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family christmas

Giving children the best Christmas

By Christmas, family, Legal, Relationships, Toys

For a lot of people, Christmas is about spending time with family, but what happens when children have more than one? If not handled carefully, talk of Christmas can descend into conflict and arguments about where children spend the festive season.

In this article, Family Law Specialist, Rachael House, from Dutton Gregory Solicitors in Woking gives her tips on how to establish a Happy Christmas for all.

Top tips for child arrangements over Christmas:
1. Plan ahead
Discussions should be had as soon as possible. That way, if there is disagreement, there is time to resolve it.
2. Child first
A good way for parents to try and reach an agreement and overcome the desire to spend as much time as possible with their children, is to focus on what the child needs or wants.
3. Compromise
It is always best if parents, who know their children and what is best for them, can find a solution between themselves.
4. No point-scoring
Parents shouldn’t try and outdo each other, either in terms of time or presents.
5. Keep records
Arrangements are best confirmed in writing, (an email conversation will suffice) so there is a clear record of what has been agreed.

If you need help
If they cannot agree, a lot of parents find benefits in using mediation. This is where an independent, neutral third party assists in discussing and negotiating through a situation.

The process is voluntary, and a mediator cannot make a binding decision, but if parties can reach a solution, a ‘Memorandum of Understanding’ can be drawn up to record what parties have agreed to. In certain circumstances this be drawn up in to a Court Order, but only if it is deemed of benefit to the child.

There are alternatives to mediation. Collaborative Law is where parties sit around a table (or in different rooms if they don’t want to meet face-to-face) and engage in negotiations with the support of their solicitors providing legal advice. This too is a voluntary process and any decision is not legally binding.

A couple can also choose to undertake Arbitration where the decision of the arbitrator is legally binding on both parties. The parties jointly agree an arbitrator (a professionally trained and qualified expert who effectively performs the role of the Judge), prepares paper evidence and the arbitrator then hears from each party before making a decision. Arbitration is often a very effective way of resolving a dispute where the issues are limited or narrow, such as arrangements for Christmas.

If you want advice about Christmas, or any child contact, then contact Rachael House on 01483 755609 or

panto time

Panto time – oh yes it is!

By Christmas, dance & Art, Mental health, Music and singing, Playing, Relationships, Theatre
by Nicola Thornton
Ropetackle Arts Centre

Where’s the one place you can take all the family at Christmas and be guaranteed they will crack a smile, even those that don’t like smiling? (I’m looking at you, too-cool teenagers!)

Yes, it’s the Christmas pantomime! An explosion of noise, dry-ice, jokes, music, cheesy scripts, creaking sets and gaudy costumes that any other time of year might have us running for the hills, but at Christmas it is suddenly the best thing you’ll ever do.

panto sussexIt starts the minute you arrive at the venue. The staff and volunteers all have bright eyes and wide grins that actually look genuine, the café or kiosk is serving Christmas-themed cookies and cupcakes and Christmas pudding flavoured ice-cream. The bar is serving large glasses of everything, including delicious mulled wine. The smell of excited anticipation is everywhere.

As you take your seat, the questions start. Child number 1: “What’s behind that curtain?” Child number 2: “I think I do want to go to the loo now, can you please take me?” Spouse: “Have you got a wet-wipe?” Grandparent: “Are you sure you won’t get a parking ticket?”
Teen: “Why am I here again?”

As you answer them all with a wide grin that looks anything but genuine, something starts to happen in the wings. The curtain goes up, the lights go down and you’re off – off to that land of chaos, magic, satin, glitter and glitz, where nothing is real. You encounter a beautiful princess, a handsome prince, perhaps a genie or fairy godmother, a clown who keeps tripping up, two ends of an animal costume and some sprightly young dancers.

An ample-bosomed Dame – who often looks better than you on a good day – points out to the audience, hands-on hips – animated and proud – and keeps the show, and the gags, on the road. The villain – boo! hiss! – is dressed in black velvet and has your youngest hiding behind their hands but loving them at the same time.

You stomp, you shout, you tell them “He’s behind you!”, you laugh, you groan. You sing, you clap, you watch, you join in, and you chuckle at something that has made the Dame crease up. You pity the poor bloke two rows in front who gets mercilessly picked on and then cheer at his good-sportiness as the audience applaud. You sneak a peek at everyone in your group and you notice one thing: they are all, bar no one, absolutely caught up in the moment.

You find yourself caring that the leading character reaches their goal and lives happily ever after. You want the villain to learn a lesson and become a better person. You believe in the power of community and people working together to make a dream come true. You look around and see the same hope, joy, and wishes on everyone’s face. Pantomime is a universal, unifying experience and the joy is contagious.

