First aid for parents

By | Education, family, Health, Safety
by Feola McCandlish
Daisy First Aid

Would you know what to do if your child choked, swallowed something they shouldn’t have, hit their head, was burned, had a seizure or fell unconscious? Would you know how to recognise the early stages of meningitis or a severe allergic reaction?

No parent wants to think about their child being harmed; but unfortunately accidents do happen and learning essential first aid skills can make all the difference in an emergency situation.

What is first aid?
First aid is the immediate treatment given to a person before medical help arrives. Your first actions while you wait for an ambulance can make all the difference and can sometimes even mean the difference between life and death.

There is so much to think about when you have a baby and it’s understandable that first aid might not be at the top of your list – especially when you are sleep-deprived and trying to figure out how to keep your tiny human alive.

Learning first aid can be scary, particularly when it is our own children we are talking about, but it doesn’t have to be. Learning first aid with like-minded people in a relaxed and informal environment can actually be a lot of fun.

Perfect for pregnancy
Did you know you can do a first aid class when you are expecting? It’s safe to do during pregnancy and it’s something you can tick off that ever-growing list of things to do! Learn with your antenatal group, friends and family.

Lots of parents, understandably, worry about choking when they are beginning to wean their baby. Did you know that babies have extremely sensitive gag reflexes, which are there to help keep your baby safe from choking?

When a baby is weaning it’s completely normal to experience a lot of coughing, gagging and going red in the face. A common misconception is that you will hear a person choking but you won’t; severe choking is usually completely silent. Knowing the difference between gagging and severe choking is really important, particularly when you are about to wean your baby. If they’re coughing and going red in the face that’s a great sign, we can usually let them work it out themselves; if they’re silent and turning blue they need our help.

Doing a first aid class can put your mind at ease when it comes to weaning your baby so you can relax and enjoy the process (and focus on cleaning the mess!) and feel confident that you know what steps to take if your baby does choke.

Not just for babies
It’s not just babies who sometimes require first aid. Once your child is mobile, a whole new world will open up to them; it’s an exciting time for them and you! Young children love putting things in their mouths. Did you know this is for sensory reasons? They have more nerve endings in their mouths than they do in their fingers so they find out more about an object if they put it in their mouth! But this obviously poses a choking risk.

Once your child is walking, running and climbing it’s normal for blows to the head to become a fairly regular occurrence (at least, they are in our house!) Would you know how to treat a head injury? And would you know what signs to look out for in a serious head injury?

Learning vital first aid skills gives confidence to parents and other child carers so that they would know what to do in an emergency involving their baby or child. All it takes is two hours.

Daisy First Aid teaches award-winning courses to parents, expectant parents and children all over Sussex in homes and public venues. They also provide OFSTED compliant courses for teachers and childcare professionals in local venues and private settings.

For more information visit

Known, not numbers…

By | Education, fun for children
by Steven Jeffery
Headteacher of Our Lady of Sion

Steven Jeffery is Headteacher of Our Lady of Sion, an inter-denominational school for boys and girls, ages 3 to 18, in Worthing. Having been Deputy Head at the school for six years and Acting Head for six months, Steven was recently appointed Headteacher. A passionate musician, Steven is well known in Worthing having lived and taught there for many years, and is actively involved in community support. His education philosophy focuses in on the individual character and potential of each child. Where there is a positive connection between teacher and young person, the outcomes can be impressive and groundbreaking. Understanding the child is essential in achieving that all-important connection.

