Category

fun for children

Encouraging play

By | dance & Art, Education, family, fun for children, play, Relationships, Sport, Theatre, Uncategorized
by Claire Russell
founder of PlayHOORAY!

Have you ever thought about how you can better encourage your child to play more effectively? Now, we don’t all live in an ideal world, our homes have to work for many different things, as well as look nice, but there are a few simple tricks we can apply to create a more playful home.

• Turn off the TV and keep distractions to a minimum when your child is playing.

• Keep resources to hand and ensure your child knows where they are, helping them to become independent and not rely on you to find the answers.

• Teach your child how to do an activity first. Don’t assume they know how to take on the role of a shopkeeper despite the numerous times they’ve been to the supermarket with you!

• Go with the flow. If you set up an activity for your little one, but they do something totally different to what you’d intended, that is absolutely fine. Support them and encourage them to follow
their own initiative!

• If they have enjoyed playing with a particular activity try leaving it out for them to access when they want for at least a week. If you don’t like the mess, perhaps you can throw a tea towel over it?

• Praise your child for their play, the way they play and what they are doing, reassuring your child and showing them how much you value their play. After all, it is supporting their development!

• Try not to interrupt your child when they are focusing, if it can wait then let it. Young children can only concentrate for small amounts of time, so you’ll probably only be waiting for a few minutes anyway!

But what exactly should you be doing when your child is playing?
In reality, there are some days when you want your little one to play to occupy themselves so that you can take a breather because, let’s face it, it’s exhausting being a parent and its important to prioritise looking after yourself! And there are those days when you have a list as long as your arm and you just need five minutes to get jobs done or make dinner. And that’s fine too, honestly it is. We all do it! But then there are days when you do have time, you do have a flicker of energy and you have the headspace to support your child as they play – great! When that occurs, there are many things you can do that will support their development:

• Sit by your child, giving them a sense of security, reassuring them that you’re in sight while showing them that you value their play.

• If they invite you to play with them, copy them. Don’t take charge, just do what they do and let them take the lead.They will love it!

• When you feel you can, talk about what you are doing. You might feel a bit silly doing it but you are teaching your child how to play. Use words they may recognise but introduce new vocabulary too. Tell them what you like, dislike, your favourites and give reasons. Your child may offer their opinion or they may not. There’s no pressure!

• As your child plays, as long as you don’t think it will break their concentration, comment on what they’re doing. Suggest a few things you like about their playing, for example: “I like the way you are stacking the bricks to make a tall tower. I like the way you are trying to get that to stick. I can see you are persevering.”

These show your child that you value what they are doing. Your child may choose to tell you about their play and may begin running their own commentary.

These are just a few ideas you can implement to encourage play. You don’t have to do them all, try a few and see if it makes a difference.

Happy playing!

Mum to one and Early Years Specialist, Claire Russell is founder of playHOORAY! and the designer of playPROMPTS activity cards designed to equip parents with realistic, fuss-free play ideas. For further information please visit www.playhooray.co.uk

Encourage learning at home talk to your child!

By | children's health, Education, family, fun for children, Health, Relationships, Uncategorized
by Claire Russell
Early Years Specialist

Research released by the Department of Education suggests that 100,000 under fives are not learning at home but according to Early Years Specialist and mum to one, Claire Russell, who is a huge advocate of learning via play, it’s all about talking to your child and spotting opportunities for them to learn as you go about your everyday routine.

Claire told us: “Talking and singing to your child is the best thing you could do. From day one provide a running commentary telling them about what you’re doing. Even though they may not be responding or talking back, the words will be going in. It will provide children with a wide range of vocabulary! And don’t be scared to use big words either!”

She continues: “Learning doesn’t necessarily mean sitting down with a pen on paper, particularly when it comes to pre-schoolers. It can be counting steps as you climb, spotting letters in road signs or taking turns in a game.”

In particular, the survey found that over half of parents do not spend time teaching children their alphabet but Claire believes learning through play is important in so many other ways.

“Learning is not just the ABCs and 123s, it’s about so much more. We need to teach our children life skills such as social skills, kindness and empathy, how to share, take turns how to look after ourselves and our bodies, how to think of others and the world around us. And who better to teach them? Us! Their parents and carers are their first teachers. We all know children watch, observe and copy. So it’s important we model the skills and characteristics we hope to see in our children.”