At the interval, the clamber for the loos and refreshments is a messy one. Everyone discusses their favourite character, that bit that happened that clearly wasn’t in the script, the Dame’s eyelashes that look like spiders and the brilliant dancing. The fact Evie from child number 1’s class is sitting two rows behind. The noise is heightened, the excitement palpable.

The second half starts with gusto and you’re off again. The set has changed from a forest to a castle. Everyone has a different costume on, especially the Dame, who is now on her fourth outfit of the evening. There’s a touching moment when the clown and the leading light, fed up with being misunderstood by everyone else, vow to be BFFs. There’s more laughs, more slapstick, more props, more getting up and singing along – more fun, more games. There’s a moment when the leading couple find each other, against all the odds, and everyone breathes a huge sigh of relief. It’s all going to be OK.

The finale is here. The part where everyone is on stage at the same time, where a wedding may or may not take place. Where the princess looks the prettiest she has ever looked, the prince the most handsome. The costumes have changed again. The Dame makes another grand entrance; this time in her biggest, flounciest wig. The villain is welcomed, having changed for the better, learned the error of their ways. The silliest song gets sung again (and again) and you get on your feet and all join in. You catch your teen’s eye and they smile a real smile, a child again in an unguarded moment.

You wave, clap and whoop as the cast take their bows. The lights go up, the curtain falls, you gather up your brood and weave through to the exit. Two hours of escapism now over as you head back home – tired and happy, with a ringing in your ears. Another family memory made – and that repetitious song inside your head till spring…

Ropetackle Arts Centre, Shoreham-by-Sea, W. Sussex is a vibrant performing arts venue that prides itself on being family friendly.

Find out more at

boy on a bike

Cycling is ‘jogging’ for your child’s brain!

By children's health, Christmas, Education, family, fun for children, Toys

by Russell James
Glide Balance Bike Classes

Sometimes it’s the simple things in life that are the most rewarding. Learning to ride a bike without stabilisers is one of them. Once your child has a bike, cycling is a fun and free activity that they can enjoy with friends and family for life.

It’s easier to learn to cycle when you’re young and it’s a life skill that your child will have forever.

Encouraging your child to ride a bike while they’re young helps to establish healthy exercise habits that are likely to stay with them for life.

Bike riding is a skill that comes with a whole range of benefits. While most of us know that regular cycling contributes to better physical health, there are plenty of other reasons why learning to ride a bike is more important than ever. Here are just a handful of them.

Bike riding is a great way to get your children excited about outdoor exercise from an early age.

Getting outdoors is wonderful for children. They get natural sunlight, which gives them vitamin D, and they get a lot of fresh air, which allows them to get a good sleep at night. The better sleep they get, the healthier they are and the more their body will be able to grow.

Physical activities like cycling have a positive effect on your children’s brain. There’s a very simple reason for this: during physical activity, your child’s whole body, including the brain, is supplied with more oxygen-rich blood and nutrients. This enhances your child’s ability to concentrate and think creatively.

Cycling plays an important role in the overall growth of your child. Riding a bike not only improves physical fitness, it also benefits your child’s learning development and mental health, allowing them to grow mentally and emotionally, gaining strength in their decision making ability. Research shows that students who ride a bike to school are more focused and ready to learn, compared with those who are driven to school by car.

Taking part in regirl unsteady on bikegular physical activity also has links to increased happiness, as well as giving children more opportunities to make friends and social connections.

Cycling is an activity that all ages can enjoy. Mums, dads, children and even grandparents can take part in a family bike ride. It’s a great way to share some quality time, and it’s good for you too. Remember, the key to family bike rides is to have fun. So start slowly and take plenty of breaks to give little riders time to rest.

Teaching your child to ride a bike has long-term benefits for the environment. Using active transport like cycling instead of driving reduces carbon emissions, eases traffic congestion and eliminates parking problems. Less pollution and less traffic means our communities will become greener, healthier and less stressful places to live.

Bikes could be described as the perfect vehicle for transport. Once your child gets older, riding a bike becomes a quick and healthy way for them to get to and from school, sporting and play activities. Even better, it saves you time because your child won’t have to rely on you for lifts – now that’s a benefit every parent can relate to!

Jump on a bike and cycle with your children and you could see the kind of health benefits gym members dream of. Cycling raises your metabolic rate, helping you to keep the weight off. Regular cyclists are as fit as an average person 10 years younger. Cycling firms the thighs and bottom, and can even help tone the tummy muscles.

