Category

children’s health

Five basic but often overlooked habits your child should adopt

By | children's health, Education, family, Mental health, play, Playing, Relationships

Children inherit more than just genes from their parents. Your manners, habits and overall view of life tend to influence the person your child will become. It is important to introduce certain habits into your child’s routine from a young age to maximise the chances of them carrying it through into adulthood.

Here, Richard Dwyer from UK Flair Gym shares five basic but often overlooked habits your child should adopt:
1. Making the bed – It has been suggested that making your bed in the morning can improve productivity levels which, in turn, boosts your mood. Not only will your child’s room look tidier, but they will be more likely to achieve their daily goals.

2. Eating breakfast – If your child skips breakfast from an early age, it is likely they will carry this bad trait with them for the rest of their lives. Teach them that eating breakfast helps kick start their metabolism and will energise them for the day – giving them both brain and body power!

3. Daily exercise – Whether you encourage your child to join a sports team or simply go for a bike ride, making sure they exercise for at least thirty minutes a day is a great habit to form. Aside from the physical aspect, daily physical activity will boost mental wellbeing and help make your child look at life more positively.

4. Make new friends – This is a skill that your child will require throughout their entire life. Knowing how to confidently build relationships with new people will not only enhance their social life but also their professional one.

5. Reading – Although weaved into their school life, it is encouraged that children should read at home for leisure. Not only will this make them a more confident communicator, but it will also enhance their writing and comprehension skills which are invaluable in later life. Try incorporating reading into their bedtime routine!

Since his childhood, Richard Dwyer has been passionate about his own fitness. With experience as a stuntman for countless films and TV shows, Richard decided to put his full energy into building gymnastics clubs to allow children (and their parents) to benefit from physical activity. Now, he builds children’s confidence through gymnastics that teach valuable life skills. Richard does this through three separate businesses: www.ukflair.com/ www.gymclassroom.com/ www.kidzimpact.co.uk

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.

Should you be talking about mental health with your primary aged child?

By | children's health, Education, family, Health, Mental health
by Helen Spiers
Head of Child and Adolescent Counselling, Mable Therapy

It can be hard to accept when our children are struggling with their mental health. Childhood is often seen as a stress-free time of fun and frolics, but for some children this can be far from true. There are several factors that can contribute to poor mental health. Our relationships, sense of identity and the world around us have a massive impact, so it’s hardly surprising that the events of 2020 have seen some children in emotional crisis. Many children have thrived in the pandemic, relishing the chance to spend more time at home with the family, but for others the disruption and uncertainty has left them anxious and overwhelmed.

Routine and boundaries play a huge part in reducing anxiety, so cancelled activities, school closures and continuously changing government guidelines have done nothing to support young people’s mental wellbeing. At our children’s counselling service we wondered whether the new school year would see referral rates drop. Would the increase in structure and purpose help to combat the tsunami of mental health issues? Sadly not. Since September our referrals have gone up, in both our schools and private service. For those directly impacted by Covid-19 it’s been devastating, but even for those seemingly unaffected, prolonged feelings of fear and dread have led to toxic levels of stress and anxiety. We’ve also noticed an increase in younger referrals, as parents struggle to reassure their children about future uncertainty. So how can we support our children with their mental health, without burdening them with adult worries? What are the signs that our children might be struggling? And how do we support them to develop the resilience to face the new normal?

Stay alert
Spotting mental health issues can be tricky. Many parents come to me feeling helpless, seeking my expertise. I tell them that when it comes to their children, they’re the experts. If instinct is telling you there’s an issue then you’re probably right. Changes in behaviour are a strong indicator, so if your child has become uncharacteristically withdrawn, aggressive or anxious then they may be struggling. If they’ve lost interest in themselves or their relationships, this could also be a sign of a change in their mental health. Whether it’s bullying, anxiety, or stress about school or friendships, identifying that there’s a problem is the first step in supporting them.

