Cycling on the road with children

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How can you prepare a child for the demands of cycling on a road? Some parents will balk at letting their children near roads with traffic, let alone on them. It would be foolish to pretend there are no risks involved. However, at some point your child will use roads alone – if not on a bike, then as a pedestrian or behind the wheel of a car as a young adult. Those who are used to independence and who can make risk assessments will be safer, better road users than those who have been isolated from the outside world. It doesn’t require leaping in at the deep end. Exposure to traffic is something best done by degrees.

Co-riders and passengers
To begin with your child will travel on the road under your direct control, either as a passenger in a seat or trailer or as a co-rider on a tandem or trailer-cycle. As steering and braking are under your sole control, the only impact will be on how you cycle.

You will inevitably ride in a less swashbuckling style. Mostly it’s because you are always more careful when kids are around; it’s human nature. Partly it’s because a heavier bicycle takes longer to get up to speed and to slow down, so your riding benefits from being smoother and less stop-start. Try to anticipate junctions by arriving slowly and in the right gear for setting off. Allow the extra second or two you’ll need to pull away when judging gaps in traffic.

A child on a tandem or trailer-cycle or in a cargo bike may pick up some traffic skills from you whilst you are riding. You can reinforce this by asking an older child to see if there’s anything behind and to signal left or right when needed. (You will still have to do both these things yourself if it is safe enough.)

Tandems remain useful up to the age of 11 and possibly beyond. By that age, though, most children will want to ride solo. One reason is image. The desire to conform becomes very strong and children don’t want to be seen as ‘different’ by their friends. The tandem that was once so popular may now be seen as geeky.

Chaperoned cycling
Traffic awareness develops around the age of eight to 10 years old, which is usually when school-based cycle training tends to start. Up until that time, at least, you will need to supervise your child on roads. He or she might be a proficient cyclist and yet make misjudgements about traffic.

Before you set off
Before setting out together there are some things you need to be sure of. One is that your child can stop, start, steer and otherwise be competent at cycling – on a bike that’s roadworthy. Another is that your child will respond to your instructions, doing what you say, when you say it. Do explain the reasons for this in advance: that you’re not being bossy or cross, just careful. The final requirement is that your child knows the difference between left and right. When you say ‘go left’ it’s important your charge doesn’t cycle into the centre of the road instead.

On the road
When you’re riding, it’s best if your child leads and you cycle a bike length or half a bike length behind. That way you can watch your child at all times and call out instructions. Your child should ride towards the left side of the road, but at least 50cm out from gutter, while you ride further out, possibly taking the lane. This means traffic has to come around you and can’t cut in too close to your child, who might veer or wobble or simply be freaked out by cars passing too close.

If you need to do so, it is perfectly legal to cycle side-by-side with your child. (Many drivers are unaware that cyclists can ride two abreast, so be prepared for the odd pipped horn.) It’s worth moving forward to ride alongside as you come up to a side road. Two cyclists are more visible than one, and with both of you to pass, any side-road driver is less likely to engage in the brinkmanship of edging or accelerating out in front of you.

Give encouragement as you ride along and make your instructions calm and clear.
Information should flow both ways. In particular, your child should be taught to say ‘Stopping!’ rather than halting right in front of you without warning. Ideally, your child should also signal left before pulling in to the side. (No one uses the one-armed up-down flap that signifies slowing down nowadays, and it may only confuse drivers.)

Start on easier, less trafficked roads and work up. There will be situations in which it is easier or necessary to get off the bikes. Perhaps a hill is too steep. Perhaps a junction is too complex. In time your child will be able to ride these. For now, take it one step at a time. And remember: communication, communication, communication.

Independent cycling
Independent cycling means riding on the road. Children cycling on the pavement is illegal, but there is no criminal liability for children under the age of 10, and it is tacitly accepted by everyone that the pavement is where younger children will ride. By the age of 11, however, and perhaps two or three years earlier, (if you feel they are capable of it) most children can learn to ride safely on the road without supervision – not on all roads but certainly on roads that aren’t busy and don’t have complex junctions.

Cycle training has traditionally taken place in the later years of primary school. Not only are children ready for training then, they will soon need it. The average distance from home to secondary school is 3.3 miles in England – too far to walk perhaps, but not difficult by bike. Training has moved on quite a way since the cones-in-the-school-playground days of the Cycling Proficiency Scheme. The National Standard for Cycle Training (called Bikeability) takes place largely on the road in real-world, supervised conditions. And the training itself is no longer administered by schoolteachers but by qualified, accredited cycle instructors.

