Skip to main content
Category

Mental health

benefits of dance in young people

For the love of dance

By children's health, dance & Art, Mental health, Music and singing, play, Theatre

Learning to dance is not just about mastering choreography or moving to the rhythm; it offers numerous physical, emotional and cognitive benefits, making it a valuable and enjoyable activity for children.

Here are some compelling reasons why children should learn to dance:

• Physical fitness
Dance is an excellent form of physical exercise that helps children develop strength, flexibility, and co-ordination. It promotes cardiovascular health, enhances muscle tone, and aids in maintaining a healthy body weight. Regular dancing can instill healthy habits that may last a lifetime.

• Motor skills development
Dancing requires precise movements and control of various body parts. As children learn different dance styles, they improve their fine and gross motor skills, which are essential for everyday activities like writing, playing sports, and self-care.

• Balance and posture
Dance teaches children how to maintain good posture and balance. These skills are not only beneficial for their physical wellbeing but also for their overall self-confidence and how they carry themselves in everyday life.

• Self-expression
Dance provides a creative outlet for children to express their emotions and feelings. It allows them to communicate without words, helping them develop emotional intelligence and self-awareness. Dance can also be very therapeutic and a great way for children to process their emotions.

• Confidence building
As children learn and perform dance routines, they gain self-assurance. The applause and positive feedback they receive boost their self-esteem and help them become more comfortable in social situations.

• Social skills
Dance classes often involve group activities and performances, which encourage teamwork and co-operation. Children learn to work together, support each other, and build friendships through shared experiences.

• Discipline and focus
Dance requires discipline and concentration. Learning complex choreography and striving for improvement instills a strong work ethic in children. They also learn the value of patience and practice as they work towards mastering dance techniques.

• Cultural awareness
Dance is a global language that transcends borders and cultures. By learning different dance styles, children gain an appreciation for the diversity of world cultures and traditions. This exposure can promote tolerance and open-mindedness.

• Stress reduction
Dancing is a joyful and fun activity that can act as a stress reliever. It allows children to forget their worries, even if just for a little while, and experience the joy of movement and music.

• Boosted memory and cognitive skills
Dance involves memorising sequences, steps and patterns, which can improve memory and cognitive function. It challenges the brain and enhances problem-solving abilities and cognitive flexibility.

• Creativity and imagination
Dance encourages creativity and imagination. Children often have the opportunity to choreograph their movements, fostering creativity and critical thinking.

• Lifelong love for the arts
Early exposure to dance can cultivate a lifelong appreciation for the arts. It may inspire children to explore other artistic forms such as music, theatre or visual arts.

• Career opportunities
For some children, dance can become a lifelong passion and even a career. Professional dance opportunities include becoming a dancer, choreographer, dance instructor or even working in the entertainment industry.

So, learning to dance is definitely not just about the physical movements; it’s about developing a holistic set of skills that benefit children in various aspects of their lives. It nurtures their physical health, emotional wellbeing and cognitive development while fostering self-expression, discipline and a lifelong love for the art form. Whether dancing for fun, self-expression or professional aspirations, the benefits of dance make it a valuable addition to any child’s life.

encourage reading in children

Why parents should read out loud to children of all ages

By Education, Mental health, reading
by Chris Couchman
Readly

A YouGov poll commissioned by digital subscription app Readly revealed 43% of parents and grandparents have shared a cherished comic or magazine with children, but how many of us are reading out loud to children regularly to impart a keen love of reading?

Studies demonstrate that children of all ages continue to benefit from being read to. Reading together strengthens the bond between parent and child as well as nurtures children’s social, emotional, and intellectual development.

For very young children, reading with a caregiver is linked to increased focus and decreased levels of aggression and hyperactivity. Reading to children gives them the words to describe their most difficult feelings, which allows them to better regulate their behaviour when they’re feeling sad, angry or frustrated.

Brain scans indicate that hearing stories activates the part of the brain responsible for processing visual imagery, story comprehension, and word meaning. Even babies benefit from being read aloud to and the benefits don’t stop even when children are older and can read for themselves. Research suggests children from six to 12 enjoy a cognitive boost when they are read to for an hour each day.

As reading levels continue to plummet amongst older children, reading aloud has the potential to stem the growing tide of non-readers. Sadly the numbers show parents stop reading to their child by the age of eight, with just 19% of eight to 10 year olds read to daily by an adult, across all socio-economic groups.

While the YouGov survey respondents understood that that reading “improves language skills”, “enables children to learn more about various subjects or cultures”, and “gives children time for themselves”, it takes a more hands-on approach to set children up for life when it comes to reading. It’s unequivocal that reading out loud is essential, but how do parents engage children of all ages to enjoy reading together on a regular basis?

