Category

numeracy skills

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

Education, work and learning – do they go together?

By | Education, Language, numeracy skills, play, Playing, reading
by Dr Ian Cunningham
SML College

If we take the average 16 year old school pupil, their working week may be longer than that of their parents. Past generations struggled to bring in laws to limit children’s working in factories and other settings. Yet we now find that if we add a young person’s time on schoolwork to their homework and exam revision, then it is not uncommon for them to put in more hours work per week than a parent.

Another factor is that this work is largely imposed, with the individual having little control over the work pressure. What we know from organisational psychology is that long working hours where the person has little control over the work can lead to severe stress and anxiety. The research shows that stress and anxiety in children is increasing.

It was common in my school for teachers to chide pupils who were not working. Working meant working at a prescribed task from the teacher. Also, in modern parlance, there is reference to having pupils ‘on task’. If you are not working at a prescribed problem or task, then it is assumed that you are not learning. Often, when I was criticised in school for not working, I would be thinking about something not to do with what the teacher was prescribing – but it was productive thinking as far as I was concerned. The notion that working and learning must go together doesn’t make sense.

One of our students spent time doodling in school and was criticised for this – but actually it was her way of learning since she had dyslexia and ADHD and she found that drawing was more suitable for her. She described herself as a visual learner. When she came to our College aged 13 she spent a whole year doodling and drawing cartoons, making figures out of plasticine and seemingly nothing else. It may not have appeared that she was learning but she was. Two years later she published her first graphic novel. It’s a novel that has received much praise and sold well. The publishers were quite shocked that a girl as young as 15 (and diagnosed with dyslexia and ADHD) was able to produce such mature material. She learned a great deal to do this – but she didn’t see it as work.

Many writers have indicated the importance of play in learning. Educationalists head to Finland to find out about their education system because it is seen as successful. One thing they seem to miss is that children in Finland do not go to school until they are seven. The importance of the kindergarten experience and play seems to get missed. For instance much of the social ability valued by employers is learned through play.

Another use of the notion of work is in the imposition of homework on young people. Note that it is not about home learning. The assumption is that person will work on school-directed tasks while they are away from the school. What we do know is that young people learn a huge amount within the home and from people they interact with outside school. One example from our research on both young people and adults is the value of travel. Unfortunately, schools in England fine parents who take children out of school to travel in term-time.

In our College (for 9-16 year olds) we encourage parents and students to travel, because it provides valuable learning. A good example was a 14-year-old student, whose parents were working for a few months in India. She was able to go with them and carry on with her learning. A lot of the learning was, of course, about the culture, language and norms of another society. For the two months she was away she remained in contact with her group via a weekly Skyping session. Her group was regularly able to engage with her while she was sitting on a beach in India with her laptop.

What has been interesting is how ex-students refer to what they learned at our College. For instance many talk about gaining the social skills that make them highly employable. Now we don’t teach social skills. We create a learning community where students learn to interact freely with others. Some of the learning comes from structured experiences such as the fact that each student gets the chance to chair our morning community meeting. However, much of this learning is from the seemingly non-working side of the College – learning through engaging with others and learning what works and what doesn’t. So long as students learn why should we be bothered about how they do this?

Dr Ian Cunningham is Chair of Governors, SML College www.smlcollege.org.uk 01273 987629 ian@smlcollege.org.uk

Developing thinking skills from birth upwards

By | Education, environment, numeracy skills, Playing, reading, Relationships
by Sam Selkirk
Head of Reigate St Mary’s Lower School

In the words of Einstein “Education is not the learning of facts, it’s rather the training of the mind to think.” 

When do young children start to think? What do we know and how can we best support children from birth upwards?

I love the analogy of a child’s development in the context of a building, you start with the foundations and the quality of those foundations determines how stable and solid the building will eventually be. Thinking skills need to be part of those foundations; all too often the emphasis has been on developing thinking skills when children enter Key Stage 2, but one could argue that this is leaving it too late.

So, when do children start to think?
During the second half of the 20th Century there was an increase in research on brain development and the findings were summarised by Dryden and Vos in ‘The Learning Revolution’ that “Neural connections that don’t develop in the first five years of life may never develop at all.” We have a responsibility to provide opportunities to guarantee every child establishes ‘strong’ neural pathways, the direction we take should follow the research “We learn 10% of what we read, 15% of what we hear, but 80% of what we experience”.