Here Claire provides her tips for encouraging play at home:
• Turn off the TV and keep distractions to a minimum when your child is playing.

• Keep resources to hand and ensure your child knows where they are, helping them to become independent and not rely on you to find the answers.

• Teach your child how to do an activity first. Don’t assume they know how to take on the role of a shopkeeper despite the numerous times they’ve been to the supermarket with you!

• Go with the flow. If you set up an activity for your little one, but they do something totally different to what you’d intended, that is absolutely
fine. Support them and encourage them to follow their own initiative!

• If they have enjoyed playing with a particular activity try leaving it out for them to access when they want for at least a week. If you don’t like the mess, perhaps you can throw a tea towel over it?

• Praise your child for their play, the way they play and what they are doing, reassuring your child and showing them how much you value their play, after all, it is supporting their development!

• Try not to interrupt your child when they are focusing, if it can wait then let it. Young children can only concentrate for small amounts of time, so you’ll probably only be waiting for a few minutes anyway!

• Sit by your child, giving them a sense of security, reassuring them that you’re in sight while showing them that you value their play.

• If they invite you to play with them, copy them. Don’t take charge, just do what they do and let them take the lead. They will love it!

• When you feel you can, talk about what you are doing. You might feel a bit silly doing it but you are teaching your child how to play. Use words they may recognise but introduce new vocabulary too. Tell them what you like, dislike, your favourites and give reasons. Your child may offer their opinion or they may not. There’s no pressure!

• As your child plays, as long as you don’t think it will break their concentration, comment on what they’re doing. Suggest
a few things you like about their playing, for example, “I like the way you are stacking the bricks to make a tall tower.” ” I like the way you are trying to get that to stick.” or “I can see you are persevering.” These show your child that you value what they are doing. Your child may choose to tell you about their play and may begin running their own commentary.

Claire Russsell is currently working with the Department of Education on their Chat, Play and Read campaign. Claire is founder of playHOORAY! and designer of the playPROMPT activity cards providing realistic play ideas for preschoolers.

For further information about playHOORAY! and to download the please visit www.playhooray.co.uk.

Why do children love to play so much?

By | Education, environment, fun for children, Green, Playing, Summer, Toys
by Tanya Petherick
Class Of Their Own

Children love to play. We know that, but just what is it about play that children love? At this point in an article, you might expect to see a definition of play. As people who study play are fond of saying; play is easy to see, but hard to define. The desire to play is innate. Innate is a word we can define. It means natural, in built, instinctive – in other words, no one needs to, or indeed, can, tell a child how to play. Play can be facilitated by adults, yet it is essentially child-led; children doing what they want with the resources they have available. Think about all the times a young child has been more interested in the cardboard box than the gift inside. Yet, play is not just for toddlers. Children of all ages learn through play. This might be something pragmatic, such as young children playing shops and counting out one apple and two pears, through to older primary-aged children playing card games using more advanced numerical skills.

Children receive a natural satisfaction from play. In academic circles, this is termed intrinsic motivation; a behaviour which is driven by an internal reward – put simply, play is something children want to do. A lot of the time, play is fun. Playing with friends, playing outside, getting wet, staying dry, playing in pairs, playing in groups, playing alone, imagining, making, cutting, sticking, creating, cooking, discovering, exploring – they all sound like great fun. Undoubtedly, one reason children might love play is it can be enormous fun – but it isn’t always. Sometimes play is sad, unfair or physically painful; think about children role-playing sad events, not being included in a group game and that childhood staple of grazed knees.

These three examples alone show how play can prepare children for life as an adult, sad things do happen and developing skills to process these emotions help us makes sense of life, understanding unfairness helps us to process information, and those grazed knees? Well, they teach us to tie up our shoelaces or the need to take more care on the scooter.

Can you remember being bored as a child? Getting part way through the long school holiday and declaring the dreaded “I’m bored” phrase? Being bored, or more importantly, being allowed to be bored, is an important part of a child’s development. It is when children are bored that they make creative use of the resources around them. I can remember ‘ruining,’ in my mum’s words, and ‘making more fun’ in mine, a game of Connect 4 by painting the inside of all the red and yellow circles with different coloured paint and using my new pieces to create a more complex version of the game. Had I not been bored with the original version of the game, I would never have developed my own, more engaging version of the game (I have to confess that this happened years ago, and I am still waiting for Connect 4 to pick up my great idea!). It is the necessity of creativity that results from being bored that can create fantastic fun.