Here are some expert tips from Readly, the digital magazine app, to get started:

• Don’t just read at bedtime
Reading before going to bed is a classic ritual but for some children, it can be associated with having to stop playing. Build a more positive association with reading by switching up times and locations. Parents can try reading under the table in a den or at a picnic outside while eating snacks to make it fun.

• Don’t be afraid to embrace technology to encourage reading
Just because children are turning to devices doesn’t mean they have to switch off from reading. There’s a plethora of easily accessible content on the web and in apps to encourage our children’s literary growth. Every opportunity to read is valuable.

• Comic books can be a great place to start
With an emphasis on reading being fun, easy and above all, essential to establishing a regular reading habit, embracing comic books is a simple way to help more children find reading pleasure. Comics are also an excellent, fun and non-threatening reading option for children to start reading in a non-native language.

• Lead by example
Children imitate their parents and other adults around them. Set a good example by cultivating your own reading habits. Don’t forget to discuss the latest article, magazine or book you’ve read with your child any time the opportunity arises.

• Ask and answer questions together
On that note, reading widely even if you think the material is too advanced for your child is a great way to introduce new words and concepts. Use this as a way to capitalise on children’s natural curiosity to explore and learn together.

From recognising patterns in language to discovering something new about the world we live in, the benefits of reading aloud to children builds by the day. We must make more time to read.

With unlimited reading to over 7,500 titles, Readly has a magazine for all the family and as it gives five profiles per household, all the family can read their favourite titles. Perfect for children and grown ups. Visit www.readly.com

 

defiant toddler

Teaching your child boundaries

By Childcare and Nannying, children's health, Education, family, Mental health, Relationships, Special support needs
by Michelle Elman
Author, How to Say No

You will remember a time in your child’s life when “no” was their favourite word but as a child hits three to four years old, saying “no”, getting their needs met and communicating how they feel, gets a little bit more complicated. They start to develop Theory of Mind which means they start to get an awareness of the fact that not only can they think, but other people think too. Over time, this realisation turns into the knowledge that if someone can think, then they can think about you and they can also think badly about you.

As adults, you will understand that your own boundaries are usually in conflict with caring what people think, and children also suffer with the same issue, especially when popularity, fitting in and being liked by their peer group is such a high priority. This is where it is important to emphasis the need to keep boundaries in their vocabulary, starting with the simplest and first boundary we all learn – the word ‘no’.

As we all know, children don’t do as you say, they do as you do and therefore practising boundaries yourself is the best place to start to be an example to your children. Learning boundaries isn’t just something you should do for your children though, it can positively impact your life in many ways – from self-esteem, to protecting yourself from burnout, to reprioritising your need for rest and looking after your body. As much as children might struggle to do what you say, if you create an environment where everyone feels listened to, they often start to listen to you more too, if they feel heard themselves.

The word “no” is crucial to understanding how you feel, what you want and it also means that your “yes” has more power. If “yes” is the only word you can use, then that’s the default and your life becomes filled with meeting everyone else’s needs and demands. As much as a child using the word “no” may make your life more difficult as a parent, it’s important to understand that it’s a crucial skill as they grow up and become adults.

We want to foster a sense of independence and knowing how to communicate well, even if they still need to comply with the rules of the household or school. When they set a boundary that is simply not feasible, for example, staying at home alone because they don’t want to attend a family friend’s party, then you are still able to congratulate them on communicating their needs, expressing their boundaries and making them feel heard, listened to and respected.

If you lead with empathy, you are treating them with the respect you would with any adult who has their full autonomy and freedom to make their own decisions. I’m sure you’ve had evenings where you’ve not wanted to attend an event that you previously were looking forward to or there are times as an adult, you just want to be left at home alone to enjoy your solitude. For your child though, that might be unsafe and therefore communicating that to them, not only gives them respect but understanding as to the decision making process.

Saying something like “I know you don’t want to come tonight. I know you are tired and I wouldn’t want to come too if I had as long a week as you have. I can’t find anyone to stay with you last minute though and I do not feel comfortable leaving you at home alone so for your safety, you will have to come with us”. When you come from a empathetic standpoint, you can understand why a child wouldn’t want to go to a grown-up party where they have little in common with the people there, and it is easier to come up with a compromise, for example, “If you would like some alone time though, why don’t you bring a book and we can find a room where you can be by yourself while all the adults are talking?”