Find the positives
When the pandemic first hit, even counsellors struggled. How do we reassure young people, when we don’t know what’s happening ourselves? This was a huge warning sign that we hadn’t dealt with our own anxieties. Dedicate time to exploring your own emotional state and seek support from those around you. Only then can you model the calm reassurance that children need to develop their resilience.

Once we’re in a positive place it’s easier to promote a sense of optimism and self-esteem, which is key to building resilience. We want children to see the world as a safe place where problems are temporary and challenges can be overcome. Give your child space to talk about their worries, but try to steer conversations in a positive way: ‘It’s really sad to think your football might be cancelled again, but we got through it last time so we can do it again.’

To promote children’s resilience, the last few years have seen many schools adopt a ‘growth mindset’ approach to learning. It focuses on modelling positive language. Saying ‘this is hard, but with practice I’ll get there’ will make children more likely to persevere than ‘I’m terrible at this’. Praising persistence over results is a great way parents can help with this. Avoid comparing children to their peers and instead focus on their effort levels and improving their own ‘personal bests’.

Be open
The stigma surrounding mental health is thankfully on the decline, but for some children they’re still learning that difficult emotions are shameful and not to be discussed. I often work with children who have never learnt to recognise or talk about their emotions, and this becomes the biggest part of our work. If children have no outlet to discuss their anger, sadness or fear, then they hold the feelings inside. These internalised feelings will always find a way to come out, whether it’s through disruptive behaviour, tantrums or anxiety.

By modelling that these feelings are okay, we’re letting children know they’re normal. For young people keen to fit in, this will come as a huge relief! If your child does share their feelings with you it’s important to listen carefully without interrupting, respond in a calm, non-judgemental way and don’t dismiss their worries. You don’t need to problem solve. By letting them know you’ve heard them and understood them, you’ll be validating their feelings and reducing their anxiety.

Make real connections
For many parents, screens and social media were a real lifesaver during lockdown. It allowed our children to stay in touch with their friends and acted as childcare when deadlines were looming. Screen-time limits were loosened and monitoring our children’s online activity became even trickier. When they are back at school, it can be hard to get the genie back in the bottle and return to the pre-lockdown rules.

However, we all know the negative impact screens can have. Development, academic results and mental health are all impacted by excessive screen-time and that’s before we consider the content being viewed and the need for ‘likes’ at any cost.

Restricting screen-time can lead to conflict and resentment, but handled correctly it could be the key to improved mental health. Board games, baking or crafts may feel like a big ask at the end of a long day, but they could be the key to an improvement in your child’s wellbeing.

If you’ve tried these strategies and your child still seems low, don’t be afraid to ask for help. Seeking support shouldn’t be seen as a last resort; it doesn’t need to be the mental health equivalent of going to A&E. Good mental health is a lifelong pursuit, so it’s more like taking your emotions to the gym.

www.mabletherapy.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

NHS Thank You

Pandemic parenting

By | children's health, Education, family, Health, Mental health, Uncategorized

Psychotherapist offers positive parenting tips

If you are one of the many families struggling with home schooling and feel that you are failing in meeting your children’s needs, you will not be in the minority. Psychotherapist Noel McDermott has over 25 years experience in this field and is keen to reassure families that any struggle in the here and now is OK. It is normal for both parents and children to be experiencing feelings of anxiety at this time. Here he provides simple tips to help support your child’s mental health.

Noel comments: “Talk to your children about how they’re finding the lockdown and home schooling this time round, reassure them it’s okay to ask for help if they feel low. Explain it’s normal and natural but that they don’t have to suffer alone. Monitor for signs they are struggling by watching out for mood, presentation or behaviour changes that last longer than a day or two. Increase family time and family events to be able to lift each other up and observe your kids at work and play.”