Over the last 25 years in education, I have enjoyed and endured various ‘wheels of progress’ brought in by educationalists and politicians to support and serve the academic endeavours of young people. Some of these ideas have been energising and immensely valuable, whereas others have seemingly distracted teachers and pupils from what truly matters. Of course, there are always those ‘wheels of progress’ that are unknowingly reinvented by well-meaning experts who re-trial historical methods under new facades. This is a familiar feature of our education system. It often goes astray in the maze of political initiatives, and unfortunately the essence of inspirational, engaging and genuinely satisfying learning can be somewhat lost.

girls playgroundOne thing that remains steadfast and true is the importance of a positive and respectful teacher-pupil rapport. I strongly believe that the role of teacher is undoubtedly vocational and the ways in which an educator works is fundamental to the academic success and emotional wellbeing of each child. Since as long as I can remember, I have always been moved by the notion of paths crossing. I have met thousands of young people over the years and always count those moments as a deeply significant and profound part of this role. Our paths have crossed, so what can I now bring to this child? How can I unlock creativity? What will inspire this young person to achieve great outcomes? Who is this child? Those tacet questions signify the beginning of one of the most noteworthy relationships that a child will ever have. We all remember our teachers. We remember many of the conversations we had with them and how these made us feel and respond. We easily recall those that took time to get to know us and encourage us. We regrettably also very easily recollect those that saw us as mere numbers, and never as people, treating us in apparent accordance with that very mindset.

At the start of my career, I vowed that every child with whom I worked would be known as an individual and not a number. So, what does that mean in real terms? How does it look in the daily life of a mindful teacher?

Learn names quickly. Knowing a child’s name makes all the difference. What does it say to a child when we know his/her name? Ask yourself: who is the one teacher in your entire life who made the biggest difference for you – who taught you so well that you still think about him or her as your best teacher? I bet that for almost all of us, that best teacher was someone who knew you by name. It takes effort but it’s worth it. I have always applied mental images to each new child I meet. Every Luke is given a lightsabre, Tom always carries a cat, Caspar wears a white sheet (friendly ghost style), Jenna is always engaged in a game of giant Jenga, and Hannah always carries a spanner, and so on. It still amazes me that once I have applied these mental images, they stick. When I see Jenna walking along the corridor, the giant
Jenga is right there with her!

Education is about learning more about the unknown so that more of the unknown becomes known. That is why learning is life-long, energising and exciting. Getting to know an individual is to understand the child’s perspective, interests, environment, beliefs, and passions – essentially what makes the child tick. As Headteacher and teacher, I want to engage with each young person in ways that demonstrate my knowledge of that person as a whole being, not merely a student or pupil. I want those encounters to affirm the child’s qualities and impressive talents. I want to share how impressed I am to hear about their community outreach, their kindness to others, their achievements in music or sport, their outstanding contribution to a local charity and their personal triumphs in the classroom. This knowledge comes from regular interactions, asking tutors to pass on the good news, and encouraging parents to communicate successes. A school’s reward system should offer parents and grandparents the opportunity to nominate their children/grandchildren for awards linked to acts of kindness and achievements beyond the classroom. ‘Shout Out!’ assemblies offer teachers and students the opportunity to nominate people for a special mention for their outstanding actions or accomplishments. Success is broader than academic prowess, although schools should be giving this area considerable focus too.

Remember birthdays. This is a simple way to reiterate how much we value each child. Sending out birthday messages each day, being inclusive of those that fall on weekends and holidays. Celebrating in this way is to rejoice in the delight of community and tangibly express how much each member is valued and known.

A school community works together towards common goals. Examples of these ambitions could be learning about ourselves and each other, understanding diversity and discovering its beauty, finding our own voices and using these for change, recognising the part we all play in building a better society and so on. Within each of these communal aims, there is an individual response brought to the whole. When a culture actively promotes the importance and power of action, the school can make a noteworthy impact on the immediate community and even the world. Being open to recognise and notice an individual’s acts of kindness, timely words of wisdom, selfless actions and heartfelt responses to world-issues, will unquestionably empower a young person to utilise their time and talents for philanthropic causes. Recognising our own positive impact on the world around us provides us with a sense of purpose and significance. When we are reminded that the part we play matters, our energy soars and so does our fundamental wellbeing. I believe that members of the school community should actively notice altruistic acts and encourage those individuals to keep on going.

