionally ‘female’ occupations. With help from Tom Robinson, The Clash and Bruce Springsteen!

Date posted: Monday 18th May 2015


Bruce Springsteen: The Man in Charge?

In spring 1978, 100,000 people marched six miles from Trafalgar Square to Victoria Park in Hackney, to protest against the rising tide of racism in the UK. The march, and the legendary concert afterwards, was organised by Rock Against Racism and the Anti Nazi League. The concert featured The Clash, Buzzcocks, Steel Pulse, X-Ray Spex, The Ruts, Sham 69, Generation X and the Tom Robinson Band. Reggae band Misty In Roots led the march from the back of a lorry during the carnival, though didn’t appear on the main stage. One of the main catalysts for the RAR movement was none other than dear old Eric Clapton, who at a gig in Birmingham had harangued his audience with racist language and told his stunned fans that, in his opinion, immigrants were not welcome in the UK. Many bands were horrified at Clapton’s attitude, and jumped at the chance to give their support to the cause of anti-racism. (more…)