According to a recent survey a third of primary school children have not learnt to ride a bike. Glide wants to change this. Glide, teaches children from two to four years old to ride their balance bikes confidently in a group environment on a weekly basis during term-time. Glide then teaches primary school children to ride their bikes without stabilisers in two hour sessions during term-time (five children max) and three hour sessions (10 children max) during the school holidays. Lets make Britain stabiliser free!

kiddies christmas

Coping at Christmas

By Christmas, Finance, Toys

by Edmond Chan, Childline Supervisor
Photography by Tom Hull – the adults and children photographed are models

Christmas can be an exciting time when families get together to celebrate. Lots of us look forward to it all year. But Christmas isn’t a magical time for everyone.

Christmas can be a difficult time for many different reasons – from family arguments to feeling lonely. Looking at social media it’s easy to believe that everyone around you is having the perfect Christmas.

And it can be hard to escape the holiday season sometimes, particularly when you don’t enjoy Christmas and everyone’s talking about it.

One 16 year old girl who contacted Childline told our volunteer counsellors: “I lost my grandad earlier this year. This is going to be my first ever Christmas without him and I Feel really alone. I don’t know how to tell my family or what to do. I’m looking for some advice – please help.”

If your child seems to be struggling with the festive period, try not to worry. We have some tips to help you support them through what can be a very challenging time.

Family problems
Christmas can be a stressful time for even the closest of families. There might be arguments, or you might have to spend time with people you don’t like. Arguments can sometimes happen because people drink too much alcohol.

Not every family spends Christmas together. If parents are divorced or separated it’s likely children will spend time with one parent but not the other. It’s important that children feel able to say who they want to spend Christmas with, and they’re not just trying to keep everyone else happy.

No matter what difficulties are happening at home, it’s important children do things that will help them to cope. Sometimes simply making some time to listen to music they enjoy or messaging their friends can help. If things ever get too much and they don’t feel they can come to you, they can always speak to Childline.

Missing someone who’s passed away or can’t be there
When someone dies, Christmas can bring up lots of memories of them, even if it’s been a while since they died. Children might feel loss more keenly at this time because they wish they could share the festivities with them.

You could also miss someone because they can’t be there. They might be in hospital, be working or not be able to be there for some other reason. If your child is struggling because they’re missing someone:
• Encourage them to talk about how they’re feeling. That could be with you or another trusted adult like an aunt or uncle. Or they could speak to a friend.
• Make sure they have time to remember the person. Talk about what they remember, perhaps write them a letter, or look at photos of them.
• Urge them not to put pressure on themselves to behave a certain way, it’s okay to show they’re upset.
• Try making new memories at Christmas, doing something you all enjoy doesn’t mean they’ll forget the person they lost, but it can help make Things easier.

Feeling lonely or isolated
There might be lots of reasons for children to feel lonely at Christmas. They might be away from family or feel like there’s nobody they can talk to. They might have had bad experiences at Christmas before.

When they’re feeling alone or down, it’s important they don’t keep it to themselves. Talking about how they feel with someone they trust will help and it means that they can get support.

Eating problems
Celebrating Christmas often involves a lot of food and drink. If your child has a problem with food or eating, this time of year might make them worried about:
• Eating too much (binge eating)
• Not wanting to eat (anorexia)
• Eating and then making themselves sick (bulimia)

If your child is worrying about the amount they eat – or you think they might have a problem with food – remind them they can talk to a Childline counsellor about it – call us free on 0800 1111.

It’s OK not to celebrate
Not everyone celebrates Christmas. Some people might not like the time of year and others might not because of their religion of beliefs.
It might seem like everyone celebrates Christmas when every advert on TV is about Christmas, and the shops are full of decorations and gifts. But even if your family doesn’t celebrate Christmas, you can still enjoy this time of year. It’s a holiday and that means you have some time to relax, enjoy yourself and see friends and family.

Whatever worries your child might have this Christmas, let them know they can speak to you or to our trained volunteer counsellors at Childline, free and in confidence, 24 hours a day – including Christmas day.

Children can phone us on 0800 1111, log in to the Childline website for a 1-2-1 counsellor chat or send us an email via the website and we can help.

Lion king actor

More than just a story… The importance of drama

By Christmas, dance & Art, Education, family, Music and singing, Theatre

by Jess Wittert
Prep School Head of Drama, St Catherine’s Prep School

Each summer term, many primary and prep schools end their Year 6 KS2 journey with a public performance of a musical, play or even a pantomime. This is not because teachers have run out of curriculum content at the end of Year 6, or that we want all students to go on to be actors! So, why has this become a convention? In short, ‘putting on’ a play can be an incredibly rich learning experience for young people, whilst it is also an opportunity to stretch and challenge students in a range of capacities.

