Category

Education

Can friendly bacteria help reduce the occurrence of allergies?

By | baby health, children's health, Education, family, Food & Eating, Green, Health
by Rebecca Traylen (ANutr)
Probio7

What is an allergy?
Allergy UK define an allergy as “the response of the body’s immune system to normally harmless substances, such as pollens, foods, and house dust mites. Whilst in most people these substances (allergens) pose no problem, in allergic individuals their immune system identifies them as a ‘threat’ and produces an inappropriate response.”

Allergies such as eczema, hay fever and certain foods are becoming increasingly common in children and are on the rise. They can have a major effect on children and their families lives and therefore, anything we can do to understand how they develop and where possible minimise their occurrence should be encouraged.

What is the link between your gut and allergies?
There are trillions of microbes including bacteria, fungi, archaea, viruses and protozoans which are present in and on our body. 95% of these microbes are found in our gastrointestinal tract, weighing a staggering 2kg! Our gut microbiome has several important roles including digesting food, ensuring proper digestive function and helping with the production of some vitamins (B and K).

Our gut microbiome can strengthen the integrity of our gut wall and helps reduce inflammation. It also helps teach our immune system to respond appropriately to substances and fight off harmful pathogens. This allows our immune system to react appropriately to substances and ensures it doesn’t overreact to substances, as typically seen in allergies.

70% of our immune system lies along our digestive tract which further highlights the significant role our gut microbiome can play in our immune system.

Rates of allergies have been increasing as we have moved towards more urban environments. This has meant the variety of foods we are eating have decreased, our use of antibiotics has increased, and we are spending less time outdoors. Subsequently, this has been thought to reduce the diversity of our gut microbiome.

Research has shown that having a healthy and diverse gut microbiome is associated with fewer allergic symptoms. Therefore, our move to urban environments is thought to play a role in the increased number of allergies, through changes in our gut microbiome.

Reducing the risk of allergies
Friendly bacteria are live beneficial bacteria that can be consumed in food or supplement form. Taking friendly bacteria has been suggested to reduce the occurrence of allergies by supporting the gut microbiome.

One way to reduce the risk of allergies in your infant starts in pregnancy. Research has shown that taking a friendly bacteria supplement during pregnancy may reduce the chances of their infant developing eczema by 22%.

In addition, taking fish oil supplements during pregnancy may also reduce the chance of children becoming sensitised to egg (a sign of a potential allergy) by 31% and also may reduce the chances of peanut allergy.

Therefore, supplementing with both friendly bacteria supplements and omega-3 during pregnancy could be of particular benefit for allergy prevention in the infant.

Friendly bacteria supplements during infancy have also been demonstrated in some cases to prevent atopic sensitisation (this is a positive test for eczema, hay fever and allergic asthma).

Should you try a friendly bacteria supplement?
Whilst the research is still relatively new around friendly bacteria supplements and allergies, so far, they are shown to be safe and well tolerable. If you have a family history of allergies, taking a friendly bacteria supplement might be worth considering, either during pregnancy or for your infant.

Most importantly you should be looking after your gut by eating plenty of fibre, having a diverse diet, getting outside and exercising for at least 20 minutes every day, staying hydrated and reducing stress whenever possible.

Make sure you check with your GP or health practitioner before introducing any supplements when pregnant, breastfeeding or on medication.

Probio7 have been supporting digestive and immune health in the UK since 1995 and we are dedicated to developing a unique range of the highest quality friendly bacteria supplements. Please visit www.probio7.com for more information.

book reading

School should be enchanting

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

Chris Calvey, Headmaster of Great Walstead School, West Sussex, talks about the balancing act of meeting academic rigor whilst maintaining pupils’ excitement and enthusiasm.

School League tables are now very much a part of our lives and pre-testing for schools is creeping in at an increasingly younger age. Now, take into account the not insignificant amount of money that private schools charge. You can see the rising pressure on both teachers and the Head to ensure that pupils achieve the highest results. The safest way to do this sees the classroom take on a more teacher led approach where pupils are told the information they need to learn, guided in how to answer questions by rehearsing past papers, and even have timetabled lessons on verbal and nonverbal reasoning tests. Such an approach generally ensures that pupils pass their tests but at the cost of genuine enjoyment, pleasure and natural wonderment of school.