Teaching boundaries is also about teaching your children to respect other people’s boundaries so when you set rules about behaviour, make sure you echo the reverse. For example, if they don’t want their siblings barging into their room, then they also have to lHow to say noisten when their siblings say no to them entering their room. Emphasising that we also want to respect other people’s boundaries and giving them the language around boundaries is also really helpful. A boundary might not always sound like the word “no”, it can be “That doesn’t work for me”, or “I don’t like the sound of that,” and when you understand that this is someone conveying their boundaries, not only do they have phrases to listen out for but they have the same phrases they can use themselves.

‘How To Say No’ released by Puffin, is available now.

children swimming

Dive into health and happiness

By Health, Mental health, swimming

The benefits of swimming for children

As parents, we all want what’s best for our children. We strive to provide them with opportunities that nurture their physical, mental, and emotional wellbeing. One such opportunity that should not be overlooked is swimming. Beyond being a fun recreational activity, swimming offers a wide range of benefits for children that can positively impact their development and overall health.

Physical fitness
Swimming is a full-body workout that engages multiple muscle groups. It helps children develop strength, endurance and flexibility. Regular swimming can contribute to a healthy weight and reduce the risk of childhood obesity – a growing concern in today’s sedentary world.

Cardiovascular health
Swimming gets the heart pumping and the blood flowing, promoting cardiovascular fitness. It helps improve circulation and lung capacity, lowering the risk of heart-related issues later in life.

Co-ordination and motor skills
Swimming requires coordinated movements of arms and legs, enhancing a child’s motor skills and proprioception. These skills are transferable to other activities and can aid in their physical development.

Safety
Teaching your child to swim is a crucial life skill. It equips them with the ability to stay safe around water, potentially preventing accidents and drowning incidents.

Confidence and independence
Learning to swim instills a sense of accomplishment and self-confidence in children. It’s an achievement they can take pride in, boosting their self-esteem. Additionally, as they become proficient swimmers, they gain a level of independence in water-related activities.

Social interaction
Enrolling your child in swimming lessons provides an opportunity for social interaction. They can make new friends, learn teamwork and develop valuable social skills in a supportive and structured environment.

Stress reduction
Swimming is a fantastic stress reliever for children. The soothing sensation of water combined with physical activity can help reduce anxiety and improve overall mood.

Improved sleep
The physical exertion during swimming often leads to better sleep patterns. Children who swim regularly tend to fall asleep faster and enjoy deeper, more restful sleep.

Respiratory health
Swimming encourages controlled breathing, which can be beneficial for children with asthma. It can help improve lung function and reduce the frequency of asthma-related symptoms.

Life-long hobby
Introducing your child to swimming at an early age can foster a life-long love for the sport. Swimming is an activity they can continue to enjoy throughout their lives, promoting a healthy lifestyle well into adulthood.

Academic benefits
Studies have shown that children who engage in regular physical activity, including swimming, tend to perform better academically. Exercise promotes cognitive function and can enhance concentration and problem-solving skills.

Emotional wellbeing
Swimming can also be a soothing and therapeutic activity. It provides children with a sense of freedom and relaxation in the water, helping to alleviate stress and boost their emotional wellbeing.

Incorporating swimming into your child’s routine can be as simple as enrolling them in swimming lessons at a local pool or taking them to swim in natural bodies of water. It’s a versatile activity that can be enjoyed year-round, regardless of the weather.

In conclusion, swimming is not just a fun pastime; it’s a valuable investment in your child’s health and development. From physical fitness to emotional wellbeing, the benefits of swimming are far-reaching. So, encourage your child to take the plunge and discover the joy of swimming, helping them lead a healthier, happier life.

work from home parenting

Success wears many hats

By family, Mental health, Relationships, Work employment
by Katie Gowers Watts
‘Diary of a Warent’ blogger

As a parent, your definition of success can change entirely.

Despite being a complex person emotionally, I didn’t take my first pregnancy very seriously – until it ended in a silent miscarriage. We had been for an ultrasound scan the week before and reassuringly seen a tiny, beating heart on the monitor. Sadly, one week later we saw nothing but a static, grey image.

In that moment, my version of success pivoted entirely. The only thing I really wanted, was to be able to successfully carry my child.

It’s embarrassing to confess, but in the past, I didn’t respect women who chose not to go back to work after having children. I thought of it as a cop out. I’m ashamed of that now. For those who subscribe to ‘stay-at-home stereotypes’ like I did, WOW, looking after children all day long is hard. Really hard.

Being a perma-entertainer and safe-keeper, never EVER switching off, and the sheer monotony and thanklessness of housework is so much harder than ‘work work’.

 

Even playing is arduous. Fumbling around in the attic of your adult mind for the dusty old imagination you stored away many years ago. The definition of child’s play is ‘a task which is easily accomplished’. I’m here to tell you that playing with children is not child’s play. It’s exhausting!

