Category

fun for children

Known, not numbers…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

dancing tutu

Dance is good for the soul

By | dance & Art, fun for children, Mental health
by Lynda Forster
Dance Art Studio

Exactly what benefits can dance classes offer kids? The list is endless and not just about learning a few steps to perform… Apart from the physical elements of helping to keep them fit and active, dance is also proven to benefit their mental health and social skills which is something we should all be focusing on more during these times.

Children always leave a dance class happy and relaxed even if they’ve had an ‘off’ day or they’ve been feeling a little reluctant to join in at the beginning of the lesson. Whilst engaged in the lesson, the movements produce endorphins which channels their negative energy into a positive calm and those feelings of stress and anxiety will soon disappear, so not only are they staying physically healthy they are staying mentally healthy in a fun way, learning a new skill.

It takes time and lots of patience to master new steps. When children listen to music and learn a dance to its rhythms – it stimulates their brain which improves their cognitive abilities. Children are constantly reminded about when they were babies they fell over many times until they could walk properly, they kept practising until they could and this seems to resonate with them. These are coping mechanisms which are valuable life skills.

Feeling healthier both physically and mentally will push them towards great things in the future. Working in a consistent lesson setting will also help your child’s self-esteem grow as they dance and share ideas with their friends and peers. An atmosphere of trust and support is necessary for a dance group – that feeling of support, community and camaraderie is also beneficial towards their mental wellbeing when outside of their normal comfort zones.

So many wonderful friendships can be formed through this physical art form, the emotional connection of creating movement together and sharing ideas is therapeutic. For younger children this will involve something as simple as galloping in pairs, waiting their turn and then both working together trying to win ‘stars of the lesson’. These could be awarded for the happiest dancing smile, the pointiest toes or the best posture, and for older children there are mimes, choreography tasks to encourage expression and creative thinking. Eventually leading them through to having a dance exam partner throughout their grades, this can be for 10 or more years, so having someone to share the same experiences and love is truly magical for them – many of our past students remain friends in adulthood.

Being a dance student certainly keeps them busy and during their tween and teens years they’ll hopefully prefer spending their spare time rehearsing with their network of dance friends rather than slouching around on their phones looking at negative social media posts and constantly comparing themselves to others – so investing in dance lessons certainly has an endless list of positives. For you, seeing your child develop from a preschool ballet and dance movement class through to a young person able to perform ballet en pointe or tap dance and shine on stage is a wonderful journey.

Recent studies suggest continuing dance and exercise during important academic exams such as GCSE’s can help to re-focus, lay down information in the brain and subsequent recall. Teen brains are wired to seek fun and pleasure, so surely if they stop all their fun creative hobbies during these exam periods they will not have the mindfulness benefits that dance provides – yes exam success is very important but a top grade academic record is of no use if your mental health is suffering. It’s about balance and time management which again is another life skill. Many students have told me that having dance helped get them through these exams.

Dance teachers themselves have often danced since they were young children and have followed their passion, they love what they do and have so much to give back, children feed off this positive energy. Dance teachers are normally very good at reading ‘vibes’ by the way their dancers perform in lessons. Unlike academic teachers, a child will often have the same teacher for a number of years, from tot to teen, so they become a stable person in their life and someone they can confide in during difficult times and who can offer support.

Continuing dance lessons online throughout the lockdowns has certainly been richer for many children and young people and although you can never create the same atmosphere as in person lessons, having that familiar connection and social aspect to look forward to certainly helped keep them physically and mentally motivated and kept their interest alive. It’s also given them a new found confidence as they’ve adjusted to solo learning.

