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forest school benefits

Forest Schools

By Education, environment, Forest School, Green

All you need to know about education in nature

Education comes in many forms – not only do children learn from their regular school systems, but education is also a continual thing. Children are constantly learning, and one unique style of education is the Forest School.

There is an estimated 3.24 million hectares of woodland in the United Kingdom. With all this beautiful nature on our doorstep, it is no wonder that children find delight in exploring these locations. So why not grab your children and explore the outdoors?

Here, we will explore the concept of Forest Schools and the benefits they can bring for your children.

What are Forest Schools?
Forest schools are education centres which focus your child at the centre of learning, using the natural environment to encourage exploration. Practitioners nurture your child’s own curiosity rather than leading exercises. Each child might be interested in a different aspect of nature and learning, and it is the practitioner’s job to develop this intuitive exploration.

This is a holistic education approach which allows self-development for your children by letting them approach risk and problem-solving at their own rate and to their own comfort level. They are usually aimed at younger children, however there could be benefits to teenagers partaking in spending time in the natural environment too.

What are the key principles of a Forest School?
The key principles of a Forest School include child-led learning. Rather than traditional education systems which rely on a syllabus and teacher-led learning, Forest Schools encourage the curiosity and interests of your children. The children can explore as they like, using the natural textures of the landscape to educate themselves about the world around them.

This also means that, unlike traditional schools, there are no set outcomes and grading systems. While there is some planning, observations, and reviewing, the lesson plans can be altered to benefit the students and their desired learning. This a collaborative approach where your children and practitioners adjust activities and exploration together. Practitioners might provide different stimulus for your children to explore and to encourage motivated interest.

Another key principle of a Forest School is the respect and understanding of nature. Forest schools, as the name suggests, take place outside. The environment must be wide enough to encourage exploration and for easy monitoring, to protect the safety of your children.

Benefits of Forest Schools
Education through a Forest School system fosters confidence in your children. As they get to explore their environment free from influence, they can approach risks and decision making on their own. This will allow your child to develop a strong sense of self, their own boundaries, and a better understanding of their role in interactions with the environment.

Another benefit of your child attending a Forest School is it can help improve their physical wellbeing. Forest schools are centred around exploration through movement. This can refine your child’s fine motor skills, such as through detailed activities with leaves, as well as their physical stamina from prolonged periods of movement.

This can also develop their social skills and communication abilities. As they learn to interact with other children and their environments, they will begin to further develop their language capabilities – including communicating their wants and needs as they lead their own exploration. They might also learn to recognise their own influence on the group as play and sharing will be encouraged with the other children.

Whether you are wanting to encourage your children to spend more time away from their devices, or you would like to try a different method of learning, placing your child within a Forest School could help them develop a better sense of self, their environment, and empathy with other children. Through natural exploration, your child can develop their fine motor skills outside of the nursery by taking time to examine different textures and environments. What is a better way to learn than to spend some time away from the comfort of home and in the fresh air?

For further information please visit

playing outdoors

10 reasons the outdoors makes us happy

By environment, Forest School, Green, Health, Mental health, Nature

We love getting out in the great outdoors – there are so many places to explore like local parks, forests and beaches. We have put together 10 reasons the outdoors make us happy.

Here is why being outdoors is great for both you and your family.

1. It improves our mood
Being in nature reduces stress-related hormones and makes us happier and calmer. A morning walk (if you have time) or an evening stroll is always a great idea. Spending just 20 minutes outside every day will improve your wellbeing and make you feel more relaxed.

2. It improves focus
Taking a break and heading outdoors helps us restore our focus and makes us more productive. If you or your children are having a hard time focusing, going for a walk together will surely make you feel better and more productive.

3. It helps us exercise
A simple walk is a great exercise and you don’t need any equipment to enjoy it. Encouraging children to walk from the earliest age promotes healthy growth and also introduces them to the enjoyment of regular physical exercise.

4. It boosts our energy
Being outside is a great way to boost those energy levels. Running around in the open air will make the most sluggish days feel better but don’t worry, this effect will magically disappear by bedtime!

5. It keeps us away from the screen
We are all guilty, almost whatever the age, of spending too much time on our phones, aren’t we? Being outside is a great alternative to screen time. Plan a family outdoor adventure or simply go for a longer walk if you can.

6. It brings us closer together
Spending time outside together is a great way to bond as a family. Research suggests that families who spend more time outdoors together are happier and have better relationships.

7. New experiences
New smells, sounds and views always make children happy and can keep them inspired. Being outside helps build independence, freedom and their sense of discovery as they take leaps and test their abilities while learning about nature and its inhabitants.

8. It is healthy
Being outside is not only a great way to spend a day, but it is also healthy and essential to our wellbeing and happiness. Being active lowers the risk of obesity and other lifestyle diseases and boosts our immune system.