Children have an innate desire to play, are intrinsically motivated to do so, and are creative about it, but does that answer our question about why children love to play? In a way it does. But let’s look at the question from a different angle. Maybe it is less about a child’s desire to play, and more about the associated benefits of play that have kept play at the evolutionary forefront of a child’s development. It is through play that children develop confidence, self-esteem, independence, emotional resilience, physical skills, concentration and creative thinking. Or, put another way, the skills that follow children into adulthood. At a time when children face criticism for being too attached to electronic devices, not doing enough exercise and being ‘over-scheduled’ the benefits of play may seem an overly simplistic response, yet as we have seen, it is through play that children find out who they are, and how the world around them works.

It can be easy to overlook the benefits of your child ‘just’ playing when planning the summer holidays. Allowing a child to follow their individual interests reduces guilt when planning holiday childcare, however, do not feel the need to overschedule children. As a parent or carer in today’s busy world, giving children the time and space to play is one of the best things a parent can do to help their child develop the skills they will need growing up and into adulthood. So, turn off the tablet and let children play in the way you did: on their own, with friends, at a holiday club and don’t forget, you can join in too! Let yourself be led by your child and don’t worry if you can’t remember how to play. It is what children do, so give them 30 minutes of your time and encourage them to choose what you do together – it is invaluable time together, and your child (and you!) will love it, but, also allow them to get bored and get creative – you never know where it will take them!

Class Of Their Own offer high quality, affordable and secure out of school clubs for primary school children aged 4-11. www.classoftheirown.com

Gifted and talented?

By | Education, fun for children, Music and singing, Uncategorized
by Helen Abbott, Banstead Prep School

If Einstein could not talk until he was four or read until he was seven (which is apparently the case) and Didier Drogba studied accountancy before finding himself playing for Chelsea at the mature age of 26, how can we hope to spot the gifted and talented amongst the cherished progeny that walk through our gates? What does ‘gifted and talented’ actually mean and how should we be supporting them?

Gifted and talented is a term generally used to describe children who are beyond their peers either in academic ability or in a specific skill. ‘Gifted’ tends to refer to those who have a high academic ability, while ‘talented’ relates more to those who are adept in a practical subject, such as sport, music or art. The general assumption in the past was that these children would thrive no matter what. This is most definitely not the case.

Children who are inquisitive, read early, have an excellent memory, are good at problem solving and learn to speak very young (although clearly not the Einsteins of this world) are possibly gifted. I say ‘possibly’ because anything to do with children is an inaccurate art and I tremble at the idea of putting a child in a box with a label on it – and with many people being late developers, there is often nothing evident at an early stage anyway.

When I set about writing this article, I had in mind the plethora of extra activities that we offer our gifted and talented at our school. From maths challenges to gifted writers’ workshops, from refereeing matches to representing the school in a given sport, from workshops at senior schools for instrumentalists and drama prodigies to being mentored in advanced art club. Every opportunity exists to go above and beyond.

However, as I continued to write, I thought back to the days when I attended toddler groups with my own children, where a host of affirmations from adoring parents who were keen to describe their infant’s latest achievement greeted me. Whether it is taking their first steps holding someone’s hand or doing a backward flip, murmuring their first word or reciting the alphabet backwards, proud parents coo over their newfound talent. When do these talents stop being counted as significant? When do we stop noticing every advance and consider it just ‘average’?

Banstead pupil Georgie Forster, age 10

Many high fliers struggle when they are younger because they have learning disabilities, which they are able to hide well. These children are frequently overlooked. Thomas Edison was told by his teachers that his brain was ‘addled’ but he went on to become one of America’s greatest inventors. Every child in the class needs access to a higher level of learning and at our school, we offer challenges to encourage our children to be courageous and tenacious.

Children need freedom to extend themselves but freedom within boundaries. I have to return to languages to give an example because it’s what I know best: it is not enough to simply say, “Now write your own question in French”. Rather say, “Write a question to your best friend/to the prime minister/to a unicorn!” Allow them to use their imagination but frame what they need to do.

Extension activities should provide greater depth on the subject. Research materials should be readily available, but children shouldn’t just be left to work on their own projects. Even as adults, we need support, a second opinion and a good sprinkling of praise!

