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Young boy in field

The Great Outdoors

By Education, environment, Forest School, fun for children, Green, Mental health, Nature
by Chris Gunn
Headmaster, Sompting Abbotts Preparatory School

At a time when children’s wellbeing is seemingly so constantly under attack, it has never been so important to seek the advantages of ‘The Great Outdoors’! Some of my fondest memories are of adventuring, exploring, and challenging myself in nature – I was never happier than when climbing trees, playing hide-and-seek with friends, soaking up picturesque views or exercising. I vividly remember the sense of accomplishment, motivation, and sheer joy at these times. I can still recall the slip and slide of mud and grass underfoot of past games of football, and feel the warmth of the sun on my back during picnics with family and friends.

In an ever-changing world burdened with social pressures and geo-political issues, the outdoors is a solace. A peaceful calm. It is both an outlet for anxiety and stress as well as one of the greatest resources we have access to for maintaining our positive mental wellbeing. We teach children strategies to improve their mental wellbeing, strategies which children can access and employ to cope with the many challenges and changes they will meet throughout their lives. In my opinion, visiting ‘The Great Outdoors’ is the most effective way to improve mental wellbeing, bar none. It is essential that we provide our children with plentiful opportunities to learn outside of the classroom so that they too have access to this wonderful, naturally healing resource.

I was reminded of the impact of the outdoors recently after a busy exam week. A group of children spent their Friday Activities playing a giant game of ‘capture the flag’ and team ‘hide-and-seek’. For many, the anxiety which the week had induced seemed to be lost and forgotten about in a heartbeat. The excitement of charging into space, to find a quiet spot out of view and the eyes of the opposing team; the anticipation of whether they would be found by a determined seeker; the sprint back to ‘base’ after the time was up. Children were children again. Laughing, panting, smiling. A sense of freedom and enthusiasm. A sense of relief.

The benefits of outdoor activities, such as orienteering, shelter-building, scavenger hunts, and wood whittling on children are unquantifiable. Not only do such activities teach valuable life-skills but they also highlight personal qualities and characteristics, which in turn will lead to better understanding of self and a greater likelihood of successes in the future. Direct links can clearly be drawn between those days outdoors, the skills we learn, and the people we become.

Resilience. Resilience to climb that tree a little higher, or to remain calm when getting back down again. Aspiration. Pushing for a personal best when running a race or vying for the win in a team sport. Self-esteem. To be successful when trying something new, or when involved in informal competition, can make such a difference to a pupil’s self-worth. Courage. Courage to explore, to try new things, or to stand up for and to protect the environment. To know and understand their own physical capabilities and boundaries and to push these a little further each time. Respect. Respect for the habitats, keeping ‘The Great Outdoors’ clean and tidy. Not having to be prompted to pick up a crisp packet, or litter. To protect wildlife and ecosystems, so that plants and animals can thrive. Compassion. Compassion for those who share the space. Wildlife, people, our opponents in sport. Integrity. Having a strong moral grounding of what needs to be done by the Government and local authorities to keep our green spaces and the planet happy and healthy. To compete within the rules of the game. It is these characteristics, that make a young person stand out from the crowd, that will enable them to inspire others.

It is only when outside regularly – walking, exercising, taking the dog out – you see the impact of the change of seasons. The leaves changing colour in the autumn, the first frost, the horse chestnuts, the birds flying south, the leaves beginning to fall. For children to experience first-hand the change in the seasons, to appreciate how fragile life is and get a sense of what they can do to help support the environment, is again of the upmost importance. Children will inevitably hear comments such as “The daffodils are coming up earlier this year” or “It hasn’t snowed for years,” but seeing it, investigating it, monitoring and testing it, enables children to see the impact of a change in our climate. It gives them a real understanding of the effects of greenhouse gases and why changes in our individual habits as well as large-scale changes in industry shape the way we live on and work with our planet Earth. The next generation of scientists, inspired by the outdoors.