9. It boosts vitamin D
Vitamin D is important for our bones and immune system, especially during childhood and we get most of it from sunlight exposure from around late March or early April to the end of September. This is why being outside is not only enjoyable but also really important for our health. During the long winter months, sunlight doesn’t contain enough UVB radiation for our skin to be able to make vitamin D so it’s even more important to eat a varied diet to ensure we get vitamin D from food sources.

10. It improves our sleep
Spending more time outside and being active in nature can improve the quality of our sleep. When children are outdoors, they tend to move more and vigorous exercise helps them get a better night’s sleep. Natural light also helps reset our body clock and makes us feel more refreshed and rested in the morning, another great reason to take a morning walk with your little explorers.

For further information please visit



girls only schooling

The importance of a girls’ only education

By Education, girls school, Girls school
by Matthew Parry
Prep School Deputy Head, St Catherine’s Prep School

As a father of two girls of primary school age, I have a vested interest in the educational options available to them. That being said, I think I’m safe in saying that I am not your stereotypical advocate of girls’ only education. As the son of a coal miner and having been educated in co-ed state schools in south Wales, girls’ only education was something that didn’t enter my consciousness until I moved to Surrey in 2013. Whilst I was aware that many of the highest achieving schools in the area were single-sex, I didn’t really stop and think about the benefits of a girls’ only environment until I came to work in a girls’ only school myself.

The first thing that struck me when I began teaching a class made up entirely of girls was that roles within the classroom that were almost always filled by boys in a co-ed classroom (the joker, the loud child, the sporty child, etc.) were now occupied by girls. I know I never actively encouraged boys to occupy these roles in any of the classrooms that I taught, however, whether it be a result of unconscious bias or societal expectations, that was the classroom dynamic I was usually faced with. In a girls’ only environment, the girls were free of these expectations and could choose to occupy any role they wished without fear of judgement by others. This also extended to the academic subjects that they enjoyed and knowledge they pursued. Science, mathematics and PE were no longer ‘boys’ subjects’, they were just subjects that some of the class really, really enjoyed. At our school, 56% of girls took A Level maths in 2022, the most popular A Level subject option compared to 8.1% nationally.

The activities in the playground weren’t too dissimilar from those observed during my time teaching in co-ed schools, it was just that there were a dozen girls merrily kicking a football across the field together rather than a group made up primarily of boys.

It’s worth noting that the above observations are purely from my experiences and every school and child is different. But, and I think it’s an important but, when it became time for me to decide on my own daughters’ futures, I needed more than just my gut feeling to decide whether or not single-sex education was the right choice for them. Despite all the benefits I’d seen first-hand, I wanted it in black and white that girls’ only education was likely to be a good choice for them. It didn’t take long for me to discover a raft of literature that almost universally showed that girls in girls’ only education outperformed their peers in co-ed environments when all other factors (socioeconomic, geographical location, etc) were taken into account.

Not only that, they were also far more likely to pursue careers in areas that have been traditionally dominated by men. One study found that girls at single-sex schools were 85% more likely to take advanced mathematics than girls in co-ed schools, 79% more likely to study chemistry, 68% more likely to take intermediate mathematics, and 47% more likely to study physics. I have no particular dreams of my daughters pursuing studies in these areas, but I do feel strongly that they shouldn’t be impeded in any pursuit that they choose for themselves. The benefits of single-sex education for boys is a lot less clear and that may be a factor in why a large number of boys-only schools have chosen to become co-ed in recent years.

But what about the ‘real world’ where girls and boys have to coexist? Are girls at girls’ only schools at a disadvantage? I would argue that they’re not. Whilst they may not mix with boys on a daily basis, single-sex schools offer opportunities for girls and boys to learn together when and where appropriate – this may be in mixed teams at maths, science or chess competitions. Furthermore, they have more opportunities to take on leadership roles than their peers in co-ed settings.

I truly believe that a girls’ only education proves beneficial to the vast majority of the girls that come through our school-gates. However, every child is unique and as a parent it is important to consider the needs of your child. I asked both my daughters whether they wanted to attend a girls’ only school before enrolling them. My eldest had attended our local co-ed infant school whilst my youngest was in a co-ed nursery. Both were extremely eager to join a girls’ only school and are having a wonderful time. I believe that the absence of boys gives my girls space to develop a strong sense of themselves and their values without the pressure of gender stereotypes. Girls’ schools were established to try and offer girls the educational opportunities that had long been afforded to boys and I believe that they still have an important role to play in further enhancing opportunities for women today.

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.

Young boy in field

The Great Outdoors

By Education, environment, Forest School, fun for children, Green, Mental health, Nature
by Chris Gunn
Headmaster, Sompting Abbotts Preparatory School

At a time when children’s wellbeing is seemingly so constantly under attack, it has never been so important to seek the advantages of ‘The Great Outdoors’! Some of my fondest memories are of adventuring, exploring, and challenging myself in nature – I was never happier than when climbing trees, playing hide-and-seek with friends, soaking up picturesque views or exercising. I vividly remember the sense of accomplishment, motivation, and sheer joy at these times. I can still recall the slip and slide of mud and grass underfoot of past games of football, and feel the warmth of the sun on my back during picnics with family and friends.

