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Education

Five basic but often overlooked habits your child should adopt

By | children's health, Education, family, Mental health, play, Playing, Relationships

Children inherit more than just genes from their parents. Your manners, habits and overall view of life tend to influence the person your child will become. It is important to introduce certain habits into your child’s routine from a young age to maximise the chances of them carrying it through into adulthood.

Here, Richard Dwyer from UK Flair Gym shares five basic but often overlooked habits your child should adopt:
1. Making the bed – It has been suggested that making your bed in the morning can improve productivity levels which, in turn, boosts your mood. Not only will your child’s room look tidier, but they will be more likely to achieve their daily goals.

2. Eating breakfast – If your child skips breakfast from an early age, it is likely they will carry this bad trait with them for the rest of their lives. Teach them that eating breakfast helps kick start their metabolism and will energise them for the day – giving them both brain and body power!

3. Daily exercise – Whether you encourage your child to join a sports team or simply go for a bike ride, making sure they exercise for at least thirty minutes a day is a great habit to form. Aside from the physical aspect, daily physical activity will boost mental wellbeing and help make your child look at life more positively.

4. Make new friends – This is a skill that your child will require throughout their entire life. Knowing how to confidently build relationships with new people will not only enhance their social life but also their professional one.

5. Reading – Although weaved into their school life, it is encouraged that children should read at home for leisure. Not only will this make them a more confident communicator, but it will also enhance their writing and comprehension skills which are invaluable in later life. Try incorporating reading into their bedtime routine!

Since his childhood, Richard Dwyer has been passionate about his own fitness. With experience as a stuntman for countless films and TV shows, Richard decided to put his full energy into building gymnastics clubs to allow children (and their parents) to benefit from physical activity. Now, he builds children’s confidence through gymnastics that teach valuable life skills. Richard does this through three separate businesses: www.ukflair.com/ www.gymclassroom.com/ www.kidzimpact.co.uk

Outdoor adventure is the key to happier, healthier children

By | Education, environment, family, fun for children, Green, Health, Playing, Relationships

Spending time outdoors is the key to happier, healthier and more confident children. However, only one in five of them regularly play outside, says leading youth charity YHA (England and Wales).

The charity says that the opportunity to have adventures in the outdoors is vitally important to developing young people’s confidence, resilience and ambition for the future. Studies also show that just five minutes of ‘green exercise’ can improve a child’s mental wellbeing.

To help more young people benefit from the transformational power of travel and adventure, YHA has launched a campaign – The Adventure Effect. It hopes the campaign will inspire young people and their families to get outdoors.

Karen Pine, Professor of Developmental Psychology at the University of Hertfordshire, who has supported YHA with the development of The Adventure Effect, said: “If we want to raise children to be healthy physically, mentally, socially and emotionally, we must look at the experiences they’re having during childhood. Outside, spontaneous experiences in nature are critical to their development.”

She explained: “Being unable to get outside for a prolonged period can lead to stress and depression, which sadly besets many people
in our society today. Time outdoors spent having adventures in nature helps to build resilience – which is our ability to bounce back in life. This is an incredibly important skill.” Highlighting the impact of people not having the opportunity to access travel and the outdoors, YHA confined the professional adventurer and author Alastair Humphreys to a room for three days. In contrast, the film also follows five young people during their first trip to the Lake District and demonstrates their personal transformation during that time.

The thought-provoking social experiment has been documented in The Adventure Effect film. Watch the film and learn more about The Adventure Effect at www.yha.org.uk/adventureeffect

The film charts Alastair’s increasing frustration and unhappiness at having the opportunity for adventure removed from him. On day
two of the experiment he admits to ‘feeling low’.

Commenting on the social experiment, Alastair said: “I am delighted to support YHA’s Adventure Effect campaign. Being inside the room was a big learning experience for me. Three days seems like nothing but when the ability to go outside whenever you want, and the mental stimulation that goes with it, is taken away from you it is a huge shock. I was really surprised to discover I use my phone too much and use it to fill in any quieter times during the day. I also realised that I take my ability to have adventures – big and small, for granted.”

He added: “Adventure is as much about your attitude as anything else. Be curious and seize the opportunities that are available to you. YHA makes it easy, cheap and accessible for everyone to get their adventure started.”

As part of YHA’s Adventure Effect campaign, adventurer Alastair Humphreys has shared his five tips for people to get their adventure started:
1. Don’t just talk about it. Do it.
2. Do something simple and small, like going for a walk in your local woods or head up a hill.
3. Make sure you’re warm and prepared for bad weather with suitable waterproof clothing.
4. Take friends or family with you so you can share the experience and encourage each other.
5. Making the most of the outdoors shouldn’t be about pushing yourself and feeling miserable. Go at your own pace and have fun.

