Category

fun for children

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.

Supporting families in the early years

By | children's health, Education, family, fun for children, Health, Mental health
by Dr. Amanda Gummer
www.goodplayguide.com

There is clearly some great work being done, but the issue is that there’s no overarching strategy and a lack of cohesion so the examples of best practice in supporting young families are not replicated and often under-funded.

The arguments in support of providing high quality services and facilities for young families have been well-researched and include economic arguments. The work of Professor James J. Heckman shows how much better for the economy the preventative interventions are in the longer term, and in respect to health – the demand and strain on physical and mental health services is reduced if families are able to engage actively with their community. Not only does this reduce isolation and increase parents’ support networks, but engaging in activities within the community promotes healthy activity levels and encourages general wellbeing in both parents and children. Educational outcomes are also improved when sufficient support is provided in the early years and the longer-term benefits lead to reductions in school exclusions and a positive impact on children’s mental health.

One of the key areas of contention in this area is the split between universal and targeted interventions. Universal provision is available to all families and, when done properly, is sufficient for most families to help them manage and hopefully thrive. Targeted support focuses on supporting particularly vulnerable families who often have multiple challenges. The targeted support can be expensive and vulnerable families may not engage with health visitors and social workers as they are afraid of being judged, and the possibility of having their children taken into care.

The accepted wisdom is that there is no magic money tree and difficult decisions need to be made. I disagree. I believe that by thinking more strategically, and using examples that are already working well – such as the play streets initiative and befriending services, empowering parents who have benefitted from this support to give back once their children are older, we will be able to quickly see the benefits across all of the above areas. It soon becomes a ‘no-brainer’ to fund initiatives that more than pay for themselves in the long run.

It is my firm belief that by taking a play-based approach to supporting families through community play groups, well-designed and maintained play spaces and parent and toddler play clubs, we will go a long way to improving physical and mental health so children will be more active and social, and importantly, parents will not feel so isolated.

Parents and carers can help make their families more playful by giving children a ‘balanced play diet’ – making sure they get plenty of opportunity for active, social, imaginative play (the super-foods of the play diet) and limiting their solitary, sedentary, passive play time – in the same way you would limit their intake of sweets and treats.

Five tips to help balance your child’s play diet:
• Active, social, child-led play is the superfood of the play diet. So try, where you can, to make this a big part of your daily routine.
• Balance inside and outside activity and choose toys that can be used inside to promote active play even when the children can’t go outside.
• Don’t forbid screen time or tech play. Engage with it but don’t use it as a babysitter
• Mix and match playmates – children play differently with different people so involve other family members, older and younger children as well as peers (bearing in mind of course any social distance guidance!)
• Do your research before buying toys, tech or apps for children to make sure they’re going to get maximum benefit from it. Our Good Play Guide has a host of recommended games, all independently reviewed as a great starting point.

The abilities to control the playfulness of your child’s play diet and the different stimuli they interact with is at the core of promoting a healthy family life that ideally connects them with other parents. It is important too that parents consider their own welfare to help them overcome high-stress levels and their own health and wellbeing for their own benefit but also to set any example for their children who will look to them as role models and begin to copy them. A parent-centred approach to family life can help to achieve this by giving parents the ability to meet their own needs, in turn providing their children with a healthy model of adulthood to copy and learn from.

Whilst the latest report from the Royal Commission has done a great deal to re-focus the attention within mass media, it is important that it does not become another talking shop moment and that decisive action is taken in to create an overall strategy to support parents and children in their early years.

Dr. Amanda Gummer – making the world more playful. Amanda has a PhD in Neuropsychology and over 20 years’ experience working with children and families. She is a media friendly, go-to expert on play, toys and child development. She can be regularly seen in the media including BBC News, Sky News and The Daily Mail offering advice on the news stories which matter most to families and issues surrounding child development. Founder of Dr. Gummer’s Good Play Guide (www.goodplayguide.com) home of and The Good App Guide she is dedicated to ensuring every child can develop the skills they need to thrive and
enjoy a happy, healthy childhood.

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.

Singing with small children – seven simple strategies!

By | Education, fun for children, Music and singing, parties, Party, play, Playing, Uncategorized
by Sarah Marsh BSc, ALCM
Director for Musical Bumps

So let’s start with the ‘why’ and move on to the ‘how’. Why on earth should we sing to/with our children? My own mum (she’s 84 and doesn’t live round here – so she won’t be reading this unless I’m very unlucky!) can’t sing for toffee. It’s quite painful asking her to sing, and she mostly avoids it – singing to babies or at church is her limit. My own anger at her teacher telling her she couldn’t sing – this is back in 1942 – is still bubbling away, but that’s another story…

Anyway, why does my non-singing mum still sing to babies? Deep down, she probably knows that singing is the very best thing to do with babies. Babies hear language in their musical brains – they hear all that talking, cooing and singing as music (and they won’t care if you are a bit out of tune – so just go for it). Think about it for a moment – music has patterns that are clearer and more distinct than speech, music has intonations that are better defined than speech. If we want our children to be good communicators, then the absolutely best thing to do is to sing with them.

