Category

environment

Outdoor adventure is the key to happier, healthier children

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Playing outdoors

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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!

How to benefit from the Green Homes Grant Scheme

By | environment, Gardening, Green, houses and property

In the last five years, fuel bills for an average family home in the UK have soared by 40%. In fact, heating a property today costs approximately £1,800 per year compared to £1,290 in 2015. One of the problems lies in the thousands of properties across the UK which lack energy efficiency. Older homes with insufficient insulation can leak warm air. This means more energy is consumed to heat the property and consequentially heating bills will increase.

If you’re a homeowner or landlord, there are improvements you can undertake to mitigate the cost of your energy bills, making your property cheaper to run and more environmentally friendly. However, the initial outlay of such improvements can run into thousands of pounds.

The government’s Green Homes Grant Scheme is helping to address this issue by covering the costs of installing energy efficient updates to your home, which could result in significant annual savings on fuel bills. Here, Donna McCreadie, a property specialist at Perrys Chartered Accountants, explains how homeowners and landlords can ensure they are reaping the benefits.

What is the Green Homes Grant scheme?
The Green Homes Grant allows homeowners and landlords to apply for a voucher from the government towards the cost of qualifying energy efficiency and low carbon heating improvements to homes. The voucher will cover two thirds of this cost up to £5,000 or, for households on low incomes or receiving certain benefits, the entire cost up to £10,000. However, landlords can only apply for costs up to £5,000.

What work can be carried out on my property as part of the Green Homes Grant?
Work covered by the scheme is broken down into two parts – primary measures and secondary measures. Homeowners will need to undertake at least one primary measure in order to qualify.

Primary measures are classified as follows:
• Installing insulation in a solid wall, cavity wall, under the floor, in a loft, in a flat roof, in a room in roof or in a park home.
• Improving low carbon heat via the installation of an air source heat pump, ground source heat pump or solar thermal.
• ‘Top ups’ are allowed. For example, the installation of additional loft insulation to meet the minimum recommended level or the installation of solid wall insulation for other walls where a wall has been previously insulated. However, replacements are not included.

Secondary measures cannot be subsidised for more than the amount of cost to carry out the primary measures.

For example, if a household receives £1,000 for primary measures, they can only receive a maximum of £1,000 towards any secondary measures.

Second measures include the following:
• Draught proofing.
• Updating windows and doors: double/triple glazing (where replacing single glazing), secondary glazing (in addition to single glazing), upgrading to energy efficient doors (where replacing doors installed prior to 2002).
• Updating heating controls and insulation. These include appliance thermostats, hot water tank thermostats, hot water tank insulation, smart heating controls, zone controls, delayed start thermostat, thermostatic radiator valves.
• For low-carbon heating, households will need to have adequate wall insulation (cavity wall or solid wall insulation) and, where applicable, loft insulation. These can be installed as part of a package – they do not have to already be in situ.

Which companies accept the Green Homes Grant voucher?
Under the terms and conditions of the voucher, homeowners will need to use one of the TrustMark certified tradespeople listed on the government’s directory of approved installers.

How do I apply for a Green Homes Grant?
If you are a homeowner or landlord visit the Simple Energy Advice’s (SEA) website to find out if you’re eligible for a voucher. Here, you can also access further information and get advice about what improvements will be suitable for your property.

In order to carry out work under the scheme, all tradespeople and businesses will need to be certified to install energy efficiency or low carbon heat measures to relevant standards and must register their certification.

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