Classwork should challenge from the beginning. Children should have different amounts of information, as much or as little as is needed to challenge them, but they should all complete the same task so that the outcome is the same. Teach to the top of the class and support those who need it. Aim high and inspire excellence!

At home, children need fewer boundaries for their passions. Days out exposing children to new experiences; encouraging them to read widely, whether it’s a literary tome or a football magazine; and having open conversations are all essential. And, when needed, have an open dialogue with your child’s teacher about their strengths.

I do wonder, although my fingers are almost sticking to the keys in my reluctance to type this, but maybe the geniuses of the future will be YouTubers or game makers. The geniuses of the past certainly faced criticism for their passions! However, unless you are prepared for your YouTubing offspring to burn out at the age of 21, I suggest you make sure they have exposure to other experiences as well!

In my years of teaching, I have never met one of those students who sits their GCSEs at nine or goes to university aged 11. They are few and far between. Every child is gifted and talented in some special way, whether it is in leadership skills, having a way with the spoken word or playing Mozart. Our school ethos of Education with Character, offers a variety of ways of learning, ensuring that we, as teachers, spot unique talents and cultivate them, and parents are encouraged to do the same. We need to push our children as far as possible in their ability – and then another little nudge beyond. Let’s make sure we don’t fail to spot any Thomas Edisons or Albert Einsteins of the future.

Banstead Prep School is a co-educational prep school and nursery for girls and boys aged 2-11 where there’s more to a good education than learning.
www.bansteadprep.com

Outdoor learning

By | Education, environment, fun for children, Gardening
by Sian Cattaneo
Head of Brighton Girls

Increasingly, schools are recognising that their curriculum needs to be more relevant to real life experiences and help pupils develop skills that will be helpful beyond their classroom experience. In nurseries and primary schools, this is incredibly important as teachers and nursery leaders endeavour to engage pupils in learning and make it enjoyable and relevant. In recent years the development of the Forest School curriculum has shown that these additional experiences significantly enrich the curriculum and helps many pupils to be more engaged in their learning. At our school we have seen the introduction of Wild Beach School as another ‘local’ resource which is proving to be a great opportunity to venture beyond the classroom.

So, why is outdoor learning valuable in an increasingly busy and over-stretched curriculum? Cynics might say that it is just a ‘gimmick’ that doesn’t really have any educational value apart from children getting some ‘more fresh air’. With such a pressure on schools to create a rounded and relevant curriculum, teachers are acutely aware that time and relevance is precious and are focussed on priorities in terms of educational outcomes. These sessions are about making the most of natural resources, offering a range of new and potentially challenging experiences and developing personal skills and qualities.

Schools are recognising that while the content of the curriculum is essential, an information based approach is less relevant and that pupils needs to be able to problem solve, respond to change and be flexible and adaptable. Technology, particularly in a mobile form, allows us to have information at our fingertips, the key question is how you use that knowledge to manage the challenges you face.

Many of us acknowledge that much of what we learnt at school didn’t really have any relevance to real life situations and that it seemed purely about information gathering. Outdoor learning takes this a step further in pupils getting more ‘hands on’ in a real life context (harder to replicate in a classroom!) and focuses on the learning outcomes and applying them rather than just gaining knowledge.

It could be argued that as a society we have become much more risk adverse and this is having a significant impact on future generations. Many schools use outdoor learning as a way of introducing risk taking in a managed way and in doing so, help pupils to build independence, resilience and problem solving. Roald Dahl once observed “the more risks you allow children to take, the better they learn to take care of themselves”. This is undoubtedly what adults would want for any young person; the ability to take more personal responsibility and show initiative and self-sufficiency.

High quality outdoor learning experiences allow children to identify and assess risks more independently. Whether it be using a hammer for building a shelter in all types of weather or learning how to start a fire from scratch, these allow pupils to learn how to respond and negotiate their way around real life situations. We have frequently observed that often pupils are far more resilient than adults in the face of bad weather and will have more of a ‘can do’ attitude. We certainly all recognise that opportunities to get in the ‘great outdoors’ must be an important part of a children education. Not only will it give them a better understanding and appreciation of nature but also help them to understand the environmental challenges facing their generation. The process must begin from a young age if we are to change the culture of our society and to understand the human responsibility for nature.