I believe there is an alternative way in which children can maintain their love of learning. By understanding there is more to the process of education than just working to pass a test, they are able to develop a set of skills that enables them to tackle challenges without a fear of failure. Inspired by the book ‘Educating Ruby – what our children really need to learn’ written by Guy Claxton and Bill Lucas, all the staff at our school explored a variety of definitions for the seven aspects that the book identified as developing confidence and character. We refer to these as our 7Cs – Confidence, Curiosity, Collaboration, Communication, Creativity, Commitment and Craftsmanship.

Each ‘C’ has an age appropriate definition for the sections of our school and children are rewarded when they demonstrate these attributes. They see Confidence as the ability to tackle difficult tasks and challenges whilst not being afraid to make mistakes. Curiosity is about developing wonder and awe, while Collaboration helps pupils see the benefits of working in a successful team. Communication encourages children to share their ideas and thinking whilst understanding the importance of listening to each other. Creativity is not just for the arts, but is to be developed with problem solving challenges and alternative thinking. Commitment recognises those times when pupils show determination and resilience even if they find tasks challenging. Finally, Craftsmanship celebrates the sheer joy and pride of completing something which has taken time, care and love to produce. By rewarding these skills, every child is able to achieve and none are limited by their cognitive ability. It leads to an “I can” culture rather than a fixed mindset where pupils feel limited by the scores they achieve.

Since focusing on the 7Cs, we have seen children become far more engaged in their own learning process, take responsibility for what they can achieve and, as a result, make impressive levels of academic progress where they not only know things, but genuinely understand them – there is a distinct difference.

Children only get one chance at their schooling, and I believe it is so important that we look to develop the whole person – not just focus on exam results and entry testing. Working in several prep schools, I have seen and promoted many ‘learning profiles’ from school ethos based principles to International Baccalaureate inspired systems. All offer something more than just a ‘teacher led’ approach to learning, but in the 7Cs I have found a set of values and attributes that really inspires the girls and boys in our school, and prepares them for the challenges that lie ahead.

The second closure of schools has arguably made these values yet more important as children have spent hours in front of a computer screen, being taught in a very isolating and unfamiliar environment. Those opportunities for communication and collaboration between each other are significantly diminished, and that lack of human contact makes the whole process of learning yet harder. Incorporating our 7Cs into the pupils’ learning will be a real focus when they are allowed to return, and we will actively promote the development of these skills, continuing to build a real sense of “I can do” within each and every child.

At Great Walstead, children learn happily inside the classroom because they play happily outside the classroom. A game in the woods and a maths lesson are, at this age, equal learning opportunities – we call it Mud p!
www.greatwalstead.co.uk

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

Nurture through nature Every day is a school day!

By | children's health, Education, environment, family, Family Farms, fun for children, Green

This spring, Nicola Henderson, CEO of Godstone Farm in Surrey, explores the learning opportunities that are on the doorstep for many of us, and the adaptations we can make in everyday life if we don’t want to be stuck to a timetable or even use an exercise book.

As we’ve seen over the past year, learning is not just about being in the classroom; and who would have known that our children’s education could take so many forms and be delivered in so many ways. Cue the cries of parents saying they never thought they would actually have to BE the teacher! Perhaps unconventional ways of learning are here to stay, but above all we have realised that being outdoors is good for us on so many levels.

Homework doesn’t have to be at your home!
How about learning about another little creature’s home? There are so many habitats in the great outdoors and not all of them are deep in the countryside. From birds in their nests, to hiding hedgehogs and mice in hedgerows it’s great to get children to spot where animals might be living. Now that hopefully, the weather starts to improve, there’s opportunity to sit out at dawn and dusk to watch where birds fly to or see if you can spot a tiny nose poking out among leaves. A simple game of matching animals to their habitats can be done wherever you live, as even in more urban areas it’s not impossible to find a brave fox. What could he be looking for? And where do you think he might go to sleep?