Let’s further explore the significant elements through the research of two key players in the field of child development, Jean Piaget and Lev Vygotsky.

Piaget states that children learn by constructing schemas – patterns of repeatable behaviour which can be noticed when they play; by recognising these schemas and providing opportunities for them, we extend patterns of behaviour and thinking.

Furthermore, he suggests young children (birth to seven years – there are another two age ranges after this) move through two stages of cognitive development:
1. Sensorimotor: birth to 18-24 months when children focus on what they see and do, and physical interactions with their immediate environment. They are constantly experimenting and learning about the world through trial and error. During this period, their increased physical development leads to increased cognitive development. Then there is that important milestone – early language development.
2. Preoperational: 18-24 months to age 7 during which, children begin to represent objects with words and images, further develop language skills and imagination. Their thinking is based on intuition and still not completely logical.

Also we have Vygotsky whose theory of cognitive development focused on the role of culture and social interactions with speech being a major tool in the development of thinking.

To develop young children’s minds we must acknowledge:
• Every child is unique and goes through stages of development.
• We need to provide children with a rich and stimulating environment both inside and out where they are active participants in their learning and involved in a range of sensory experiences.
• The role of the adult is essential in developing positive relationships and to stimulate, support and encourage children.

As Carol Dweck states: “Everyone is born with an intense drive to learn, infants stretch their skills daily. Not just ordinary skills, but the most difficult tasks of a lifetime, like learning to walk and talk. Babies don’t worry about making mistakes nor humiliating themselves. They never decide it’s too hard or not worth the effort. They walk, they fall, they get up. They just barge forward.”

Through the Characteristics of Effective Learning (EYFS Framework) we can facilitate this; however, these are not an add on, they must infiltrate all aspects of a child’s life – be our ‘way of being’. Let’s explore these further…

Play and explore:
• Find out and explore – show curiosity using senses and interests.
• Play with what they know – representing their experiences in play, showing flexibility in their thoughts.
• Being willing to ‘have a go’ – taking risk, using trial and error – not fearful of making mistakes.

Be active learners:
• Being involved and concentrating – showing high levels of fascination.
• Keeping on trying – and then bouncing back after difficulties.
• Enjoying achieving what
they set out to do – intrinsically motivated to accomplish something.

Create and think critically:
• Having their own ideas – solving problems.
• Making links in their ideas – noticing patterns, making predictions, cause and effect, developing schemas.
• Choosing ways to do things – planning, checking how things are going, changing strategy if necessary, reviewing how well the activity went.
• Solve problems without adults suggesting what to do, or even worse, doing it for them!

And what else?
• Provide opportunities for play and develop the ‘stop, look, listen’ approach – we mustn’t interfere, just observe until the child invites us in.
• Ask open ended questions such as “What ideas do you have?” “What do you think is happening?” “Tell me why you think this?” “How would you solve this problem?” “What other ways can we try this?” “What other answers may there be and why?” Give them time to think before they answer – count to 10, at least, it feels like forever, but it is essential to allow the child to process their thoughts.
• Value and encourage children’s questions.
• Give children time to talk with each other but model that talk through open ended questions, reasoning and changing our minds.
• Talk more about the process rather than the end result using the language of learning, by modelling, scaffolding, making connections and embrace making mistakes – this will mean they will be more willing to take risks.
• Give children the independence to select activities and the opportunity to repeat.
• Give them the opportunity to plan, do and review, talking about what has worked well and what they would change.

And the environment?
• Accessible to the children, so they can self-select.
• Calm and uncluttered with a variety of toys related to the children’s interests: construction and small world toys, games, role-play areas from vets to restaurants, mark making materials, items to count, shapes, jigsaws, paint, items such as guttering, plastic tubing, boxes, natural resources, leaves and twigs.

And finally give children time to play inside and out, many a time I have observed children do something outside that they had yet to achieve inside, that sense of space for many young children is key.

And to conclude, heed the words of William Yeats “Education is not filling of a pail but the lighting of a fire.”