Local authorities sometimes provide free or subsidised training. Your nearest cycle training provider can fill you
in about charging policy.

Taken from
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Slime time!

By | Education, fun for children, Mental health, Uncategorized | No Comments
by Sharon Me
Creator and Director of Artpod Ltd

Are your children obsessed with Slime? Have they taken over the kitchen with home-made recipes from YouTube, only for you to hear the cries of it didn’t work! Like all good recipes and experiments the devil is in the detail and with a few kitchen ingredients you can have some great fun with your children.

There are several different ways to make Slime, and you can, of course, experiment with using different ingredient sand different amounts to produce varying textures, colours and consistencies.

Here is my favourite Slime to make at home – corn flour Slime also known as Oobleck. This recipe is brilliant for all ages and abilities and is the easiest to make and play with.

• 1 cup of corn flour
• Up to a quarter cup of water
• Plastic sheet to keep your kitchen table free of mess!

Mix the ingredients together adding a small amount of water at a time in a bowl and you’re done! Yes, that’s it! The more water you add the more dribbles you will get and the more corn flour, the thicker the Slime.

This Slime is, in fact, a non newtonian fluid, which means it simply cannot make up its mind as to whether it is a liquid or a solid! A good way to explain this is by showing how different forces work.

Ask your children to try and pick up the Slime in a ball and they will find it is quite tricky to pick up and that it runs through their fingers.

Next, ask them to pick some Slime up and quickly roll it into a ball in their hands really, really fast. The motion and force of the movement will keep it in a ball until they stop rolling, at which point it will trickle through your fingers again. All very messy but great fun!

Experiment with making more Slime by increasing the quantities and your little scientists could even try walking on Oobleck! This time, make the Slime in a large washing up bowl so that it is ankle deep. Use at least two packets of 400g corn flour, add water and mix to the same consistency as before.

Then ask your little scientists to try the following experiment.

Take their shoes
and socks off, roll up trousers or skirts and then challenge them to jump up and down on the Oobleck and see what happens.

It is a good idea to hold their hands at this point as they can get very excited (also put some old towels down in advance to soak up the splashes!)

Your little scientist will find that the force of jumping up and down causes the Slime to become temporarily solid – however, the second they stop jumping they will start to slowly sink into the Oobleck, which usually creates giggles galore!

To escape from the Oobleck, lift one foot up at a time and let the Slime dribble into the bowl before stepping on to the towel and then repeat with the second foot. Again, hold their hands to help them keep their balance.

Glow-in-the-dark Oobleck
If you want to take the science a bit further you may want to try to make glow-in-the-dark Slime – all you need is cheap indian tonic water to replace the regular water in exactly the
same quantities.

Tonic water will fluoresce under ultraviolet light, owing to the presence of quinine. In fact, the sensitivity of quinine to ultraviolet light is such that it will appear visibly fluorescent
in direct sunlight. You can also try making a mini darkroom with a regular pop up tent and a small black light torch or UV torch. This will make your Slime really glow!

Cleaning up afterwards
Remove any large quantities of Slime and put it in the bin.
Any additional splashes on clothes or carpets are best left to dry as the corn flour dries back into a powder and can then be vacuumed up. Then wipe over the surface with cold soapy water.

Sharon Mee is Creator and Director of Artpod Ltd who design and deliver parties, workshops and events for all ages and abilities. Creativity and fun are at the heart of what we do!
We believe in the power of the imagination and experimentation and that through the process of creating something, magical things can happen!

Lessons for life

By | Education, Uncategorized | No Comments
by Richard Taylor-West
Headmaster, Shoreham College

A few years ago, standing at the back of an assembly hall I heard a former pupil, who was setting up at the time to make a presentation to our pupils, say “Wow, I thought we just did English and maths at school but now I see that we learnt a lot more. And I thought I had learned most of that myself.” This is a true story.

He was commenting on an assembly that had just delivered a package to about 90 pupils of what we in schools call PSHE and its broader cousin SMSC. In other words, Personal Social and Health Education and Spiritual Moral Social and Cultural education.

As a parent, you probably know a bit about PSHE, or have at least heard about it. Your children may have even come home and told you about it. They might have said something along the lines of: “Well, we did this stuff today about eating the right fruit, or whatever…” They might have said: “We looked at managing hazards and risk.” They might have said something more dramatic: “Yeah, we did drugs at school today.” This would have grabbed your attention slightly more, especially if phrased that way. Sessions in SMSC might be described differently:
“Well, we talked today about what is most important to us. Stuff about values.”