Changing of the seasons
It’s not just signs of animal life to look out for. Spring brings about the most wonderful chance to see colour and shape appear by way of plants and flowers. Can children notice not only what is newly appearing as we start to see more sunny days, but also which plants or trees remained the same through winter? It is likely they know what a Christmas tree looks like, but which other trees can they spot that kept their leaves? As well as noting names, playing games such as finding shapes they know in nature around them can be heaps of fun.

Keep active and keep healthy
Even the youngest of children know that exercise and eating well is the key to being healthy, but it’s clear from all the farm visitors each year that kids ‘just wanna have fun’! Playing is a fantastic form of exercise and if it’s outside then all the better. Play equipment is a brilliant way to teach children boundaries, risk taking, and sharing with their friends or being patient to wait in line for their turn. Open outdoor spaces can also lend themselves well to imaginative play. With or without apparatus, children will find a story to become part of. Reading is such a huge part of a child’s first school experience, but as they develop their skills its fun to get them re-telling a story and answering questions about what happened, or predicting what might happen next. When you are out for a walk, at a playground or visiting somewhere with gardens what stories can you make up about what you can see? Can you
re-tell it when you get home?

Farm fun
We just can’t forget the wonderful signs of new life that can be found at farms at this time of year. Chicks hatching, lambs being born and baby rabbits ready to hop into the sunshine. A farm attraction is a great place to see these exciting babies but also learn about the differences between species, what they eat and how they are kept. Many attractions also offer a behind the scenes experience where children can get up close and hands on with their favourite pets or livestock. Actually taking part is a great way to commit a skill to memory and who doesn’t want to learn to muck out the stinky pigs? Other, less smelly jobs are available!

There’s so much to be fortunate for as we enter the favourite season for so many. Springtime on the farm or anywhere amongst nature is a wonderful time, and sharing experiences with your children is precious. Its hoped that the majority of learning can stay in school with our wonderful and very valued teachers, but it’s nice to be able to extend this beyond the classroom, keep it fun and increase our wellbeing at the same time.

Nicola has run Godstone Farm for three years now, and whilst there are plans to develop the experiences and facilities on offer, she is keen to ensure the farm keeps its heritage and wholesome feel. The Farm continues to follow government guidance so its always best to check the website before visiting for the most up-to-date information.
www.godstonefarm.co.uk

Springtime learning

By | Education, environment, Food & Eating, Gardening, Green, Sprintime

There are lots that your preschooler can learn if you take them outside in the spring. It’s a season of change and there are many fun and engaging activities for little ones to enjoy while exploring the natural world around them. After what has probably felt like one of the longest winters, everyone will be keen to get out and enjoy the longer days and the feelings of optimism that spring brings.

It is an ideal time to see and understand the changes that take place in nature; an opportunity for children to become familiar with the joys and wonder of the new season.

In spring the weather usually turns warmer, trees begin to grow their leaves, plants start to flower and young animals such as chicks and lambs are born. Children’s farms are one of the best places to learn about spring. Many have nature trails to follow where you can spot the first signs of spring and of course there are also baby chicks and lambs to see. Some farms run special events during the lambing season and you may even be lucky enough to see a lamb being born.

On a rainy spring day, let your toddler put on their wellington boots and splash in the puddles. This can lead onto a discussion about how all the rain during spring is important for helping the plants, flowers, trees and animals grow. You can also look out for the early signs of spring as trees and the first flowers of the season begin to bud. Nurseries and preschools are also likely to be talking about these themes with the children so your toddler will probably have a lot to chat about!

As we know children generally wake up early, so take advantage of this and walk outside in the early morning. Encourage your toddler to listen out for the birds’ tweeting and singing; it’s a sure sign that spring is on its way. The sight of a carpet of bluebells is another sign that spring is here, so try to go for a woodland walk and see who can spot the bluebells first. You could take a magnifying glass and download a minibeast spotter to see what’s living on your doorstep – its’s a great way to make a walk more interesting for children and they will enjoy looking through the magnifying glass to discover what they can see and then try to find out what it’s called.

Finally, it is the perfect time to introduce children to gardening. Working in a garden, a child can experience the satisfaction that comes from caring for something over time, while observing the cycle of life. Do some research to find out what plants and vegetables give the quickest and most reliable results and get digging with your little one. Children are always much more likely to eat something that they have grown themselves, so this is a great way to get them to eat their vegetables!