Positive parenting tips for both parent and child:
• Get outside. Nature is brilliant at lifting mood and it doesn’t have to be the great outdoors, your local park or even your garden is just as good. In fact, even noticing something simple outside like the trees in the park will elevate your mood!
• Challenge your thinking. Don’t give into those low mood thoughts, tell them they are temporary and will go away, that all feelings have an end by date and theirs is coming soon. Get involved in activities and events even though you might think they are useless and boring at the time; you will soon change your mind!
• Exercise as a family, stay active and get the blood flowing. Getting active for 20 minutes a day regulates your mood, just add some brisk walking into your day, take the kids for a run at lunchtime or do an online exercise class together.
• Sleep, eat and drink well. Children need good, sound sleep to ensure proper body and mind development. A nutritious diet plays an important role in a child’s physical and mental health. Get the basics right and the rest will follow.
• Treat your kids. Have a list of those things your children especially like and treat them when you think they deserve a lift! You also deserve treats – be kind to yourself.

Alternative social interaction
As well as providing education, schools and nurseries provide another even more important function in a child’s development and that is access to complex social group interaction. Children across the country will be missing their friendship circles and for all kids, but especially younger ones, access to play with other children is central to healthy development. Think outside the box and help support your child’s needs, for example:
• Plan movie nights: teleparty www.netflixparty.com is a fun way to have film nights with friends and family who cannot see each other in person.
• Organise virtual playdates: these will help fulfil your
child’s social needs and find positive opportunities. Perhaps they could have a tea party online, do arts and crafts together or simply read a book with their friend?
• Arrange a gaming session for your children with their friends – gaming, especially online, can provide immeasurable benefits to those who are lonely and isolated. It provides safe social contact and a place where skills can be developed. These skills can provide a much-needed boost to self-esteem.
• Online spaces – organise social and groups activities online with both friends and family that stimulate and develop social interaction. Although not as effective as a real-world connection, helping kids organise online groups and activities with their peers and friends can be very beneficial. The online space challenges the child (and the adult) to engage socially and cognitively.

How to spot anxiety in children
Unfortunately, cases of anxiety and distress in children are on the rise now and this is being caused by an almost constant diet of scary stories on the news/Internet, isolation from peers with schools being closed and from picking up on the stresses of family and parents. For many children they will be experiencing more vivid dreams during this time, interrupted sleep, issues around appetite and so-on which are all classic signs of distress.

Younger children and COVID-19 concerns
Little ones might try to protect you from their distress and say they are fine, but it will show up in other ways such as, in their play, which can become preoccupied with the worries; mummies and daddies getting sick and going to hospital, people getting hungry, people fighting and getting angry with each other. Kids might become avoidant when they are upset, not talking, and withdrawing. Behaviour may deteriorate and arguments and fights start. They may ‘regress’ and start to act in a younger manner, depending on age you may see thumb sucking, incontinence, clinging behaviour.

Older children and COVID-19 concerns
In teenagers, distress can often appear as disconnection (I don’t care, I don’t want to talk about it) and through avoidance behaviours. Avoidance and procrastination are both classic signs of anxiety. In older children we are seeing increases in anxiety as reported by parents, this includes relapses in anti-social behaviour, substance misuse and so on.

Psychotherapist Noel McDermott comments: “Parenting in a pandemic is not an easy feat but now more than ever it is vital that parents help children develop and maintain good mental health and emotional wellbeing. You can do this by helping them feel safe, keeping healthy routines, managing their emotions and behaviour and by being positive at home. By being positive ourselves, we promote positivity to our children. If you are concerned about your child’s mental health don’t be afraid to ask your GP for support.”

Vaccination and the end in sight
It’s important to explain that we are on the final straight now, with the vaccination programme well under way. Soon, your kids will be able to see their grandparents as the shielded ones are being vaccinated first. Tell yourself this is positive news as well! The closure of schools, as well as being temporary, is for the last time. We are all looking forward to a big party soon to move on from all this stress.

