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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 After proving himself the wildest of the wild things, Max realises his wild feeling has now gone and been replaced by not such a nice one – loneliness.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.

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!


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Let’s all go on a reading adventure!

By Education, reading

How to help your child with their first steps in reading

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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 01273 987629

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 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.

Building emotional intelligence from an early age

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

To learn more about The Emotion Game you can visit: Pictures courtesy of

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reading – a gift to treasure

By Education, reading
by Sarah Kruschandl
Head of English, Burgess Hill Girls

The benefits of reading have long been extolled, but during the COVID-19 lockdown novels became even more treasured; their ability to transport us to another world was a tonic to the stress and uncertainty of life during the pandemic. Our school has holistic aims: to achieve both academic excellence and positive wellbeing. In March 2020 we introduced a ‘Book of the Week’ campaign to support the pupils and wider school community during the unprecedented times.

The pupil who reads at home will have obvious advantages in English lessons. The more a child reads for pleasure, the better their reading will be at school. Additionally, readers are also better writers. Reading improves a pupil’s grammar, composition and gives pupils a greater breadth of vocabulary. The benefits of reading spread further than the English classroom, however. Reading a book is akin to taking your brain to the gym: it improves your intelligence. The brain lights up like a firework display when observed reading under an ECG, which might explain why an enthusiastic reader will gain higher exam results than their peers, even in subjects such as maths. Proven to be more influential than having well-educated parents, reading leads to achievements. This success is not limited to schools, for reading books is the only extra-curricular activity that has a positive correlation with obtaining a managerial or professional job.

Reading literature not only makes us smarter, it also makes us more philanthropic, for the art of the novel is to transport us into someone else’s story. The reader cannot be rigid and insular; they are forced to expand their perspective and to empathise. As Harper Lee explains in To Kill a Mockingbird, “You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view – until you climb in his skin and walk around in it.” As we read, we climb into a character’s skin and walk around through their story. We are immersed in a new view of the world and thus, through reading a novel, we have an insight into other minds, which helps us to be more liberal, inclusive and to approach life with more creativity.

Literature is our way of reflecting our experience of the world, but while novels encourage diverse and ever expansive understanding, they also nurture and comfort us. Dr Samuel Johnson, who suffered from severe bouts of depression, said in the 18th century, “the only end of writing is to enable the reader better to enjoy life or better to endure it.” Novels can help us understand and cope with times of deep emotional strain. Coronavirus aside, the epidemic which has a grip on the modern world is the rising tide of mental health problems. Reading is restorative. While various studies have highlighted the curative benefits of reading on our wellbeing, the reasons for this recuperative influence are complex. Reading releases endorphins, our happy chemical. In addition, reading is a therapeutic escape from the trivialities which can consume us. We all face emotional challenges; relationships can be complex and life deals us a mixture of fortunes, some good and some bad. The realisation that this is a collective experience is both reassuring and healing. Thus novels unite us and define our humanity.

In an age when reading is in competition with so many other forms of communicational and technological stimulation, we aspire that pupils leave our school equipped and keen to read. Our library, called the Learning Resource Centre (LRC), is at the heart of our school, both physically and as a part of the girls’ routine; it buzzes with pupils at break, lunch and after school. The English Department works alongside the LRC manager delivering dedicated reading lessons, reading rewards, clubs and events.

Our ‘Book of the Week’ campaign during the lockdown aimed to foster reading at home, by recommending books which were both entertaining and stretching. From two-year olds to adults, we recommended novels for all age groups. We supported the Black Lives Matter campaign with a week of recommendations celebrating black authors and our summer holiday list transported readers around the world, for most, the only way to experience new foreign cultures during the summer holiday. These lists are still available on our website, where we have also included a small synopsis and a link to buy the books.

Reading helps us academically, but also psychologically, spiritually and collectively. Shakespeare wrote in The Tempest, “Books are the engines of change, windows on the world, a lighthouse erected on the sea of time.” Create a culture of reading in your home; it is a gift that your child will treasure forever.

How to encourage reading
• Bring books into your home. Consider how bookshops entice us to buy books and choose books to face forward on the bookshelf. Rotate your book displays, every few weeks.
• Establishing reading routines, such as 20 minutes before bed, will help develop good reading habits for life.
• Ask your child about the book they are reading. Ask your child to recall and summarise the story, about the characters and issues that the book explores; what they enjoyed about the book and ask them to read their favourite section.
• Reading with your child, no matter the child’s age, helps to build a lifelong love of reading and can become a cherished time together.
• Visit your local library or bookstore on a regular basis.
• Become a reading role model. Let your child see you reading and demonstrate the pleasure of reading.
• Allow your child to read for pleasure. While we might desire our children to become widely read, developing a love of reading is the priority. Praise their reading and gently, over time encourage them to expand their horizons.
• Don’t tidy books away; leave them lying around in different rooms, purposefully placing books where your child might pick them up.
• Read about reading. Become familiar with what’s current, winning prizes and in vogue.
• Read the same book your child has chosen and let the discussions commence. Teenage fiction is actually very enjoyable.
• Don’t give up. Children will understand the joy of reading when they find a book that they love. Some won’t find this book until they are older.

“There is more treasure in books than in all the pirates’ loot on Treasure Island and best of all, you can enjoy these riches every day of your life.” Walt Disney.

To find out more about Burgess Hill Girls visit