In an ever-changing world burdened with social pressures and geo-political issues, the outdoors is a solace. A peaceful calm. It is both an outlet for anxiety and stress as well as one of the greatest resources we have access to for maintaining our positive mental wellbeing. We teach children strategies to improve their mental wellbeing, strategies which children can access and employ to cope with the many challenges and changes they will meet throughout their lives. In my opinion, visiting ‘The Great Outdoors’ is the most effective way to improve mental wellbeing, bar none. It is essential that we provide our children with plentiful opportunities to learn outside of the classroom so that they too have access to this wonderful, naturally healing resource.

I was reminded of the impact of the outdoors recently after a busy exam week. A group of children spent their Friday Activities playing a giant game of ‘capture the flag’ and team ‘hide-and-seek’. For many, the anxiety which the week had induced seemed to be lost and forgotten about in a heartbeat. The excitement of charging into space, to find a quiet spot out of view and the eyes of the opposing team; the anticipation of whether they would be found by a determined seeker; the sprint back to ‘base’ after the time was up. Children were children again. Laughing, panting, smiling. A sense of freedom and enthusiasm. A sense of relief.

The benefits of outdoor activities, such as orienteering, shelter-building, scavenger hunts, and wood whittling on children are unquantifiable. Not only do such activities teach valuable life-skills but they also highlight personal qualities and characteristics, which in turn will lead to better understanding of self and a greater likelihood of successes in the future. Direct links can clearly be drawn between those days outdoors, the skills we learn, and the people we become.

Resilience. Resilience to climb that tree a little higher, or to remain calm when getting back down again. Aspiration. Pushing for a personal best when running a race or vying for the win in a team sport. Self-esteem. To be successful when trying something new, or when involved in informal competition, can make such a difference to a pupil’s self-worth. Courage. Courage to explore, to try new things, or to stand up for and to protect the environment. To know and understand their own physical capabilities and boundaries and to push these a little further each time. Respect. Respect for the habitats, keeping ‘The Great Outdoors’ clean and tidy. Not having to be prompted to pick up a crisp packet, or litter. To protect wildlife and ecosystems, so that plants and animals can thrive. Compassion. Compassion for those who share the space. Wildlife, people, our opponents in sport. Integrity. Having a strong moral grounding of what needs to be done by the Government and local authorities to keep our green spaces and the planet happy and healthy. To compete within the rules of the game. It is these characteristics, that make a young person stand out from the crowd, that will enable them to inspire others.

It is only when outside regularly – walking, exercising, taking the dog out – you see the impact of the change of seasons. The leaves changing colour in the autumn, the first frost, the horse chestnuts, the birds flying south, the leaves beginning to fall. For children to experience first-hand the change in the seasons, to appreciate how fragile life is and get a sense of what they can do to help support the environment, is again of the upmost importance. Children will inevitably hear comments such as “The daffodils are coming up earlier this year” or “It hasn’t snowed for years,” but seeing it, investigating it, monitoring and testing it, enables children to see the impact of a change in our climate. It gives them a real understanding of the effects of greenhouse gases and why changes in our individual habits as well as large-scale changes in industry shape the way we live on and work with our planet Earth. The next generation of scientists, inspired by the outdoors.

I am fortunate enough to have two happy and healthy young sons. I have tried to refrain from using the term ‘outdoorsy’ however they love nothing more than to explore nature. Climb trees; splash in muddy puddles with their wellies on; have fun at the local rugby club. The fondest memories that they make are not whilst sitting in front of a tablet screen. They are out there – wherever that ‘out there’ might be. They are made through a sense of adventure, exploration and getting out into the fresh air. Stopping, standing, listening. That is the greatest ‘soul food’ of all.

Sompting Abbotts is a West Sussex preparatory school near Worthing for girls and boys aged 2 – 13. Tel: 01903 235960.

To find out more about what Sompting Abbotts can offer you, or to arrange a personal visit at any time of the school year, please visit

education and play

They are not just playing!

By Education, play, Playing
by Shelley Allen
Teacher at Burgess Hill Girls Prep School

When you enter an Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS) classroom, either in a nursery or a reception classroom, you might look around and see that children are ‘just’ playing. But what is really happening here? Why is play such a crucial part of the day for these young people who are only at the beginning of their learning journey?

Beyond its entertainment value, play serves as a versatile tool that fosters cognitive, social, emotional, and physical development in learners of all ages, not just those in early years.