Noel McDermott is a Psychotherapist with over 25 years’ experience in health, social care, and education.
Noel’s company offer at-home mental health care and will source, identify and co-ordinate personalised care teams for the individual.
They have recently launched a range of online therapy resources in order to help clients access help without leaving home –
www.noelmcdermott.net/group-therapy/

Can friendly bacteria help reduce the occurrence of allergies?

By | baby health, children's health, Education, family, Food & Eating, Green, Health
by Rebecca Traylen (ANutr)
Probio7

What is an allergy?
Allergy UK define an allergy as “the response of the body’s immune system to normally harmless substances, such as pollens, foods, and house dust mites. Whilst in most people these substances (allergens) pose no problem, in allergic individuals their immune system identifies them as a ‘threat’ and produces an inappropriate response.”

Allergies such as eczema, hay fever and certain foods are becoming increasingly common in children and are on the rise. They can have a major effect on children and their families lives and therefore, anything we can do to understand how they develop and where possible minimise their occurrence should be encouraged.

What is the link between your gut and allergies?
There are trillions of microbes including bacteria, fungi, archaea, viruses and protozoans which are present in and on our body. 95% of these microbes are found in our gastrointestinal tract, weighing a staggering 2kg! Our gut microbiome has several important roles including digesting food, ensuring proper digestive function and helping with the production of some vitamins (B and K).

Our gut microbiome can strengthen the integrity of our gut wall and helps reduce inflammation. It also helps teach our immune system to respond appropriately to substances and fight off harmful pathogens. This allows our immune system to react appropriately to substances and ensures it doesn’t overreact to substances, as typically seen in allergies.

70% of our immune system lies along our digestive tract which further highlights the significant role our gut microbiome can play in our immune system.

Rates of allergies have been increasing as we have moved towards more urban environments. This has meant the variety of foods we are eating have decreased, our use of antibiotics has increased, and we are spending less time outdoors. Subsequently, this has been thought to reduce the diversity of our gut microbiome.

Research has shown that having a healthy and diverse gut microbiome is associated with fewer allergic symptoms. Therefore, our move to urban environments is thought to play a role in the increased number of allergies, through changes in our gut microbiome.

Reducing the risk of allergies
Friendly bacteria are live beneficial bacteria that can be consumed in food or supplement form. Taking friendly bacteria has been suggested to reduce the occurrence of allergies by supporting the gut microbiome.

One way to reduce the risk of allergies in your infant starts in pregnancy. Research has shown that taking a friendly bacteria supplement during pregnancy may reduce the chances of their infant developing eczema by 22%.

In addition, taking fish oil supplements during pregnancy may also reduce the chance of children becoming sensitised to egg (a sign of a potential allergy) by 31% and also may reduce the chances of peanut allergy.

Therefore, supplementing with both friendly bacteria supplements and omega-3 during pregnancy could be of particular benefit for allergy prevention in the infant.

Friendly bacteria supplements during infancy have also been demonstrated in some cases to prevent atopic sensitisation (this is a positive test for eczema, hay fever and allergic asthma).

Should you try a friendly bacteria supplement?
Whilst the research is still relatively new around friendly bacteria supplements and allergies, so far, they are shown to be safe and well tolerable. If you have a family history of allergies, taking a friendly bacteria supplement might be worth considering, either during pregnancy or for your infant.

Most importantly you should be looking after your gut by eating plenty of fibre, having a diverse diet, getting outside and exercising for at least 20 minutes every day, staying hydrated and reducing stress whenever possible.

Make sure you check with your GP or health practitioner before introducing any supplements when pregnant, breastfeeding or on medication.

Probio7 have been supporting digestive and immune health in the UK since 1995 and we are dedicated to developing a unique range of the highest quality friendly bacteria supplements. Please visit www.probio7.com for more information.

book reading

School should be enchanting

By | children's health, Education, environment, Mental health, play, Playing, Relationships

Chris Calvey, Headmaster of Great Walstead School, West Sussex, talks about the balancing act of meeting academic rigor whilst maintaining pupils’ excitement and enthusiasm.