I am fortunate enough to have two happy and healthy young sons. I have tried to refrain from using the term ‘outdoorsy’ however they love nothing more than to explore nature. Climb trees; splash in muddy puddles with their wellies on; have fun at the local rugby club. The fondest memories that they make are not whilst sitting in front of a tablet screen. They are out there – wherever that ‘out there’ might be. They are made through a sense of adventure, exploration and getting out into the fresh air. Stopping, standing, listening. That is the greatest ‘soul food’ of all.

Sompting Abbotts is a West Sussex preparatory school near Worthing for girls and boys aged 2 – 13. Tel: 01903 235960.

To find out more about what Sompting Abbotts can offer you, or to arrange a personal visit at any time of the school year, please visit www.somptingabbotts.com

happy children in forest

The power of a small prep school Embracing the ‘try everything’ philosophy

By Education, environment, Forest School, fun for children, Green, Mental health, Nature, Primary school, Relationships
by Charlotte Moore
St Christopher’s Prep

In a world where education is often evaluated by standardised testing and one-size-fits-all metrics, nestled in the heart of a vibrant community, small preparatory schools are quiet powerhouses that have a unique charm. They offer a distinct advantage over larger educational institutions, such as smaller class sizes, a strong sense of community, and individualised attention from teachers. They punch well above their weight through a compelling philosophy that sets them apart – the ‘try everything’ approach to learning.

This philosophy encourages pupils to engage in a wide range of experiences, regardless of their interests or perceived talents. This inclusive model is particularly feasible in small prep schools, where the environment is often more adaptable and personalised than in larger institutions. The imperative of a ‘try everything’ philosophy is not just to expose pupils, but to embed a spirit of curiosity and cross-disciplinary agility.

The encouragement to engage with various subjects and extra curricular activities reflects a deeper understanding of the education process – it’s through experience and reflection that genuine learning takes place. Pupils are taught to value the journey of learning, to embrace failures as learning opportunities, and to develop a growth mindset that views challenges as stepping stones to mastery.

Pupils are invited to dip their toes into a variety of subjects and extra curricular activities – from arts to sciences, sports to technology – and discover passions they may not have known they had. They might find themselves coding a robot in one class, sewing a blanket in another and rehearsing a Shakespearean play in the next.

The key to this method is the idea that true learning comes from exploration and experimentation, which isn’t always found in textbooks. In a rapidly changing world, it is ever more important to be adaptable and have a broad skill set as well as specialised knowledge. From teamwork and leadership in sports, critical thinking in debate clubs, to innovation in STEM projects, pupils become well-equipped for future challenges. Such an education cultivates adaptive individuals who can thrive in the dynamic environments of higher education and the professional world.

Small class sizes of typical prep schools allow for highly individualised attention. Teachers are really able to nurture the curiosity of each pupil, encouraging them to take risks in a safe and supportive environment. Not only does this foster a love of learning, but it also helps to build resilience and confidence, both of which are qualities that are essential in both personal and professional lives.

A small prep school often has a much closer-knit community which provides more leadership opportunities. With fewer pupils to compete with for positions on school councils, drama productions, or as school prefects or team captains, pupils are able to step up and lead in more areas. This close-knit environment fosters a greater sense of responsibility and community engagement.

Small prep schools are able to promote an inclusive culture where hobbies and abilities are not dictated by societal expectations but by personal exploration and growth.

By encouraging all pupils to get involved, and try everything, teachers are creating opportunities for collaboration. It also helps break down barriers and fears. Those pupils who may have been reluctant to join a robotics club or a sewing club, for fear of not fitting in, may discover a love for engineering or garment making. Not everyone is naturally gifted at academics or sports but by being encouraged to join in, those who may have thought they were not great, may still find joy in doing it.

Subjects can often be compartmentalised but this ‘try everything’ approach supports a cross-disciplinary learning. Pupils applying their historical knowledge in English discussions or their artistic sensibilities in science projects shows a holistic educational approach that small prep schools champion.