1. Cognitive development
Play engages the brain in ways that traditional teaching methods may not. It stimulates creativity, problem-solving skills, and critical thinking. When children engage in imaginative play, they create scenarios, characters, and narratives, which require them to think abstractly, plan, and make decisions. In our classroom this might take the form of using figures from the small world to tell a story, creating a rescue mission for superheroes, or making a character or puppet on the creative table.

2. Social development
Play is a social activity that encourages interaction, co-operation, and the development of interpersonal skills. Through play, children learn to share, negotiate, and communicate effectively with others. Games and group activities create opportunities for teamwork and collaboration, teaching valuable lessons about compromise and conflict resolution. They discuss and organise turn taking in role play, decide together who will put the next brick on the tower or the last piece in the jigsaw puzzle.

3. Emotional development
Play provides a safe space for emotional expression and regulation. Children, in particular, use play as a means of exploring and understanding their emotions. Whether engaging in pretend play, storytelling, or board games, they learn to recognise and navigate feelings such as joy, frustration, and empathy. They also build resilience, a key factor in positive mental health later in life. They learn that if the domino tower topples, they can try again.

4.Physical development
Physical play, including activities like running, jumping, and climbing, contributes to the development of motor skills and co-ordination. This physical play not only impacts on physical health but on attention and concentration. You may see us having ‘movement breaks’ throughout the day where we can be found dancing around the room, this also aids in gross motor control, essential in developing stability for writing. Another firm favourite is our daily ‘dough disco.’ To an outsider it may look like we ‘just’ are dancing and playing with modelling dough at the same time. In fact, we are building hand strength and motor control in preparation for writing and learning to follow and imitate sequences.

5. Cultivating a lifelong love for learning
When learning is presented in the context of play, it becomes a joyful and intrinsically motivated activity. Playful learning experiences create positive associations with education, fostering a love for learning that extends beyond the classroom. Whether it is through games, role play or construction, incorporating play into the learning process makes education an active and enjoyable journey.

From early childhood through adulthood, play serves as a powerful tool for whole person development and it is important that we embrace this. Educators and parents alike should embrace the idea that play is not a distraction from serious learning but an integral part of it. By harnessing the natural desire to play, we can unlock the full potential of learners and create environments that nurture creativity, resilience, and lifelong curiosity and development.

To find out more about Burgess Hill Girls, visit

happy children in forest

The power of a small prep school Embracing the ‘try everything’ philosophy

By Education, environment, Forest School, fun for children, Green, Mental health, Nature, Primary school, Relationships
by Charlotte Moore
St Christopher’s Prep

In a world where education is often evaluated by standardised testing and one-size-fits-all metrics, nestled in the heart of a vibrant community, small preparatory schools are quiet powerhouses that have a unique charm. They offer a distinct advantage over larger educational institutions, such as smaller class sizes, a strong sense of community, and individualised attention from teachers. They punch well above their weight through a compelling philosophy that sets them apart – the ‘try everything’ approach to learning.

This philosophy encourages pupils to engage in a wide range of experiences, regardless of their interests or perceived talents. This inclusive model is particularly feasible in small prep schools, where the environment is often more adaptable and personalised than in larger institutions. The imperative of a ‘try everything’ philosophy is not just to expose pupils, but to embed a spirit of curiosity and cross-disciplinary agility.

The encouragement to engage with various subjects and extra curricular activities reflects a deeper understanding of the education process – it’s through experience and reflection that genuine learning takes place. Pupils are taught to value the journey of learning, to embrace failures as learning opportunities, and to develop a growth mindset that views challenges as stepping stones to mastery.

Pupils are invited to dip their toes into a variety of subjects and extra curricular activities – from arts to sciences, sports to technology – and discover passions they may not have known they had. They might find themselves coding a robot in one class, sewing a blanket in another and rehearsing a Shakespearean play in the next.

The key to this method is the idea that true learning comes from exploration and experimentation, which isn’t always found in textbooks. In a rapidly changing world, it is ever more important to be adaptable and have a broad skill set as well as specialised knowledge. From teamwork and leadership in sports, critical thinking in debate clubs, to innovation in STEM projects, pupils become well-equipped for future challenges. Such an education cultivates adaptive individuals who can thrive in the dynamic environments of higher education and the professional world.

Small class sizes of typical prep schools allow for highly individualised attention. Teachers are really able to nurture the curiosity of each pupil, encouraging them to take risks in a safe and supportive environment. Not only does this foster a love of learning, but it also helps to build resilience and confidence, both of which are qualities that are essential in both personal and professional lives.

A small prep school often has a much closer-knit community which provides more leadership opportunities. With fewer pupils to compete with for positions on school councils, drama productions, or as school prefects or team captains, pupils are able to step up and lead in more areas. This close-knit environment fosters a greater sense of responsibility and community engagement.

Small prep schools are able to promote an inclusive culture where hobbies and abilities are not dictated by societal expectations but by personal exploration and growth.