Stories have an important place in helping children and adults alike to understand the world we live in. Through stories we are invited to explore different cultures, characters, relationships and emotions. We can travel to new places and realms. They aid us in evolving an enhanced appreciation of ourselves and the roles we can adopt amongst our peers. Every year, I choose the story that my students will discover through our production with great care. Often, coming-of-age tales seem incredibly relevant; stories where characters go on rich adventures, face complex challenges and have no choice but to learn and grow from their mistakes. Tales where characters must work together to achieve a common goal, or where children’s voices hold important messages that are heard by the adults around them are also subjects that young people connect with and are inspired by.

If every opportunity is seized, there is wonderful scope for creating a powerful cross-curricular approach to developing a show. By learning about the literature, history, art, music, and dance that surrounds a story, we cultivate an appreciation for traditions, beliefs, design and stagecraft. As part of the preparations for our school’s recent production of The Lion King this term, the girls studied the patterns, designs and colours used in African prints before creating their own designs for fabrics, masks and marketing materials. They studied each character in the script and crafted symbols and emblems to represent them; meticulously forming links between characters who were related or belonged to the same group. Later, these were hand printed onto fabrics using block printing techniques so that they could finally be made into the cast’s costumes. Through workshops with external educators, they learnt about the importance and significance of symbolism in Adinkra printing; the rhythms and collective energy used in African drumming; and the storytelling techniques, as well as traditional movements, that can be generated through dance. We focused on the importance of recycling materials and made masks and props out of plastic milk bottles. This process was amazing – our girls were captivated by the transformation achieved with these simple objects. In addition to this, by singing songs in African dialects, we enhanced our understanding and appreciation of sounds and languages. The opportunities for extending the students’ learning through stimulating and interlinked topics are boundless.

One of the most significant aspects of all the productions that I have been privileged enough to be involved with has been the way in which the whole school community comes together to contribute towards the show. All who take part bring their own zeal, interests and attributes; we encourage everyone to become involved in an aspect of the show which they are passionate about or challenged by. Not all students, for example, want to take part as performers so they choose to acquire talents as stage managers, puppeteers, or technical assistants. Watching everyone discover what they can achieve as part of these ventures is brilliant.

It is always my hope to inspire confidence in all my students so that they leave the prep school feeling that they can achieve anything that they set their minds to. By working together as a large team with their peers, teachers, parents and helpers, they appreciate that a broad breadth of skills should be brought to any project. That being part of a community, creating links in one’s learning and sharing rich experiences is not only life enhancing but also empowering.

Before our most recent production, an 11 year old student came to my desk. “Thank you,” she said, “I really didn’t want to do it but now, it’s my destiny.” She was referring, rather effusively, to our recent Year 6 theatre production and her calling to be part of future theatrical casts. Why was she so gushing, you may ask? One could make many assumptions as to where her enthusiasm stemmed from, but simply, the experience of being part of an ensemble cast, rehearsing, crafting and performing our musical had given her a deeper sense of self-confidence, a keen interest in stagecraft, a wonderful feeling of accomplishment and team spirit, whilst she had learnt a great deal. Yet, most importantly, the event had brought real joy. Understandably, she wished that she could relive this process all over again, moving from perceived dread to elation!

“I’m going to audition for everything I can,” were the last words my student said to me as she left my desk. What a wonderful metaphor for life.

St Catherine’s Prep extend a warm welcome to parents who would like to see what this actually looks like here at St Catherine’s, Bramley with regular Open Mornings. Please visit our website for further dates and information

dicvk whittington actor

Is live theatre the key to empathy and academic achievement in children?

By Christmas, dance & Art, family, Music and singing, Party, Theatre

by Summer Jeavons
Yvonne Arnaud Theatre

During the past few years countless children have missed out on trips to the theatre – whether with their family or on school trips – due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Many things have changed during that time, but can we afford to let children and young people miss out on the experience of seeing live theatre? Dr Natasha Kirkham, a professor in Developmental Psychology at Birkbeck University doesn’t think so. She conducted a study in 2017 which that found taking children to see theatre can significantly positively affect their academic performance as well as allowing them to develop their social, emotional and cognitive skills.

In terms of the benefits of theatre on academic achievement and comprehension of set texts, seeing a play live in the theatre rather than on a screen has been found to improve children’s academic performance and engagement with set texts, as well as allowing them to achieve a deeper understanding and appreciation of the material. A two-year study conducted by the Brookings Institute found that increases in arts learning, such as engagement with theatre, significantly affect students’ school engagement, university aspirations and their likelihood of drawing on works of art as a means of empathising with others.