Dance Art Studio is located in the Fiveways and Preston Park area of Brighton offering pre-school ballet and dance for 3-4-year-olds and graded ballet, tap, modern theatre dance and street as well as boys only tap and jazz. Exams and performance opportunities. We also hold holiday workshops. www.danceartstudio.co.uk

The magic of story telling and wellbeing

By | family, fun for children
by Gemma Parker
CraZy BeanZ

After an incredibly challenging year, many more children are struggling with their mental health and wellbeing. Our children are sponges and soak up everything. It was impossible for them to go through the last year and it have no impact on them. As well as their own experiences, they mirror our emotions, even when we think we have been expert geniuses at masking them.

How can we help our children at home with these big changes?
One way is through storytelling. Children gain knowledge and understanding through stories and play.

Where to start?
We can’t hide our children from uncomfortable emotions and experiences, as much as we wish we could. We need to equip them with tools to help them process and learn from all their experiences.

It starts by ‘feeling’ and ‘naming’ our emotions. All emotions are important and noticing them really helps us to work through them. You can help your children name their emotions and connect with them. For example: Comfortable emotion – “You looked like you were feeling very excited when the robin took the bread.” Uncomfortable emotion – “I think you were feeling embarrassed when you dropped your drink just now.”

By connecting with your child’s emotions, you are acknowledging them as an individual and helping them name what they are feeling. This is ownership and it so powerful.

Big, big, BIG emotions!
When a child is experiencing a big emotion, they are in a triggered state. It is best to comfort them at this point. Later when they are more relaxed, we can start to look at the magic of story telling and work through the emotion.

Here’s how…
Make a story together. “Let’s tell a story about a someone else who got embarrassed. We need a character, who should we choose?”

With your child, create a story which includes the emotion or experience you are addressing. They can choose characters and settings. Make gentle suggestions while including your child in the process. This helps you both work through the emotion in a creative way!

Here’s an example of this process…
Adult: We have chosen a dragon and what’s his name?
Child: Bob the Dragon!
Adult: OK Bob the Dragon it is. Once upon a time there was a dragon called Bob the Dragon. Bob lived in a… where did he live?
Child: In a cave!
Adult: Bob lived in a cave at the top of a very tall mountain. One morning Bob was tidying up his cave getting ready to go out. He had decided to go the café to meet… who is he going to meet?
Child: He is going to meet a robot and a ghost with big eyes…

The adult manages the narrative and the child creates the elements. As you proceed, your children will get more engaged and creative. This is something you can do anywhere, even in the car! This is also great for settling sibling quibbles.

You can then play the story together with toys or with drama. Just make sure you are including that big emotion so your child can experience it from outside themselves. Seeing the emotion helps them to connect with it the next time they experience it.

Play with toys.
This is the same process as making a story together, only you use toys and props. Children take more control with this method. You’ll need to steer them back every now and again to the emotion intended, but do roll with the creativity. It is magical and lots of fun!

Comic strip.
Make a story together as a comic strip. This process is better for older children who will happily sit for some time. You will have lots of time to talk with your child and connect with them. Drawing together and collaborating with your child will strengthen your bond and make them feel safer exposing their emotions.

Remember these key points:
• No judgment.
Allow your children to have their emotions. Create a space where they feel they can open up to you. Sometimes they may disclose things to you that would trigger you, but if you can remain calm and thank them for their honesty then work through the process together, you will have a child who can come to you no matter what.

• Tailor your debrief.
It is important to discuss the emotions as you play them out, but we don’t want to kill the magic of the story and lose their interest. Adults can talk for much longer than children, so we must remember when to reign it in and return to the narrative.

• Lose yourself in the magic!
Be there in the moment and present with your child. These are fundamentals in wellbeing and if you are modelling this and experiencing it with your child, they will mirror you.

I hope these activities help you and your child work through some big emotions and changes but most of all, I hope you have fun trying!