By encouraging all pupils to get involved, and try everything, teachers are creating opportunities for collaboration. It also helps break down barriers and fears. Those pupils who may have been reluctant to join a robotics club or a sewing club, for fear of not fitting in, may discover a love for engineering or garment making. Not everyone is naturally gifted at academics or sports but by being encouraged to join in, those who may have thought they were not great, may still find joy in doing it.

Subjects can often be compartmentalised but this ‘try everything’ approach supports a cross-disciplinary learning. Pupils applying their historical knowledge in English discussions or their artistic sensibilities in science projects shows a holistic educational approach that small prep schools champion.

Smaller class sizes and a more diverse lesson curriculum helps broaden the horizons of pupils so they become more rounded human beings when they progress to their senior school. These people are prepared to not just navigate the world but shape it into something better. A smaller school can be an incubator for future leaders. With the access to teachers and the excellent resources and opportunities the pupils have, these schools help ignite curiosity and arm the pupils themselves with the tools needed to build a fulfilling life. Alumni of small prep schools often attribute their success to the versatility and adaptability that was nurtured in their early education.

The ‘try everything’ philosophy at a small prep school is a powerful tool for education and is not something to be missed. It champions the idea that pupils should be encouraged to embrace a multitude of experiences, helping to shape them into adaptable, curious and innovative thinkers. In schools like these, the power of learning is limitless, and the outcomes are as diverse as the opportunities that they provide.

St Christopher’s Prep is an outstanding independent co-ed prep school. Please call 01273 735404 to discover how we could be the perfect match for your child’s educational start.

Dandelion blowing

Artificial Intelligence and education

By Artificial intelligence, Education
by Mrs Sarah Bakhtiari
Principal of Shoreham College

Artificial Intelligence (AI), once confined to the realms of science fiction, is now a reality that permeates many aspects of our lives. It quietly operates in plain sight, through chatbots and virtual assistants, as well as in ways which remain largely unseen. For example, assisting in diagnosing diseases, analysing medical images and predicting patient outcomes. In the field of education, AI refers to the use of intelligent systems and algorithms to enhance teaching and learning experiences and so has the potential to enhance the way children learn and teachers teach. It encompasses various applications such as personalised learning, accessibility aids and the automated marking of work.

There is no doubt that AI is here to stay and while there is undoubtedly a storm raging about the relative benefits and challenges of AI, schools are diligently setting about exploring how AI can be used to enhance education. By embracing this technology we hope to empower our children with the skills and knowledge necessary to thrive in an increasingly digital society.

Personalised learning
AI enables educators to provide personalised learning experiences tailored to each child’s needs and abilities. Intelligent systems can analyse vast amounts of data to identify individual learning patterns, strengths and challenges. This information can be used to create customised learning paths, ensuring pupils receive targeted support. Adaptive learning platforms can utilise AI algorithms to deliver personalised content and track pupil progress.

In mathematics an AI platform can ‘learn’ a child’s mathematical strengths and challenges and provide content and questions aimed at building on those strengths and alleviating the challenges. The way that you might see this working in our classrooms is that a young person who is good at their times tables could have a ‘starter’ times table task to increase their confidence. They then progress on to long division, which they find more difficult – starting two steps behind the exact concept that the young person mastered in the last session, to build their confidence and move their learning forward. A teacher cannot reliably remember two steps behind, but the AI absolutely will. A master at the seven times table but always stuck on six times seven? Six times seven will come up again and again until it is cemented in the child’s long-term memory. This is powerful for moving concepts from the working memory to long-term schemas, which organise information according to how it is used and can be reliably recalled and built upon.

Enhanced collaboration and engagement
AI-powered tools can facilitate collaboration among children, encouraging teamwork and communication skills. Virtual reality (VR) simulations can transport children to historical events or scientific experiments, enabling them to actively participate and engage with the subject matter. AI chatbots can act as virtual tutors, answering questions and providing guidance, promoting independent learning and critical thinking. This does not replace real-life experiences; for example our Year 4 children will gain much from their annual trip to Bignor Roman Villa, but this can be supplemented with a virtual reality tour of one of the most significant proofs of Roman civilisation – Pompeii. We would happily take a secondary school trip to Pompeii, but never our Year 4!

Developing future-ready skills
As AI becomes increasingly prevalent in the workforce, equipping children with AI literacy is essential. By introducing AI concepts early on, schools can prepare pupils for the jobs of tomorrow. For example, coding platforms like Scratch or AI programming languages like Python can introduce children to the fundamentals of AI and computational thinking. This knowledge empowers them to become creators rather than mere consumers of technology, fostering innovation and problem-solving abilities.

When used most effectively AI complements, rather than replaces, existing relationships and teachers. Maintaining a strong teacher-pupil relationship is essential for effective education. By leveraging AI’s capabilities while preserving human relationships, educators can harness the power of technology to enhance learning outcomes and prepare children for the challenges of the future.