Importantly, being a stay-at-home parent comes from a place of love (or financial necessity because childcare can break the bank). It’s not laziness or lack of ambition. It took me 36 years to figure that one out.

My two children are without a shadow of a doubt, my greatest achievement. So, having recently welcomed baby number two who brings me unadulterated joy, why don’t I feel successful anymore?

Many of us define our success based on what others think of us. Or more specifically, our assumptions of what they think. Will people be suitably impressed by my accomplishments, my job title, my salary (or indeed envious of them if one’s ego needs a stroke)? If yes, then bingo, we feel successful.

Success wears many hats.

Something we all need to acknowledge is that actually, success wears many hats. Professional success, financial success, parenting success, relationship success, family success. Sometimes it’s just ‘keeping your sh*t together’ success. What matters is how we define our own success, and in turn, respecting each other’s unique versions. If I’m wearing a baseball cap today, that doesn’t mean you can’t wear a trilby.

Right now, rudely interrupting my marvellous motherhood moments, is the fact that somehow my sense of accomplishment is diminished.

I question myself ALL the time. Am I adding enough value – to my family, to our bank balance, to my employer? I feel like I’m in debt.

As a bona fide warent (working parent), I cast aside all the other hats in my success wardrobe, in search of my ‘professional success hat’. The hat that people admire the most. But it doesn’t fit me right now.

Despite having fire in my belly and craving professional success once again, I’m scared. I’m not ready to leave my baby yet; I want to be a present mum – but, I’m also afraid of the alternative. Of having already stunted my success, of being left behind and of missing out on opportunity to be professionally brilliant. I really want both. But we can’t wear two hats at exactly the same time, can we?

My heart tells me to focus solely on our chubby little bundle of joy. Somebody recently told me, “You will never regret spending more time with your kids”.

Surrounding myself with love and this unbelievable family we have created is a HUGE, everlasting success. A hat that I’ll never outgrow. I know that.

But, my (annoying) head tells me I need to get back to work and back in the game. My professional success hat has been sitting around in the wardrobe so long that it’ll be moth-eaten by the time I take it out and shove it back on.

So, I’ve taken a step back to properly look at myself. To open every drawer of my mind and rummage through my collection of hats.

I tried my ‘stay-at-home success’ hat on for size, and I like it. It’s one of those understated, comfortable pieces of clothing that you’ll never throw out, so I’ve been wearing it for a while – but it’s not in vogue. From time to time, I put my more impressive ‘professional success’ hat back on and walk around the house in it to make myself feel busy and important (I’m wearing it as I write this). And when I get bored, I try on every single hat in the wardrobe and end up with nothing but ‘hat hair’.

It seems obvious now, that my ‘family success’ hat will never, ever go out of fashion. The others are perhaps more seasonal.

Here’s the most important thing I’ve figured out. Self-deprecation is the opposite of success. It has literally no useful purpose. It’s a paper hat when you’re out in the rain. Self-respect is success in its purest, most impressive form. It’s a frickin’ bejewelled gold crown, sparkling in the sunshine.

warentingFor those of us ‘warenting’ our way through life, impossibly striving to be perfect parents AND perfect professionals, remember that success belongs to YOU. It’s yours to define. Own it.

For now, I have redefined my version of success. Because it’s not a static, grey image. It’s a beating heart.

You can read the full version of ‘Success wears many hats’ and additional ‘warenting’ blogs written by Katie, at www.diaryofawarent.com

oracy

How to encourage your child to develop the life-enhancing skills of oracy

By Education, Language, Mental health, reading, Relationships, special educational needs
by Angela Schofield
Oracy Lead, Excelsior Multi-Academy Trust

If you are slightly confused about the term ‘oracy’, which has recently hit the headlines, you are not alone! To summarise, oracy is about communication skills, gaining the skills to engage with other people’s ideas and express your own ideas so that others understand them. At Excelsior Multi Academy Trust, we explicitly teach, practise and assess oracy skills, and see demonstrated how speaking and listening are equally important for effective communication.

Why is oracy so important?
Research has shown that oracy supports children in their academic learning and also in their emotional and social wellbeing. It helps to develop their confidence and instils a sense of belonging, that their voice is welcomed and valued. It is also has a key role in closing the disadvantage gap. Early language and communication skills are closely linked to attainment throughout schooling, and to earnings later in life. The earlier we start to develop oracy skills, the better.

How can you make learning these skills fun at home?
• Playing fun listening games. Enjoy games such as I Spy, 1-20 or describing an image while your child draws it and vice versa. These are all quick games, which develop listening skills too. To practise listening specifically, read a short text and then give a list of words, can they remember which words were from the text? Simple riddle games are good for this too. Try the one below. Explain that you are going to tell a story and then you’ll ask them some questions about it.