There was a time, which I remember as a young teacher, when teaching staff could be overtly cynical about this material. Perhaps I was too, once upon a time. They felt it was just a bolt-on to the real lessons, so to speak. It’s not always easy to get pupils to engage in it either – but then teaching never was straightforward.

Attitudes in schools to this kind of work have changed very positively in recent years and we think that is right. The government, and Justine Greening in particular, is beginning to take this material very seriously too, particularly in the areas of the challenges of the online world, digital safety and the complexities of positive relationships between young people. We are currently getting advice from one of the country’s leading LGBT associations, Allsorts Youth Project, in how we might be able to support all of our young people.

There has been talk that PSHE will become compulsory in schools in the next few years and, as far as our school is concerned, they will be pushing at an open door. We do strongly feel that PSHE and SMSC both generate lessons and materials for the pupils that are superb lessons for life. Our pupils, for instance, learn about budgeting: what is a loan, what are percentage rates, and what is an overdraft? Are short-term loans at 1259% a good idea? I will leave that rhetorically hanging. What does it in fact cost to run a house in Brighton and Hove? An eye opener for some! (And might enable them to appreciate their parents a little more.)

We run sessions from one end of a spectrum to another. We have tutorials on table etiquette (rather quaint you might say) but then again we have programmes that look at the dangerous and corrosive nature of peer pressure and gangs.

One thing you can certainly say is that PSHE and SMSC provide material that is rarely dull. Though the pupils will sometimes say that when asked what they have done at school. ‘Nuffin,’ is what you may hear. I would not believe that, if I were you. In most schools they are doing far from nothing and they are doing all that they can to counter the kind of junk they might be learning online!

There are parents who will perhaps be concerned that we spend too much time in schools looking at this kind of stuff. After all, what’s it got to do with their GCSEs and A-levels? Well quite a lot actually, much research says. According to the PSHE Association, which is currently working closely with the government, it is as clear as this: “We have gathered a wealth of evidence demonstrating that the knowledge, skills and attributes taught within PSHE education have a positive impact in a number of areas, including emotional well-being, academic attainment and preparation for the world of work.”

Sitting at a conference recently, I heard quite a surprising claim: one of the world’s largest online companies no longer looks for ‘straight-A pupils’ any more. What they look for are young people who have strong core values, resilience, are good at relationships, are adaptable and who have a wider sense of the world in which they live. This makes sense to us here and we are committed to delivering the best lessons for life that we can through our PSHE and SMSC programmes to all of our age groups. (We try to get the best grades for them too, of course.)

One of the most frightening things that I was reminded of at the same conference was the famous axiom that the concentration camps built by the Nazis were constructed by the finest engineers in the world. Their maths and physics were superb – but what value systems were they taught? Did they have lessons that countered prejudice and racism? Obviously not. Quite the opposite. Suddenly, PSHE looks more relevant than ever to me.

At our school, our pupils have a range of teaching days and timetabled sessions across juniors and seniors given over to PSHE and it is, along with SMSC, interwoven with form time and assemblies. We aim to cover a wide range of topics including Fundamental British Values – an understanding of democracy and compassion for others, for example – but we also give the pupils access to careers information and ways of considering themselves and their place in the world in terms of relationships. We also have a Leadership and Skills programme that challenges them to learn to face challenges – outdoor expeditions, for example – that take them outside of their comfort zones. We are certainly doing what we can to give them the best possible lessons for life.

Please call 01273 592681 to find out more about what Shoreham College can offer you, or to arrange a personal visit at any time of the school year.

A guide to spotting loneliness in children

By | children's health, Education, family, Health, Mental health, Relationships | No Comments
by Karen Dolva
CEO and co-founder of
No Isolation

Loneliness, like many psychological distresses, is difficult to spot. Recently, it has been extremely present in the national news and has been labelled an epidemic. The fact that loneliness has been increasing as a topic of discussion is very important, as one of the biggest issues is the taboo that surrounds it.

Loneliness is difficult to describe and verbalise, and children especially can struggle with this. They may understand that something is wrong, but not grasp how to verbalise their feelings, or even if they should. Spotting ‘symptoms’ of loneliness is difficult, as loneliness is a very subjective feeling. It is not possible to give a ‘one size fits all’ diagnosis. To give one could mean that some lonely children are overlooked, or children experiencing depression or anxiety are misdiagnosed.