While AI can provide personalised instruction, it cannot replace the empathy, emotional support and mentorship that teachers and teaching assistants offer. Striking the right balance between AI and human interaction is crucial to ensure holistic learning experiences.

The integration of AI in primary schools offers a multitude of opportunities for our children’s education. By embracing this technology, we can provide personalised learning experiences, foster collaboration and equip our children with the skills necessary for success in the future. At our school, we support and encourage the thoughtful integration of AI, helping to ensure that our children are prepared to navigate the ever-evolving digital landscape with confidence and creativity.

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.

girls in class

Early Years learning – a foundation for life

By Early Years, Education, Primary school
by Matthew Byran
Headmaster, Longacre School

Forgive me, dear reader, for starting an article about the early years talking about myself. You see, I’ve been a teacher since I left university, which means that not only have I never skipped a long summer holiday, but I’ve also always had a sense that I knew a fair bit about education and what really mattered (for good and not so good). The problem was, it has only been in the last few years that I stopped getting things completely upside down.

You see, I fell into the trap – and it’s common enough – of thinking that because I was most aware of the impact of university and secondary school (which helped me considerably to get into that university), that this phase of education must be the most important. The inspiring Mr Chips/Dead Poets Society/History Boys kind of teachers, the independence, the club ties, the grown-up vocabulary and ill-judged use of Foucault, Derrida or Rousseau to gain intellectual gravitas. When people ask where you went to school, they don’t mean when you were five. And therein lies the problem: it is easy enough to categorise someone if you know they went to Harvard, or boarding school, but in so doing you are leaning only on preconceptions about that place, or that kind of place, and you lose sight of the individual, unique, human in front of you.

Even when I was fortunate enough to have children, and they in turn went to preschool, I didn’t understand that this moment, right here, was to be pivotal in what I sincerely hope will be a happy and fulfilling life for them. When I saw that they had played with shaving foam, or made ‘food’ from play dough, I was mostly glad that it hadn’t been left to me to do the cleaning up; when they appeared in their first nativity plays, I worried about whether they had been cast in an appropriately starring part – often, indeed, as a star of some kind…

Reception seemed much the same, a riot of building blocks and stories and – mostly – playing nicely with other children. Meanwhile, I was busily giving my son toys and puzzles that were pitched far in excess of his actual age in what I now recognise was a bid to increase his chances of one day going to one of those high-profile schools or universities that people often talk about.

To clarify, I have no quarrel with those seats of learning which give their students outstanding opportunities to learn, debate and produce new ideas. Nor do I take exception to parents who want the best for their children – even now, I bow to no one in my hopes and aspirations for my children. But I fundamentally changed my outlook when I took on the job of being a prep school Head, with its own Early Years setting. My aspirations now extend to some 250 children, and I want to give every one of them the best chance to succeed. How to do this? The most efficient way is to give a child the best Early Years experience possible.

As the Head of an independent school, I am sometimes asked what is the most important phase of schooling if parents only have limited funds which they wish to invest in education, or what is the minimum number of years to be in private prep school in order to gain access to a prestigious secondary school, or a non-fee paying grammar school. The older I get, the more unequivocal my answer: there is no more important phase in a child’s education than their first years. For working parents, and notwithstanding government initiatives, preschool is a seriously expensive business. Reception at an independent school means yet more significant expense. This isn’t a sales pitch, either for my school or private schools in general, but I do encourage parents to find the best possible early years experience for their children. Don’t fall into the same trap that I did, of thinking that those early moments with crayons and blocks, mud kitchen and dressing up boxes, are anything less than critical.

The best days in the Early Years are filled with stories, multi-sensory experience, physical activity and making your mark on the world. Children must learn independence, as well as how to leverage the knowledge and experience of their teachers. Let them learn self-reliance, and how to share. Let children play in imaginary worlds and discover knowledge for themselves. Understanding exactly when to follow the rules, and when to exercise one’s own judgement and break those rules, can take a lifetime. I was once told that toddlers jump in puddles to prove their existence in the universe. If only Rene Descartes had had that kind of existential awareness.

Practitioners in Early Years settings routinely show some of the best pedagogical techniques that you will find anywhere. Play-based learning ensures fun, ensures motivation, ensures genuine educational progress. Learning is tailored to individuals, rather than a one-size fits all approach to lesson planning. Children’s answers are taken on their own merits, rather than a test of how closely they approximate to a teacher’s predetermined answer in fact. They experience fun, excitement, variety, fresh air and utilise all of their senses.