You are the bus driver. There are four people on the bus. At the first stop, two people get off and a lady with a bright red hat gets on. At the second stop, a man with a green duffle coat gets off and a small boy with a big dog gets on. At the third stop, four people get off and three people get on. At the fourth stop, two girls get on carrying a large present with a frilly purple bow. (You can continue for longer depending on the age of your child). Finally, ask the question – How old is the bus driver? (The clue is in the first five words).

• Reading to your child. Hearing you read a story, with all the different voices, is not only fun and a time to bond with them, but it also supports them to understand how tone of voice can change the meaning of words and make it more interesting to the listener. Hearing a fluent reader, while they look at the text also helps children to develop fluency in reading.

• Encouraging the expressing of opinions, agree and disagree with reasons. This develops reasoning skills and vocabulary and shows them that it’s OK to disagree. An excellent thing to encourage is changing your mind when someone has given a good reason. You can also frame questions as talking points to encourage extended responses. There are lots of ways to do this and you can choose serious or silly talk activities. We live in a world with a diversity of opinions and being able to listen, engage respectfully and come to your own conclusion is a key life skill.

Ask engaging, fun questions such as:
If I ruled the world, I would … because …
Agree or disagree, Wonder Woman/Spider-Man/ Superman (pick a favourite) is superior to …
Which is better a shark or a lion? Why?

• Engaging in dialogue (not just talk). Talking to your child at home is important, but the evidence shows that it is dialogue that helps children learn language and social skills. Turn taking in a conversation is the important part, so try to avoid the questions, answer and move on cycle of interactions. Just chatting and exchanging ideas is so important for child development and hugely enjoyable. We all have such busy lives now but setting aside a time each day just to talk with, rather than to, them will have a significant impact on their learning and social and emotional learning.

• Playing with and exploring vocabulary. Begin with one word and find opposites or as many synonyms as you can, or find out where words come from. Biscuit, for example, comes from the French for twice baked. Before the introduction of effective food storage, baking twice reduced the moisture in the biscuits making them less likely to attract weevils! Children find these sorts of facts fascinating. There are lots of examples online but for older children, the Oxford Dictionary of Word Origins is a useful resource as is the children’s book The Dictionary of Difficult Words.

By starting when your child is young, you’ll not only be helping them to develop their communications skills, you will be giving them a priceless gift that will serve them well throughout their lives. A gift they can, in turn, pass on to the next generation.

Angela Schofield is the Oracy Lead at Excelsior Multi-Academy Trust, which supports six schools in Birmingham. The Trust is committed to ensuring the highest standards of academic performance and places communication skills at the centre of its curriculum. Excelsior provides supports to all its schools to enable them to help their children achieve their goals and ensure they are ready for the next stage of their education. Excelsior MAT was shortlisted for the MAT Excellence awards 2023 in three categories: Employer of the year; Inclusivity; and Wellbeing. www.excelsiormat.org

childrens emotional well being

Talking to children about their feelings

By children's health, Education, Mental health, special educational needs
by Marsha Dann
Lead Teacher, Play B C Preschool

Children are not born able to understand and manage their emotions. Self-regulation is a skill they have to learn. It must be frustrating for very young children, with little or limited language skills, to try to communicate how they are feeling to others.

They are particularly vulnerable also to the emotional difficulties experienced by their carers. Even though we have mostly put the global pandemic behind us, the profound effect it had upon all of us cannot be denied. The challenges of isolation, increased anxiety and stress affected individuals of all ages and continue to have an impact. Followed in quick succession by a cost of living crisis, the financial pressures that many faced then, have only continued to grow. To safeguard children’s general wellbeing, openly talking to them about feelings and teaching them to recognise emotions in others and themselves is of vital importance.

The early years of a child’s life are critical for development in all areas, and experiences during this period will shape the brain’s messaging systems. When a child feels content and emotionally secure, their cognitive abilities thrive, allowing them to concentrate, learn, and remember effectively. Conversely, when stress overwhelms a child, adrenaline surges through their body, suppressing higher cognitive functions as their system gears up for the fight-or-flight response. Prolonged exposure to high cortisol levels, a stress hormone, can disrupt brain development, particularly in areas responsible for self-regulation, memory, and executive function. Chronic stress in early childhood can lead to a myriad of emotional and physiological problems down the road.