Parents may often sense that something is wrong, but spotting and understanding the exact trigger can be difficult. Having spent the last two years researching and trying to fully comprehend the depth of the problem, I share below my best suggestions to spotting loneliness in children:

Normalise loneliness
For adults, loneliness is a stigma, which means that often we are not open enough about it with each other, let alone with our children. Creating a taboo around loneliness makes it a subject people can be very self-conscious or shy about.

As a consequence of this taboo, many people are not educated on what loneliness actually is, or what it feels like. In the British news, several people in different newspaper articles admit that they either did not recognise the feeling of loneliness or did not understand that they were lonely. They thought it was something typically experienced by older people, and that they were too young.

In truth, loneliness is a normal, but also very subjective, feeling. Typically, when simplified, the feeling is best described as a discrepancy between desired and actual social contact. Loneliness does not discriminate on age or borders, and at some point in life we all experience it. Big changes in our lives make us particularly vulnerable. Despite loneliness being something many experience, the magnitude varies from person to person.
To understand this, we have to start making loneliness a topic that we feel comfortable discussing.

Big changes make children vulnerable
As children grow older, they become more aware of big changes, and are more acutely aware of the impact that these changes can, and do, have on their environment.

This shift makes them more vulnerable to feeling lonely. This is especially common in children moving from primary to secondary school, or to a different city or country as they experience changes in their environment, their routines and their peer groups. Because this, to an adult, is ‘normal’, it can mean that those suffering from chronic loneliness and isolation during this period of childhood can be overlooked.

When talking with Dr Gerine Lodder, who researches loneliness amongst young people, she shared that “80% of parents underestimate or overestimate the level of loneliness of their child”. This could be for a number of reasons, and could include overlooking a chronically lonely child, or assuming loneliness and social isolation when the problem is quite different. To avoid this, parents should be open with their children about what these changes might mean for them, and receptive to their concerns, apprehensions or fears.

What to do when loneliness has been spotted?
Parents have the role of spotting loneliness, and discussing it
with their child. However, some cases of loneliness and social isolation are chronic, and once this is identified further help should be sought.

3-10% of children experience chronic loneliness, that cannot simply be cured by meeting new people, and may need the help of a professional. It is important that parents try to understand if the feeling is from internal or external factors, if it is new and if it is solvable. That way they can start to work on a solution.

Social isolation can be obvious in some circumstances, for example a child who has no friends or social contact and struggles to fit into their environment. Yet, as mentioned above, many can feel lonely without recognising the emotion or without actually being socially isolated.

My best tip: To spot if your child is lonely, you need to explain the emotion and normalise it. Distinguish the difference between this and other emotions, and figure out the magnitude of your child’s experience. The stigma around loneliness needs to be broken. If children learn that being lonely is a failure by them socially, then they are less likely to admit it is something they are feeling.

Being lonely is a very normal feeling that we all experience from time to time, and opening up the discussion around loneliness will help children verbalise their feeling and, in turn, allow parents to give them the help that they need.

( an Oslo-based start-up founded in 2015, with the goal of reducing involuntary social solitude.

Five benefits of arts and crafts

By | dance & Art, Education, fun for children, Relationships | No Comments
by Charlotte Baldwin
Operations Manager at IQ Cards

The majority of the time, parents and children do arts and crafts activities together as a fun way of passing the time and producing mementos of the younger years for parents to hold onto in later life. However, much more can be taken in both the short and long-term from regular art sessions, and during this highly developmental period of a child’s life, skills and tendencies can be established that are useful later on.
Parental relationships By taking time to work on enjoyable projects together, parents build upon and strengthen their relationships with their children. Children have fun and take pride in sharing their creations with their near and dear ones, whose opinions they naturally value the most. Meanwhile, parents find watching their children work an insightful experience, offering them a look into their child’s interests, emotions and development.

Experimenting with arts and crafts during the early years of a child’s life helps to build confidence. During these developmental years, there are few skills a child can pick up that are open to interpretation, as there is usually a right and wrong way to do them. Art allows a freedom not found in many other subjects that children can explore, which helps them to expand their minds and the ideas they come up with. The lack of boundaries in art is a very positive influence.

Social interaction
The importance of socialisation, especially prior to starting school, is highly underestimated, which can lead to separation anxieties and other troubles when meeting and getting to know new people. Instilling confidence in a child to be away from parents and to interact with others is vital, and can be gradually implemented in group art sessions. There are many such classes run regularly in community centres, which allow children and parents alike to meet new people. This could be especially helpful if your child has no siblings or friends nearby.