So – now for the ‘how’. Here are seven simple strategies that might help you get started (or give you new ideas if you are already tunefully chirping!)

1. Back to basics.
Whilst we might want to be bang up to date, there’s nothing wrong with singing some of those old songs (although not the one I learnt when I was little “do you want a cigarette, sir?”!). Humpty Dumpty, Twinkle Twinkle and those ever-spinning Wheels on the Bus are an important part of our heritage. If you are lucky enough to have roots in other cultures, or know family and friends that have, then use their songs too.

2. Can’t remember the words?
Dum di dum di dum will do just as well. My father was known to his nieces as ‘uncle boom boom’ because every song started well and ended up as boom di boom di boom. It’s not just about the words, it’s about the game, the interaction and the steady beat!

3. Join a group!
It’s great to have a repertoire of songs for every occasion – joining a music class really helps with this! Great too for making new friends with similar aged children.

4. Sing your way through the day…
Have you got a ‘hello’ song to greet your child with every morning? No? make one up – quickly! What about a ‘tidy up your room’ song – that would be useful, don’t you think? Singing about what you are doing is a great way to involve your child too, just gets a little embarrassing at the supermarket!

5. Transactional singing This call and response style is used right across Africa. It’s a great way to use music to build communication. If your baby has some favourite little noises, try copying them – a conversation (of sorts) will ensue – it’s fun, if a little silly. Once the game is established, you can try starting it – with
real words this time!

6. Can’t sing, won’t sing? Oh, go on – no? Okay try some rhymes instead. Humpty Dumpty works just as well (even better maybe) without the tune. The pattern and intonation of your voice will be just as useful!

7. Be a bit silly and be a bit rude!
Don’t worry if you divert from real words – sing or play around with this rhyme and your own name. “Anna fifanna, sticklanna bombanna, sticklanna fifanna that’s how you spell Anna!”

And remember that anything to do with wees, poos or farts is hilarious when you are tiny, “beans beans, good for your heart, the more you eat the more you…” well, you get the drift!

Sarah Marsh is a music teacher and advisor working in primary and early years music across the UK. Sarah founded and directs Musical Bumps www.musicalbumps.com with classes in Sussex from newborn to starting school. Please contact Belinda McBride on 07582 256957 for more information.

Music and babies

Benefits of musical toys for babies and how to make your own

By | dance & Art, fun for children, Mental health, Music and singing, play
by Ellie Mckinsey
www.knowyourinstrument.com

If you recall your childhood years, you may remember that nearly any object – anything at all – can become a toy. A ruler or a rod can suddenly become an enchanted sword or a magic wand, a comb transforms into a guitar, a piece of paper when crumpled enough and tied with string becomes a puppet, even a pet. The possibilities are endless as a child learns to develop creativity and let their imagination soar.

Indeed, the best toys don’t even have to come from a store. A child may leave an expensive stacking toy in favor of crinkly paper, and that’s fine. Anything that sparks imagination, engages the senses and encourages social interaction can be considered a toy. Objects that let children explore new shapes, textures, sounds and colours are great for developing minds and bodies.

Here we’re taking a look at musical toys and what babies can get from playing with them. We’ll also share with you some tips on making your own musical toys for your babies to play with, using stuff you may already have at home. Let’s get started!

Importance of musical toys for your baby
In the first four months of a baby’s life, their emotional, sensory and motor experiences help prepare them for further developmental achievements. At this early stage, babies benefit from sensory toys that involve bright, contrasting colors, textures and pleasant sounds.

Moreover, by four months, babies can already bring their hands together in the middle of their bodies and use their eyes to co-ordinate hand movement. Musical, easy-to-grasp toys such as rattles help build grip and tactile stimulation while stimulating hearing.

By their sixth month, babies can now sit and hold objects with their hands. They start manipulating objects with more controlled movement patterns. At this phase, babies benefit from toys that roll or move and make sounds when touched. This further enhances gross motor skills and sense of hearing, and prepares babies for crawling (watching a baby crawl after a rolling egg shaker is super adorable).

Musical toys that encourage movement also give babies a sense of accomplishment and gratification that would inspire them to create the sounds again and again. It’s like they’re already making their own music! Soon, babies would develop a sense of rhythm, a more refined sense of hearing and more control over their movement.