Stress in young children often arises from unmet needs and separation from familiar caregivers. However, this can be mitigated through consistent and responsive adult attention and interaction. Rather than rushing to cheer up or fix a child’s problem, sitting alongside them and acknowledging their emotions, teaches them feelings do not have to be overwhelming and you can navigate them together. Developing curiosity about emotions instead of suppressing them helps children understand they can handle challenging feelings. Assist them to identify and label the specific feeling they are experiencing. Are they feeling anger, worry, fear, frustration or happiness? By doing this, you not only expand their vocabulary but also facilitate their ability to recognise and acknowledge the same emotion when they feel it in future situations.

Emotional Intelligence (EI) plays a crucial role in a child’s ability to recognise and manage their own feelings, as well as understand emotions in others. Yale University have coined the acronym RULER to identify five essential skills for EI: Recognising, understanding, labelling, expressing and regulating emotions. By encouraging children to identify and express their emotions, we equip them with the tools to navigate and communicate their feelings effectively, setting a strong foundation for social and emotional development.

The Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS) identifies Personal Social and Emotional Development (PSED) as a prime area of learning, critical in a child’s overall growth. Self-regulation and relationship-building are identified as core components of PSED. The early years provide a critical environment for promoting emotional wellbeing, where practitioners can strike a balance between sensitivity, stimulation, agency and consistency to help children regulate their emotions and develop an awareness of their behaviour’s impact. Maintaining a calm and consistent approach while serving as a positive role model, further supports children in understanding how feelings can be managed.

Teach your child that it is perfectly normal to experience a range of emotions, even if some of them are unpleasant. Even emotions like jealousy, envy, or selfishness can tell us something, serve as opportunities for self-reflection and give us insights into ourselves and others. It is important to create a lighthearted and comfortable atmosphere when discussing emotions, as this can prevent heightened emotional responses, particularly when a child feels sad or anxious. While all emotions are OK, not all behaviours are, and young children need to learn how to show their feelings in a way that is effective and appropriate to their environment and others around them.

Practical strategies for encourag-ing emotional intelligence include exploring images of different facial expressions and encouraging children to imitate expressions in a child-safe mirror. You could guide them to map their feelings on a mood meter or think of them in terms of colours, think of the Pixar movie ‘Inside Out’. You can find more about this from websites such as the Zones of Regulation or the Ruler Approach.

In conclusion, it is good to talk. By engaging in discussions about emotions, recognising and understanding their feelings, and providing a supportive environment, we empower children to develop crucial emotional and social skills that will benefit them throughout their lives.

Teacher-led Play B C offers fun, yet challenging early education and prioritises relationships. Interaction is judged to be ‘excellent’ and practice has been further validated with an Early Years Quality Mark. More than just a place, at Play B C every day is a learning adventure. Please feel free to contact admissions@playbc.co.uk to arrange a visit.

ball pit at Godstone Farm

Maximising a family day out

By Education, environment, Family Farms, Green, Mental health, Nature
by Nicola Henderson
Godstone Farm

Getting the best value for your money

In today’s world, with the rising cost-of-living and financial pressures on families, planning a day out that offers the best value for money is essential. Fortunately, with careful planning and consideration, families can still enjoy memorable experiences without breaking the bank. In particular, farm parks present an excellent option, combining a diverse range of activities with reasonable pricing, ensuring a fun-filled day out for all ages.

Here are some helpful tips from an insider!

1. Plan ahead and look for offers and discounts
The key to a budget-friendly family day out starts with thorough planning. Research local farm parks or attractions that offer a wide range of activities suitable for all family members. Before visiting, check their website or social media for special offers, discounts, or family packages. Many attractions provide reduced prices for early bookings or for buying tickets online in advance. Utilise membership cards, loyalty schemes, or annual passes that can grant access to multiple visits at a discounted rate.

2. Make the most of farm park offerings
Farm parks often combine various activities, making them an excellent value for money option. With a mix of animal encounters, indoor play areas, and outdoor spaces, there really is something for everyone. The diversity of activities caters to children of all ages, keeping them occupied and entertained throughout the day. Moreover, farm parks are generally more affordable than city centre attractions or tourist hotspots, making them a budget-friendly choice for families.

3. Utilise meal deals and picnic facilities
Food expenses during family days out can add up quickly. Consider looking for attractions that offer meal deals or have affordable food options on-site. Alternatively, pack a picnic lunch and take advantage of dedicated picnic areas and covered barns available at many farm parks. Enjoying a homemade lunch amidst the beautiful surroundings not only saves money but also allows for a relaxing and enjoyable break.

4. Smart shopping at gift shops
Children often desire a souvenir to remember their day out. Instead of splurging on expensive items, look for attractions with a well-stocked gift shop that offers pocket-friendly options. A section with low-cost items such as postcards, pencils, or small toys will delight young ones without straining the budget. Encourage children to make thoughtful purchases within a pre-determined budget, helping to teach them the value of money.