Supporting families in the early years

By | children's health, Education, family, fun for children, Health, Mental health
by Dr. Amanda Gummer
www.goodplayguide.com

There is clearly some great work being done, but the issue is that there’s no overarching strategy and a lack of cohesion so the examples of best practice in supporting young families are not replicated and often under-funded.

The arguments in support of providing high quality services and facilities for young families have been well-researched and include economic arguments. The work of Professor James J. Heckman shows how much better for the economy the preventative interventions are in the longer term, and in respect to health – the demand and strain on physical and mental health services is reduced if families are able to engage actively with their community. Not only does this reduce isolation and increase parents’ support networks, but engaging in activities within the community promotes healthy activity levels and encourages general wellbeing in both parents and children. Educational outcomes are also improved when sufficient support is provided in the early years and the longer-term benefits lead to reductions in school exclusions and a positive impact on children’s mental health.

One of the key areas of contention in this area is the split between universal and targeted interventions. Universal provision is available to all families and, when done properly, is sufficient for most families to help them manage and hopefully thrive. Targeted support focuses on supporting particularly vulnerable families who often have multiple challenges. The targeted support can be expensive and vulnerable families may not engage with health visitors and social workers as they are afraid of being judged, and the possibility of having their children taken into care.

The accepted wisdom is that there is no magic money tree and difficult decisions need to be made. I disagree. I believe that by thinking more strategically, and using examples that are already working well – such as the play streets initiative and befriending services, empowering parents who have benefitted from this support to give back once their children are older, we will be able to quickly see the benefits across all of the above areas. It soon becomes a ‘no-brainer’ to fund initiatives that more than pay for themselves in the long run.

It is my firm belief that by taking a play-based approach to supporting families through community play groups, well-designed and maintained play spaces and parent and toddler play clubs, we will go a long way to improving physical and mental health so children will be more active and social, and importantly, parents will not feel so isolated.

Parents and carers can help make their families more playful by giving children a ‘balanced play diet’ – making sure they get plenty of opportunity for active, social, imaginative play (the super-foods of the play diet) and limiting their solitary, sedentary, passive play time – in the same way you would limit their intake of sweets and treats.

Five tips to help balance your child’s play diet:
• Active, social, child-led play is the superfood of the play diet. So try, where you can, to make this a big part of your daily routine.
• Balance inside and outside activity and choose toys that can be used inside to promote active play even when the children can’t go outside.
• Don’t forbid screen time or tech play. Engage with it but don’t use it as a babysitter
• Mix and match playmates – children play differently with different people so involve other family members, older and younger children as well as peers (bearing in mind of course any social distance guidance!)
• Do your research before buying toys, tech or apps for children to make sure they’re going to get maximum benefit from it. Our Good Play Guide has a host of recommended games, all independently reviewed as a great starting point.

The abilities to control the playfulness of your child’s play diet and the different stimuli they interact with is at the core of promoting a healthy family life that ideally connects them with other parents. It is important too that parents consider their own welfare to help them overcome high-stress levels and their own health and wellbeing for their own benefit but also to set any example for their children who will look to them as role models and begin to copy them. A parent-centred approach to family life can help to achieve this by giving parents the ability to meet their own needs, in turn providing their children with a healthy model of adulthood to copy and learn from.

Whilst the latest report from the Royal Commission has done a great deal to re-focus the attention within mass media, it is important that it does not become another talking shop moment and that decisive action is taken in to create an overall strategy to support parents and children in their early years.

Dr. Amanda Gummer – making the world more playful. Amanda has a PhD in Neuropsychology and over 20 years’ experience working with children and families. She is a media friendly, go-to expert on play, toys and child development. She can be regularly seen in the media including BBC News, Sky News and The Daily Mail offering advice on the news stories which matter most to families and issues surrounding child development. Founder of Dr. Gummer’s Good Play Guide (www.goodplayguide.com) home of and The Good App Guide she is dedicated to ensuring every child can develop the skills they need to thrive and
enjoy a happy, healthy childhood.

Should you be talking about mental health with your primary aged child?

By | children's health, Education, family, Health, Mental health
by Helen Spiers
Head of Child and Adolescent Counselling, Mable Therapy

It can be hard to accept when our children are struggling with their mental health. Childhood is often seen as a stress-free time of fun and frolics, but for some children this can be far from true. There are several factors that can contribute to poor mental health. Our relationships, sense of identity and the world around us have a massive impact, so it’s hardly surprising that the events of 2020 have seen some children in emotional crisis. Many children have thrived in the pandemic, relishing the chance to spend more time at home with the family, but for others the disruption and uncertainty has left them anxious and overwhelmed.