School League tables are now very much a part of our lives and pre-testing for schools is creeping in at an increasingly younger age. Now, take into account the not insignificant amount of money that private schools charge. You can see the rising pressure on both teachers and the Head to ensure that pupils achieve the highest results. The safest way to do this sees the classroom take on a more teacher led approach where pupils are told the information they need to learn, guided in how to answer questions by rehearsing past papers, and even have timetabled lessons on verbal and nonverbal reasoning tests. Such an approach generally ensures that pupils pass their tests but at the cost of genuine enjoyment, pleasure and natural wonderment of school.

I believe there is an alternative way in which children can maintain their love of learning. By understanding there is more to the process of education than just working to pass a test, they are able to develop a set of skills that enables them to tackle challenges without a fear of failure. Inspired by the book ‘Educating Ruby – what our children really need to learn’ written by Guy Claxton and Bill Lucas, all the staff at our school explored a variety of definitions for the seven aspects that the book identified as developing confidence and character. We refer to these as our 7Cs – Confidence, Curiosity, Collaboration, Communication, Creativity, Commitment and Craftsmanship.

Each ‘C’ has an age appropriate definition for the sections of our school and children are rewarded when they demonstrate these attributes. They see Confidence as the ability to tackle difficult tasks and challenges whilst not being afraid to make mistakes. Curiosity is about developing wonder and awe, while Collaboration helps pupils see the benefits of working in a successful team. Communication encourages children to share their ideas and thinking whilst understanding the importance of listening to each other. Creativity is not just for the arts, but is to be developed with problem solving challenges and alternative thinking. Commitment recognises those times when pupils show determination and resilience even if they find tasks challenging. Finally, Craftsmanship celebrates the sheer joy and pride of completing something which has taken time, care and love to produce. By rewarding these skills, every child is able to achieve and none are limited by their cognitive ability. It leads to an “I can” culture rather than a fixed mindset where pupils feel limited by the scores they achieve.

Since focusing on the 7Cs, we have seen children become far more engaged in their own learning process, take responsibility for what they can achieve and, as a result, make impressive levels of academic progress where they not only know things, but genuinely understand them – there is a distinct difference.

Children only get one chance at their schooling, and I believe it is so important that we look to develop the whole person – not just focus on exam results and entry testing. Working in several prep schools, I have seen and promoted many ‘learning profiles’ from school ethos based principles to International Baccalaureate inspired systems. All offer something more than just a ‘teacher led’ approach to learning, but in the 7Cs I have found a set of values and attributes that really inspires the girls and boys in our school, and prepares them for the challenges that lie ahead.

The second closure of schools has arguably made these values yet more important as children have spent hours in front of a computer screen, being taught in a very isolating and unfamiliar environment. Those opportunities for communication and collaboration between each other are significantly diminished, and that lack of human contact makes the whole process of learning yet harder. Incorporating our 7Cs into the pupils’ learning will be a real focus when they are allowed to return, and we will actively promote the development of these skills, continuing to build a real sense of “I can do” within each and every child.

At Great Walstead, children learn happily inside the classroom because they play happily outside the classroom. A game in the woods and a maths lesson are, at this age, equal learning opportunities – we call it Mud p!
www.greatwalstead.co.uk

Nurture through nature Every day is a school day!

By | children's health, Education, environment, family, Family Farms, fun for children, Green

This spring, Nicola Henderson, CEO of Godstone Farm in Surrey, explores the learning opportunities that are on the doorstep for many of us, and the adaptations we can make in everyday life if we don’t want to be stuck to a timetable or even use an exercise book.

As we’ve seen over the past year, learning is not just about being in the classroom; and who would have known that our children’s education could take so many forms and be delivered in so many ways. Cue the cries of parents saying they never thought they would actually have to BE the teacher! Perhaps unconventional ways of learning are here to stay, but above all we have realised that being outdoors is good for us on so many levels.