Reigate St Mary’s is a junior school of Reigate Grammar, situated within a beautiful 15 acre site close to the town centre. The school has been shortlisted for Independent Prep School of the Year 2020 in recognition of its all-round excellence and holistic approach to education. A growth mind-set celebrates hard work and effort not innate talent. In focusing on the journey and in embracing mistakes and failure as part of improving, children build the resilience and risk taking required to succeed. www.reigatestmarys.org

Building emotional intelligence from an early age

By | Education, numeracy skills, Playing, reading
by Sarah Trybus
Focus Games

Emotions have a significant impact on our health and wellbeing. It is not always easy to express how we feel, and it is even harder to know how to deal with all these emotions. Developing emotional intelligence enables us to understand and manage our feelings effectively.

Teaching emotional intelligence, at an early age, will help your children develop self-awareness and empathy. Research also shows that children who have higher emotional intelligence tend to pay more attention in class, be more engaged at school, develop healthy social skills, and have more positive relationships.

Children do not always know how to express how they feel. They may be experiencing difficulties at school, anxiety, bullying, and cannot always say or show why they feel this way. Building emotional intelligence, and giving your children the tools to express how they feel, will make it easier for them to express themselves and find ways to help them manage the situation.

Emotions and feelings can be complex. According to the American psychologist, Robert Plutchick, there are seven basic emotions: anger, fear, joy, sadness, disgust, surprise, and confidence. The other emotions are more complex and come from two or more basic emotions.

However, when expressing our emotions, we tend to use limited vocabulary which might not express the complexity of the emotions we feel. Therefore, when teaching emotional intelligence to your children, it is very important to give them the framework, and the words to help them understand and express their feelings.

There are five key steps to help your children express their emotions:

1. Recognise and name the emotion
How are your children feeling? For example, have they become quieter and more withdrawn lately? Identifying these kinds of signs will help them recognise and name the emotion.

2. Understand and put the emotion into context
Once your children have recognised the emotion they are feeling, they need to understand why they felt this way. Did something specific happen that caused them to feel like this?

Understanding what caused the emotion also means that if a similar situation happens again you and your children will be more prepared to deal with it.

3. Express the emotion
Encourage your children to communicate their feelings using words, and not their hands. They can also draw or write down how they feel. There are plenty of ways your children can express their emotions in a calm and rational manner.

4. Normalise the emotion
Explain to your children that it is okay to feel various emotions, and that everyone experiences different feelings.

5. Find ways to manage the emotion
Help your children find techniques to manage their emotions and encourage positive behaviour. It may be a short-term technique to manage the emotion at the time, for example by taking deep breaths. It can also be longer term strategies that will help your children cope with their emotions over time. For example, routine exercise often helps reduce anxiety.

Parents and teachers can use fun and colourful resources to engage the children in this activity. The Canadian charity, Jasmin Roy Foundation, created The Emotion Game to help children develop their emotional intelligence, and build healthy social skills.

The game gives your children a framework that follows the five keys steps to emotional literacy. The pictorial cards provide children with information about the different emotions and how to recognise them. Once they have identified how they feel they place the ‘I’m feeling’ cards on a board to name the emotion. Children then explain why they feel this way. The Emotion Game also includes ‘I’d like’ cards that give different techniques, which children can use to manage their feelings in class and at home.

Going through the five steps of emotional literacy does not take long and can easily be integrated into a family routine or part of a lesson at school. Taking the time to discuss and learn about emotions will enable your children to develop their emotional intelligence, to be more engaged in class and to express positive behaviours.

To learn more about The Emotion Game you can visit: www.EmotionsGame.com Pictures courtesy of motherhoodtherealdeal.com

A preschool is where a child’s educational journey begins, where key skills are developed and a love of learning is cultivated

By | Education, family, fun for children, numeracy skills, Playing, reading, Relationships
by Susan Clarke
Head of Rowan Preparatory School, Claygate, Surrey

Do you recall your first day of school? If not, your parents will have done, just like you now considering the educational path your child is on. When choosing the right environment, there are many factors to consider yet there is an abundance of choice regarding nurseries, preschools, and schools; so how do you choose?