Children have agency over their choices and activities, with the guiding hand of an adult expert in the background ensuring that they cover the full range of crucial learning goals. They are allowed – nay, encouraged – to fail, reassess, persevere and find a way. There is a noteworthy absence of grade point averages or positions in class. There is barely a mention of extrinsic motivation in the form of house points or treats – not needed when visible learning and progress provide their own encouragement. There should be a total absence of fear: no fear of being shouted at by teachers (as a parent, I wish I could say that I had never lost my temper with my toddler child, but I can assure you that it’s a great deal easier when working with other people’s children!), nor fear of disappointing parents by failing to live up to their expectations.

But what of phonics? Or cursive handwriting? The essential step of learning pencil grip or fluent reading aloud? Well yes, each of these has great value. They should all come, and in an ideal world will come before a child reaches the point of cognitive development wherein they are aware of their relative prowess compared to peers – usually around six to eight years old. But not at the expense of the personal, social and emotional development, physical development and communication and language which will underpin a whole lifetime. Not before the child is ready. And definitely not by skipping some of the key foundation points in a bid to ‘get ahead’.

There is no sense, nor lasting learning, in memorising the first phonic sounds (S, A, T, P, I, N in case you wondered) before one can recognise and understand the environmental sounds around us – a ticking clock, a telephone ringing or a knock at the door. There is danger in making assumptions, and great value in utilising the skills, experience and perspective of an Early Years specialist. These years really are a foundation for life, the best way to ensure that our children grow up to be confident, kind, resilient and thoughtful.

Longacre School – delivering an engaging learning experience for boys and girls aged 2+ located between Guildford and Cranleigh.
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Which primary school?

By Education, Primary school, Relationships

Applying for a state primary school in the UK is a crucial step in a child’s education journey. The process can seem overwhelming, especially for first-time parents or those new to the country’s education system. However, with the right information and preparation, it can be a straightforward and manageable task.

In this guide, we’ll walk you through the steps to apply for a state primary school.

1. Understand the basics
Before you start the application process, it’s essential to understand some key concepts:
• Catchment area
State primary schools often prioritise children living within a specific catchment area. This means your residential address can significantly impact your school options.

• Admissions criteria
Each school has its own admission criteria, which can include proximity to the school, siblings already attending, or other factors like religion or special needs.

• Key dates
Keep track of application deadlines, as they vary by region and school. Generally, applications are due around January for entry the following September.

2. Research schools
Begin by researching the primary schools in your area. You can use magazines like ABC, online resources, school directories and word of mouth to compile a list of potential schools. Pay attention to OFSTED ratings, which indicate school quality, and visit school websites to learn about their programmess, facilities and admission policies.

3. Determine your preferences
Consider your priorities when selecting schools. Think about factors such as location, school size, teaching approach (e.g. Montessori or traditional) and extracurricular activities. Make a list of your top choices based on these criteria.

4. Check admission criteria
Review the admission criteria for each school on your list. This information is usually available on the school’s website or through your local education authority. Understanding the criteria will help you assess your chances of securing a place at each school.

5. Visit schools
Whenever possible, visit the schools you’re interested in preferably with your child. Open days and tours provide an opportunity to get a feel for the school environment and meet staff members. It can also help you decide if a school aligns with your child’s needs and your expectations.

6. Complete the application form
Most schools in the UK use a common application form provided by your local education authority. You can usually find this form on the authority’s website or request a copy from the school. Fill out the form accurately, providing all required information, including your school choices.

7. List schools in order of preference
On the application form, you’ll typically be asked to list your preferred schools in order. It’s crucial to rank them carefully because this order can affect your child’s chances of getting into their top choice.

8. Proof of address
Be prepared to provide proof of your address, as this will be a significant factor in school allocation. Utility bills, council tax statements, or lease agreements are typically accepted as proof.

9. Sibling priority
If you have other children already attending a particular school, mention this on your application. Many schools give sibling priority, increasing the likelihood of your younger child being admitted.

10. Submit your application
Submit your completed application form by the specified deadline. Be sure to keep a copy for your records and request a receipt or confirmation of submission if possible.

11. Wait for offers
After the application deadline, you’ll have to wait for the local authority to process applications and allocate school places. This process can take several weeks, so be patient.

12. Respond to offers
Once you receive offers from schools, you’ll need to respond promptly. If you’re offered a place at your top-choice school, accept it as soon as possible.

13. Appeals process (if necessary)
If your child doesn’t get a place at your preferred school, you have the right to appeal the decision. The appeals process varies by region, so check with your local education authority for guidance on how to proceed.

In conclusion, applying for a state primary school involves thorough research, careful planning and adherence to deadlines.

Understanding the local admission criteria and prioritising your preferences will increase your chances of securing a place at a school that aligns with your child’s educational needs and your family’s values. Remember that the process can be very competitive, so it’s essential to be well-prepared and flexible in your choices.

Good luck with your application!

teach your child about endangered animals

Teach your child about endangered animals

By Education, environment, Forest School, Nature, Relationships

The topic of endangered animals can be a difficult one for adults, let alone children. How do you explain, in simple and sensitive terms, that human action is destroying the planet and subsequently wiping out entire species of animals?