An understanding of the individual journey towards personal success is a crucial factor in developing a ‘known not number’ culture. I feel very strongly that parents and educators should repeatedly encourage students to guard against making comparisons with others. Attention should be given to effort, and the celebration of this should always be the priority rather than the actual grade. It is therefore crucial that a teacher knows a student well and knows what outstanding effort looks like for that child. It is very easy to lavishly praise the Grade 9 student and fail to celebrate the Grade 4 student, even though the Grade 4 student demonstrated more progress, dedication and commitment than the seemingly more successful child. Both students are worthy of congratulations, but if the Grade 9 student was achieving the Grade 4 outcome, the response would need to be appropriately tailored too. When we know our students, we can motivate, engage, encourage, inspire, challenge and change them through carefully chosen words, considered tone and mindful body language as well as a steadfast commitment to helping every child achieve full potential. It is the individual’s possibilities that we should be heedful of, not merely grades. Each child sees the world in their own unique way. Taking time to understand this will make all the difference as to how we communicate.

I count myself very honoured to work with young people. I want to encourage each one of them to be the very best that they can be. If I am getting to know who they are, how they respond and think, I will be doing my best for them. May they always know that they are welcome, known and admired and never a number. We are working with unique, fragile souls. That work brings with it a momentous responsibility. Each encounter matters. Each word is heard. What will my impact be?

Our Lady of Sion is an independent inter-denominational school based in Worthing for girls and boys, ages 3 to 18.


My top five books for little people’s BIG EMOTIONS…

By | Education, Mental health, reading
by Sophy Henn
Children’s author

It was reading picture books to my daughter that made me want to create my own. I was in awe of their power to excite, inform, empower and soothe, to convey quite complex messages and emotions in a way that both my daughter and I could relate to, all whilst keeping us entertained. Picture books can be such a brilliant way to start conversations of all sorts – picky eating, feeling good about yourself or even bad moods.

Being little is awesome, obviously, but it can also be quite tough too. There is just so much new stuff all the time! New situations, new people, new emotions, it’s just relentless. And all of these new situations require new responses, there’s so much to work out and then learn from our mistakes. Exhausting! And don’t get me started on the hormones (who knew they started so early? Well, science apparently) and the rollercoaster they take everyone on. Phew. So it’s no wonder all these feelings can sometimes be a lot.

I remember the first time my daughter had a proper shouty meltdown. When it subsided we all stood there shocked and stunned, but I don’t think any of us were as shocked as her. And that is why I believe that reading about these ‘moments’ and emotions is such a great thing. Watching other characters go through these situations affords everyone some perspective, the chance to have a chat about things in a calm way and maybe even have a chuckle about it all.

So after much wrangling, here are my top five books about those BIG EMOTIONS for little people. Enjoy them as a wonderful story or maybe use them to start a conversation, whatever you do I hope you love them as much as I do.

Where the Wild Things Are
by Maurice Sendak
One of my all time favourites. I adore how Max’s mood transports him to the place he needs to go to in order to exorcise his bad mood. After proving himself the wildest of the wild things, Max realises his wild feeling has now gone and been replaced by not such a nice one – loneliness. So he returns home. Sendak perfectly captures that rollercoaster of emotion a bad mood can take you on. Let the wild rumpus begin!

Barbara Throws a Wobbler
by Nadia Shireen
Nadia Shireen, has made Wobblers a physical presence in her wonderful, brand new picture book. I love how you can see Barbara literally wrestle with her bad mood and watch it shrink before her very eyes, once she alters her behaviour. A valuable message for us all! I think children will really respond to seeing a bad mood as an actual character, helping them realise they own the mood not the other way round. And who doesn’t love the word wobbler?

Grumpy Frog
by Ed Vere
Borne out of frustration with all the intolerant voices that seem to shout so loudly at the moment, Ed Vere created Grumpy Frog, who disputes this label by declaring he is actually very happy, but only so long as everything is going his way. When other ideas, suggestions and even colours impinge on his day, things start to get grumpy. But then Grumpy Frog meets a lovely green crocodile! What could go wrong? A great book to start discussions about compromise and empathy.