Primarily we want our children to be safe, happy and enjoy the opportunities provided for them. However, look behind the scenes and there are huge differences in what’s on offer. Below are a few handy tips on what to watch out for.

Children will benefit from a setting that has that perfect home-away-from-home feel, with warm, inviting spaces for them to grow, learn and discover. Take the time to explore nursery and preschool settings with small classes, specialist teaching provision, adventures to the woods and outdoor play areas and you are well on your way to instilling a love of learning in your child.

Experts in the Early Years
Do you know about the importance of cross-lateral movements, singing songs and practising making silly noises together? Not to worry if you do not, experts in the Early Years will be leading you and your child all the way. Finding the right experts for your child is essential, as building supportive and reassuring relationships at this age are vital for successful early development. At some settings, children will be fortunate enough to learn from passionate, specialist teaching staff, who bring out the best in every child. They will discover their interests and develop their inquisitiveness through exploration, investigation, and play. Staff will give you feedback through portfolios so that you feel involved in your child’s learning journey. Sharing milestones, success and moments of discovery are precious and to be treasured.

Learning through play
Like most early learning environments, the Foundation Stage curriculum is considered to be at the heart of all experiences. Skilled Early Years practitioners will deliver carefully curated topics, based on children’s interests and the curriculum, bringing them to life through song, play and observation. This approach will creatively develop the senses, sounds and imagination of their young charges. Within this world of fantasy, imagination and fun are opportunities for learning sounds, numbers and about the world around them. Look out for settings that nurture their knowledge, understanding and confidence.

Going above and beyond
While communication, personal and social education and mathematics are core to any Early Years curriculum, your choice of nursery can offer much more. What else is on offer? Is sport, dance or yoga offered to complement physical development? Is musical theatre, singing and drama provided to help build confidence and a natural ability to express themselves to a range of audiences? Are the children exposed to learning an additional language, having fun with songs, food and their newly expanded vocabulary? It is a joy to celebrate language and culture and these opportunities are all part of developing a sense of self and belonging in this world.

Woodland wanderers
When I think about my two children when they were two and four, I could barely get them out of a puddle or discourage them from climbing a tree, and who would want to at that age! Using the outdoors to develop knowledge, their language and awareness provides opportunity for real-life discovery. Problem solving skills are developed alongside the ability to communicate, these are essential building blocks in their educational journey. Many nurseries and preschools have access to woodland areas and Forest Schools, which children visit weekly and in all weathers. They will don waders, snow suits or sunhats to explore the woods, returning to school with tales of mini-beasts, den building, witling and wandering. How I yearn to be three again!

Parents as partners
You are an essential part of your child’s development; you know their interests, likes and dislikes. Getting to know whether your child likes dinosaurs, or peas rather than broccoli, will help them settle confidently into their setting. An open-door policy is vital in enabling you to work in partnership with staff and allowing you to discuss any concerns you may have. Look for an environment that holds regular ‘Show and Share’ sessions, where children delight in welcoming their parents into the classroom, proud of the learning space in which they feel comfortable and can excitedly share their prized creations and the skills they have learned.

Ready for ‘big’ school
As your little one nears the end of their time in nursery or preschool, they will be more than ready to embrace the experiences of Reception. Thinking about their transition will be key and if you are able to offer them continuity and familiarly through the same whole school setting or through friendship groups this will help ease their way. If your nursery is in a school setting, I know that Reception teachers love nothing more than coming into the Early Year’s rooms and getting to know them for that next big step. Once you have chosen your school for Reception there will be information and activity afternoons, so everyone feels confident and assured about the next stage. Children will radiate confidence from their time in preschool, so much so that Reception in the same environment seems natural and reassuring.

Susan Clarke is the Headmistress at Rowan Preparatory School in Claygate, Surrey, an outstanding prep school and preschool for girls aged 2-11.
The school motto Hic Feliciter Laboramus – Here We Work Happily – is a sentiment embodied throughout the school, where an engaging and inspiring approach to education creates a lifelong love of learning. To discover more visit www.rowanprepschool.co.uk or contact admissions@rowanprepschool.co.uk to arrange a visit.

money and kids

Playful ways to introduce money

By | Education, family, Finance, numeracy skills
Source: F&C Investment Trust

Children are seeing less actual ‘money’ nowadays with many adults using cards or apps to pay, so they can grow up far less aware of how to use actual notes and coins. Here are some ways to ensure that children still learn about ‘real money’.