Homework doesn’t have to be at your home!
How about learning about another little creature’s home? There are so many habitats in the great outdoors and not all of them are deep in the countryside. From birds in their nests, to hiding hedgehogs and mice in hedgerows it’s great to get children to spot where animals might be living. Now that hopefully, the weather starts to improve, there’s opportunity to sit out at dawn and dusk to watch where birds fly to or see if you can spot a tiny nose poking out among leaves. A simple game of matching animals to their habitats can be done wherever you live, as even in more urban areas it’s not impossible to find a brave fox. What could he be looking for? And where do you think he might go to sleep?

Changing of the seasons
It’s not just signs of animal life to look out for. Spring brings about the most wonderful chance to see colour and shape appear by way of plants and flowers. Can children notice not only what is newly appearing as we start to see more sunny days, but also which plants or trees remained the same through winter? It is likely they know what a Christmas tree looks like, but which other trees can they spot that kept their leaves? As well as noting names, playing games such as finding shapes they know in nature around them can be heaps of fun.

Keep active and keep healthy
Even the youngest of children know that exercise and eating well is the key to being healthy, but it’s clear from all the farm visitors each year that kids ‘just wanna have fun’! Playing is a fantastic form of exercise and if it’s outside then all the better. Play equipment is a brilliant way to teach children boundaries, risk taking, and sharing with their friends or being patient to wait in line for their turn. Open outdoor spaces can also lend themselves well to imaginative play. With or without apparatus, children will find a story to become part of. Reading is such a huge part of a child’s first school experience, but as they develop their skills its fun to get them re-telling a story and answering questions about what happened, or predicting what might happen next. When you are out for a walk, at a playground or visiting somewhere with gardens what stories can you make up about what you can see? Can you
re-tell it when you get home?

Farm fun
We just can’t forget the wonderful signs of new life that can be found at farms at this time of year. Chicks hatching, lambs being born and baby rabbits ready to hop into the sunshine. A farm attraction is a great place to see these exciting babies but also learn about the differences between species, what they eat and how they are kept. Many attractions also offer a behind the scenes experience where children can get up close and hands on with their favourite pets or livestock. Actually taking part is a great way to commit a skill to memory and who doesn’t want to learn to muck out the stinky pigs? Other, less smelly jobs are available!

There’s so much to be fortunate for as we enter the favourite season for so many. Springtime on the farm or anywhere amongst nature is a wonderful time, and sharing experiences with your children is precious. Its hoped that the majority of learning can stay in school with our wonderful and very valued teachers, but it’s nice to be able to extend this beyond the classroom, keep it fun and increase our wellbeing at the same time.

Nicola has run Godstone Farm for three years now, and whilst there are plans to develop the experiences and facilities on offer, she is keen to ensure the farm keeps its heritage and wholesome feel. The Farm continues to follow government guidance so its always best to check the website before visiting for the most up-to-date information.
www.godstonefarm.co.uk

shoe fitter kids

Getting back to basics – putting your child’s best foot health first

By | children's health, footwear and feet, Health
by Kim Jackson M.S.S.F.
Klodhoppers, Haywards Heath

As I write this article we are approaching Christmas and many of us are emerging from the second lockdown and the vaccine roll out has started. It has been a rather strange and difficult time for all of us. It’s time to reflect on the past few months and re-evaluate what is really important to us during the Year of the Coronavirus.

Amongst other things good friends and close family are key to a happy and successful life. The sunshine helps, of course, and keeping our job helps, but this horrible pandemic has shown that good health is the key factor.

It’s now time, as we move into the spring, to get ‘back to basics’ – let’s aim to maintain the caring attitude that was so prevalent during lockdown. To be more community-minded within our neighbourhood, to shop locally and support the small, independent businesses in our area, and to value our own health and wellbeing and that of our family members.