Routine and boundaries play a huge part in reducing anxiety, so cancelled activities, school closures and continuously changing government guidelines have done nothing to support young people’s mental wellbeing. At our children’s counselling service we wondered whether the new school year would see referral rates drop. Would the increase in structure and purpose help to combat the tsunami of mental health issues? Sadly not. Since September our referrals have gone up, in both our schools and private service. For those directly impacted by Covid-19 it’s been devastating, but even for those seemingly unaffected, prolonged feelings of fear and dread have led to toxic levels of stress and anxiety. We’ve also noticed an increase in younger referrals, as parents struggle to reassure their children about future uncertainty. So how can we support our children with their mental health, without burdening them with adult worries? What are the signs that our children might be struggling? And how do we support them to develop the resilience to face the new normal?

Stay alert
Spotting mental health issues can be tricky. Many parents come to me feeling helpless, seeking my expertise. I tell them that when it comes to their children, they’re the experts. If instinct is telling you there’s an issue then you’re probably right. Changes in behaviour are a strong indicator, so if your child has become uncharacteristically withdrawn, aggressive or anxious then they may be struggling. If they’ve lost interest in themselves or their relationships, this could also be a sign of a change in their mental health. Whether it’s bullying, anxiety, or stress about school or friendships, identifying that there’s a problem is the first step in supporting them.

Find the positives
When the pandemic first hit, even counsellors struggled. How do we reassure young people, when we don’t know what’s happening ourselves? This was a huge warning sign that we hadn’t dealt with our own anxieties. Dedicate time to exploring your own emotional state and seek support from those around you. Only then can you model the calm reassurance that children need to develop their resilience.

Once we’re in a positive place it’s easier to promote a sense of optimism and self-esteem, which is key to building resilience. We want children to see the world as a safe place where problems are temporary and challenges can be overcome. Give your child space to talk about their worries, but try to steer conversations in a positive way: ‘It’s really sad to think your football might be cancelled again, but we got through it last time so we can do it again.’

To promote children’s resilience, the last few years have seen many schools adopt a ‘growth mindset’ approach to learning. It focuses on modelling positive language. Saying ‘this is hard, but with practice I’ll get there’ will make children more likely to persevere than ‘I’m terrible at this’. Praising persistence over results is a great way parents can help with this. Avoid comparing children to their peers and instead focus on their effort levels and improving their own ‘personal bests’.

Be open
The stigma surrounding mental health is thankfully on the decline, but for some children they’re still learning that difficult emotions are shameful and not to be discussed. I often work with children who have never learnt to recognise or talk about their emotions, and this becomes the biggest part of our work. If children have no outlet to discuss their anger, sadness or fear, then they hold the feelings inside. These internalised feelings will always find a way to come out, whether it’s through disruptive behaviour, tantrums or anxiety.

By modelling that these feelings are okay, we’re letting children know they’re normal. For young people keen to fit in, this will come as a huge relief! If your child does share their feelings with you it’s important to listen carefully without interrupting, respond in a calm, non-judgemental way and don’t dismiss their worries. You don’t need to problem solve. By letting them know you’ve heard them and understood them, you’ll be validating their feelings and reducing their anxiety.

Make real connections
For many parents, screens and social media were a real lifesaver during lockdown. It allowed our children to stay in touch with their friends and acted as childcare when deadlines were looming. Screen-time limits were loosened and monitoring our children’s online activity became even trickier. When they are back at school, it can be hard to get the genie back in the bottle and return to the pre-lockdown rules.

However, we all know the negative impact screens can have. Development, academic results and mental health are all impacted by excessive screen-time and that’s before we consider the content being viewed and the need for ‘likes’ at any cost.

Restricting screen-time can lead to conflict and resentment, but handled correctly it could be the key to improved mental health. Board games, baking or crafts may feel like a big ask at the end of a long day, but they could be the key to an improvement in your child’s wellbeing.

If you’ve tried these strategies and your child still seems low, don’t be afraid to ask for help. Seeking support shouldn’t be seen as a last resort; it doesn’t need to be the mental health equivalent of going to A&E. Good mental health is a lifelong pursuit, so it’s more like taking your emotions to the gym.

www.mabletherapy.com

A nature spring guide for families – where to go locally and what to look out for

By | Education, environment, Family Farms, fun for children, Green, play, Playing, Relationships, Sprintime, Summer, Uncategorized
by Andrea Pinnington and Caz Buckingham
Fine Feather Press

Grab your coat, your wellies if it is raining, your family and perhaps a picnic, for the dark days of winter have passed and the spring we have all been waiting for is here. These are a few suggestions, COVID restrictions allowing, for where families can go to enjoy some particularly wonderful spring sights across both Sussex and Surrey, but if there is one thing that our confined lives have taught us, it is that we don’t have to go far or even anywhere further than our doorstep to enjoy the natural world.