At a time when children’s inactivity and time inside is causing real concerns, an element of the curriculum that runs alongside the physical education programme is being seen as invaluable. Outdoor learning, by the very nature of the tasks is often collaborative learning and is focussed on problem solving, showing initiative and teamwork. Open ended tasks enable children to lead their own learning and not always be directed by adults. It is also our observation that children who may sometimes find the classroom environment somewhat challenging respond well to the ‘freedom’ of the outdoor setting and often find success and receive positive feedback. Outdoor learning often develops different skills and consequently different children may take the lead, which can have huge benefits for self-esteem. Outdoor learning also lends itself to developing children’s natural curiosity and patience, as well as gross and fine motor skills. There is increasing evidence that working outside also has a huge benefit for physical and mental health.

We strongly believe that we increasingly need to look at the curriculum in a different way, to make it more about open ended learning and help children develop the skills that will be valuable in the future, rather than always be concerned about subject content. We are fortunate to have so many wonderful resources locally that we are able to make the learning experience so rich and vibrant and something we hope will make a positive lasting impression on children.

Sian Cattaneo is the Head of Brighton Girls, the only girls Prep in the heart of Brighton & Hove.
For any enquiries please contact 01273 280200 www.brightongirls.gdst.net, admissions@brightongirls.gdst.net

Choosing a first instrument

By | dance & Art, fun for children, Music and singing

by Oliver Roberts
Penguin Instrumentors

As a parent the topic of music lessons will likely crop up at some point and knowing how to help your child with lessons can feel like a total mystery: “Which instrument should I choose?” “Are group or private lessons best?” “What should I look for in a teacher?” These are just a few of the questions parents can face before starting lessons. However, supporting your child in their musical pursuits doesn’t have to be a challenge and we have put together a few tips to help you and your child answer that all-important first question of which instrument to choose!

Before we get started
As obvious as it may seem, the first questions you should be asking yourself when choosing an instrument are “Will my child find this fun and enjoy the experience?” and “Does my child have any preference?” After all, enjoyment leads to enthusiasm, enthusiasm leads to engagement and engagement leads to – reward!

So which instrument?
The biggest decision when starting music lessons is deciding on the instrument your child should learn. But luckily this isn’t something you need to fret over because there is no wrong answer. The transferable skills learnt from being musical in general are just as important as the specific instrument being learnt. Besides, there are always opportunities to press pause if your child isn’t enjoying lessons and try something different.

So, assuming that you don’t already have an instrument in mind, the first step in choosing an instrument is to find out which instruments are easily available to you. This may mean researching what the local teachers in your area can offer or which instruments are taught at your child’s school. The size of the instrument may also be worth considering. Pianos for example are a fab first instrument, however, they are also pretty large pieces of furniture and not all of us have the space to house them (although a digital piano or keyboard are good alternatives if a piano won’t fit). Other instruments like cellos, saxophones and some of the larger brass instruments can also be heavy and tricky for younger hands to grip properly.

Age
Your child’s age is a big factor in choosing an instrument. The earliest recommended ages for most musical instruments is generally about seven or eight years old, with the ukulele and recorder being a bit younger, and guitars, big brass and drums being a little older. This is largely due to the development of a child’s fine motor skills. However, if your child is showing an interest in music before this age then activities like singing around the house, group music sessions for infants or even having fun with rhythms during impromptu drumming sessions (using household items) can all make for great introductions to music.

Cost
Budget is another important consideration when picking out an instrument. There are instruments to fit all budgets and prices can range from just a few pounds to tens of thousands. However, some music shops may offer financing options for pricier instruments and some schools and music schemes offer to loan instruments to their pupils. It may also be worth noting that not all instruments are always treated equal when it comes to lesson prices with orchestral, piano and singing lessons typically priced higher than guitar, ukulele and drums which may become significant over the long-term.

Motivations
The last thing to think about when weighing up your options is the reason for learning. Almost any instrument can fit any musical aspiration, however, there are a couple of points to be aware of. If you think a casual approach to music would work best for your child then maybe the guitar, drums or piano would be your best choice because of their relative ease when starting out. On the other hand, orchestral instruments may take a little longer before the practice starts yielding the same results but they are fantastic for providing unique social experiences with opportunities to perform in orchestras, chamber groups and other ensembles as well as large repertoires of truly beautiful solo pieces to enjoy. It is also fairly common for children to start learning an instrument like the piano and after a year or two switch onto something else

Size
Once you’ve decided which instrument is right for you and your child, the next question will be, what size? Most instruments come in varying sizes which are suitable for the different ages of children and many music shops will have someone who can help you find the correctly proportioned instrument to suit your child.