The prospective merits of creativity are often undervalued and dismissed as fun but ultimately useless in a real-world context. This couldn’t be further from the truth: it is an easily transferrable skill that can be put to good use both in and out of the workplace. All sorts of career choices, from engineering and technology to business management and teaching require creative tendencies that regular art sessions in early years can help to establish. By introducing your child to the joys of arts and crafts, you not only allow them endless fun, but also help them build a
wider skill set that will be useful in adulthood.

Motor skills
In adulthood, it is easy to take for granted the ease with which we do basic things with our bodies, and in particular our hands. Art and crafts can play a vital role in helping to develop these fundamental motor skills at a faster rate, allowing children to progress onto more commonly used skills at a quicker rate and with greater ease. By getting children experimenting with activities like cutting with scissors, beading and stickering, they become more comfortable with using their hands in different ways, and are more confident in moving on to using cutlery, fastening buttons and other such integral skills.

IQ Cards are a fundraising company that provide schools and establishments with the necessary tools to fundraise via selling high-quality and unique gifts designed by pupils. They are a Parentkind Approved Supplier.
For more information please visit

Enjoying reading puts children ahead

By | Education | No Comments

Recent research published by the National Literacy Trust reveals that three-quarters (77.6%) of primary school children enjoy reading – the highest levels ever recorded by the charity. The research also highlights the link between enjoyment of reading and attainment, showing that the longer children keep an enjoyment of reading going, the greater the benefits are in the classroom: 10 year olds who enjoy reading have a reading age 1.3 years higher than their peers who don’t enjoy reading, rising to 2.1 years for 12 year olds and 3.3 years for 14 year olds.

The research launch marks the 20th anniversary of the National Literacy Trust’s Young Readers Programme – the first-ever national school based reading for enjoyment initiative. To celebrate, the charity has published a top tips guide for parents to help get their child excited about reading, alongside a book list to inspire children to get reading, which celebrates the most popular books chosen every year of the last two decades by the children who have taken part in the Young Readers Programme.

Jonathan Douglas, Director of the National Literacy Trust, said: “20 years after we launched our Young Readers Programme – the first national reading for enjoyment initiative of its kind – we are thrilled that our research has found children’s enjoyment of reading to be at an all-time high. When children enjoy reading and have books of their own, they do better at school and later in life, so we must continue to do everything we can to inspire children to fall in love with reading for a lifetime. Parents play a vital role in when it comes to helping their child develop and sustain a love of reading, which is why we’ve published our top tips to help parents encourage their child to read and a book list with some inspirational children’s titles!”

Top tips for parents:
• Make time to read: read a bedtime story with your child every night or set a regular time to read together during the day. Little and often works best: a good ten minutes reading together is better than a difficult half hour!

• Let your child choose what
to read: your child is more
likely to develop a love of reading if they are able to choose the books they read
with you. Join your local library for free and your child can pick from a wide selection of books that suit their interests or play to their hobbies, such as football or animals.

• Explore different reading materials and formats: as well as fiction there is a world of comics, magazines, ebooks, read-along audio books and non-fiction to discover.

• Get the whole family involved: encourage your child to read with other family members like grandparents, brothers and sisters, and aunts and uncles.

• Bring stories to life: when reading stories out loud with your child, give characters different voices that match their personalities. You could pause the story and ask your child what happens next, or even try acting out parts of the story together.

• Create fun reading challenges at home: on a rainy day you could organise a treasure hunt around the house; give your child a list of things to find and see how quickly they can read the list and collect all the items.

• Be positive: praise your child for trying hard at their reading and let them know it’s alright to make mistakes.

• Be a reading role model: your child learns from you, so seeing you enjoying and valuing books can be a great inspiration.

Parents can also use the National Literacy Trust’s book list, 20 Years of Children’s Choices, to help inspire their child to read. The list celebrates the most popular books chosen every year of the last two decades by the children who have taken part in the Young Readers Programme.

For more information on the Young Readers Programme, visit

For more advice for parents to support their child to read, visit

Are children being over-protected in the digital age?

By | Education, Health, Mental health | No Comments

Heavy-handed approaches to issues around social media and digital communication such as ‘sexting’, may be damaging to children’s emotional development, according to research on childhood in the digital age, by academics at the UCL Institute of Education (IOE) and Plymouth University.



The researchers interviewed children who told them most of their online activities were relatively harmless. The children said they were aware of explicit images being passed around but had rarely been personally involved – however, parents and teachers were often unnecessarily anxious.