Spring flowers
Sussex and Surrey have an abundance of woodlands – here the flowers appear early in the year when the ground has warmed up and it is light. Once the leaves on the trees have come out, the woods become too shady for most flowers to grow. Plants that take full advantage of the brighter spring conditions include wood anemones, bluebells, primroses, common dog-violets and lesser celandines. Of all these, perhaps the bluebell puts on the most impressive display, for few wild flowers cover the ground so completely or smell as sweet. Chinthurst Hill near Wonersh, Brede Hill near Battle, Heaven Farm near Uckfield and Angmering Woods near Arundel, all put on annual bluebell spectaculars along with a medley of other spring flowers.

Orchids have a captivating appeal for many people and to discover one is thrilling. Ditchling Beacon and Malling Down are excellent places to search for them. Look out now for the early purple orchid – its clusters of flowers, long spotted leaves and unpleasant smell help to identify it – and come back in the summer for more orchid spotting.

The prospect of free food is always appealing, and a great family springtime activity is foraging. This is the season of ramsons, otherwise known as wild garlic. The young leaves make deliciously pungent soups, salads and pesto and the flowers, seed pods and bulbs are all edible too. The Downs Link path which runs for 37 miles from Guildford to Shoreham provides a great day out for families on bikes or on foot. Here wild garlic grows in abundance but for other sites, there is a fantastic website called www.fallingfruit.org
with an interactive map showing you sources of food growing on common land.

Trees and hedgerows
When winter shows no other sign of ending, along comes the blossom from trees such as blackthorn followed by wild cherry, crab apple, rowan and hawthorn. Every lane puts on its own frothy display for us to enjoy. Get to know where local elder bushes grow, for there is nothing so simple as making elderflower cordial. Another foraging find (maybe not for the children) are the youngest, freshest beech leaves which can be used in salads or soaked in gin. Beech trees are a feature of most of our deciduous woodlands but the ones at Staffhurst Woods near Oxted and Ashdown Forest are particularly fine.

Insects
Early in the year, insects emerging from hibernation are desperate for food. Queen bumblebees fly between early nectar sources such as cowslips, red dead-nettles and lesser celandines as do early butterflies such as brimstones and orange-tips feeding on cuckooflowers, honesty and garlic mustard. Surrey and Sussex are rich in places to see butterflies, but particularly good locations include Box Hill, Denbies Hillside, The Devil’s Dyke, Newtimber Hill, Rowland Wood and Pewley Down.

Birds
There is no better season for listening to bird song and often the adventures begin by simply opening a window! Every habitat has its own star performers with some having flown vast distances to be with us. If you want to hear some outstanding virtuosos then head to heathlands such as Chobham, Pirbright, and Iping and Stedham Commons. Here you may hear (if not see) buzzy Dartford warblers, melodious willow warblers or perhaps a chirring nightjar or two. Even more discrete than these birds are the nightingale – its drab, brown colouring making it almost impossible to spot in the dense undergrowth it inhabits. Its song, though, is unmistakable and the male sings both day and night until it finds a mate. Make your way to Ebenhoe Common, Pulborough Brooks and Puttenham Common for an unforgettable auditory experience. Make a note of International Dawn Chorus Day which is on Sunday 2nd May this year. Events are usually planned by a range of local wildlife groups.

Reptiles and amphibians
On sunny spring days, the coconut-sweet smell of gorse fills the air and reptiles such as lizards and adders like to bask in the sun. A stroll on Thursley Common’s boardwalks usually reveals some reptilian activity but if none materialise there is usually plenty of other wildlife to watch such as dragonflies and damselflies along with carnivorous plants and cuckoos.

For more information
The best way to find out more about these and other nature hotspots across the counties is to contact our wonderful wildlife charities. Most of these have local branches and are bursting with ideas for family activities and places to explore. Among these are Butterfly Conservation, Plantlife, RSPB, Wildlife Trusts, Woodland Trust and the Wildfowl and Wetland Trust (WWT).

This is merely a quick canter through a handful of experiences on offer outside in Surrey and Sussex this spring. We apologise for all the obvious ones we’ve missed out. We’d love to hear about the ones you cherish and are willing to share on our Facebook page (www.facebook.com/FineFeatherPress) and on Twitter (@NatureActivity).

Andrea Pinnington and Caz Buckingham run natural-history publisher Fine Feather Press from their homes in Surrey and East Sussex.
Their latest title – The Little Book of Wild Flowers – is now out.

Singing with small children – seven simple strategies!