My No, No, No Day
by Rebecca Patterson
An absolute classic that I have only just discovered. This book takes us on the journey of Bella’s No, No ,No Day. Things start off wrong for no particular reason, and only get worse, right up until bedtime. But then Bella acknowledges her bad day to mummy, and they both hope for a better one tomorrow. A truly relatable story, grounded very much in the everyday but with such a great use of language (ballet is described as ‘too itchy’ – genius!) and such hilarious illustrations it can’t help but make you smile through Bella’s bad mood.

The Best Worst Day Ever
by me!
The idea for this book came from my childhood. When I was little and having a ‘moment’, when things all got ‘a bit much’, I would go for a big, dramatic exit and ‘runaway’. This involved me running to the end of the (not very big at all) garden and hiding behind the shed, convinced everyone would be desperate with worry and truly sorry for making me have a bad mood. I would wait for what felt like hours (probably only about five minutes) and then realise I was bored, probably hungry, felt a bit silly and wanted to go back inside. But after such an exit, such high emotion, it felt like there was rather a hurdle to overcome in order to ingratiate myself back into the house. And this is what happens to my main character Arthur, only his hurdle is a huge, dark forest that has sprung up between him and home during his post running-away pondering. As there is not time to go around it, Arthur must go through it and we follow Arthur’s journey as he meets some characters along the way who help him work through his bad mood, turning a stomp into wiggle, and a huff into a hoot.

I have loved creating this book and my hope it that it is not only enjoyed as a story in it’s own right, but might just gets kids and their grown-ups dancing away the grumps as well!

The Best Worst Day Ever by Sophy Henn is out now published by Simon & Schuster Children’s Books.

autistic support

How to support autistic children through the uncertainty of restrictions easing

By | children's health, Education, family, Health, play, Relationships

Whilst restrictions ease, lots of us are feeling a little overwhelmed, living in anticipation of what’s to come. After all, if the past year has taught us anything it’s that we can never predict what lies around the corner. Although, for children with special needs, including autistic children, this can be particularly stressful; the difficulties they face amid such uncertainty often cause more extreme levels of anxiety and therefore require specific, informed consideration.

This is supported by recent research which suggests that some autistic children have experienced ‘worsening in behavioural, social and developmental domains’ during lockdown, with this ‘success or failure’ often being ‘directly related to how their parents coped’ and how they ‘accommodate to the child’s needs’ (Latzer, Letiner, & Karnieli-Miller, 2021). Seemingly, we must understand how autistic children are struggling and proactively support them, embracing any and all professional advice along the way.

However, understanding exactly how we, as parents and/or caregivers, can best support autistic children during an unprecedented and turbulent period isn’t easy. Trevor Elliott MBE is the Managing Director of Kennedy Elliott, an organisation which provides care and accommodation for children and young people aged between 11-25 who have experienced extreme disadvantages. Trevor is a foster parent himself, as he has been for the past five years, and cares for several young people – including a young person with autism.

Trevor understands the difficulties autistic children face and here highlights his tips and insights that’ll help you support your autistic child over the next few months and beyond.

1. Maintain a consistent routine.
It’s widely acknowledged that children with autism cope best when their daily routines are kept consistent, unchanged and uninterrupted. Routines are a source of comfort for those with autism, whilst many experts believe that this helps them to express their feelings. Of course, the pandemic, and subsequent easing of restrictions, has changed everyone’s routine and continues to do so; there’s nothing that could have been done, or can be done, to maintain our pre-pandemic routine in its entirety. This is incredibly stressful for children with autism, not only are their routines now very different, we continue to be surrounded by uncertainty as restrictions are incrementally lifted and, ultimately, we await a very different world post-pandemic.