CraZy BeanZ specialise in children’s entertainment and wellbeing.
Story telling is at the heart of all their work, taking children on big adventures.
Covering Sussex, Surrey and Kent, you can book them for party entertainment, school and club workshops and toddler workshops.
www.CrazybeanZ.co.uk 07955 854 881

Another day, another train track…

By | Education, fun for children, Toys

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sports is so much more than just sports

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For more information, visit www.brightongirls.gdst.net

Why swimming should be the top priority for your child after lockdown

By | children's health, family, fun for children, Mental health, swimming
by Eri Coles
Sports Generation

The recent lockdowns have resulted in a significant decrease in physical activity levels among children. Sport England’s latest study shows that 31.3% of children and young people in England do less than an average 30 minutes a day of sport or physical activity. That is an increase of 2.4% from the previous year, bringing the total number of less active children to 2.3 million. There are countless activities children can get back to after lockdown, but we strongly believe swimming should take priority over other extra-curricular activities for every child. Read on to find out our reasons.

1. Swimming can save lives
Drowning is the third leading cause of unintentional injury death worldwide with the highest rates of drowning among children of one to four years, followed by children of five to nine years. Therefore, swimming is a life skill that everyone should acquire from a young age. Even before the pandemic, 23% of children were leaving primary school unable to swim 25 metres unaided and one in five cannot self-rescue, despite swimming being on the national curriculum. With regular swimming lessons, children learn how to stay safe in and around water – something you cannot learn by reading a book or watching YouTube!

2. Swimming helps to build a stronger body
Swimming is a perfect sport for improving overall health and fitness as you move most of your muscle groups against the resistance of water. Because it is full-body workout, it helps to tone muscles and build core strengths far more effectively than any other sports. Swimming increases heart rates without putting stress on the body, therefore it is also beneficial for building cardiovascular strength. In addition, swimming helps to expand lung capacity and improve breathing control which is valuable for everyone but especially for asthma sufferers. These are reasons why many children who swim regularly tend to be good at other sports as well.

3. Swimming is a mood booster
There is increasing concern about the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on children and young people’s mental health. Data now conclusively indicates a substantial overall worsening of mental health in children and young people during the pandemic compared to previous years, according to the APPG’s latest report. Some children find it more difficult to express their emotions or share their thoughts verbally with others and therefore it is important to keep them active and provide enjoyment whilst doing so. So, how can swimming improve your child’s mental health? Swimming naturally reduces the stress hormones cortisol and adrenaline whilst simultaneously creating endorphins, the hormones that make you feel happy and increase positivity. The breathing patterns and rhythmic movements created with swimming can be meditative. Another study shows that swimming can reverse damage to the brain from stress through a process called hippocampal neurogenesis. We have seen time after time anxious or fidgety children leave swimming lessons calmer and more relaxed.

4. Swimming can make your child smarter
Studies carried out by Fusion Lifestyle and Griffith University reveal regular swimmers are lengths ahead in school than non-swimmers. When it comes to classroom-based subjects such as maths, English and science, children who frequently take swimming lessons are more likely to perform above average:
• Children who have taken swimming lessons enjoy reading more and are more likely to read outside of school.
• Children can better recite their times tables, with 39% of swimmers able to recite their five times table vs only 28% of non-swimmers.

This is down to several factors:
• A child who swims after school has busy weeks, meaning they are disciplined with their time. It is natural they would apply this time-management to their studies.
• It develops focus in children, showing you must work hard and consistently to achieve your goals.

We all find it that little bit easier to work hard when we have something positive to look forward to – like swimming in a warm pool!

5. Swimming builds self-confidence
Swim England’s research has revealed that seven to 16-year-olds who swim rated a higher feeling of life being worthwhile compared to those who don’t. Swimmers are, on average, 2.5% more confident than non-swimmers. Girls who swim have considerably higher increases in wellbeing, health and self-confidence compared to boys.

As you can see, swimming is one of the best and most valuable activities out there for your children, and with this skill it would open doors
to other opportunities later in their lives. It is a true worthwhile investment for your children.

