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family christmas

Giving children the best Christmas

By Christmas, family, Legal, Relationships, Toys

For a lot of people, Christmas is about spending time with family, but what happens when children have more than one? If not handled carefully, talk of Christmas can descend into conflict and arguments about where children spend the festive season.

In this article, Family Law Specialist, Rachael House, from Dutton Gregory Solicitors in Woking gives her tips on how to establish a Happy Christmas for all.

Top tips for child arrangements over Christmas:
1. Plan ahead
Discussions should be had as soon as possible. That way, if there is disagreement, there is time to resolve it.
2. Child first
A good way for parents to try and reach an agreement and overcome the desire to spend as much time as possible with their children, is to focus on what the child needs or wants.
3. Compromise
It is always best if parents, who know their children and what is best for them, can find a solution between themselves.
4. No point-scoring
Parents shouldn’t try and outdo each other, either in terms of time or presents.
5. Keep records
Arrangements are best confirmed in writing, (an email conversation will suffice) so there is a clear record of what has been agreed.

If you need help
If they cannot agree, a lot of parents find benefits in using mediation. This is where an independent, neutral third party assists in discussing and negotiating through a situation.

The process is voluntary, and a mediator cannot make a binding decision, but if parties can reach a solution, a ‘Memorandum of Understanding’ can be drawn up to record what parties have agreed to. In certain circumstances this be drawn up in to a Court Order, but only if it is deemed of benefit to the child.

There are alternatives to mediation. Collaborative Law is where parties sit around a table (or in different rooms if they don’t want to meet face-to-face) and engage in negotiations with the support of their solicitors providing legal advice. This too is a voluntary process and any decision is not legally binding.

A couple can also choose to undertake Arbitration where the decision of the arbitrator is legally binding on both parties. The parties jointly agree an arbitrator (a professionally trained and qualified expert who effectively performs the role of the Judge), prepares paper evidence and the arbitrator then hears from each party before making a decision. Arbitration is often a very effective way of resolving a dispute where the issues are limited or narrow, such as arrangements for Christmas.

If you want advice about Christmas, or any child contact, then contact Rachael House on 01483 755609 or

learning by making

An inspirational approach to nurturing curiosity for Early Years settings

By Education, environment, Forest School, fun for children, Toys
by Jovita Opio
Deputy Manager, Little Lancing Day Nursery & Forest School

It’s a fairly typical experience for many parents – you buy your small child a large toy – for example a sit on (or sit in!) car – and they are far more interested in playing with the box than with what was inside it. It’s something many of us have laughed about! It’s worth thinking about that a bit more though, why does a child do that? Is it that the box fires their imagination, it can be anything they want it to be, and that’s perhaps a more appealing object to explore at first sight than its brightly coloured contents? Another common observation we all have made is that children want to play with ‘real’ things, not just synthetic, child-sized reproductions. They see parents and other adults around them using ‘real’ things and they want to use them too. 

There is no doubt that we are all born curious; babies and small children reach out to explore the world around them and learn rapidly from those experiences. Their parents are their very first educators and babies learn so quickly, it’s no great surprise therefore that those practitioners passionate about Early Years education want to continue to nurture that natural curiosity, imagination and creative thinking in their nursery settings – for staff job satisfaction as well as for the wellbeing of all the children in their care!

There are many elements that come together to create an environment where children’s development can flourish – whether it’s the calm ambience created by a subdued colour scheme, authentic items made of organic materials, or natural objects to capture the imagination. These all play a part in creating the framework within which children’s imaginations can blossom – neutral colours allow the learning to shine through, rather than distract from it, the hands-on feel of wicker baskets, wooden objects, carvings and ornaments connects children to the natural world around them and metal pots, pans, kitchen accessories are durable and ‘real’ items to role-play with.

So-called ‘loose parts play’ is another intriguing factor – carefully supervised – children find seemingly endless joy in making things out of nuts, bolts, washers and screws. It’s amazing what can be found in charity shops, car boot sales and by turning out old cupboards at home that can be used to build a stock of such materials, and recycling these items is also a way of doing a small bit for the environment at the same time.