Smaller class sizes and a more diverse lesson curriculum helps broaden the horizons of pupils so they become more rounded human beings when they progress to their senior school. These people are prepared to not just navigate the world but shape it into something better. A smaller school can be an incubator for future leaders. With the access to teachers and the excellent resources and opportunities the pupils have, these schools help ignite curiosity and arm the pupils themselves with the tools needed to build a fulfilling life. Alumni of small prep schools often attribute their success to the versatility and adaptability that was nurtured in their early education.

The ‘try everything’ philosophy at a small prep school is a powerful tool for education and is not something to be missed. It champions the idea that pupils should be encouraged to embrace a multitude of experiences, helping to shape them into adaptable, curious and innovative thinkers. In schools like these, the power of learning is limitless, and the outcomes are as diverse as the opportunities that they provide.

St Christopher’s Prep is an outstanding independent co-ed prep school. Please call 01273 735404 to discover how we could be the perfect match for your child’s educational start.
www.stchristophershove.org.uk

teach your child about endangered animals

Teach your child about endangered animals

By Education, environment, Forest School, Nature, Relationships

The topic of endangered animals can be a difficult one for adults, let alone children. How do you explain, in simple and sensitive terms, that human action is destroying the planet and subsequently wiping out entire species of animals?

It’s the younger generations that are going to suffer the most from the impact of climate change, so it’s in their best interest to learn the hows and whys as early as possible. Knowledge is power, after all.

Here, My Oceans has put together their top tips for teaching children about endangered animals.

Use sensitive and simple language
There’s a fine line between being realistic and just plain terrifying. Children must understand the severity of the situation, but you should try to avoid harsh words and confusing terms that they’ll likely not understand.

Don’t: “Human ignorance is killing innocent animals; when the population of a species has declined at least 70% for reasons unknown, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) declares it as endangered.”

Do: “Endangered animals are animals that have become so rare that they’re at risk of disappearing forever! This is why everyone must come together to take necessary the steps to protect them before it’s too late.”

Get the whole family involved
Make this a family activity by getting the whole crew together! If your children have older siblings who perhaps already know about endangered species, it still might be a good idea to get them involved.

Most little ones subconsciously mimic their older siblings, so they’re far more likely to take an interest in the topic if their brothers and sisters do too. Plus, helping save the world is a fantastic family bonding activity.

Find children-friendly books
If you’re not the best at wording things, or if your children need a little more clarification, look for children-friendly books that address the topic.

Fortunately, there are hundreds out there which are ideal for children aged three to 11.

You can find books that explore specific at-risk animals, such as ‘A Polar Bear in the Snow’ or ‘Give Bees a Chance’. This might be good if your child has a favourite animal that they want to learn more about.

There are also books that explain the subject of endangered animals in a general sense. Recommended reads might include works such as ‘My First Pop-Up Endangered Animal’s by Owen Davey and ‘A Wild Child’s Guide to Endangered Animals’ by author Millie Marotta.

Books are a fantastic way to enrich a child’s learning, especially for topics that might be a little upsetting or confusing. Set aside some time to go through each book together.

Let them ask as many questions as they need to
Children are incredibly curious – sometimes too much so. However, it’s important you let them ask as many follow-up questions as they need to.

If you want them to get their head around a totally bewildering subject, you should expect and prepare for an interrogation.

Some questions might be outrageous (hey, children are children) but do your best to give clear, honest answers to help them further grasp the topic.

Think of ways to help
Now that your little ones have a better understanding of what endangered animals are, you must plan all the ways that you can try to help the cause together.

As an adult, you’ll probably know the obvious solutions (more on those below), but this brainstorming session should be about encouraging your children to the discussion.

Nudge them in the right direction but let them feel like they’re the ones contributing awesome, life-saving ideas. This will make the children feel much more motivated to carry out the ideas in the next stage.

Support
This is perhaps the most important part of teaching your children about endangered animals: putting those plans into action.

Once you have your list of solutions, research each one until you have a good idea of your ‘who, what, when, where and why.’

Types of activities you could consider include:
Adopt an animal
Expose your children to endangered animals in a fun way that promotes responsibility. Your small monthly donation can help fund crucial work, plus, in exchange, you’ll typically receive a cuddly toy, regular updates, and a certificate.