This mix of motor control and sensory awareness is crucial for your baby’s overall development. The ability to fine-tune movements and notice differences in sounds is important for learning to communicate and later on, play an instrument such as a guitar, piano, viola or the drums.

Tips for making your own musical toys
So, are you ready to get crafty and make your own musical toys? Here are some fantastic ideas to get you started.
• Old or unused pots, pans, large tin cans and plastic bowls are great for beat-making and can be played with or without an object to hit them with (like a wooden spoon).
• Make your own rolling shaker or rattle using empty plastic water bottles. Put small raw pasta shells, marbles or pebbles inside and glue the cap shut.
• Give your baby a tactile and sensory feast by making scrunchy, noisy socks. Remember those socks that have lost their partners? They’re perfect for this project – simply put crinkly wrapping paper in them and close off the ends with a secure and tidy knot. Let your baby scrunch the socks with delight.
• Got an empty tissue box and extra elastic bands lying around? Fashion a string instrument with them!

When making your DIY musical toys, remember to watch out for any potential hazards like small parts, sharp corners or edges, loose strings and toxic materials. Make sure the materials you use are clean and baby-safe. Give your toys a test run before letting your child play with them, and always keep an eye on your baby during playtime. Have fun! –

 

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

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

Hooked on books

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Research reveals it takes 6.5 adults to raise a child in Britain

By | family, fun for children | No Comments

It takes an average of 6.5 adults to raise a single child in Britain, with grandmothers (42%) teachers (37%), grandfathers (30%), aunts (23%) and older siblings (23%) all playing key roles alongside parents, according to the results of a study amongst British parents and children.

A quarter of those surveyed believe it takes as many as 10 people to bring up a child, highlighting the extent of those involved in raising a family in modern Britain.

More than two-thirds of those surveyed agreed that the main attribute needed to raise a child is love, with this ranking higher than being related to the child or regularly looking after them.

The survey, commissioned by My Nametags (www.mynametags.com) suggests that the proverb “it takes a village to raise a child” rings true for families across Britain, with members of the wider family and community playing important roles in a child’s upbringing. For instance, great reliance is placed on grandmothers (46%) and grandfathers (22%) for childcare whilst parents are at work. Children’s older siblings (19%), aunts (14%), and parents’ friends (12%) are also amongst those who are regularly called upon for childcare.

Parents agree that older siblings have the biggest impact on a child’s personality (16%), as well as heavily influencing a child’s bad habits (25%). Grandmothers are also critical to forming the personality of a child, with a fifth of parents believing they have the closest rapport with their children. Additionally, grandmothers are considered to teach them the most of anyone in the family.

The influence of older siblings and grandmothers is also felt by children themselves, with a fifth stating they have the most fun with their older siblings and almost a quarter agreeing they look up to their grandmothers the most.

Interestingly, despite this village mentality, teachers are the only group outside the immediate family that parents are happy to let discipline their child.

According to the study, there are several reasons why parents choose to involve their wider social networks when raising children. In addition to practical reasons, parents suggest that it improves children’s social skills (30%) and helps them build strong relationships (30%).
Commenting on the findings, Bea Marshall, Parenting Expert and Founder of Yes Parenting, said: “Humans are generally social creatures who thrive in communal and cooperative environments. Nowadays it is common for families to live away from their extended families and without the day to day support of their immediate neighbours. However, it is still so important for families to create a network of support as they raise their children. When other people help care for children, it provides parents with an opportunity to recharge, work or play. Those other people also give children a secure set of relationships in which their needs for connection, safety and belonging are met. Children have an opportunity to learn from the different people around them and they receive different things from each person – one may be more playful, another more nurturing, for example. Each person in a child’s life contributes something unique that helps them to grow into a well-rounded individual, while offering crucial support to their parents.”

With everyday life in Britain affected by COVID-19, parents’ usual reliance on the wider community has never been more apparent, with many families losing over two-thirds of their support network.

Commenting on the research, Lars B. Andersen, Managing Director at My Nametags, said: “After noticing a range of family members ordering name labels for children in recent years, we were interested to discover more about the varying roles that family members and friends take on when raising a child. Although every household will have their own approach to parenting, it is interesting to see the importance of the wider community when raising children in the UK, and how each individual helps to shape a child’s life. With the impact of COVID-19 continuing to affect the way families across the UK are operating, it was particularly interesting to speak to parents about how being cut off from their usual support network has affected them during this crisis. We found that, on the whole, although families have adapted the best they can, they want to get back to their normal routine, suggesting that this unusual period has only reinforced the importance of including a range of people in the upbringing of a child.”

To learn more, please visit www.mynametags.com/blog/2020/ 06/it-takes-a-village/