Exposing children and young people to theatre was also found to be a powerful tool for facilitating their self-efficacy (an individual’s belief in their capacity to act in the ways necessary to reach a specific goal) to promote positive social change, improving their ability to discuss complex and difficult subjects as well as developing their empathy.

Children’s empathy and emotional intelligence are developed through everyday interaction but they are also nurtured by music, books, and in particular, watching live theatre performances. When watching characters interact on stage, we as the audience connect with them and experience what they are thinking and feeling as if we were thinking or feeling it ourselves – we are practicing how to understand others. Having a safe space to explore difficult emotions is essential to strengthening empathetic muscles and live theatre provides the perfect platform for this. Bill English, founder of the San Francisco Playhouse, states that: “Theatre is like a gym for empathy. It’s where we go to build up the muscles of compassion, to practice listening and understanding and engaging with people that are not just like ourselves. We practice sitting down, paying attention and learning from other people’s actions. We practice caring.”

Theatre nowadays is more accessible to children and young people than ever. With shows to cater for all ages – from theatre designed for babies and toddlers, to stage adaptations of the nation’s favourite children’s books – the world of the stage is increasingly one that children and young people are welcomed into and inspired by. For older children and teenagers, theatre can start to rationalise and provide context to the complex world around them, often representing their own experiences and allowing them to feel heard and that their voices have value. At a time when they are likely to be struggling to establish their identity, theatre can be absolutely invaluable.

Taking your family to the theatre can be a fantastic way of making lasting memories and spending real quality time together. For children (and grownups!) going to see a play feels like something special, something out of the ordinary. Whether it’s the grandeur of the building itself, finding your red velvet seats or begging for a tub of ice cream in the intermission, the experience of going to the theatre is something unique before the play has even begun.

And when it comes to Christmas, there’s nothing quite as magical as taking the kids along to see a festive pantomime. Local pantos have become an institution for many families, coming along every year for adventures with all the sparkles, songs and slapstick silliness you could ask for with everyone from children to grandparents in tow! At a time when everyone is being brought together, there’s nothing quite like a panto to get the whole family humming festive tunes and full of cheer ready for the big day. With true love, a comedy dame, a grand adventure, spectacular dance routines and a heart-warming moral at the core of the story, there’s something for everyone.

Whatever age your kids are, there is always something valuable to be found from seeing theatre. Whether it’s engaging their imaginations and allowing them to dream, opening their minds to others’ perspectives or helping them to engage with and enjoy the texts they are studying at school, the experience of seeing live theatre is unequalled.

The magic of pantomime is something the whole family can enjoy and at the Yvonne Arnaud Theatre it’s always wonderful to see multi-generational families in the audience. The theatre has lots of upcoming family shows, including festive panto Jack and the Beanstalk!



ugly sisters

The power of panto!

By Christmas, Comedy, dance & Art, family, fun for children, Theatre

by The Capitol, Horsham
images by Toby Phillips Photography

For many children the only time of year they will visit their local theatre is to see a pantomime, often as a school trip, so it’s important their experience is a good one and one where some lifetime memories will be made.

Can you cast your mind back and remember the first ever pantomime you saw?

The magic of live theatre is as salient for children as it’s ever been, providing time away from screens, mobile devices and their day-to-day world into a place which is new and exciting, lots of fun and encourages imagination.

Pantomime provides a chance for children to come together with all generations of their families to see a live show which will make everyone laugh, sing along and feel happy.

The word ‘pantomime’ comes from the Greek word ‘pantomimos’, which meant a dancer who acted all the roles in the story. Pantomime, as a type of theatre, originates from ‘Commedia dell’Arte’, a 16th-century Italian entertainment which used dance, music, tumbling, acrobatics and featured a cast of mischievous characters including a Harlequin, a mute, quick-witted rascal who carried a magic bat, wore a mask and dressed in clothes made of patches.

Until 1843, theatre licensing restricted the use of spoken word in pantomime. The Theatres Act lifted the restriction, allowing any theatre without a royal patent to produce a play with dialogue.

Today the basis of a good pantomime has a storyline of good versus evil often derived from a fairy tale or nursery story. It includes colourful costumes, dancing, topical jokes with good measures of slapstick comedy, special effects and, of course, lots of audience participation.

Audience participation is important as it offers the chance for children to interact with the cast and the rest of the audience who are encouraged to boo the baddie, argue with the Dame and warn the Principal Boy the villain is near them by shouting out “He’s behind you!”