Make eco-friendly lifestyle changes
Many adults have adopted bad environmental lifestyle habits, and bad habits are hard to shake. From early on, before these negative routines cement themselves in your children’s life, teach them:
• How to recycle, and why it’s crucial we do so
• The importance of eco-friendly products (such as plastic-free toilet paper and reusable shopping bags)
• How to reduce energy usage
• To avoid single-use plastic
• To eat less meat.

Raise funds together
There are plenty of UK charities for protecting endangered animals and their habitats, such as People’s Trust for Endangered Species (PTES) and WWF.

A possible ocean-specific charity you could support is the Marine Conservation Society, an organisation working to achieve a cleaner, healthier environment. Think of exciting ways to raise money for these charities, such as bakes sale or walking fundraiser.

Visit an animal shelter or wildlife centre – a super educational way to support a fantastic cause while helping your children to comprehend the topic in greater detail. Find your local animal shelter or wildlife centre and volunteer your time feeding the animals, cleaning and tidying habitats, or just being a companion.

Incorporate fun activities – children love to play! Playing is crucial for their development as it benefits a variety of skills, including cognitive and social. As you embark on this journey of better understanding endangered animals, look for fun activities that’ll help and engage them:
• Arts and crafts
• Roleplay
• Puppeteering
• Painting and drawing
• Singing and dancing.

They have the power to change the world
As a parent, it’s your responsibility to ensure you’re raising your children with the right beliefs, attitudes and knowledge. Theirs is the generation that will be hurt the most by the impacts of climate change, so it’s only right we give them the necessary tools to fight back – as early as possible.

Support them in grasping the severity of the situation in a way that motivates them to help the cause. No one is expecting a six year old to single-handedly change the world, but soon that six year old will be a fully-fledged adult that has a much better chance of doing so.

For further information please visit www.myoceans.co.uk

 

Garden birds are counting on you!

By environment, Forest School, Nature

Big Garden Birdwatch 2024.  Together, let’s make it count!

The world’s largest garden wildlife survey returns, with hundreds of thousands of people watching and counting the UK’s garden birds over the last weekend in January for the RSPB’s Big Garden Birdwatch.

Over half a million people took part in 2023, counting more than 9 million birds.

This year’s event takes place on 26th, 27th and 28th January 2024. People across the UK are asked to spend an hour watching and counting the birds in their garden, balcony or local park, then send their results to the RSPB.

This year’s event marks 45 years since the first Big Garden Birdwatch. Starting in 1979, it has since become a much-loved annual citizen science event, that gives the RSPB a valuable snapshot of how our garden birds are doing in the UK. Over that time, 185 million birds have been counted and nearly 11.5 million hours spent watching and counting garden birds.

Beccy Speight, the RSPB’s Chief Executive, said: “By taking part in the Birdwatch you are joining hundreds of thousands of people from across the UK, united in a love of nature, to play an important role in helping us understand how our UK birds are doing. Big Garden Birdwatch demonstrates the power that people have when they come together for nature. Join us for Big Garden Birdwatch 2024 and together let’s take action to help birds and other wildlife thrive for generations to come.”

To take part in the Big Garden Birdwatch 2024, watch the birds on your balcony, in your garden or in your local green space for one hour at some point over the three days. Only count the birds that land, not those flying over. Tell us the highest number of each bird species you see at any one time – not the total you see in the hour.

Registration for Big Garden Birdwatch 2024 opens 13 December 2023.

To receive your FREE Big Garden Birdwatch guide, which includes a bird identification chart, top tips for your birdwatch, RSPB shop voucher, plus advice on how to help you attract wildlife to your garden, text BIRD to 82727 or visit www.rspb.org.uk/birdwatch

The parallel event RSPB Big Schools’ Birdwatch takes place during the first half of spring term, 8 January – 19 February 2024. For more than 20 years, the Birdwatch has helped to connect children and their teachers with nature in their school grounds. Registration for Big Schools’ Birdwatch is now live. Further information can be found at www.rspb.org.uk/schoolswatch

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