Meet the Associate – Penelope Ball

This instalment of ‘meet the associate’, where we delve a little deeper into the lives and careers of the Fundamentally Children Associate Network, finds out more about our Special Educational Needs expert, Penelope Ball…



You can find out more about the Associates Network here


Over to Penelope…


1 – Could you tell us a bit about your background in children’s industries and how you got to where you are now?

Having studied a degree in Early Childhood Studies and Education at Oxford Brooke’s University, I followed a pathway in Special Educational Needs.

I then moved to London where I took a job as a Portage Worker, working in an inner London Borough. I spent 11 years in this role, becoming a trainer, before moving to Italy with my husband. Here we had our daughter, and I have had the fortune to be a stay at home mum for the last 16 months. 


2 – Could you tell us a bit about your previous role?

Portage is a home visiting service for pre-school children with additional support needs and their families. It originated in America in the 70’s where it was felt that children with learning needs were arriving into school having had no previous support, and Portage initiated the beginnings of early intervention. 

In the 11 years in my role as a home visitor, I worked with up to 90 children with special educational and health needs, working with a small caseload to offer weekly or fortnightly visits. I worked in partnership with families to break down children’s learning into small achievable steps through play ideas.

I was also involved in training, co-delivering the Portage workshop to train future Portage workers.



3 – What services can you provide to Fundamentally Children’s clients as an associate?

With a background in special educational needs, my particular expertise is with the 0-3-year-old age group, thinking about play activities to support learning, how to choose a school and manage this transition, and support on educational health and care plans (EHCP).

I also have a lot of experience of toys and can make recommendations of toys to support different areas of development in this young age group.

I can offer advice and support to parents and professionals. 


4 – What’s the best thing about working in the children’s industries?

Inspiring others to learn that play is the key to early development and how much fun it can be once you lose your inhibitions.


5 – And the worst?

With government cuts, children’s services have been greatly affected.  Specialist services are being reduced due to lack of funding, consequently, children and families in need are not getting the support they require, and fantastic services are being axed. 


6 – What’s your favourite industry event and why?

Having a love of toys and their function in supporting children’s development, I was totally inspired by the London Toy Fair


7 – If you didn’t work in your current role, what would you like to be doing and why?

A toy designer. After many years carting around a toy bag, I have often been left frustrated that with a few alterations to their design many toys could be enjoyed by more children.

If I could be a toy designer I would make toys more accessible to all.


8 – What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given from someone in the children’s industries? 

Take time to observe children, whether a parent or professional. Finding out about their unique character, their likes and dislikes will help provide the best play opportunities. 


9 – What’s your all-time favourite children’s toy or app?

I don’t think you can beat good old-fashioned wooden toys. Building blocks, train sets, puzzles….however, if I had to pick one that may not be so familiar, I love Rainbow Whirls pegging game, by Haba, there is so much potential with this toy to simply learn how to put a peg in a slot, colour matching, sorting, stacking, making patterns. I love playing with it too.


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