By | Education, fun for children, Music and singing, parties, Party, play, Playing, Uncategorized
by Sarah Marsh BSc, ALCM
Director for Musical Bumps

So let’s start with the ‘why’ and move on to the ‘how’. Why on earth should we sing to/with our children? My own mum (she’s 84 and doesn’t live round here – so she won’t be reading this unless I’m very unlucky!) can’t sing for toffee. It’s quite painful asking her to sing, and she mostly avoids it – singing to babies or at church is her limit. My own anger at her teacher telling her she couldn’t sing – this is back in 1942 – is still bubbling away, but that’s another story…

Anyway, why does my non-singing mum still sing to babies? Deep down, she probably knows that singing is the very best thing to do with babies. Babies hear language in their musical brains – they hear all that talking, cooing and singing as music (and they won’t care if you are a bit out of tune – so just go for it). Think about it for a moment – music has patterns that are clearer and more distinct than speech, music has intonations that are better defined than speech. If we want our children to be good communicators, then the absolutely best thing to do is to sing with them.

So – now for the ‘how’. Here are seven simple strategies that might help you get started (or give you new ideas if you are already tunefully chirping!)

1. Back to basics.
Whilst we might want to be bang up to date, there’s nothing wrong with singing some of those old songs (although not the one I learnt when I was little “do you want a cigarette, sir?”!). Humpty Dumpty, Twinkle Twinkle and those ever-spinning Wheels on the Bus are an important part of our heritage. If you are lucky enough to have roots in other cultures, or know family and friends that have, then use their songs too.

2. Can’t remember the words?
Dum di dum di dum will do just as well. My father was known to his nieces as ‘uncle boom boom’ because every song started well and ended up as boom di boom di boom. It’s not just about the words, it’s about the game, the interaction and the steady beat!

3. Join a group!
It’s great to have a repertoire of songs for every occasion – joining a music class really helps with this! Great too for making new friends with similar aged children.

4. Sing your way through the day…
Have you got a ‘hello’ song to greet your child with every morning? No? make one up – quickly! What about a ‘tidy up your room’ song – that would be useful, don’t you think? Singing about what you are doing is a great way to involve your child too, just gets a little embarrassing at the supermarket!

5. Transactional singing This call and response style is used right across Africa. It’s a great way to use music to build communication. If your baby has some favourite little noises, try copying them – a conversation (of sorts) will ensue – it’s fun, if a little silly. Once the game is established, you can try starting it – with
real words this time!

6. Can’t sing, won’t sing? Oh, go on – no? Okay try some rhymes instead. Humpty Dumpty works just as well (even better maybe) without the tune. The pattern and intonation of your voice will be just as useful!

7. Be a bit silly and be a bit rude!
Don’t worry if you divert from real words – sing or play around with this rhyme and your own name. “Anna fifanna, sticklanna bombanna, sticklanna fifanna that’s how you spell Anna!”

And remember that anything to do with wees, poos or farts is hilarious when you are tiny, “beans beans, good for your heart, the more you eat the more you…” well, you get the drift!

Sarah Marsh is a music teacher and advisor working in primary and early years music across the UK. Sarah founded and directs Musical Bumps www.musicalbumps.com with classes in Sussex from newborn to starting school. Please contact Belinda McBride on 07582 256957 for more information.

Talk Talk! Knock, knock. Who’s there? Kanga. Kanga who? No, it’s kangaroo!

By | children's health, Education, environment, Language, numeracy skills, reading

Jokes often narrowly miss the mark, but children love them. In amongst the less serious context of joking and any play on words, is a more complex business which plays a much bigger role in our children’s early development than we could ever believe.

Children who are taught about the complexities of the English language through language-rich conversations with their parents or siblings are the same children who get ahead of their peers. As a child soaks in the rich talk at home, they become more adept at sensing intonation, playing with tone, using words in the right context and increasing their chances for a vocabulary advantage in their school. In the last ten years, there has been extensive research about language quality and early talking and how they significantly impact each other. The quality of a child’s language environment has a huge impact on their relationship building, their early reading skills and therefore their access to the curriculum.

“Yes, yes” we hear you say, “but how can we help?” we hear you say. Before they even step through the school gates, some children have been exposed to five times as many words as some of their peers. There are many reasons for this, and we could analyse the amount of time a parent/carer spends on their devices whilst ‘humouring’ a child, or how long a child plays on a device, or plays alone. However, analysing is not the vital thing here, talking is! So significant is this issue that the government have launched an initiative on helping to close the vocabulary gap. Helping every child to have the early advantage of successful language development is likely the best educational priority we can select.