1 Make a pretend shop with a pot of coins and sticky note price tags to encourage little ones to play with money.

2 Next time you’re at the shops, point out some of the prices on the items and talk about what the symbols mean.

3 Write a shopping list for making fruit smoothies and take it with you to the shops to buy your ingredients.

4 Turn an old cardboard box into a cash machine with buttons and pretend screen for lots of pretend play with money.

5 Place coins under paper and rub with a crayon on its side, what numbers can your child see?

6 Encourage older children to explore ways to make the value of five or 10 using small coins in lots of different ways.

7 Bury coins in sand or mud for little ones to discover and play with, perhaps matching numbers or values.

8 Set up a pretend bank with money, till and paper slips. Why not visit a bank to show your little one where money comes from?

9 Press coins into lumps of play dough to see the impressions and numbers.

10 Turn an old box or tube into a money box for your child’s savings.

 

When the numbers just won’t add up

By | Education, numeracy skills, Uncategorized

Young children often take a dislike to maths. Burgess Hill Girls teacher Shelley Allen explains how parents can use everyday activities to turn a minus into a plus.

Whether it’s a child working out whether they have enough pocket money to buy a prized toy or an adult grappling with a recipe that uses ounces instead of metric measures, we all encounter mathematics in some form throughout our daily lives. It is a subject that can strike fear into the hearts of young and old, but the perception that “I can’t do maths” can be overcome.

As parents, we can help children to acquire the tools they need to tackle the mathematical concepts they encounter not only in the classroom but beyond the confines of a worksheet or exercise book, out there in the big wide world.

Children, particularly infants, have a very defined view that mathematics is something that happens in maths lessons. But by exposing them to the mathematics that is all around them they will be able to see the value of learning to ‘do’ maths and also accept that it is something that can be enjoyed.

Five ways to change your child’s mindset on maths:
1. On the hour: telling the time
You will almost certainly have checked the time during the day. Whether analogue or digital, this is an opportunity to talk to your child about what is happening and how long it is until the next event in the day.

2. Count it out: cards and board games
At preschool level and well beyond, traditional board and card games are a great way to introduce mathematical concept. In old favourites like Snakes and Ladders, a child is required to recognise that dots on a dice represent a number, count the number of spaces with their counter and consider which direction to travel on the board. A pack of playing cards can reinforce recognition of numbers up to 10 and the ways in which they can be represented. Junior versions of games such as Monopoly require children to count out money and begin to consider doubles as well as developing strategy and reasoning skills.

3. Coining it in: the value of money
The supermarket, or any other shop for that matter, is a fantastic source of mathematical investigation. For younger children, simply reading the price of an item on the shelf and comparing it with the price of another provides a real-world context for exploring greater and less. Older children can estimate the total price of the shopping using rounding and estimating to get a sensible answer, with perhaps even a prize for the closest! Product labels are full of information and encourage children to work out the best-value product by looking at the price by weight or volume. Contactless payment now means that money doesn’t even need to change hands at the till, but give children opportunities to use coins to count in twos, fives and tens, explore place-value including decimals and to investigate the ways in which different combinations can be added to make one amount. Older children can work out and check change given.

4. Measuring up: DIY
home improvements offer another great opportunity to access some real life maths.
From counting screws to measuring lengths for younger children to working out the area of a wall or floor to calculate the amount of paint or carpet needed for upper Key Stage 2, there are plenty of ways to enhance your child’s learning.

5. What’s cooking: sharing the cake!
Cooking of any sort requires counting, weighing and measuring. For older children it is a chance to explore ratio and proportion by doubling or halving mixtures or to convert between different units of measure, whether metric or imperial. It can also be a way to develop an understanding of fractions. Sharing pizza or cake is a way to explore anything from simple fractions such a halves and quarters to the more complex ideas of equivalence and comparison. In the classroom I find that any maths that involves chocolate is met with immense enthusiasm!

Shelley Allen is a KS1 Teacher and Junior School STEM Coordinator at Burgess Hill Girls