Sports Generation offer swimming lessons to children from age two years and above with up to two children per class to maximise learning potential. Lessons, taught by highly experienced coaches, are engaging, confidence building and results-based. If you want your child to get back into swimming, email contact@sportsgeneration.co.uk or call 0208 940 9431 to find out more.

References: Sports England: Active Lives Children and Young People Survey. Academic Year 2019/20, January 2021 World Health Organization: Drowning, April 2021 Swim England: Value of Swimming, 2019 All-Party Parliamentary Group: The covid generation: a mental health pandemic in the making. April 2021 PsychCentral: How Swimming Reduces Depression,2010 Griffith Institute for Educational Research, at Griffith University, 2013.

summer-camp

Holiday camps – great for children and parents!

By | environment, family, fun for children, Green, Playing, Relationships, Uncategorized

The long school summer holidays are lovely for so many reasons; particularly because you and your children have a break from the school routine. There is time to relax and be less governed by the clock. However, unfortunately most working parents don’t get six weeks off, so finding childcare can be difficult.

Even if you are lucky enough not to actually ‘need’ childcare, children (and parents!) may enjoy some time apart. Children often miss not spending time with people their own age during the holidays; hence the dreaded
“I’m bored” phrase being uttered!

Many parents find holiday clubs or play schemes are the answer. They are very flexible so you can book them for the whole of the working week, or just a couple of days each week, depending on your needs. Most run for similar times to the working day with some time either side to allow you to get to and from work.

They are normally based at schools or leisure centres in the area, as they already have the facilities needed on site and are easily accessible. Some clubs are based around a particular sport or hobby whilst others allow children to do lots of different activities. You may find that due to the better weather in the summer holidays, some are also based at locations that allow children to have fun outside or in the water – but obviously there will always have to be a plan B in case of horrendous weather!

There is a variety of clubs to choose from; some may offer the chance to try lots of different sports and hobbies during the week, whilst others will concentrate on something specific such as drama, football, netball or trampolining. Children may want to enhance the skills they already have in a sport or hobby, or it can be a chance to try something completely new. Younger children may enjoy a variety of sports and crafts during the week, and you may even find one in particular that sparks a new interest that they want to continue, after the summer.

The summer is obviously the best time to try watersports for the first time. Children can learn to windsurf, kayak, sail, or paddle board. If children can learn a new skill it can really increase their self-esteem and confidence, and there can’t be many better things to enjoy in the sun than the thrill of learning a new watersport.

It can be hard to find ways to keep children active and occupied during the summer holidays, whether you are a working parent or not. At holiday clubs children will engage in physical activity and there will virtually be no time in front of screens. Children will be able to participate in a wider variety of activities that they may not normally have access to.

Children who have had friendship problems at school, have a chance to start afresh in a holiday club. They will be with children their own age and they have the chance to make new friends and socialise with children they may not necessarily go to school with. They are likely to increase in confidence as they make new friends, and this can continue when they go back to school as they will undoubtedly be more confident socially.

In addition to the social benefits, children will also learn new skills. Clubs may offer the chance to try things that children have never had opportunity to try before such as handball, trampolining or even archery and they will leave with a positive feeling of accomplishment.

Finally, clubs also provide peace of mind for parents as they know their children are enjoying themselves in a safe environment. As children come to the end of their primary school age they may want to be out by themselves a little bit more, and meet their friends in the park for example, but while they are in a holiday club you know they are safe, happy and having fun.

This summer, more than ever, the most important thing is that children have fun; it is their holiday from school after all! This last year has been stressful for everyone and children have had their own stresses at school, with constant talk of them being ‘behind’ and the need to ‘catch up’. They need this summer to have fun, relax and create new memories, whether that is playing football with new-found friends, rehearsing, and putting on a play, sitting down enjoying some crafts, or learning to paddle board.

There is always great demand for holiday childcare particularly as last year’s summer was so uncertain, so do book your childcare as soon as you can and then relax and enjoy the holidays!

 

 

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.