From daylight into darkness through the entrance doors, a theatre provides a sensory experience – the background music in the foyer, the smell of popcorn and pyrotechnics, the velvety feel of the theatre seats, the excitement building up to the curtain rise, flashing lights, glittery scenery and a tasty ice cream during the interval.

It’s a chance for children to see scenes brought to life with magical characters, fairies, heroes, heroines, eccentric costumes and to see things they would normally only read about in books or see in films.

Studies have proven that people who visit theatres as children are more likely to book theatre tickets throughout their adult lives broadening their cultural outlook.

In theatre and drama classes, pantomime can help develop nonverbal communication, concentration and the ability to put action and thought together. Pantomime can be incorporated in most lesson plans to encourage the students to engage in some fun and learn at the same time.

The theatre is a powerful space and can have a massive impact on a younger audience. Some children are completely overwhelmed by it all but others become curious and want answers to lots of questions: “How can I get up there to sing and dance?” “How do those lights work?” “Where does the sound come from?” “How did the baddie just ‘disappear’ off stage?”

A visit to the theatre can often spark an interest which leads to a hobby or even a pathway to a career. Drama generally builds confidence and helps concentration, develops language, communication skills, coordination and emotional intelligence helping children to understand the world around them.

With theatres being closed for such a long time during the COVID pandemic, it made many of us realise how much we missed it when it was swiped from our day-to-day lives.

Matthew Effemey, Venue and Operations Manager at The Capitol, Horsham where Cinderella will run from 8-31 December said “It’s a great responsibility to introduce the joy of pantomime to a younger audience at an impressionable age, so a good theatre must ensure that the overall experience is one to remember.”

Cinderella will run from 8th -31st December at The Capitol, Horsham


The natural nativity

By Christmas, Education
by Sally-Ann Barker
Potter’s House Preschool

It’s that time of year when Early Years practitioners are beginning to think about how to make Christmas magical for the children in their care. For a vast number of children Christmas doesn’t look like the John Lewis adverts – it’s a time of year that has the potential to spark a lot of emotions that are difficult to process and even more difficult to vocalise. So, when we think about putting on a nativity this year it’s worth asking ourselves who we’re doing it for? It’s a question I prompt my staff to ask themselves in every area of their practice several times a day. Who am I doing this for? Why? Who does it benefit? The nativity is much the same.

Many moons ago early on in my career, I assisted with nativity prep for my preschoolers – aged two to four. I watched as my manager wrote a script, sourced costumes, coached the children with lines, taught the children songs and definitely lost her mind for a good month. We all know that feeling. The children were superb; they were shining examples of confidence and resilience during every run through. I couldn’t tell you if any of them actually had any idea what was expected of them, let alone understood the nativity story at all. After a gruelling three weeks of nativity prep – during which time there was a vastly limited amount of natural learning going on – the day came for the children to perform. The little girls with blond hair were angels, the boys were shepherds and wise men, the little girl with dark hair was Mary – we’ve seen it a thousand times, let’s not even begin to talk about the politics of casting roles.

The parents, grandparents and younger siblings filled the big hall and the anticipation and excitement were palpable. I’ve always loved the buzz of a good ‘show’ and it was lovely to see the pride on the parents’ faces.

The curtains opened and the music started and the children stood stock-still. Nobody sang. Some waved at their parents, some cried, one ran off the stage and sat with their baby brother, one had an accident and one started screaming at the top of her voice in sheer terror. After a few minutes and some reassuring cuddles a few started to sing. The rest is a blur, I have vague memories of parents thanking the staff and taking pictures of the children but in between I think I probably have deliberate memory loss.

It was the last day of term so I spent the next two weeks recovering from the stress and confusion. With it being so early on in my career, I didn’t have the confidence to ask why on earth we put them through that but I’d love to go back in time and ask all the questions I should have asked then. Why did we do this? What developmental benefit was there? What message is this sending to the families who don’t celebrate Christmas? Because when you ask yourself those questions as a practitioner, it changes your perception. Our responsibility isn’t the cute photo of a little boy dressed up as a donkey for his grandma’s mantlepiece. It’s not making sure the children are able to sing ‘We wish you a merry Christmas’ word perfectly.

Our responsibility is the physical, emotional and mental wellbeing of the children in our care – their learning and development too.