Fortunately, there are steps that you can take as a caregiver to maintain some consistency. For example, I would recommend following their usual sleep/wake routine, encourage them to complete regular chores and work with them to create a visual schedule that they feel comfortable with.

2. Understand what they love and promote this hobby.
Children with autism often struggle to express themselves, which can lead to frustration and distress – something which is often presented in the form of tantrums or complete withdrawal. Therefore, when an autistic child finds an activity that they enjoy and feel comfortable doing, they’ll latch onto it. During a period of uncertainty, like we’re currently experiencing, make sure you know what your child loves; discuss this with them and look to see what activities/interests really allow them to thrive and flourish. If you’re able to feed their passion(s) amid current restrictions, do so. For example, if your child loves trains, encourage them to play with a train set for a period each day.

If they enjoy dance or art, make sure this is a part of their weekly schedule (which you work with them to create). This will encourage expressive communication which is vital if they’re feeling stressed, whilst generally helping any autistic child to feel more positive and in control.

3. Be patient.
The most important thing you can do to support an autistic child whilst restrictions ease and beyond also happen to be the simplest; be patient. Autistic children struggle to communicate and often aren’t able to articulate their feelings so it’s important that you’re empathetic and understanding. Similarly, autistic children will have varied levels of understanding about the pandemic and what it means for restrictions to be ‘lifting’; they might worry that the disease is rifer than it perhaps is, or simply can’t envisage what their lives will look like in six months’ time. In any instance, describe the current situation to them without any abstract phrasing, be honest, use clear language and take your time.

When communicating with autistic children it can be useful to use visual supports and a social narrative to convey complex information. When discussing the realities of restrictions easing and what this will mean for them in the long-term, towards the latter end of this year and beyond, bear this in mind.

4. Learn what environments work best for them.
To help your autistic child thrive when they’re struggling you must first identify what environments work best for them. For example, they might feel more at ease in small groups inside, or perhaps they benefit from being outside in less formal settings. Whatever the case, do what works for your child (rules permitting) and make sure they understand that their preferred environments will always be accessible to them in one form or another.

5. Explore coping and calming skills.
It’s incredibly important that every autistic child develops coping and self-management skills. Explore different techniques with your child to find out what works for them; for example, listening to music on headphones might work wonders, whilst they might enjoy exercise and feel that this lessens their stress levels. There are also lots of great apps out there – be sure to explore those too.

6.Maintain social contact where possible.
Covid-19 has of course limited social interactions and it’s likely they’ll continue to be limited, to some degree, for a while. However, it’s vital that we maintain autistic children’s social connections wherever possible. Use tools like FaceTime and Zoom to keep in touch with loved ones, explore virtual play groups and/or encourage them to virtually volunteer; there are lots of options and every autistic child needs to be aware that support is within easy reach.

Caring for any child isn’t always easy, particularly during a period of uncertainty. However, the challenges ensued by the pandemic will unfortunately affect our lives, to various degrees, long into the future; it’s therefore important that we equip autistic children with the skills necessary to cope with these difficulties. This needn’t be too difficult; the key is to listen, understand and trust that you know what’s best for your child’s unique needs.

Another day, another train track…

By | Education, fun for children, Toys

“Too often we give children answers to remember, instead of problems to solve.” Roger Lewin

Each term I do an audit of the resources we have on offer, I work out what the children have enjoyed and what seems to be great in theory but short lived in practice. I then spend some money on new and exciting resources. Today, I spent £17 in a St. Wilfred’s Hospice charity shop on resources that I’m not entirely sure what to do with myself – and that’s the point.

“Excuse me, what actually is this?” I asked the cashier brandishing a brass pot with a lid on it – “actually, ignore that – it doesn’t matter, it can be anything really.” I got a strange look when I explained I was buying resources for a preschool when in my basket I had a wooden serving dish, a toast rack, a straw hat, beads, bangles and scarves, a ceramic tea set from the 70’s and said brass pot.