Regarding our children’s foot health it’s also time to throw away those supermarket trainers and poor quality school shoes – they’re not designed to last very long anyway. They may have been an emergency purchase during lockdown but you don’t need to subject your child’s feet to them any longer. Plus, depending on when you bought them they are likely to be too small now anyway!

It’s time to get back to getting your child’s feet properly measured and fitted once again. Restore those good foot health practices for your children’s future wellbeing. They may not thank you for it now but I guarantee they will be grateful for it in years to come.

Regular readers of my ABC articles will know that I keep saying it but, it is really important to look after your child’s feet. It’s just as important as looking after their teeth by taking them to the dentist, or looking after their eyes by taking them to the optician – their foot health is crucial.

This is because most of our bones begin to form while we are in the womb, long before we are born. These bones start out as, and are formed from, pieces of gristle known as cartilage – which gradually turns into bone. This process is called ossification. All the bones in the body are normally completely and fully ossified by the age of 25 (it is important to note that the bones in the foot are nearly fully ossified by the age of 18, although girls tend to complete their process a couple of years ahead of boys, due to the difference in hormones).

Throughout this long growing period care must be taken to avoid persistent pressure on the foot. Before the bones have fully ossified there is a danger of the bones and joints becoming distorted by pressure applied to them. Many children’s feet are deformed by the wearing of ill-fitting socks, tights and shoes that are either too small or too tight and do not allow for growth. As a result it is essential to take special care when fitting shoes for children, as their formative years shape the way they walk and their entire physiology.

So what happens when you take your child along for his or her first pair of shoes – their first ‘walkers’?
Because your child’s bones are not formed, and because the joints are cartilage not bone, he or she cannot feel pain if the shoes are incorrectly fitted. They don’t know if their shoes are a good fit or not and there’s a good chance that you probably don’t either.

That’s why you’ve chosen to get the advice, expertise and experience of a fully qualified fitter. Someone who knows how to assess your child’s feet, to measure them properly and who knows the different brands thoroughly enough, and can therefore suggest what size, style and fit will suit your child’s feet best. Any damage done at this early stage can be irreversible.

Your child may not like wearing shoes for the first time and he or she may scream the shop down throughout the entire process – and that’s probably purely because it’s the first time they’ve done this. It’s got nothing to do with the actual fit of the shoes that you are intending to buy for them, especially taking into account the recommendationof the fitter.

As your child develops and grows the gristle changes to bone and the bones lengthen at a greater rate than they thicken. Therefore the foot grows longer in proportion to its width. The arches also develop and the muscles in the foot grow stronger. Generally the fastest growth occurs in a child’s early years, but it is not a constant, it usually occurs in spurts. These growth spurts do not happen at even intervals, they can be quite random, and it can be perfectly possible for a child to outgrow a correctly fitted pair of shoes in a matter of weeks.

In adolescence the growth continues with the feet becoming longer and sometimes the relationship between length and width can change. A child needing a wide fitting at four years old, may require a much narrower fitting 6 or 8 years later because their feet have grown longer without a proportionate increase in width. This is why regular size checks are recommended even if you don’t need to buy any shoes. Any professional fitter will always carry out a size or shoe check on your child’s feet, without any obligation to buy.

By their late teens your child’s feet are fully formed and if their development has been correct, they should enter adulthood with almost perfect feet. The bones will be fully formed and positioned correctly, the muscles will be in tone and in balance, and the whole structure should be in great shape to take years of wear and tear without complaint.

Any problems that arise with the feet do not always become just a ‘foot’ problem – your child’s whole posture can be affected by ill-fitting footwear. This can include their ankles, knees, hips, lower back and neck. Even severe migraines can be attributed to ill-fitting footwear in childhood!

Take my advice – it’s the spring, so put a ‘spring’ in your child’s step and get their feet measured and fitted by a qualified professional fitter, based at one of your local independent shoe shops. You will be supporting your local high street as well as giving your child’s feet the best start they need.