But it’s so much more than muted colours, wooden crates and metal household objects that are important to a nursery that seeks to embrace this approach. It’s also a mindset. A combination of mindfulness and the Danish concept of Hygge – a sense of warmth, cosiness and homeliness, that encourage the children to develop their sense of awe and wonder in the world around them. So a nursery that seems more like an extension of home helps to promote the comfort children feel in their own homes. Working in partnership with parents is hugely important and creates a virtuous circle between nursery, child and home, with of course the child very much at its centre.

Time spent outdoors contributes significantly to nurturing a child’s sense of wonder. Forest School is now well established as a buzz word for nurseries and parents – children begin to learn how to assess risks for themselves in a safe environment, connect with nature and if they get covered in mud while doing so, so much the better! The glow of joy and pride radiating from a child’s face when they have made their very own bug hotel (it might look like a mass of mud and twigs in a jar to the rest of us!) is a powerful testament to the value of outdoor learning to building self-confidence, a sense of achievement, resilience and perseverance. This is so much more of a rewarding experience for the child than merely picking up a mass-produced article from a retailer.

In our setting, this lies at the very heart of our ethos and we are now formally working towards our accreditation with The Curiosity ApproachTM – – a programme that in its own words offers “A modern approach to Early Years. taking parts from Reggio, Steiner, Te Whariki and a sprinkle of Montessori.” It seeks to inspire early years practitioners to be thoughtful, curious and passionate in their work with the eager little learners they care for. We’re looking forward to taking this magical learning journey ourselves and to creating curiosity-driven learning journeys with our Little Lancing families.

Jovita Opio is the Deputy Manager at Little Lancing Day Nursery & Forest School. For further details please call 01273 465900 or visit or email

boy on a bike

Cycling is ‘jogging’ for your child’s brain!

By children's health, Christmas, Education, family, fun for children, Toys

by Russell James
Glide Balance Bike Classes

Sometimes it’s the simple things in life that are the most rewarding. Learning to ride a bike without stabilisers is one of them. Once your child has a bike, cycling is a fun and free activity that they can enjoy with friends and family for life.

It’s easier to learn to cycle when you’re young and it’s a life skill that your child will have forever.

Encouraging your child to ride a bike while they’re young helps to establish healthy exercise habits that are likely to stay with them for life.

Bike riding is a skill that comes with a whole range of benefits. While most of us know that regular cycling contributes to better physical health, there are plenty of other reasons why learning to ride a bike is more important than ever. Here are just a handful of them.

Bike riding is a great way to get your children excited about outdoor exercise from an early age.

Getting outdoors is wonderful for children. They get natural sunlight, which gives them vitamin D, and they get a lot of fresh air, which allows them to get a good sleep at night. The better sleep they get, the healthier they are and the more their body will be able to grow.

Physical activities like cycling have a positive effect on your children’s brain. There’s a very simple reason for this: during physical activity, your child’s whole body, including the brain, is supplied with more oxygen-rich blood and nutrients. This enhances your child’s ability to concentrate and think creatively.

Cycling plays an important role in the overall growth of your child. Riding a bike not only improves physical fitness, it also benefits your child’s learning development and mental health, allowing them to grow mentally and emotionally, gaining strength in their decision making ability. Research shows that students who ride a bike to school are more focused and ready to learn, compared with those who are driven to school by car.

Taking part in regirl unsteady on bikegular physical activity also has links to increased happiness, as well as giving children more opportunities to make friends and social connections.

Cycling is an activity that all ages can enjoy. Mums, dads, children and even grandparents can take part in a family bike ride. It’s a great way to share some quality time, and it’s good for you too. Remember, the key to family bike rides is to have fun. So start slowly and take plenty of breaks to give little riders time to rest.

Teaching your child to ride a bike has long-term benefits for the environment. Using active transport like cycling instead of driving reduces carbon emissions, eases traffic congestion and eliminates parking problems. Less pollution and less traffic means our communities will become greener, healthier and less stressful places to live.