Kiss, cuddle, high five…

By | children's health, Education, Health, Mental health, play, Playing
by Sally-Ann Barker
Potter’s House Preschool

I watch the children coming into preschool in the morning and wonder how their last few hours have been and how it might shape their day. The ones who run in without saying goodbye because they have already planned in their head what they are going to be doing and are desperate to execute that. The ones who come in with their hats over their eyes pretending to be invisible because this has become their routine to make us laugh and set the tone for the morning. The ones who cling to their parent that little while longer and then the ones who need peeling away so we can start our day.

Because of Covid, our drop offs are slightly different. Parents used to come into the building and were welcome to stick around for a little while if necessary. It instilled a sense of unity with our staff and parents – that we all have the same goals for the children. Now that parents aren’t allowed in, we receive the children outside and take them in ourselves. Granted, it meant they settled more quickly in September but I can’t help feeling a little sad at how quick the handover feels now. Parents are conscious that it’s cold and they may be holding up the queue of other parents who may need to rush off to work so they quickly hand the child over and off they go. We had a child a few years ago who was incredibly shy and after a few weeks of tears at drop off, his mum set a little routine for them. She’d bring him in and then say “Kiss, cuddle, high five” and he would do all three things and then go in happily. That little bit of comfort she gave with a clear and precise routine worked for him and it always stuck in my mind, what a lovely way to say goodbye.

The reason I wonder about their time in the morning before they come to us is because it completely determines how their day will be. According to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, there are five levels of ‘needs’ that dictate a persons behaviour. These are physiological needs, safety needs, love and belonging needs, esteem needs and self-actualisation needs. The phrase “just one of those days” tends to be accompanied by a dismissive eye roll, a shrug off that it’s not a big deal or out of a person’s control – just one of those days. But, what if it didn’t need to be “just one of those days” ? Picture a day you’ve had where nothing seems to be going right. You overslept, you burnt the toast, you were late to work – anything really. One thing going badly in the morning can shape your day into “just one of those days” and that’s exactly how it is for children. The Hierarchy of Needs adapted for children is set out like a pyramid, with the more critical needs taking up the larger part of the pyramid at the bottom working their way up to the peak.

Physiological needs
Children need to have had a decent nights sleep, be fed and watered and been to the toilet. In short, they need to feel physically comfortable. This is especially important in preschoolers because they may not be able to process those needs and be equipped to tend them themselves, so that responsibility falls solely on the parent/carer.

Safety needs
Fairly self-explanatory but basically children are entitled to feel safe and secure. Both physically and emotionally their safety needs should always be met.

Love and belonging needs
Children need affection, it sits beautifully alongside their emotional needs, they need comfort and physical touch. This enables children to feel secure and connected.

Esteem needs
This one can be tricky when your children are small – how do we help boost their self-esteem? How do we help them to be confident? Children find confidence in our trust. Allowing children the space, time and opportunity to be independent means they no longer feel impotent or vulnerable. This is so easily done by allowing that extra time for them to get themselves dressed and trusting them to do it, pouring their own milk into their cereal, putting on their own shoes and remembering their coat. We use positive affirmations at preschool every morning as part of our registration – “I am good. I am kind. I am smart.” We use these alongside promoting their independence as much as possible in their self-care and play.

Self-actualisation needs
These are a child’s creative needs, problem solving and stimulation, something that is provided in spades at any setting they will attend so not something parents really need to put pressure on themselves to do in the morning before the school run.

These needs not being met form a barrier for children’s development. They can become unmotivated, aimless, disconnected and disengaged. For a child to have a positive and successful day, they need to be healthy in body and mind. You have to attend to the basic needs of a child before you can expect them to reach their full potential and, after all, what do we all really want as parents?

That kiss, cuddle, high five at the door means more than we may initially realise.

For more information please contact Sally-Ann at sallyann@pottershousepreschool.co.uk or call 07375 379148
www.pottershousepreschool.co.uk

Hooked on books

By | Education, fun for children, reading
by Marsha Dann
Lead Teacher, Play B C Preschool

We are big on books – I always say if there is one thing you do at home with your child it is read with them. It will have a significant impact on their language and comprehension when they get to school.