Kim Jackson M.S.S.F (Member of the Society of Shoe Fitters & Children’s Foot Health Register accredited) Klodhoppers, Haywards Heath.
www.klodhoppers.com

Kiss, cuddle, high five…

By | children's health, Education, Health, Mental health, play, Playing
by Sally-Ann Barker
Potter’s House Preschool

I watch the children coming into preschool in the morning and wonder how their last few hours have been and how it might shape their day. The ones who run in without saying goodbye because they have already planned in their head what they are going to be doing and are desperate to execute that. The ones who come in with their hats over their eyes pretending to be invisible because this has become their routine to make us laugh and set the tone for the morning. The ones who cling to their parent that little while longer and then the ones who need peeling away so we can start our day.

Because of Covid, our drop offs are slightly different. Parents used to come into the building and were welcome to stick around for a little while if necessary. It instilled a sense of unity with our staff and parents – that we all have the same goals for the children. Now that parents aren’t allowed in, we receive the children outside and take them in ourselves. Granted, it meant they settled more quickly in September but I can’t help feeling a little sad at how quick the handover feels now. Parents are conscious that it’s cold and they may be holding up the queue of other parents who may need to rush off to work so they quickly hand the child over and off they go. We had a child a few years ago who was incredibly shy and after a few weeks of tears at drop off, his mum set a little routine for them. She’d bring him in and then say “Kiss, cuddle, high five” and he would do all three things and then go in happily. That little bit of comfort she gave with a clear and precise routine worked for him and it always stuck in my mind, what a lovely way to say goodbye.

The reason I wonder about their time in the morning before they come to us is because it completely determines how their day will be. According to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, there are five levels of ‘needs’ that dictate a persons behaviour. These are physiological needs, safety needs, love and belonging needs, esteem needs and self-actualisation needs. The phrase “just one of those days” tends to be accompanied by a dismissive eye roll, a shrug off that it’s not a big deal or out of a person’s control – just one of those days. But, what if it didn’t need to be “just one of those days” ? Picture a day you’ve had where nothing seems to be going right. You overslept, you burnt the toast, you were late to work – anything really. One thing going badly in the morning can shape your day into “just one of those days” and that’s exactly how it is for children. The Hierarchy of Needs adapted for children is set out like a pyramid, with the more critical needs taking up the larger part of the pyramid at the bottom working their way up to the peak.

Physiological needs
Children need to have had a decent nights sleep, be fed and watered and been to the toilet. In short, they need to feel physically comfortable. This is especially important in preschoolers because they may not be able to process those needs and be equipped to tend them themselves, so that responsibility falls solely on the parent/carer.

Safety needs
Fairly self-explanatory but basically children are entitled to feel safe and secure. Both physically and emotionally their safety needs should always be met.

Love and belonging needs
Children need affection, it sits beautifully alongside their emotional needs, they need comfort and physical touch. This enables children to feel secure and connected.

Esteem needs
This one can be tricky when your children are small – how do we help boost their self-esteem? How do we help them to be confident? Children find confidence in our trust. Allowing children the space, time and opportunity to be independent means they no longer feel impotent or vulnerable. This is so easily done by allowing that extra time for them to get themselves dressed and trusting them to do it, pouring their own milk into their cereal, putting on their own shoes and remembering their coat. We use positive affirmations at preschool every morning as part of our registration – “I am good. I am kind. I am smart.” We use these alongside promoting their independence as much as possible in their self-care and play.

Self-actualisation needs
These are a child’s creative needs, problem solving and stimulation, something that is provided in spades at any setting they will attend so not something parents really need to put pressure on themselves to do in the morning before the school run.

These needs not being met form a barrier for children’s development. They can become unmotivated, aimless, disconnected and disengaged. For a child to have a positive and successful day, they need to be healthy in body and mind. You have to attend to the basic needs of a child before you can expect them to reach their full potential and, after all, what do we all really want as parents?

That kiss, cuddle, high five at the door means more than we may initially realise.

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