So, what can we do about ensuring every child sees the benefit of the early vocabulary advantage? The remedy is actually so much simpler than you might think. You simply cannot talk too much to your children. I used to explain it as a running commentary when asked what I meant about lots of talk. As breakfast is being prepared, a commentary on the routine will expose your child to the most commonly used vocabulary and when you later go for a walk and see all the natural things around you, your vocabulary may become more complex with new words starting to penetrate their sponge-like brain. For example, “Look Louis, the deer are rutting and making extraordinary noises. Can you see how their antlers can be used to warn away the other male deer? They are called stags.”
This introduces more infrequent words, helping their vocabulary grow more quickly.

There are many activities that you can do with your children in order to help them with their vocabulary:
• Turn-taking.
The quality of our talk is obviously crucial and balanced turn-taking is vital to not only holding the attention of young children, but seeing them develop their language.
• Expanding and modelling.
When your daughter/son says “It’s big car” – you can expand upon it and model the grammar a little too, “Yes – it is a big, red car – isn’t it enormous?”
• Extending and explaining.
Explaining events, such as what is going to happen at the shops, or what happened on holiday last year, is the type of extended talk and language that has a positive impact on a child’s vocabulary developing successfully.

For many of us this is a normal part of parenting life, but for some of us we realise all too quickly the times when we are not talking or even more importantly, actively listening to our children. A really useful tool is using picture books as a stimulus or prompt. Story structure, pace, prediction and vocabulary are all useful spin-offs to a picture book. How often have we as parents flicked through a story at bedtime, our eyes almost closed, skipping pages so that we finish earlier. We have all done it. But, some of those conversations are vital to that ever-growing vocabulary sponge in every child and it is our job to water it. There is no such thing as too much talk.

Tracey Chong is Head at Surbiton High Boys’ Preparatory School, an academic independent IAPS School. www.surbitonhigh.com

Let’s all go on a reading adventure!

By | Education, reading

How to help your child with their first steps in reading

My memories of reading as a child are vivid: sitting quietly comfortable; piling up the books to read and explore; snuggling with parents and siblings at bedtime and hoping the chosen story would never end.

This passion for reading is what we, as parents and teachers, strive to instil in our children. We know the joy a good book can bring and understand the many benefits that go beyond the classroom. Research shows that reading relates to wellbeing in both young children and adults. It is a great relaxer and focuses the mind. It develops empathy and can help you manage difficult situations – relating to your heroine within a novel may help you to face your fears at a later date! Learning to read creates new neurological pathways and cultivates analytical skills alongside methodical problem-solving skills. Reading stimulates yet calms the brain; can help to improve memory and concentration and increases vocabulary. It really is a superpower! And, what could be more important right now than a skill that opens up new worlds, promotes positive mental health and boosts school attainment – all from the comfort of the sofa?

I love to hold a class enthralled in a story, to get lost in a character and draw the children in so that when the clock ticks to home time, the calls for “just one more page” are so great I’ll always tease out a few more minutes. Even now, reading every day to my class online is a lovely moment of connection.

Sadly, many studies show that the rate of reading enjoyment for many children is decreasing and reading is no longer a pastime they will actively choose. So what can we do as parents and as educators to boost enjoyment of reading once more?

Instilling a passion for books and reading is so positive for our children. Words surround us, but as proficient readers we do not give it any consideration. But is this the same for our children? Can you remember your first attempt at reading, the first time that you read a word? The frustrations followed by the elation? Recently my niece (aged four) called me gleefully to tell me that she could read, it was, to her, a magical time. She was reading words, regaling stories that she could now read all by herself. I wished I could bottle her pride and enthusiasm, harness that enjoyment and save it. There are ways to support a lifelong love of reading and here are some ideas I recommend to the families I teach and might give you some new ideas!

• Start early – even the smallest children enjoy cuddling up, looking at pictures and talking about a book.
• Share your enjoyment of books. Families may play a board game, watch a film together or take a cycle ride, but how many sit together and read? Reading to your children is different to reading with or alongside them. Showing reading as a valuable way to spend time will foster a love for books.
• Read, read and read some more – whether it’s a shopping list or a TV guide, embrace every opportunity to look at words together. Always carry books with you. It’s so easy to placate a child with a screen because it’s near to hand so get used to passing over a book instead.
• The library may be off limits right now but you could still arrange to book swap with friends – following all guidelines of course. Think of all the fun in choosing your favourite books to share and packaging them up and then the excitement of opening your own parcel!
• Let children choose what they want to read – none of us like to be told what to enjoy! And don’t worry if they want to read the same book over and over again.
• Choose an activity from a story and do it together – make Gruffalo crumble, jump in muddy puddles, wrap yourselves up as cocoons and emerge as beautiful butterflies.
• Give books as gifts so they are seen as a special treat and something to look forward to.
• Most importantly, remember there is no right or wrong way to read together. As long as you and your child are engaging with books, whether it’s through silly voices for characters, talking about the pictures or just taking turns to read aloud, nothing is more valuable.