Still undecided?
At the end of the day, there are always ‘the big three’. Piano, violin and guitar and if in doubt you can always plump for one of these. There is a wide range of instruments available to buy, many teachers to choose from and a variety of directions that lessons can be taken from classical grades to pop, jazz and folk. And if that doesn’t work out, you can always change your mind and try something else!

Instrumentors is a music lessons service established in Brighton & Hove specialising in private one-to-one tuition and online lesson management.
www.instrumentors.co.uk

 

Live is best

By | dance & Art, fun for children, Music and singing, Theatre

With the summer holidays around the corner, there is a bit more time to treat children to a trip to see a live performance at your local theatre. Younger children will enjoy a show during the day, and you can take older children in the evening without worrying so much about getting them to bed on time.

Many theatres have more shows on for children during the school holidays and may also run workshops for those who want to get more involved.

Live theatre can be a magical and memorable experience but recent research by Birbeck, University of London, has also shown that taking youngsters to watch a theatre performance could provide a host of developmental benefits, including improved emotional intelligence and opportunities to discuss difficult subjects.

It is now widely accepted that play-acting and role-play is a fundamental part of development, allowing children to engage in different personalities, work their way through complex social relationships and navigate emotional issues. Watching a live performance can offer some of the same benefits. Many of the shows aimed at children have an under-lying moral message and subjects such as love, friendship and bullying are often explored in a fun and safe environment, which can bring about unexpected but important conversations once the show has finished.

Going to the theatre as a family is also a great bonding experience. Parents don’t have to worry about entertaining their children (it’s being done for them on the stage) and everyone can relax, sit back and enjoy the show together. There are all sorts of shows on at local theatres during the summer. Some shows are for the very young and are short and interactive to keep little ones engaged, while others are full length plays aimed at older children. Many shows are now based on children’s favourite books such as The Very Hungry Caterpillar or books by David Walliams or Jacqueline Wilson. There are also live performances and sing-a-longs of films such as Frozen or children’s favourite television shows. These can be a good first introduction to the theatre for young children as they will be very familiar with the story and characters.

In order to get the most out of any show, get children excited and looking forward to the show in advance. If the show you are going to has a soundtrack, you could listen to it in advance. This is a great way to get children familiar with the show without overloading them with too much information. If you know the basics of the story, you could tell it at bedtime the night before so children will know what to expect, but family-friendly shows are normally easy to understand.

Going to see a live performance is a truly memorable experience and it is a wonderful way to spark a child’s imagination – you never know where it may lead them!

Kids Week in the West End

Kids Week in London is a wonderful opportunity to see a West End show.
The price of West End theatre shows puts it out of reach for many people, but Kids Week makes it far more affordable and is a way of encouraging families to go to the theatre.

A child aged 16 or under can go free to any participating show when accompanied by an adult paying full price, and you can buy up to two extra children’s tickets at half price. And there are no booking or postage fees to pay! It has proved so popular that it is no longer just on for a week, but for the whole of August.

Tickets are now on sale. The top shows sell out very quickly, but you can normally pick up tickets for the lesser known shows fairly easily and perhaps see something that you may not normally go to.

For further details go to www.officiallondontheatre.com/kids-week

Getting ready for a successful start at school

By | children's health, Education, fun for children, Playing, Relationships, Uncategorized
by Naomi Bartholomew
Headmistress, St Catherine’s Prep School

As you look forward with a mixture of excitement and nerves to your child starting school in September, here are some practical tips to help ensure that your child has a happy and successful start.

Forming links
Most schools now offer settling in days or part days for their youngest pupils. These can be very helpful and a good chance for you to put names to faces. As well as the all-important class teacher, I recommend getting to know the teaching assistant, Head, school secretary, and parents who are a part of the PTA. All of these will be key in helping both you and your child settle into new routines. It can also be handy to work out which other parents live near to you and who might be moving from the same nursery or preschool. Also involve anyone else who might be involved in your weekly routines – grandparents or child-minders so that they too have made some connections ahead of the start of term. I know of one friend who held a name labelling party in order to meet some other friendly looking parents – this is certainly one way to get to know each other and get the dreaded name labels sewn into as many items as you possibly can. Name everything!