What is reading?
Reading is about making sense of the written word. It is linked to language and communication, but while these seem to develop organically, reading needs to be taught. It is hard to immerse a child in written language with the same intensity as is possible with spoken language.

Views on reading development are many and varied. Some think it is ‘bottom-up’, moving from specific to the general, print to meaning. Others think it is ‘top-down’, moving from general to the specific, meaning to print. Others still think it is a mixture of the two. Whatever the emphasis, there is some agreement that reading must involve both comprehending what print represents and what it means. You cannot really have read a word if you do not understand it.

Print is a code of sounds and written letters. Decoding involves breaking a word into its separate sounds and then putting them back together again. Eventually the code can be committed to memory. However, English is a tricky language to master, because our 26 letters make around 44 different sounds compared to other languages, such as Italian, where most letters only make one sound. Additionally, we have a vast number of irregular words. As a result it can take children two or three years longer to read in English than in other more transparent languages. In England, children have less positive attitudes to reading. A quarter start school without the necessary language, communication, and literacy skills to get off to a good start. One in five cannot read well by the time they leave primary school and our teenagers have poorer literacy levels than those of many other nations.

How can you make a difference?
Polls suggest as few as one in five parents read daily to their children and the majority of those who do, find it stressful. This means an awful lot of children are not being read to and a less than ideal experience for many who are. In my opinion it is never too soon to start. Try to squeeze in a bit of time for a book every day. You can involve siblings or grandparents too. It does not have to be bedtime. Any time that works for you is good. Turn the TV off so your little one can concentrate on your voice, because sound discrimination and good listening are important pre-reading skills. Curl up together and get lost in a book. Be animated and keep it fun. They will be getting plenty of opportunities to develop the listening and understanding skills they need to become successful readers and writers.

When choosing books, expose your child to a variety of stories, cultures and characters. It is good to see themselves reflected in the pages of a book but also to see others who might be different too. Books with rich language to describe emotions, actions and themes are great but they should be accessible and not too long, although some rhyming and repetitive books can engage children for longer than you might think.

Encourage your child to participate in story sharing and see themselves as readers. Even if it is just by pointing or making a one word comment. Wordless picture books can be excellent for this as they are open-ended and there are no rights or wrongs. For children with more language, ask what they can see and leave gaps for them to fill. Afterwards ask questions to check they have understood and see if they can draw links between what you have read and their own lives?

If you do not have access to books, there are online options and over COVID lockdowns, lots of authors have read their own stories. It is nice though to get your hands on an actual physical book. Although many of the libraries are closed, some are offering book packs for preschoolers. Tap into your child’s interests. If they do not enjoy books, try magazines, audio books or online interactive stories. Your child’s preschool may also be able to quarantine some books and lend them to you.

Children who are read to frequently get higher results in maths, vocabulary, and spelling tests than those who are not and reading enjoyment is said to be a more reliable indicator of educational success than the family’s financial or social status. Get them hooked on books and change their lives.

Teacher-led Play B C offers fun, yet challenging early education and prioritises relationships within preschool and also with the wider community. Interaction and enablement of free play is judged to be ‘excellent’ and practice has been further validated with an Early Years Quality Mark. More than just a place, at Play B C every day is a learning adventure. Contact admissions@playbc.co.uk to arrange a vist.

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

How to avoid arguments – Go from chaos to calm, from conflict to cooperation

By | Education, family, Relationships
by Karen Shaw
author of Parenting Magic

It starts with us! How we approach a situation, what we do, say and how we are ‘being’ has a massive impact on the outcome.

Most of us want to avoid conflict. It’s uncomfortable and not what we want. It’s the incompatibility of ideas, desires and values that causes the conflict. Often parents and children have conflicting interests because they have a different set of values and priorities. We can experience conflict in parenting often when our children are toddlers when we can have a battle of wills, when they are ‘flexing their muscles’ and when we have teenagers and of course, at any age in between! We can help control outcomes and see much more cooperation by pre-setting the energy of a situation, with our intentions and the choice of language we use.