I can’t predict where any of these items will lead the children in their play and that’s what excites me about it. I am tired of the same old Early Years, I am tired of previously much loved ‘Happyland’, I am tired of train tracks only ever being train tracks. I am tired of the same observations on the same children year after year and ticking a box to say they can do it. The new school year kickstarts the beginning of a brand new EYFS, an EYFS more children centred than ever before and it’s very exciting. I’ve always gone slightly outside of the expected parameters with my preschool, I’ve become accustomed to explaining my rationale for certain activities and I enjoy explaining them because I am unapologetically passionate about what I do and why I do it.

The children are predominantly outdoors and that comes with its own challenges as far as reassuring parents goes, but when I add that
I’m always on the hunt for donations of old china teapots and vintage phones and weighing scales I hear “but they’ll smash them” to which my response is always “they might do, but they will almost certainly learn something new from that experience.”

When we only allow children to play with plastic, brightly coloured and pre-planned toys, we stifle their imaginations and don’t allow any space for curiosity. We also don’t help them to learn how to handle heavier, more breakable items so inevitably when they are then given them they are inexperienced and any breakages become a negative experience. And we do nothing to foster a nurturing attitude towards the planet that we so badly need to start thinking more about. Plastic toys aren’t sustainable, they have a shelf-life and quite frankly, they’re a bit dull. That’s not to say we don’t currently have any plastic toys at the preschool but there will be a time in the not-so-distant future that we will banish them entirely.

Curiosity in children helps foster good relationships, good communication, satisfaction in play, stimulation and life-long learning. Children genuinely want to learn in the early years and it is so important that we get it right to allow that positive attitude to learning to continue throughout their school career.

A little while ago, I set up a ‘curiosity station’ instead of our usual ‘areas of development’ sections of the room. I had very few predictions about what it would achieve and it was mostly just an experiment. In part of my ‘curiosity station’ I had some metal garden spheres, initially these were just balls to throw and kick but when the children discovered their weight they became an object of schematic play, rolling them back and forth and between legs. It encouraged positive communication, new vocabulary and turn taking – all vital skills when starting school. I had a ‘tuff spot’ with sand, scoopers, jars of orange slices, conkers and pine cones, sticks, stones and bamboo cups – these became items from a restaurant where six children played together in harmony serving each other, taking orders and paying for their meals using the most expressive language and beautiful manners. It was also a dinosaur land where the children searched in debris for fossils and dinosaur bones. All of this learning was without any prompting from adults, it was in the moment, authentic, inspirational and fascinating. I was mentally noting endless observations about the children’s language, their social abilities and their natural interest in numbers and mathematical problems.

When we give children a train track and some trains and stop there, they stop there. There’s only so far they can go. A train can really only be a train but a brass pot can be anything they want it to be. When we give children a dolls house, they put the furniture in the rooms, put the people in the beds and then take it all out and start again – that’s exactly what we expect and part of the joy of working with small children is the unexpected. My favourite days are the days when the ‘plan’ doesn’t go to plan and the children become pirates following their own treasure maps because they didn’t want to make another junk modelling rocket ship, the days when they use the puddles to fill up cups and add petals and nettles to make potions and the days when I capture a little boy who previously ignored all books looking at a book because it is inside the climbing frame and not in the ‘book corner’.

The new EYFS is a new and desperately overdue opportunity for all settings, all practitioners, all teachers and anyone else working with children to continually ask themselves “why are we doing this? Who is it for?” We have been told we are to build our own curriculum. My curriculum is based on real experiences and that beautifully innocent desire to learn fostered through the medium of curiosity and I cannot wait to see where it all leads.

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

Reading for pleasure

By | Education, reading
by Deborah Rees
Head of English, Great Walstead School

I am often asked, “What makes a good reader?” or “How can I encourage my child to read more?” Ultimately, there are three essential components to answering these questions. Firstly, stronger readers tend to have competent cognitive reading skills – including good comprehension, phonics and decoding skills. If the foundation skills are sound, the less onerous the reading becomes. Secondly, voracious readers tend to have positive affective processes – including high levels of reading enjoyment, motivation and reading attitude. Finally, ‘book worms’ have been encouraged to maintain good reading behaviours – including daily, sustained reading outside school, as well as the desire and hunger to read a wide range of texts.