Some children described how their parents would monitor their phones and emails, doing regular spot-checks or even receiving copies of all their texts or online messages. In some cases, the youngsters were even tracked using GPS. Teachers, too, would examine the contents of pupils’ phones.

“There is a serious risk that the next generation of our society develops in a way that makes them think they have no right to privacy,” said Dr Leaton-Gray and Professor Phippen in their book ‘Invisibly Blighted: The digital erosion of childhood’.

The researchers argue such heavy-handed approaches can often be counterproductive, and that teenagers who do transgress online are behaving rather like those who, in the past, might have made rude gestures from the back seat of a school coach on the motorway.

Dr Leaton-Gray said: “Something that was a 10 second thing on the school bus now becomes a permanent feature of your life. We need to be a bit more laid back about the fact that it’s happening, and spend more time and energy on educating children about their privacy rights instead. To put it simply, it’s almost always
wrong to pass on images and personal data without permission, and victim blaming is not the answer.”

Punitive approaches can be unnecessary and even damaging. For example, the response to incidents of ‘sexting’ has often been to threaten to involve the police. This contradicts police guidance, which suggests those who send offensive ‘sexts’ rarely pose an ongoing threat, and that prosecution is therefore not usually the best approach. The authors argue that laws, which were designed to protect vulnerable young people from abusive adults, are actually being used against them.

Similarly, schools have often misused the Data Protection Act in defence of decisions not to allow parents to take photographs events such as plays – which are not covered by the Act – while breaching it themselves by using pupil photographs without explicit consent in their own prospectuses and on their own websites.

The authors say that schools need to face the demands of living in a digital world and that we need policy, practice and national coordination, which acknowledge, rather than shies away from, the challenges that arise from growing up in the 21st century.

Invisibly Blighted: The digital erosion of childhood’ by Sandra Leaton-Gray and Andy Phippen is published by UCL IOE Press.

Autism Spectrum Disorder

By | baby health, children's health, Education, Mental health, Relationships | No Comments

A way of life for nearly three million people

by Leila Stayton-Dyke (BSc, PGCert, MSc, BCBA)
Early Action for Autism

Autism affects more than 700,000 people in the UK – that’s over 1% of the population. If you include family members, autism is part of daily life for 2.8 million people throughout the country.

Early recognition is important in order to allow children to reach their full potential
Each person with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) has different strengths. There is not a fixed set of behaviours which result in a diagnosis of autism. There are a range of traits including difficulty with communication and social skills, and ritualistic behaviours. Diagnosis is far from simple.

Parents of a young child are likely to be given conflicting advice about when developmental milestones should occur. They may be told that ‘children are different, they learn at different rates and in different ways’, so how do we know when developmental delays are part of an underlying condition?

Autism in the early stages of development
It may be difficult to see the early signs of autism as they can be subtle or attributed to a baby simply being laid back.

The initial signs are often related to the baby’s gaze, hearing and play. A young child with autism may appear not to see people, and may look out of the corner of their eye. The child may initially appear to be deaf, but rarely actually has any loss of hearing. Children with autism may also appear to have a general lack of interest in their surroundings.

As children get older the differences in development may become more apparent. Parents may notice a lack of empathy, different reactions to sensory stimuli – for example, finding noises, textures or sensations dramatically over or under stimulating. Refusal to try unfamiliar foods or to eat in unfamiliar settings, remaining in nappies, repetitive play activities and difficulties with the world not being exactly the way they would like, may also be seen.

What should I do if I see these early signs?
Health professionals should listen to all parental concerns. Take a family member or friend to visit your GP or Health Visitor. Go with a list of concerns, no matter how small, and don’t be afraid to ask questions. What you have observed might not be a sign of autism but you know your child best.

Getting a diagnosis of autism will allow children and their families to receive the education, support and services they require as they grow older. Due to the complex nature of autism the process is time consuming. However, there are specialist services and support groups immediately available; take time to talk to other families in a similar situation and join online groups.

Early recognition means that interventions can start. Research has shown that early intervention – programmes such Applied Behaviour Analysis (ABA), Positive Behaviour Support (PBS), Speech and Language Therapy (SLT), and Occupational Therapy (OT) are highly effective in supporting a child with autism. These evidence-based practices allow children to maximise their potential and reduce the delay from the normal patterns of development.

Children with autism crave sameness and routine, and breaks from that can often cause them to become disruptive – so it’s important that interventions begin as early as possible before these patterns of behaviour become established.