Understanding expectations and routines
It seems obvious but make sure you have all of the essential information early on. Some schools have phased starts which begin with mornings only or alternate full days. This is certainly important to plan ahead particularly if your child starting school coincides with you returning to full-time work. Arrangements for drop off and pick up and what to look out for in terms of communication from the school whether that be weekly memos or newsletter or via the school’s website are also key. Getting dates into your diary for parents’ evenings, nativity plays and other things you won’t want to miss is also important.

Encouraging independence and self-help skills over the summer holidays is far more important than trying to teach your child letters and numbers. Can they dress themselves? If not, start to practise that as soon as possible.

Family logistics
Whether this is your first child to start school or a younger sibling, there will be an impact on all of your family. Consider the school run and daily family routines carefully in order to ensure that things run as smoothly as possible.

Extra-curricular activities and playdates
Even for those who have been used to a full day at nursery and a number of extra-curricular activities each week beware of signing up to any additional activities in your child’s first term. They will be learning in a whole new way at school and need time to rest each day when they get home, as will you! Similarly play dates and sleep overs can be very tempting but less is most definitely more in term one.

Younger pupils
Parents with younger aged children, those with summer birthdays in particular, can be anxious about their child being school ready. Trust the school to make the necessary adjustments and remember that age and stage of development can be different for each child.

The first day of term
Stay calm, allow additional time for the school run and cherish the moment – enjoy the photo on the front doorstep marking the occasion and don’t linger too long over the goodbyes. There is a very small window in which to see your child settled and interested in their new surroundings. If you linger and need further reassurance it is likely your child will pick up on that in a split second of doubt and have a wobble. So make a dash for the door as soon as you are able. Many children will have already been used to nursery school and playgroups so remember that you have left them before and all was well. You will have chosen a school you have confidence in and the staff will be able to reassure your child and make sure that the first day is a positive one. If you are the one whose child clings or cries, do not be embarrassed. They will settle once you have gone and the school will contact you to let you know that is the case. Have a plan for what you are then going to do next whether it be return to work or head for a strong coffee with a friend. The day will be one full of excitement for your child.

As your child settles
Remember that day one might feel like Christmas day, full of excitement but that as the weeks go on your child will become tired. The calmer and more prepared you feel as a parent, the more likely your child will also feel ready and willing to skip into school.

Hence, I recommend:
• Talking positively about going to school.
• Helping your child into the routine of managing their own clothing, school book bag and so on.
• Make sure your child gets a good night’s sleep.
• Getting into good habits of arriving in good time for the start of school.
• Listening to your child tell you about the school day but avoiding 20 questions.
• Trusting the school and their experience – they will allow your child space to grow and develop and it is important that you support them in that.
• Talking to your child’s teacher if you feel uncertain or unsure – communication with the school is vital and building relationships with school staff (admin, teachers and teaching assistants) is really important.

Good luck!

St Catherine’s Prep School, Bramley extends a warm welcome to parents who would like to visit the school.
Open Mornings: Wednesday 25th September and Thursday 17th October.
Please contact Sally Manhire, Prep School Registrar, on 01483 899665. www.stcatherines.info

Far-reaching benefits of drama

By | dance & Art, Education, fun for children, Mental health

As the new school year beckons, many parents will be thinking about after-school clubs that their children will enjoy,and that will benefit them.

The reason for doing sport are well documented and shouldn’t be forgotten, but remember drama also provides many benefits that go far beyond the stage.

In a good drama class, children will do much more than remember lines and act. Children will learn about voice projection, improvisation and movement. Improvisation will help children to think quickly without panicking, and to use their imagination to think about what will happen next and how their character would react.

We often moan about teenagers who are monosyllabic and can’t look you in the eye. Children who attend drama classes, even if it is just for fun, will learn how to look confidently at their audience and project their voice clearly. Speaking clearly, without mumbling, will become instinctive and when they go into the work environment, they will be far more comfortable in interviews and public speaking.

Drama also encourages teamwork and confidence. A good teacher will instil an understanding that every part in a play is important and a play will only be as good as the whole team. Confident children go to drama classes as their parents feel they will be comfortable on a stage, but introverted children will also benefit. The confident children who tend to ‘takeover’ will learn the important skills of co-operation and how to listen, and everyone will be encouraged to contribute and take part. Gradually, the children who were less confident will find their voice and be happy to be heard in a safe environment.