5. Consider memberships and multi-visit passes
For families living nearby or who plan to visit regularly, memberships or multi-visit passes can be a cost-effective option. Such offerings often come with perks like discounted admission for friends or reduced prices on additional activities within the park. It’s worth calculating how many visits are required to make the pass worthwhile and consider the added benefits it provides.

6. Time your visit wisely
To maximize the experience at farm parks, consider arriving early in the day to avoid crowds and make the most of the attractions. Alternatively, some parks may offer reduced rates for late afternoon visits, which can be beneficial if you have older children who can stay engaged until closing time. Many attractions run off-peak pricing too so if you don’t need to visit in the middle of a school holiday perhaps defer your trip to a weekend during term-time and opt for the local play park when the children are off school.

Creating lasting memories during a family day out does not have to come at a high cost. By planning ahead, taking advantage of offers and discounts and making smart choices during the visit, families can enjoy a fantastic day filled with fun and excitement without breaking the bank. Farm parks offer a great balance of activities at a reasonable price, making them an ideal choice for families looking for the best value for their hard-earned money. So, gather your loved ones, pack a picnic and head to the farm park for a day of endless enjoyment!

Godstone Farm in Surrey offers a wider range of animal experiences allowing children (and adults) the chance to go behind the scenes and experience the many benefits of animal contact. www.godstonefarm.co.uk

panto time

Panto time – oh yes it is!

By Christmas, dance & Art, Mental health, Music and singing, Playing, Relationships, Theatre
by Nicola Thornton
Ropetackle Arts Centre

Where’s the one place you can take all the family at Christmas and be guaranteed they will crack a smile, even those that don’t like smiling? (I’m looking at you, too-cool teenagers!)

Yes, it’s the Christmas pantomime! An explosion of noise, dry-ice, jokes, music, cheesy scripts, creaking sets and gaudy costumes that any other time of year might have us running for the hills, but at Christmas it is suddenly the best thing you’ll ever do.

panto sussexIt starts the minute you arrive at the venue. The staff and volunteers all have bright eyes and wide grins that actually look genuine, the café or kiosk is serving Christmas-themed cookies and cupcakes and Christmas pudding flavoured ice-cream. The bar is serving large glasses of everything, including delicious mulled wine. The smell of excited anticipation is everywhere.

As you take your seat, the questions start. Child number 1: “What’s behind that curtain?” Child number 2: “I think I do want to go to the loo now, can you please take me?” Spouse: “Have you got a wet-wipe?” Grandparent: “Are you sure you won’t get a parking ticket?”
Teen: “Why am I here again?”

As you answer them all with a wide grin that looks anything but genuine, something starts to happen in the wings. The curtain goes up, the lights go down and you’re off – off to that land of chaos, magic, satin, glitter and glitz, where nothing is real. You encounter a beautiful princess, a handsome prince, perhaps a genie or fairy godmother, a clown who keeps tripping up, two ends of an animal costume and some sprightly young dancers.

An ample-bosomed Dame – who often looks better than you on a good day – points out to the audience, hands-on hips – animated and proud – and keeps the show, and the gags, on the road. The villain – boo! hiss! – is dressed in black velvet and has your youngest hiding behind their hands but loving them at the same time.

You stomp, you shout, you tell them “He’s behind you!”, you laugh, you groan. You sing, you clap, you watch, you join in, and you chuckle at something that has made the Dame crease up. You pity the poor bloke two rows in front who gets mercilessly picked on and then cheer at his good-sportiness as the audience applaud. You sneak a peek at everyone in your group and you notice one thing: they are all, bar no one, absolutely caught up in the moment.

You find yourself caring that the leading character reaches their goal and lives happily ever after. You want the villain to learn a lesson and become a better person. You believe in the power of community and people working together to make a dream come true. You look around and see the same hope, joy, and wishes on everyone’s face. Pantomime is a universal, unifying experience and the joy is contagious.

At the interval, the clamber for the loos and refreshments is a messy one. Everyone discusses their favourite character, that bit that happened that clearly wasn’t in the script, the Dame’s eyelashes that look like spiders and the brilliant dancing. The fact Evie from child number 1’s class is sitting two rows behind. The noise is heightened, the excitement palpable.

The second half starts with gusto and you’re off again. The set has changed from a forest to a castle. Everyone has a different costume on, especially the Dame, who is now on her fourth outfit of the evening. There’s a touching moment when the clown and the leading light, fed up with being misunderstood by everyone else, vow to be BFFs. There’s more laughs, more slapstick, more props, more getting up and singing along – more fun, more games. There’s a moment when the leading couple find each other, against all the odds, and everyone breathes a huge sigh of relief. It’s all going to be OK.