For as long as the responsibility has been on me to ensure Christmas is acknowledged and celebrated within a setting, I have made an effort to remove all pressure on the children, staff and parents. I try to make it as natural as possible, there are no expectations of anyone and nobody is asked to ‘perform’. For story time we read versions of the nativity and books about how other cultures celebrate – but it’s just story time. We have a small world play nativity scene on offer and some traditional costumes available for dressing up. We have Christmas songs playing in the background and offers of card making on the table but as always, they are all offers and not requirements.

We often see a natural nativity and if we are quick enough, we can catch glimpses of it on film. We see the children decide to dress up and act out what they heard during story time because they made the connection on their own. We see the way they’ve interpreted the story and the wonderfully imaginative additions they’ve made to it – Joseph wasn’t a carpenter, he was Spiderman. We see them putting Mary on the donkey in the small world play and dinosaurs on the roof of the stable roaring loudly at the baby Jesus in the crib. Most importantly of all, we see the learning outcomes – the development of language, sequencing and imaginative thinking. We have happy children, relaxed staff and parents who aren’t up until the early hours gluing cotton wool onto a t-shirt for their baby’s sheep costume.

There is no right or wrong way to celebrate anything in your setting, provided you’re doing it for the right reasons.

For more information please contact Sally-Ann at or call 07375 379148


The RSPB’s top tips for a greener Christmas

By Christmas

As the festive season approaches, the RSPB, the UK’s largest nature conservation charity, share their top tips on how to have a Christmas that’s kinder to wildlife and the planet too.

While the festive period is wonderful, it can create tonnes of unnecessary waste each year. Wondering what you can do to help reduce your waste and impact, gift more sustainably or looking to find a new use for those items that would usually end up in the bin? The good news is, it’s easy and often cheaper to go environmentally friendly. So, with no sacrifices needed, read on for the RSPB’s top five small changes that make all the difference.

1. Oh Christmas tree
While the plastic vs. real Christmas tree debate rages on with no clear ‘green’ winner, there are thankfully options for disposing of your real tree that can help to make you a responsible Christmas tree owner.

The RSPB recommend checking if your local council is offering a tree recycling service for a cut tree, or you could consider renting a tree from a Christmas tree farm that will re-use the tree year after year. Potted trees can also be planted in your garden or re-potted in a larger tub ready for next year.

If you’re still struggling to get rid of a cut tree, cutting it up and stacking the logs in a quiet and sheltered part of the garden can provide a wonderful home for wildlife too, according to the RSPB. To find more inspiring ways to give the nature on your doorstep a home this Christmas, see the charity’s handy guides –

2. Give the gift of togetherness
Giving a gift that focuses on shared experiences often creates warmer memories and is more appreciated than a purchased gift. Getting out to a nature reserve is a great way to reconnect, and thankfully the RSPB has a great range of over 200 reserves across the UK to visit.

Family membership with the RSPB can cost as little as £6 a month, and if you take a homemade cake and a picnic you’ve got the most wonderful day out. This option is great for letting little ones blow off some steam too! To find your nearest reserve to explore, see

3. Under the tree
Supporting a charity doesn’t mean you have to set up a rolling monthly donation; the RSPB has some fantastic shops on their sites across the country stocked with unique, wildlife inspired and ethically sourced treats inside. The charity have so much more on offer than bird care products – think homeware, food and drink, cosmetics and toys and books galore – find your nearest store or shop online at

For the wildlife lover in your life, a pair of binoculars or telescope can make the perfect gift. The RSPB have a fantastic range suitable not just for wildlife experts, but beginners too. Whether it’s a pair of binoculars for the family to spot nature in your own garden, a telescope to use out birding, or compacts that make seeing wildlife on your summer hikes that little bit extra special, the charity have something for everyone. With friendly experts on hand at a range of RSPB stores on reserves across the country, head out for a lovely day out and a spot of Christmas shopping all at the same time!

If you can’t decide from the RSPB’s extensive range of gifts and treats, wrap up an RSPB gift card this year instead. What’s more, when you purchase any gift through the RSPB, there’s the added benefit that the income raised helps fund the RSPB’s conservation work too.

4. All wrapped up
There might be a lot of glitter round at Christmas time, but do you know the effect it has on the environment? Glitter is becoming a growing problem due to the microplastics used that then make their way into our oceans.

Thankfully, cutting down on glitter doesn’t need to mean cutting out little touches such as Christmas crackers and decorations, as sustainable options are becoming easily available. There are great alternatives out there – think recyclable wrapping paper, sustainable crackers, and responsible tableware and decorations.