That’s a good start…
How does your day start? Is it frantic, rushing around, a bit chaotic? This leads to struggles and arguments, so start it off in a calm and controlled way and set the intention of how it will be. It may mean getting up a bit earlier to take a few minutes for you. To take a few deep breaths, meditate to calm yourself. If possible be organised the night before, plan your morning, have a diffuser with essential oils or some lovely smells for the children to wake up to. It sets the scene, the energy is calmer.

How to avoid arguments
We often argue with our children because we’re not getting our own way. Because they’re not doing as they’re ‘told’ (though I prefer asking to telling!) or they want to do something we don’t want them to. I think it’s often beneficial to think, “How would I deal with this situation if it was someone other than my child, would I say the same things, use the same language?” Probably not, we tend to think because they are ‘our children’ we have a right to speak to them, as we like, say things to them we wouldn’t dream of saying to another individual. I know we want to keep them safe and respect us, or our ‘rules’ if you like. Though, as rules are there to be tested, pushed, bent if not broken, it is better to have ‘agreements’ already in place. Make agreements as to what is and isn’t acceptable, what will and won’t be tolerated and have the consequences when expected behaviour isn’t reached. When they are part of the agreement making, they are heard, valued and they know they have agreed. So if they complain or shout back, when they haven’t stuck to them “It’s not fair”, “You’re so mean”, you can remind them they agreed and are going back on their word.

Drop the interrogation!
We often start our conversation with the ‘w’ words and that’s not helpful. The ‘w’ words I mean are Why, When, Who, What and Where.

These are ‘interrogatives’. We’re interrogating our children when we start a question with any of these. For instance:-“Why on earth…?  “When are you ever going to learn…?” “Who do you think you are…?” “What did you think you were doing…?” “Where do you think you’re going…?”

The reason it isn’t helpful to start a conversation this way, is because they feel threatened and automatically go into defence mode. It’s the unconscious mind responding, a natural response. Of course, we’ll use these words, it’s just not helpful to start with them, especially with the negative energy that accompanies it. It will encourage a knee jerk response, a story or a flippant reply. Give them time to respond better by keeping calm, breathe, collect your thoughts and use something like: “I’m wondering (then the what or who)…” “I’m curious (then the why or what)…“ Or “I’d like to know/hear/understand…”

These are ‘declaratives’. You respond rather than react and give them time to formulate a response to your question or statement instead of a defensive or even sarcastic reply. You are starting with you and are ‘declaring’ how you are feeling.

When we remember who we and our children are, human beings sharing a life and here to enjoy it, that we are in control of ourselves, no one else and that what comes out of our mouths is our choice, then it’s easier to remember there really is no need to argue. Let’s face it, it takes two. What good is there in arguing with your child? Debating something, where you are both putting forward your viewpoint is a different thing. For every action there is an equal and opposite one, when you react to whatever has been done or said, then there will be an equal opposite one coming back at you! Avoid it. Let’s learn to respond not react.

Karen Shaw is a transformational life and parenting coach, emotional re-balancing and energy alignment therapist and creator of Parenting Magic. She was a stressed-out single mum
on anti-depressants. With three teenage sons, all affected by challenged, illness, medical conditions, psychological issues and labelled with ‘disabilities’. Struggling in every area of her life. In Parenting Magic, she shares the hard earned secrets that transformed her family life for good.

Parenting Magic by Karen Shaw is published by Practical Inspiration Publishing, £16.99.

What makes a school a great school?

By | children's health, Education, Relationships, Sport
by Dominic Mott, Head of Senior School, Hurst College

Well, many things – but, unsurprisingly for an industry dedicated to learning – academic achievement is frequently prized as the key factor. So how can this be measured? Results in public examinations are a reasonably good indicator of academic achievement, and although exam results do matter, clearly, they aren’t the sole metric of a great education.

How, then, might schools be compared against one another so that parents know which school achieves the highest grades? A league table that ranks each school by their GCSE and A-level results would seem to be a pretty sensible place to start. “So far, so good,” you might be thinking; or perhaps, “so what”? Please bear with me.