The finale is here. The part where everyone is on stage at the same time, where a wedding may or may not take place. Where the princess looks the prettiest she has ever looked, the prince the most handsome. The costumes have changed again. The Dame makes another grand entrance; this time in her biggest, flounciest wig. The villain is welcomed, having changed for the better, learned the error of their ways. The silliest song gets sung again (and again) and you get on your feet and all join in. You catch your teen’s eye and they smile a real smile, a child again in an unguarded moment.

You wave, clap and whoop as the cast take their bows. The lights go up, the curtain falls, you gather up your brood and weave through to the exit. Two hours of escapism now over as you head back home – tired and happy, with a ringing in your ears. Another family memory made – and that repetitious song inside your head till spring…

Ropetackle Arts Centre, Shoreham-by-Sea, W. Sussex is a vibrant performing arts venue that prides itself on being family friendly.

Find out more at www.ropetacklecentre.co.uk

foster family

Fostering as a family

By Childcare and Nannying, Fostering and adoption, fun for children, Mental health, Special support needs

The sons and daughters of foster carers play a vital role in fostering; they contribute hugely towards the success of fostering placements and make a valuable difference to fostered siblings as they settle into their new home. Fostering is a life changing decision and should be considered and thought about as a family.

Sometimes, the perceived impact of fostering on birth children prevents families from finding out more as they feel they need to wait until their children are older. However, for many of the families who foster for Brighton & Hove City Council, the experience has been positive and rewarding.

We asked foster carer Felicia to tell us about the role her children play in their fostering family. “Becoming a fostering family was a big step for the whole family, but becoming foster siblings was particularly special for our birth children.

At the start of our journey, I knew I wanted to foster children, but it was something that we had never approached as a family. It was important for us to ensure that we involved our birth children from the very start, to ensure they were happy with the changes and the roles they would take on. Our children were keen from the start. We love a busy house and the joy that many children bring to it. The more the merrier! We ensured that the children were also aware of the difficulties that they may face such as sharing their parents with more children and the sense of loss that they may feel when foster children moved on to their forever homes. It was important for them to have a transparent view of fostering, as well as to understand the joy and the challenges that may lie ahead. The children were involved throughout the assessment process, speaking with assessing social workers and meeting other birth children. They continued to express that they were keen to start fostering.

Five years on as a fostering family and I am truly proud of the difference that our birth children make to the foster children who come into our care. They welcome the children when they first come to our home and help to find toys to play with and make the children feel part of our family. Our children have demonstrated kindness, calmness and understanding towards children who have needed our support. As a fostering family of babies and toddlers, our birth children have been involved in helping our foster children meet many milestones.They have helped children learn to crawl, to walk, to talk and encouraged them with love and praise when they learn new things.The immediate instinct they show to comfort children when they are upset or unsettled is wonderful to see, as well as extending this kindness to other people around them.

We take regular opportunities to check that our children are happy to continue our fostering journey and every time we get a resounding yes!

Our birth children love to keep in touch with the children we foster when they move into their forever homes, where this is appropriate. It’s an honour and a privilege to continue in these children’s lives and see the bond between the children as they grow.”

We also asked foster carer Stella about the impact fostering has had on her children. “Our children have turned out to be very empathetic and sympathetic young people because they know that not all children and young people have a happy upbringing. This includes basic needs like having a clean, well-equipped house and a happy family home where they feel safe and wanted.

They have both grown up to be young people who are kind, just to be kind, not because they think they will get something in return.

They continue to constantly and consistently show the children we care for unconditional love and go out of their way to make the children feel that they belong in our family.

They have never complained about having to share their home, their holidays, their parents, their possessions, and their experiences with other children. People around us always tell us how kind, polite, empathetic, gentle and loving our children are, and we feel that as well as their happy upbringing, fostering has enhanced these qualities.

They have a great appreciation of having been part of a close, happy, secure, positive and encouraging family and we feel that this will continue when they themselves become parents.

We feel that they have learned skills and become people who will go on to become lovely parents themselves.”

Every day the children of foster carers welcome other children into their homes and their lives. They strive to make young people in care feel safe, happy and loved, and ensure that they can thrive. Fostering involves the whole family and the contribution of sons and daughters is vital.

If you have room in your heart and home to foster, the Brighton & Hove Fostering Team are keen to hear from you. They need foster carers from all walks of life, those with children of their own, and those without.

Visit www.fosteringinbrightonandhove.org.uk for more information or e-mail fosteringrecruitment@brighton-hove.gov.uk to find out about upcoming online information sessions.