Like many of my generation, without the pleasures and pitfalls of modern technology, I remember curling up in bed under a duvet as a child, and being transported through time and space. Whether it was ‘Children of the Dust’, ‘Eleanor, Elizabeth’, or later, ‘Jane Eyre’, books ignited my imagination, and opened doors to the possibilities of new, exciting worlds and strange, intriguing and sometimes frightening dystopias. The characters I encountered and came to know taught me about people, about real and imagined relationships; and how to negotiate the complexities of the world I live in: all immeasurably invaluable life skills. My parents encouraged reading – any reading, and understood that, in the words of Terry Pratchett “The way to get children reading is to leave the library door open and let them read anything and everything they want.” At times, much to my parents’ horror (and secret delight), I would read late into the night.

Flash forward a couple of years, and I remember vividly competing in the English Speaking Union’s Observer Mace Debating Competition. The motion was that ‘The Internet would be the death of independent research’. In effect, in the age of technology, with smart phones and all-singing, all-dancing multi-modal texts, the book will become something of an anachronism. Thankfully it hasn’t. Whilst we embrace modern technology, there is a recognition that most digital texts are short, literal, factual and informative. They are designed to be accessible to a wide audience working within time constraints, in our ever-evolving, busy lives. Reading what some might call, “good, old-fashioned novels” concentrates the mind; and that in itself is a necessary and valuable life-skill.

At our school we believe passionately in the importance of a community that celebrates reading for pleasure, recognising that reading for pleasure is the single most important indicator of a child’s future success. It enables children to access rich and challenging texts, offers a model for silent independent reading and creates ‘texts in common’, which encourage the development of reading relationships. The informal, non-structured and often spontaneous conversations between children or between children and adults about their reading are common place in our classrooms, corridors and communal spaces.

We know that international evidence demonstrates that reading for pleasure results in: increased attainment in literacy and numeracy; improved general knowledge; richer vocabulary and encourages imagination, empathy and mindfulness of others. That is why, our philosophy is to enable our pupils to access: diverse and attractive reading materials; space and time to read daily; a free hand to choose what they want to read; engagement with knowledgeable and passionate reading role models and the availability of reading material that is relevant to their everyday lives. Offering opportunities to engage with initiatives such as the Awesome Book Awards and committing to reading the short-list is just one way our pupils’ cultural and general knowledge improves by reading stories of a variety of genres and from different cultures. This year’s favourite was definitely ‘The Switching Hour’ by Damaris Young: a compelling narrative reflecting on climate change, family, grief, loyalty and memory.

There is no doubt in our minds that reading for pleasure builds vocabulary and helps our pupils to engage in their lessons confidently. A student who reads one minute a day builds an average vocabulary of 182,500 words; a student who reads twenty minutes a day acquires a whopping 3,650,000 words. Reading to glean vocabulary and understand authorial techniques also helps them to craft their writing. Exposure to challenging new vocabulary extends their curiosity about language; and mirroring sentence structures in well-written books (we call it ‘magpieing’) helps pupils to articulate themselves precisely, often in imaginative and original ways.

We are often told that “my child isn’t reading” or simply asked “what can you suggest for a reluctant reader?” We know that a well-stocked library, access to suggested reading lists, enthusiastic and passionate staff with thorough knowledge of literature for young people and understanding of individual’s preferences (knowing your child like you know them) can and do make a real difference to engagement with reading for pleasure. However, a culture of ‘book-talk’, recommendations and ‘texts in common’; in short, pupil celebration of reading for pleasure is instrumental to success. Reading does matter; and we encourage our pupils to celebrate it.