Value what you measure. Measure what you value.
What if academic ‘achievement’ isn’t actually what we want to be measuring at all? What if the real metric here is not the fixed notion of ‘achievement’, but instead the journey implied by ‘progress’? Isn’t that what learning is all about? Improving, growing, maturing, developing, and striving to do the very best that you are capable of, whatever that ‘best’ might be.

League tables have their place if you are the parent of a highly academic child, looking for them to be schooled amongst a selective cohort of similarly niche students, in an exams-focused environment, where the school has a vested interest in driving up its overall statistics – at any cost. For most parents this simply isn’t what they are signing up for.

For those parents who simply want their child “to do their best”, the only metric on which to judge schools is their ‘value added’ data. Put simply, it tells you how your child is likely to fare at one school compared to the grades they would achieve if they went to another school.

This data, which is generated by comparing GCSE and A-level results to standardised national baseline figures, is a far more accurate metric of the quality of teaching and learning in any given school. It cuts out ruthless academic selection, hot-housing, and questionable practices such as using different exam centre numbers to enter less-able pupils or those with special educational needs.It values the progress made by every single child, whatever the final outcome.

For the sceptics who (wrongly) suspect I may be attempting to distract from an unremarkable set of results at Hurst, you may wish to put our 2019 GCSE statistics (83% at grades 9 – 7) into The Times rankings of independent co-educational schools and you will see where we would have come. A gold star to anyone who emails me with the correct answer! We are even prouder of our ‘value added’ scores, which celebrate the outstanding achievements made by every single one of our pupils and puts us right at the top of the national rankings.

To return to the initial question, what makes a great school?
For sure, parents want their children to achieve the very best results of which they are capable at GCSE and A-level. However, they also want them to be healthy, happy, rounded, kind, confident, mature, independent young adults, ready to go out into the world to live successful lives and make a positive difference to those around them. That’s definitely not something you can measure by a league table!

The challenges of remote learning
What also makes a great school is one which can adapt swiftly, efficiently and effectively to unforeseen circumstances, such as switching to remote learning during the Covid-19 pandemic.

The government’s decision to close all schools from 20th March 2020 was less of a surprise than the bold announcement that there would be no public examinations this summer for GCSE and A-level students. Nevertheless, school leaders were left with precious little time to plan for the lockdown.

As with other independent schools, our priority was clear from the outset: to continue with, as far as was reasonably possible, the full provision of an outstanding all-round education for every child.

With days to spare before lockdown, one of the first priorities was to ensure that all staff and pupils had the equipment to teach or learn from home. An audit of digital devices redistributed laptops to those who needed them, and support staff were encouraged to take their office desktop computer home to enable remote working. Teachers were equipped with deskcams, whilst pupils’ devices were upgraded and checked to ensure that all were ready for a transition to the online world.

We were fortunate to be ahead of the game in the transition to a cloud-based network. Already 12 months into an 18 month project, it became clear that the final six months would need to be condensed into just a few weeks. All of our teaching and learning resources are stored in a bespoke SharePoint site which allowed teachers and pupils to access PowerPoints, worksheets, exam papers, mark schemes, online video tutorials, tests and revision materials from any device, anywhere in the world. In addition, by centralising the delivery of lessons through Microsoft Teams, with easy access to applications such as OneNote, it was made as straightforward as possible to deliver live lessons whilst giving teachers freedom over how to teach.

One of the most interesting challenges was to redesign the school day to adapt to the new way of working. Slightly shorter lessons and longer gaps between helped to reduce screen time; synchronising Prep School and Senior School timetables allowed families with siblings in two different parts of the college to take lunch together; regular short tutorial slots allowed tutors time to offer one-on-one support to pupils; and some creative timetabling allowed for an earlier finish each day without losing any of the co-curricular provision. This last point proved critical: by continuing to offer a programme of assemblies, sports sessions, choir and orchestra practices, musical rehearsals and activities sessions the regular rhythms of school life continued – pupils remained fit, healthy and active.

Hurst College is a thriving independent school for children aged between 4 and 18 with an overarching aim to provide an excellent all round education with a strong academic core and ideally located between Brighton and Haywards Heath. www.hppc.co.uk