Any class outside school increases a child’s social circle and allows them to meet new friends and build new relationships. Children who have been labelled ‘loud’ or ‘quiet and shy’ at school can start afresh without any pre-conceptions about them. This is important for all types of children and you may be surprised about how much your child flourishes in a new environment.

The benefits of drama are far-reaching and will help a child in so many areas of school life and adulthood. Children will learn not only how to project their voice and to feel comfortable when speaking in public, but the equally important skills of empathy and understanding, which are so important in today’s world.

How not to lose sleep over your holidays!

By | children's health, family, fun for children, sleep
by Becky Goman
Child Sleep Expert

Holidays are something we work hard for and look forward to, but sometimes the thought of going away with children can be stressful and a big difference from the holidays we were used to ‘pre-children’.

I sometimes reminisce about the ‘pre-children’ holidays, the lack of responsibility, wasting hours doing nothing and eating and drinking far too much, however when we have children, holiday priorities need to change. We need to remember that those lazy beach holidays will be replaced by the ‘child friendly’ ones or that the busy city breaks will be impractical with a child in tow.

If you are lucky enough to have a child that sleeps well, whether it’s always been that way, or you have made a concerted effort to get your child sleeping well, it may come as no surprise that holidays are one of the biggest causes of sleep regression in children.

Children thrive on routine and whilst the odd car nap or late night will probably not do too much harm in the long run, if we completely mess with our child’s routine it is likely to have a detrimental effect on their sleep, not only whilst we are on holiday but also when we return home.

It is really normal and to be expected for children to test the boundaries when they are somewhere new and it is also really common for parents to adopt a ‘we are on holiday!’ attitude. Try and think about your child’s sleep needs as much as possible when you are away and this will ensure the holiday is much more enjoyable for all of you.

If you go abroad with a slight time difference (for example one or two hours, within Europe), this can be really beneficial. Keep your child’s routine the same as it is and that way you will be able to enjoy a slightly later night and a lie in!

If your journey is slightly further afield, a well-rested child should slip much more easily into a new time zone than an adult. It is always advisable to adjust to the new time zone as quickly as possible, and maybe offer a nap for no longer than 45 minute to get them through until bedtime. If you have a choice between a strange dinner time or an earlier bedtime, always go with the earlier bedtime as an over tired child is much more likely to wake early, perpetuating the cycle and eventually making their sleep all over the place.

Sunlight is a really good tool for helping children adapt to the new time zone since natural daylight is the most powerful cue for our bodies to differentiate between day and night. Try to plan meals around the new time zone and get an hour or two of fresh air in the early afternoon.

As with all sleep situations, environment is key to ensure your child sleeps well. Use black out blinds and try and stay out of direct sunlight for an hour or two before bed as this will help to stimulate the production of melatonin, the sleepy hormone. Try and bring some things from home, such as their sleep toy or blanket or their unwashed sheets. Familiar smells from home can really help with your child feeling safe and settled in a new place.

If your child is eight months or older, try and create some sort of private sleep space for your child if possible and certainly try and avoid sharing a bed with your child. This will avoid the battle when you get home of your child being used to your presence at bedtime.

Regardless of whether you go abroad or have a ‘staycation’, or even just go to visit family for a few days, keeping the routine and environment as close to what would happen at home will ensure less chance of a regression either on holiday or when you return home.

Remember, family holidays are exactly that. They are for the whole family to recharge and reconnect, so don’t stress and enjoy!

Parents I have worked with have said: “Teaching our son to sleep properly was one of the best decisions we have ever made. It wasn’t easy at first but Becky was absolutely amazing supporting us through every single step. In particular we liked that Becky’s approach was gentle but it really worked. We now have our evenings back and our son is well rested.”

“I’m writing this as I’m having a glass of wine, just as I imagined. We are in Lithuania which is two hours ahead but we are keeping A to UK time so we are doing 9pm-9am routine – and it’s working! He took less than 10 minutes to settle yesterday and today he settled as soon as I left the room. We are very impressed and happy. Thank you once again!”

Becky Goman is a fully certified Child Sleep Consultant and founder of The Independent Child Sleep Expert, who has helped families all over the UK get more sleep. For a FREE initial minute consultation call 07770 591159 or email becky@theindependentchildsleepexpert.com. Or for more information visit the website www.theindependentchildsleepexpert.com