A very wise colleague, once likened the process of reading for pleasure to the act of marathon running. Reading (even for pleasure) requires patience and stamina, persistence and endurance. Although the story may be riveting and gripping, a real page-turner, it may also be challenging; much like the rich tapestry of all of our lives. Building reading resilience and knowing that reading for pleasure may require commitment is central to our approach. In the words of Neil Gaiman, our hope is to “give our children a world in which they will read and be read to, and imagine and understand.”

Great Walstead School has a unique environment, where we can offer our children the opportunity to learn in a wide range of ways. Whether they thrive in an outdoor, forest school setting; or love creative arts, sports or learning in a classroom, we have it here at Great Walstead!


Sports is so much more than just sports

By | Education, fun for children, Mental health, Playing, Sport
by Jenny Spires
Brighton Girls

As we emerge from the pandemic, the focus in schools is very much on providing children with as many opportunities to play the sports they have missed out on and rekindle social skills and friendships that may have waned during lockdown.

Sounds fun, right? Well, yes, but it’s so much more than that – encouraging pupils to participate in sport is now known to play a crucial role in building a child’s confidence and emboldening them to be risk-takers, which underpins all that they do now and in later life.

Many studies have shown solid links between sport participation and the development of strong self-esteem and self-belief. An analysis in The Sport Journal, a peer-reviewed title published by the US Sports Academy, showed that taking part in sport before university was directly related to higher self-esteem and these findings are echoed across the world in various research projects that show a relationship between sport and better wellbeing, happiness and lower anxiety levels.

So, let’s break that down. What is it about participation in both individual and team sports that fosters this personal development?

Handling mistakes
No one gets good at a skill or sport without making a lot of mistakes along the way. A child quickly learns that mis-steps and hurdles are a vital part of their journey to becoming a better footballer, tennis player, swimmer, runner, cyclist or anything else – and realises that nothing terrible happens when they make those mistakes. This flowering of a resilient attitude and an acceptance that mistakes don’t equal failure is a hugely important life skill which leads to bolder risk-taking (and potentially greater rewards) in life. Making mistakes and having the self-esteem to know that those mistakes are not a reflection on your ability but simply a necessary experience on your journey is a priceless attribute.

Dealing with stress Children have faced more stress than we could have ever imagined in the last year or so and have had to find ways of coping with it. We know that the demands of playing for a team or striving for personal success in an individual sport require channeling all your thoughts and energies into the moment which frees the mind temporarily from ongoing stress. To develop the ability to switch off daily concerns and focus on your sport teaches the mind that this is possible, that you can control your stress levels and put them aside.

Understanding the link between practise and success
Children sometimes need reminding that success is, of course, related to effort and sports and skill-building are constant reminders of this. As children continue to commit to turning up for team practice, going out in the rain to try and beat their PB or heading off down the skatepark again to perfect that ollie, the realisation solidifies that they and they alone control their chances of success. When they see improvement, they know it was brought about by their own hard work. That knowledge brings confidence in their own ability every time they turn out to play.

This applies to the rest of their lives outside of sport. When you have self-confidence based on hard work, even when you don’t succeed, you can keep morale high. You understand the causal link between your ability to put work in and improve.

Unlike a child’s handpicked friendships group, a sports team is made up of all sorts of different characters who your child may not have naturally befriended. Yet, sharing a common goal (to get better and win) unites those children and social skills are forged. This ability to rub along with everyone is a wonderful confidence builder (“if I can do it in sport, I can do it everywhere else in my life too.”)

Winning and losing and a healthy mindset
Great sportsmen and women have learnt how to avoid their self-esteem being dented by losing. It isn’t easy to do this as often confidence takes a knock after below-par performances. But being surrounded by like-minded players and coaches who offer continued support and encouragement really helps and drives players of all ages to improve and keep trying. They learn that losing is only a driver to keep going and strive for better – and what better life lesson could any child learn?

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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:

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

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

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 ( 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.