5. Lessen the bin load
If you’re bins looking a bit full, why not upcycle? The RSPB has some crafty ways to repurpose your sweet wrappers, cardboard tubes or bottle tops while keeping the kids entertained – take a look at the charity’s creative ideas for your waste

According to the RSPB, winter is also the perfect time to be feeding your garden birds. You don’t need a fancy feeder – check out the charity’s handy video guide to making a window feeder from a recycled milk bottle

Don’t forget that some kitchen scraps, like cheese, cooked rice and potatoes provide a great energy source for birds, or you can also find out what’s best to feed the birds in winter, using the RSPB’s handy seasonal feeding guide

Finally, there are also plenty of simple switches you can make to reduce the amount of plastic and other rubbish that ends up in landfill.

Why not start with this range of range of beautifully designed homeware with nature in mind from the RSPB

The RSPB is the UK’s largest nature conservation charity, inspiring everyone to give nature a home. Together with our partners, we protect threatened birds and wildlife so our towns, coast and countryside will teem with life once again. We play a leading role in BirdLife International, a worldwide partnership of nature conservation organisations.


lonely child at christmas

Coping at Christmas

By Christmas, Mental health, Relationships
by Edmond Chan
Childline Supervisor
image by Ross Bolger

For many children and families, Christmas can be the most magical and exciting time of the year. But for many others Christmas can also be a more difficult and challenging time. This Christmas, Childline is preparing to help thousands of children and young people, both day and night, as many struggle to cope with loneliness during the festive period. There are many reasons why children may feel lonely at Christmas – some may be struggling with their mental health whilst others may be in homes that are not safe.

What is loneliness?
Children and young people don’t need to be physically alone or cut off to feel lonely. They might be surrounded by other people but still feel like they’re on their own. Maybe they’re struggling to make friends or have low self-esteem. Loneliness can make young people feel down. It’s natural for children to feel lonely at times.

Reasons why children and young people can feel lonely at Christmas can include:
• Feeling misunderstood and ‘invisible’, while those closest to them struggle to understand their feelings.
• Ever-growing influence of social media in their lives leading them to compare themselves negatively to others.
• Struggling to fit into new surroundings after moving house or changing school.
• Losing someone close to them after a death or broken relationship.
• Bullying.
• Experiencing abuse or neglect.
• Don’t get on with their family.
• Have an illness or disability.

As a result of their low mood young people will often spend a lot of time in their bedrooms or online, which can exacerbate their loneliness. In the worst cases some may feel so desperate that they self-harm to cope with their negative feelings, or may even contemplate ending their own life.

One 15-year-old girl who contacted Childline last Christmas said: “I feel sad all the time and keep thinking about suicide. I just don’t want to be here and cry all the time. I have so many bad thoughts and I am glad Christmas day is over as I feel like I should be happy and have to put on a fake smile for my family. It’s really hard to deal with life.”

What signs should parents look out for if they think their child may be struggling this Christmas?
Symptoms and signs can change from person to person but typical things to look out for include angry outbursts at themselves or others, becoming withdrawn from friends and family, irritability as well as problems eating or sleeping.

If you’re worried your child might be experiencing loneliness and unsure what to do, we have some advice to help support you both:
• Start a conversation when no-one will interrupt, perhaps during a bike ride or car journey.
• Try to stay calm if your child tells you something alarming as it may stop them from confiding in you again.
• If your child isn’t ready to talk straight away try again in a few days’ time.
• Listening is important and shows your child you value what they’re telling you.

The first step is always to talk to your child. Ensure it’s in a safe environment and talk to them about how they’re feeling.

A child should never feel so isolated and helpless that they see no way out. We all have a part to play in helping a young person before they reach crisis point. It is vital that children and young people know they always have someone to talk to and they never have to suffer alone, which is why Childline is always here for them.

Childline’s advice for children and young people who are suffering loneliness is:
• Take a break if your family is starting to annoy or upset you.
• Don’t compare your Christmas to other people’s, or what’s said on social media. Every Christmas is different.
• Tell someone you trust how you feel.
• Track how you feel in a mood journal.
• Think about positive things.
• Don’t be hard on yourself – it can take time to feel better.
• Visit the loneliness and isolation page on the Childline website for more advice.
• Call Childline free and in confidence on 0800 1111 or visit to chat to a counsellor online.

Christmas is the time of year where we think about children, and most of them are happy, excited and loved. But for some children, Christmas can be the hardest time of the year. Childline will continue to be there for all children who feel they have nowhere else to turn – this Christmas and beyond.

Children can call Childline at any time on 0800 1111,
visit or download the ‘For Me’ app.

Any adult concerned about the welfare of a child or young person can call the NSPCC helpline for free 24/7 on 0808 800 5000.

Just £4 pays for Childline to answer a call this Christmas from a child in need of support, to donate visit