Bikes could be described as the perfect vehicle for transport. Once your child gets older, riding a bike becomes a quick and healthy way for them to get to and from school, sporting and play activities. Even better, it saves you time because your child won’t have to rely on you for lifts – now that’s a benefit every parent can relate to!

Jump on a bike and cycle with your children and you could see the kind of health benefits gym members dream of. Cycling raises your metabolic rate, helping you to keep the weight off. Regular cyclists are as fit as an average person 10 years younger. Cycling firms the thighs and bottom, and can even help tone the tummy muscles.

According to a recent survey a third of primary school children have not learnt to ride a bike. Glide wants to change this. Glide, teaches children from two to four years old to ride their balance bikes confidently in a group environment on a weekly basis during term-time. Glide then teaches primary school children to ride their bikes without stabilisers in two hour sessions during term-time (five children max) and three hour sessions (10 children max) during the school holidays. Lets make Britain stabiliser free!

kiddies christmas

Coping at Christmas

By Christmas, Finance, Toys

by Edmond Chan, Childline Supervisor
Photography by Tom Hull – the adults and children photographed are models

Christmas can be an exciting time when families get together to celebrate. Lots of us look forward to it all year. But Christmas isn’t a magical time for everyone.

Christmas can be a difficult time for many different reasons – from family arguments to feeling lonely. Looking at social media it’s easy to believe that everyone around you is having the perfect Christmas.

And it can be hard to escape the holiday season sometimes, particularly when you don’t enjoy Christmas and everyone’s talking about it.

One 16 year old girl who contacted Childline told our volunteer counsellors: “I lost my grandad earlier this year. This is going to be my first ever Christmas without him and I Feel really alone. I don’t know how to tell my family or what to do. I’m looking for some advice – please help.”

If your child seems to be struggling with the festive period, try not to worry. We have some tips to help you support them through what can be a very challenging time.

Family problems
Christmas can be a stressful time for even the closest of families. There might be arguments, or you might have to spend time with people you don’t like. Arguments can sometimes happen because people drink too much alcohol.

Not every family spends Christmas together. If parents are divorced or separated it’s likely children will spend time with one parent but not the other. It’s important that children feel able to say who they want to spend Christmas with, and they’re not just trying to keep everyone else happy.

No matter what difficulties are happening at home, it’s important children do things that will help them to cope. Sometimes simply making some time to listen to music they enjoy or messaging their friends can help. If things ever get too much and they don’t feel they can come to you, they can always speak to Childline.

Missing someone who’s passed away or can’t be there
When someone dies, Christmas can bring up lots of memories of them, even if it’s been a while since they died. Children might feel loss more keenly at this time because they wish they could share the festivities with them.

You could also miss someone because they can’t be there. They might be in hospital, be working or not be able to be there for some other reason. If your child is struggling because they’re missing someone:
• Encourage them to talk about how they’re feeling. That could be with you or another trusted adult like an aunt or uncle. Or they could speak to a friend.
• Make sure they have time to remember the person. Talk about what they remember, perhaps write them a letter, or look at photos of them.
• Urge them not to put pressure on themselves to behave a certain way, it’s okay to show they’re upset.
• Try making new memories at Christmas, doing something you all enjoy doesn’t mean they’ll forget the person they lost, but it can help make Things easier.

Feeling lonely or isolated
There might be lots of reasons for children to feel lonely at Christmas. They might be away from family or feel like there’s nobody they can talk to. They might have had bad experiences at Christmas before.

When they’re feeling alone or down, it’s important they don’t keep it to themselves. Talking about how they feel with someone they trust will help and it means that they can get support.

Eating problems
Celebrating Christmas often involves a lot of food and drink. If your child has a problem with food or eating, this time of year might make them worried about:
• Eating too much (binge eating)
• Not wanting to eat (anorexia)
• Eating and then making themselves sick (bulimia)

If your child is worrying about the amount they eat – or you think they might have a problem with food – remind them they can talk to a Childline counsellor about it – call us free on 0800 1111.