Loving reading is a lifelong journey of discovery – there are so many characters to meet, places to visit, genres to relate to and facts to learn – but what an adventure! One that is fostered and encouraged by all around you and one that you learn to love, cherish and appreciate.

Reading is a must on the long list of skills and abilities that we humans need, but reading with enjoyment brings that skill to
life, opening the way to develop and achieve so much more.

So consider this – the next time you have a moment, find your child, share a book (or two) and begin the journey with them on the rewarding road to enjoyment, enrichment, relaxation and self-fulfilment.

Great Ballard is a small school with big ambitions, providing affordable education from Nursery to GCSE. We believe wellbeing is the foundation that allows the real learning to happen. www.greatballard.co.uk

Playing outdoors

Outdoor play is an essential part of any child’s development

By | Education, environment, fun for children, Green, play, Playing, recycling, Sprintime, Uncategorized
by Laura Gifford
Little Deers Preschool

The rising trend of Forest Schools around the country displays just how important outdoor play and learning is. In a world of computer games and social media, outdoor play for children is easily overlooked or dismissed as something that was done ‘back in the day’.

It’s important now more than ever that children have exposure to nature and the outdoor world. If the recent pandemic has taught us anything it’s that family time is precious and nature can still be enjoyed when other indoor pursuits can’t. In recent months, a lot of families have reconnected with the outdoor world enjoying leisurely walks in their local parks or forests.

Studies have consistently shown that playing in an outdoor environment reduces stress while increasing vitamin D levels, promoting social skills, and even increasing attention spans.

A lot more parents these days are choosing Forest Schools and outdoor settings for their child’s early education than ever before. In the UK alone there are over 45 registered Forest Schools and in Sussex over 10 forest style preschools. The benefits of outdoor play are endless.
Children are stimulated by the outdoors and typically experience, over time, an increase in their self-belief, confidence, learning capacity, enthusiasm, communication and problem-solving skills and emotional wellbeing.

In an outdoor learning setting, children are physically and mentally more active and generally lead healthier lifestyles. Another recent study showed that outdoor play significantly reduced the symptoms of ADHD, a condition that now affects 11% of all school children. On top of this, playing outdoors promotes self-confidence, fine motor skills, and balance. It promotes self-reliance, increases flexibility, and improves overall co-ordination.

When it comes to toddlers and preschoolers, being outside is an exciting sensory experience. Babies will enjoy the exciting visuals on offer as you take them for a walk outdoors. Toddlers love the chance to explore different spaces and touch natural objects – leaves, pinecones and puddles included.

Playing outside is really important as it gives your little one the chance to look around and learn. While you’re having fun as a family, taking your children outdoors and supporting their play is also helping your development as well as theirs – the whole family benefits from being outside.

Another benefit of outdoor play is that your child learns to appreciate and respect the environment around them. Teaching your child, the importance of taking care of the environment, placing rubbish in the bin, ensuring they look after plants and animals they encounter, is hugely beneficial to them.

In the US, Forest Kindergarten or Nature School is quite common and often referred to as a ‘classroom without walls’ where young children spend their time outdoors in nature creating toys with found objects and experiencing little adventures with their imaginations.

In Germany, Waldkindergraten (forest kindergarten) is also common. And lately, in America, the popularity of ‘out of the classroom and into the woods’ preschools and kindergartens is growing as more parents are starting to feel that academics and tests have become the focus rather than non-cognitive, social emotional development and personal growth.

Starting your child’s education years in a setting which will give them opportunities to grow in such a positive way seems like a sensible choice to make.

Little Deers is a forest style preschool in the village of Nutley, East Sussex and have been running for over 30 years, providing an exciting and stimulating environment for children surrounded by the beautiful Ashdown Forest. www.nutleypreschool.org.uk

Sources:
www.childdevelopmentinfo.com/parenting/the-benefits-of-outdoor-play-for-preschoolers/#gs.d326o8
www.forestschooltraining.co.uk/forest-school/the-benefits/
www.nct.org.uk/baby-toddler/games-and-play/benefits-outdoor-play-for-children
www.mamookids.com/blogs/journal/the-ultimate-guide-to-forest-nature-schools-in-the-us

NHS Thank You

Pandemic parenting

By | children's health, Education, family, Health, Mental health, Uncategorized

Psychotherapist offers positive parenting tips

If you are one of the many families struggling with home schooling and feel that you are failing in meeting your children’s needs, you will not be in the minority. Psychotherapist Noel McDermott has over 25 years experience in this field and is keen to reassure families that any struggle in the here and now is OK. It is normal for both parents and children to be experiencing feelings of anxiety at this time. Here he provides simple tips to help support your child’s mental health.