Early intervention ABA programmes are fun, motivating and creative. They successfully develop areas such as communication and social skills. Teaching a child to communicate their immediate desires results in a reduction of difficult problem behaviours and is an essential and ongoing element of an ABA programme. In turn, social skills such as increased eye contact and early conversation skills are taught. When started early, teaching self-help skills enables the child to become as independent as possible, for example, getting themselves dressed in the morning. By targeting selective eating, ABA programmes ensure children have a balanced healthy diet, leading to future long-term health.

Early Action for Autism is a centre for children with autism and related developmental disorders.
We provide specialist 1:1 ABA therapy, programme consultation and individualised training.

Learning’s a risky business

By | Education | No Comments
by Richard Taylor-West
Headmaster, Shoreham College

I must say I was pleased to see a burst of common sense from a high level government officer, in the summer. Amanda Spielman, who heads up OFSTED, an organisation that sometimes causes teachers to wince, said that she was not at all sure about seeing pupils in hi-vis jackets during school trips.

She said that the culture of wrapping children in cotton wool was damaging for pupils, as it makes it difficult for them to learn to cope with normal everyday risk. I nearly jumped for joy, if I am honest. “Thank heavens,” I found myself thinking, “someone speaks common sense.” Not always what we get from government!

Almost immediately, of course, I found myself thinking that perhaps I am being a little unfair to parents. I am a parent and, after all, our children are immensely important to us and our instinct is to protect them at all costs. We are, after all, hard-wired to do it. A headmaster I know once said to me that every parent has the right to be emotional about their own children, at least once. I think he was right about that.

If we set the emotion to one side for a moment, I think Ms Spielman is right. I do think that overly protecting children cannot be good for them and I think most reasonable parents would agree. Here is the rub, however. Here is the nub of the question: how do we draw
the line?

Schools work very hard, all of the time, to ensure that we are drawing the line in the right place. People like me go to conferences about it and I should reassure parents that schools have probably never been more careful. Schools now have to abide by more legislation and rules than you can shake a stick at and, on the whole, we think we are doing the right thing by doing so.

On the other hand, it is important that we enable young people to manage risk. Taking part in the Duke of Edinburgh Award Scheme is a good example and we do that here at the College. Learning how to navigate your way across the downs, cook for yourself and work in a team, when things get tough, presents such a fabulous opportunity. We train them, of course, but they will make mistakes too – and not all mistakes can be avoided.

In our Junior School, we have a Forest School and we encourage the pupils to take part in discussions about how to make shelters, cut wood and make fires. They have a go at really doing it too and yes, they are carefully supervised, but there is an element of risk to the activities.

There are other risks too that we need to help deal with, as schools. Social media is perhaps the most pressing, in some ways. I couldn’t contact 500 million people from my LED digital watch in 1978, but children can now. That is scary, to be honest. Again, most schools work with their pupils to learn how to use these tools. We don’t take all of the machines off them, all of the time. We do not think that is the way forward and research tells us it isn’t. We do, however, tell them about the risks, how
to manage them, and we work with parents to highlight the dangers of Instagram accounts for people under 13, for instance.

Academically, there is an interesting conversation to be had too. There is always a risk that pupils will be upset by failing. Yes, there is. We need to ask ourselves, however, why that is. Do they become upset because their parents expectations are too high? Do they become unhappy because we adults have not prepared them and trained them to see failure as necessary and key to becoming successful? I believe it’s now apocryphal that Michael Jordan, the famous basketball player, was asked how he scored so many hoops. He replied something to the effect that it was because he had missed thousands before. Food for thought.

Writing in the Guardian a few years ago, the teacher and psychologist, Marc Smith commented that ‘”Those with a growth mind set view failure as a temporary stop on the way to success.” If that is genuinely the case then we need to teach pupils to have a ‘growth mind set’ and to see that each barrier, challenge and so-called failure is nothing more, on the whole, than a step to success. We also need to teach them that success has many faces.

Schools, of course, need to keep pupils safe and this can never be underestimated in terms of importance. On the other hand, we do need to help children to face challenges, allow them to make errors and give them tools with which to work on what life throws at them. If we don’t, we might not be preparing them for the world and they may never grow up. We try hard to get this right; we won’t always. Schools must be able to learn too.

Please call 01273 592681 to find out more about what Shoreham College can offer you, or to arrange a personal visit at any time of the school year.





Disconnecting to reconnect

By | Education | No Comments
by John Ingrassia
Headmaster, Windlesham School, Brighton

As a former ICT teacher and co-ordinator, I am an unlikely candidate for advocating that children should reduce the amount of computing time they enjoy. But that is exactly what I suggest. Indeed, I would not be the first person with a mild interest in computers to make this argument. The late Steve Jobs forbade his children completely from using the very same iPad his company was selling. Similarly, the co-founder of Twitter also limited his children’s access to screens.