It’s OK not to celebrate
Not everyone celebrates Christmas. Some people might not like the time of year and others might not because of their religion of beliefs.
It might seem like everyone celebrates Christmas when every advert on TV is about Christmas, and the shops are full of decorations and gifts. But even if your family doesn’t celebrate Christmas, you can still enjoy this time of year. It’s a holiday and that means you have some time to relax, enjoy yourself and see friends and family.

Whatever worries your child might have this Christmas, let them know they can speak to you or to our trained volunteer counsellors at Childline, free and in confidence, 24 hours a day – including Christmas day.

Children can phone us on 0800 1111, log in to the Childline website for a 1-2-1 counsellor chat or send us an email via the website and we can help.

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 or call 07375 379148

wooden toys

Wooden toys

By family, fun for children, Party, play, Playing, Toys
by Susan Luxford
Timeless Toys

Wooden toys- the freedom to explore, create and grow

It might be surprising to know that wooden toy brands have been around for a long time. Leicester based Lanka Kade and Surrey based Le Toy Van both celebrated 25 years in 2019 whist German brands like Goki and Heimess have been making wooden toys since the early 1970s. Despite their longevity, it is only in the most recent years that wooden toys have seen a revival and are experiencing an ever-growing popularity. But why?

There has been growing awareness of the value of unstructured open-ended play and wooden toys have often been designed with this in mind, enabling children’s imaginations and creativity to be boundless. These toys don’t have an obvious single use, instructions or rules giving children the ability to be in control of how they play, keeping their minds clear as they think through different scenarios or solve problems. By encouraging open-ended play, wooden toys can help develop a child’s reasoning and problem solving skills, social interactions, improve their hand/eye coordination and fine motor skills and aid speech development.

There’s been increasing health concerns about the chemicals used within plastic toys to make them pliable and colourful, that children then absorb through their mouths and skin. Despite regulations in place, toys made to unsafe levels are still commonly finding their way into homes. In 2018, 31% of toys sold in the EU were recalled over safety concerns with 25% of these having unsafe chemical levels1 – whilst 722,000 toys were seized and impounded by the EU in 20182. Wooden toys do not contain PVC or phthalates that cause endocrine (hormone) disruption, they are free of preservatives and formaldehyde, respiratory irritants linked to asthma and allergies and free
of Naphthalene and its chemical cousins, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), which are strongly suspected to cause cancer.

Parents are questioning whether previously popular electronic toys marketed as educational and interactively beneficial, are either. Noises and electronic features can interrupt a child’s thinking process and limit how far a child’s imagination can go. Overstimulation can make it difficult for the brain to think critically. Additionally, with parents now spending twice as much time with their children as 50 years ago and more time at home than playing outside, parents are seeking toys that foster a calmer home environment.

The issues of plastic pollution, waste and environmental damage are big issues we are all concerned about. 8.5 million3 new, perfectly good toys are thrown away every year in the UK, which then end up in landfills, incinerators or in the ocean. Wooden toys are robust, durable and repairable, will hold a child’s interest for longer and can become family heirlooms, yielding less waste. They can be recycled easily and will fully biodegrade harmlessly within 13 years. Wooden toys use minimal fossil fuels to create them and quality brands only use FSC woods, a global forest certification system that means the wood is not only renewably sourced but comes from responsibly managed forests that protect fragile ecosystems and respects local indigenous populations.

Last but not least, there is a growing interest in the impact our buying power has on the communities and workforces where manufacturing is taking place. Many wooden toy brands are already ahead in the toy industry for their sustainability and ethos to ethical practices. The majority are still family-owned independent companies and run charitable education foundations and reforestation programmes.

With spring now here, it’s the perfect time to declutter those shelves of unloved toys and the noisy ones that irritate you. Consider making your next purchase a wooden one, with no right or wrong, no levels, no batteries, no flashing lights or sound. Just the freedom to explore, create and grow.




Timeless Toys specialises in wooden toys and is at 103 Portland Road, Hove BN3 5DP – open from 10am to 5pm Tuesday to Saturday. For more information see Timeless Toys UK on Facebook.


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.