Noel comments: “Talk to your children about how they’re finding the lockdown and home schooling this time round, reassure them it’s okay to ask for help if they feel low. Explain it’s normal and natural but that they don’t have to suffer alone. Monitor for signs they are struggling by watching out for mood, presentation or behaviour changes that last longer than a day or two. Increase family time and family events to be able to lift each other up and observe your kids at work and play.”

Positive parenting tips for both parent and child:
• Get outside. Nature is brilliant at lifting mood and it doesn’t have to be the great outdoors, your local park or even your garden is just as good. In fact, even noticing something simple outside like the trees in the park will elevate your mood!
• Challenge your thinking. Don’t give into those low mood thoughts, tell them they are temporary and will go away, that all feelings have an end by date and theirs is coming soon. Get involved in activities and events even though you might think they are useless and boring at the time; you will soon change your mind!
• Exercise as a family, stay active and get the blood flowing. Getting active for 20 minutes a day regulates your mood, just add some brisk walking into your day, take the kids for a run at lunchtime or do an online exercise class together.
• Sleep, eat and drink well. Children need good, sound sleep to ensure proper body and mind development. A nutritious diet plays an important role in a child’s physical and mental health. Get the basics right and the rest will follow.
• Treat your kids. Have a list of those things your children especially like and treat them when you think they deserve a lift! You also deserve treats – be kind to yourself.

Alternative social interaction
As well as providing education, schools and nurseries provide another even more important function in a child’s development and that is access to complex social group interaction. Children across the country will be missing their friendship circles and for all kids, but especially younger ones, access to play with other children is central to healthy development. Think outside the box and help support your child’s needs, for example:
• Plan movie nights: teleparty www.netflixparty.com is a fun way to have film nights with friends and family who cannot see each other in person.
• Organise virtual playdates: these will help fulfil your
child’s social needs and find positive opportunities. Perhaps they could have a tea party online, do arts and crafts together or simply read a book with their friend?
• Arrange a gaming session for your children with their friends – gaming, especially online, can provide immeasurable benefits to those who are lonely and isolated. It provides safe social contact and a place where skills can be developed. These skills can provide a much-needed boost to self-esteem.
• Online spaces – organise social and groups activities online with both friends and family that stimulate and develop social interaction. Although not as effective as a real-world connection, helping kids organise online groups and activities with their peers and friends can be very beneficial. The online space challenges the child (and the adult) to engage socially and cognitively.

How to spot anxiety in children
Unfortunately, cases of anxiety and distress in children are on the rise now and this is being caused by an almost constant diet of scary stories on the news/Internet, isolation from peers with schools being closed and from picking up on the stresses of family and parents. For many children they will be experiencing more vivid dreams during this time, interrupted sleep, issues around appetite and so-on which are all classic signs of distress.

Younger children and COVID-19 concerns
Little ones might try to protect you from their distress and say they are fine, but it will show up in other ways such as, in their play, which can become preoccupied with the worries; mummies and daddies getting sick and going to hospital, people getting hungry, people fighting and getting angry with each other. Kids might become avoidant when they are upset, not talking, and withdrawing. Behaviour may deteriorate and arguments and fights start. They may ‘regress’ and start to act in a younger manner, depending on age you may see thumb sucking, incontinence, clinging behaviour.

Older children and COVID-19 concerns
In teenagers, distress can often appear as disconnection (I don’t care, I don’t want to talk about it) and through avoidance behaviours. Avoidance and procrastination are both classic signs of anxiety. In older children we are seeing increases in anxiety as reported by parents, this includes relapses in anti-social behaviour, substance misuse and so on.

Psychotherapist Noel McDermott comments: “Parenting in a pandemic is not an easy feat but now more than ever it is vital that parents help children develop and maintain good mental health and emotional wellbeing. You can do this by helping them feel safe, keeping healthy routines, managing their emotions and behaviour and by being positive at home. By being positive ourselves, we promote positivity to our children. If you are concerned about your child’s mental health don’t be afraid to ask your GP for support.”

Vaccination and the end in sight
It’s important to explain that we are on the final straight now, with the vaccination programme well under way. Soon, your kids will be able to see their grandparents as the shielded ones are being vaccinated first. Tell yourself this is positive news as well! The closure of schools, as well as being temporary, is for the last time. We are all looking forward to a big party soon to move on from all this stress.

Noel McDermott is a Psychotherapist with over 25 years’ experience in health, social care, and education.
Noel’s company offer at-home mental health care and will source, identify and co-ordinate personalised care teams for the individual.
They have recently launched a range of online therapy resources in order to help clients access help without leaving home –
www.noelmcdermott.net/group-therapy/