My thoughts on this topic were crystallized several years ago after reading a book by Susan Maushart, ‘The Winter of Our Disconnect’. Fortunately for my sons, they were near the exit of their education at the time so could not ‘benefit’ from the full impact the book had on me. However, the thumping message of Susan’s book became permanently impressed on my conscience and I have since preached sanctimoniously to parents, friends and colleagues alike about the revelations of Susan’s experiment.

The ‘experiment’, as Susan refers to it, is born of a mum’s growing awareness that, although her three teenage children co-exist in her home, for the large part they are only really active in their individual cyber worlds. Family engagement, conversation, group enjoyment and interaction have all become an endangered species. Susan decides to take control and disconnect her family from all links to the World Wide Web. For the subsequent six months, Susan diarizes her observations and draws our attention to some fascinating studies on related issues. But Susan’s observations only really made the impact they did because, as often happens with observations that make an impact, they echo what we already know; in this case, that ‘connecting’ people through the phenomenon of high res screens is actually disconnecting them from face-to-face interaction and all the associated benefits.

Those of us who have been teaching longer than 15 years or so may have noted a trend in recent years towards a slightly different type of pupil progressing through our schools. Pupils now (and I accept that I am casting my net widely) tend to be less able to fill free time without devices, to compromise on their choice of games, to negotiate the rules for playing, to tolerate losing or unfavourable game decisions, to persevere through challenging problems and to develop independent ideas. Interestingly, there exists an uncanny coincidence between my initial timing of these observations and the invention of the iPad in 2010. I hasten to add that these observations are not exclusively mine. I have heard many colleagues and parents comment on the same trend for quite some time.

While most of us reading this article are either digital immigrants (born before the creation of the www in 1989) or the first generation of digital natives (born after 1989), pupils now passing through our primary schools are the second generation of natives and are therefore experiencing their formative years in a far more mature and advanced internet environment, where the gravitational pull of devices is much stronger than ever before.

The reasons for this are varied. For a start, Moore’s Law, which in 1969 predicted that computing power would double every eighteen months, has continued to hold true and even increase its pace of computing progress, resulting in high calibre computers and devices becoming the standard even for emerging users. Next, consider this: in the last five years alone, we have recorded more information on the Internet than in the entire history of mankind, thus making the surf-able landscape virtually endless. And add to that the plethora of beautifully crafted apps, the exponentially expanding YouTube universe, the movie-like qualities of online gaming, with vastly improved visual appeal and targeted marketing campaigns, not to mention the ease with which all these apps, games and social media are now instantly accessible wirelessly from any location on aesthetically adorable devices, and you start to wonder, “Four Gee, how do children ever disconnect?”

Back at Susan’s ranch, there are some surprising discoveries. Within weeks of starting the experiment, her house becomes the local haunt for nearby teenage friends who marvel at the wonders of Monopoly and other board games. Her son, a lost soul with no clear calling (of Duty, of course), digs deep into his cupboard to find a long-abandoned saxophone, which, by the end of the experiment, becomes the focus of his future ambitions. Her daughter, normally a habitual multiple social media flipper, has no option but to focus on a single homework task at a time, resulting in greatly improved grades at school. In the absence of a smartphone, previously used to access advice and opinion from the world at large, she begins to also display greater self-reliance.

Similar findings to those outlined by Maushart have been echoed by Psychologist Jean Twenge writing in The Times this year. In fact, Twenge makes her point with more disturbing statistics; for example, in the past year, Childline received more than 4000 calls from children as young as six suffering loneliness. She cites an experiment which required certain Facebook users to give up their use for a week. Those who did, ended the week ‘happier, less lonely and less depressed’ than those who didn’t. The link between increased screen time and the decay in mental health has been repeatedly confirmed in numerous other studies.

Blaming children for the way they play in this virtual playground is clearly pointless, and wrong. We created this environment, yet statistics and observations would suggest we offer little in the way of rules or guidance. Clearly, as parents and educators, we have some tough decisions to make. But then that’s our job. What is certain is that although our generation continues its age-old quest to secure a better life for our children, by giving them more screens, more time and less regulation on their devices, we risk not doing enough to make them happier, better people.

Windlesham School runs pupil-led tours of the school in action every day! Please contact 01273 553645 to arrange a visit.