It’s the younger generations that are going to suffer the most from the impact of climate change, so it’s in their best interest to learn the hows and whys as early as possible. Knowledge is power, after all.

Here, My Oceans has put together their top tips for teaching children about endangered animals.

Use sensitive and simple language
There’s a fine line between being realistic and just plain terrifying. Children must understand the severity of the situation, but you should try to avoid harsh words and confusing terms that they’ll likely not understand.

Don’t: “Human ignorance is killing innocent animals; when the population of a species has declined at least 70% for reasons unknown, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) declares it as endangered.”

Do: “Endangered animals are animals that have become so rare that they’re at risk of disappearing forever! This is why everyone must come together to take necessary the steps to protect them before it’s too late.”

Get the whole family involved
Make this a family activity by getting the whole crew together! If your children have older siblings who perhaps already know about endangered species, it still might be a good idea to get them involved.

Most little ones subconsciously mimic their older siblings, so they’re far more likely to take an interest in the topic if their brothers and sisters do too. Plus, helping save the world is a fantastic family bonding activity.

Find children-friendly books
If you’re not the best at wording things, or if your children need a little more clarification, look for children-friendly books that address the topic.

Fortunately, there are hundreds out there which are ideal for children aged three to 11.

You can find books that explore specific at-risk animals, such as ‘A Polar Bear in the Snow’ or ‘Give Bees a Chance’. This might be good if your child has a favourite animal that they want to learn more about.

There are also books that explain the subject of endangered animals in a general sense. Recommended reads might include works such as ‘My First Pop-Up Endangered Animal’s by Owen Davey and ‘A Wild Child’s Guide to Endangered Animals’ by author Millie Marotta.

Books are a fantastic way to enrich a child’s learning, especially for topics that might be a little upsetting or confusing. Set aside some time to go through each book together.

Let them ask as many questions as they need to
Children are incredibly curious – sometimes too much so. However, it’s important you let them ask as many follow-up questions as they need to.

If you want them to get their head around a totally bewildering subject, you should expect and prepare for an interrogation.

Some questions might be outrageous (hey, children are children) but do your best to give clear, honest answers to help them further grasp the topic.

Think of ways to help
Now that your little ones have a better understanding of what endangered animals are, you must plan all the ways that you can try to help the cause together.

As an adult, you’ll probably know the obvious solutions (more on those below), but this brainstorming session should be about encouraging your children to the discussion.

Nudge them in the right direction but let them feel like they’re the ones contributing awesome, life-saving ideas. This will make the children feel much more motivated to carry out the ideas in the next stage.

This is perhaps the most important part of teaching your children about endangered animals: putting those plans into action.

Once you have your list of solutions, research each one until you have a good idea of your ‘who, what, when, where and why.’

Types of activities you could consider include:
Adopt an animal
Expose your children to endangered animals in a fun way that promotes responsibility. Your small monthly donation can help fund crucial work, plus, in exchange, you’ll typically receive a cuddly toy, regular updates, and a certificate.

Make eco-friendly lifestyle changes
Many adults have adopted bad environmental lifestyle habits, and bad habits are hard to shake. From early on, before these negative routines cement themselves in your children’s life, teach them:
• How to recycle, and why it’s crucial we do so
• The importance of eco-friendly products (such as plastic-free toilet paper and reusable shopping bags)
• How to reduce energy usage
• To avoid single-use plastic
• To eat less meat.

Raise funds together
There are plenty of UK charities for protecting endangered animals and their habitats, such as People’s Trust for Endangered Species (PTES) and WWF.

A possible ocean-specific charity you could support is the Marine Conservation Society, an organisation working to achieve a cleaner, healthier environment. Think of exciting ways to raise money for these charities, such as bakes sale or walking fundraiser.

Visit an animal shelter or wildlife centre – a super educational way to support a fantastic cause while helping your children to comprehend the topic in greater detail. Find your local animal shelter or wildlife centre and volunteer your time feeding the animals, cleaning and tidying habitats, or just being a companion.

Incorporate fun activities – children love to play! Playing is crucial for their development as it benefits a variety of skills, including cognitive and social. As you embark on this journey of better understanding endangered animals, look for fun activities that’ll help and engage them:
• Arts and crafts
• Roleplay
• Puppeteering
• Painting and drawing
• Singing and dancing.

They have the power to change the world
As a parent, it’s your responsibility to ensure you’re raising your children with the right beliefs, attitudes and knowledge. Theirs is the generation that will be hurt the most by the impacts of climate change, so it’s only right we give them the necessary tools to fight back – as early as possible.

Support them in grasping the severity of the situation in a way that motivates them to help the cause. No one is expecting a six year old to single-handedly change the world, but soon that six year old will be a fully-fledged adult that has a much better chance of doing so.

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