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early years play

The importance of early years play

By children's health, Education, fun for children, numeracy skills, Playing, reading, Relationships
by Jasmine Holbrook
Imogen Ruby

Playing underpins all aspects of a child’s development and keeps infants active and happy. Through play, children develop their language, emotional, social and motor skills, as well as their creativity, problem solving abilities and imagination. Alongside the benefits for your little one, playing together with your child can strengthen your bond and allow you to join their world. Play develops through a series of commonly observed stages and by altering your play style and the toys offered throughout these stages, you can continue to support and encourage this development.

Play can begin right from birth. Those early movements of a baby’s arms and legs that seemingly have no purpose are actually helping them to learn to move and you can join in by gently encouraging movement. This could be through baby massage, swimming or laying your baby on your chest, tummy to tummy, a great opportunity for eye contact and kisses.

Babies love interaction with another human face, allowing your little one to study your facial expressions. Talking and singing can make this fun for both of you. Tummy time will strengthen their arms and necks and help prepare them for crawling. Using high contrast flash cards and toys, as well as baby safe mirrors, will continue to develop these skills, as well as their visual and brain development and encourage them to continue learning about the world around them.

As a baby begins to move and explore their world further, they are able to engage with toys in a different way and will start to play alone, showing not much interest in other children’s play but developing an increasing focus on what they themselves are doing. Warm interactions from the adults around them, playing alongside whilst still allowing space to enjoy some independence will enhance their understanding and enjoyment. Board books, rattles and sensory toys such as ribbon rings and musical shakers are all great choices for this stage of development.

Commonly, around two years of age children become more curious about what other children are doing, observing without joining in. As your child begins to observe other children playing, you may feel that you want to encourage them to join in but there is no need. This stage is important for children to learn about social cues and to understand the behaviour and rules within social play. Their vocabulary continues to develop rapidly, with discussions about what they are seeing.

Children at this stage will benefit from opportunities to be around other children, but will very much enjoy activities with you such as singing, story telling, early role-play toys and of course, outdoor and indoor physical play.

Social skills continue to develop as children begin to learn to share toys and copy activities, whilst still playing alongside each other without much involvement. Age appropriate toys that can easily be shared and interacted with are important, for example wooden animals, vehicles, chunky puzzles and building blocks.

Children will become more interested in playing with others, in talking and engaging and this develops their problem solving skills as well as their co-operation as they begin to navigate a shared space. During this stage, play is not very organised or focused but they are learning teamwork and communication skills as well as beginning to recognise other children’s boundaries. The best way to encourage this type of play is by creating shared spaces with similar toys, such as several dolls in a shared dolls house, a variety of vehicles on a play road map, or a mixture of animals or dinosaurs within a woodland themed playzone.

Co-operative play is the last stage of play and is vital for social and group interaction. This usually begins around the age of four and continues throughout childhood, bringing together all the skills already learned. This is where imaginative play becomes a key focus of a child’s play as they take on different roles within their imagination. You can encourage and enhance this stage of play in so many ways; for example, playing shops with a shopkeeper and a customer, playing kitchens and tea parties, directing ‘traffic’ in the garden, dressing up, the possibilities are endless.

Playing with your little one can create deeper connections and stronger emotional bonds as well as foster trust and open communication between you. It provides valuable insight into your child’s development and interests, and allows you to better understand their world. Through shared play, you can create treasured moments, enhance your own stress relief and boost your overall wellbeing – there are benefits of play for all of us!

Imogen Ruby has sustainability at its heart; through our organic clothing choices, environmentally conscious toys and passion for reusable cloth nappies.

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

Milestone moments

By Education, Forest School, fun for children, Girls school, girls school, Playing, Relationships
by Naomi Bartholomew
Headmistress, St Catherine’s Prep School, Bramley, Surrey

Life at Prep School is full of firsts. The first time we do anything requires courage and determination which is why I so admire young children and so enjoy watching their early journey through school.

Before joining school, children will have already had many milestone moments – moving from cot to bed, their first steps, their first tooth and many more. The first day of school arrives all too quickly and from there a series of challenges and wonderful opportunities await.

Ahead of starting school encourage your child to engage in creative play. Allow them to solve some of their own problems – when they put their shoes on the wrong feet, pause and see if they can figure that out for themselves. Provide simple choices but limit them to two or three options – I often refer to this as the ‘carrot or peas’ approach. Rather than, “What would you like to eat?” which is a crazy question to ask a pre-school child, offer two alternatives. Give your child opportunities for play games which involve taking turns and sharing as well as dressing up and role-play. Encourage the use of full sentences when talking to your child. Avoid comments like, “Mummy wants you to come over and help” and start to use, “Please can you come and help me” and “Thank you”.

The first day of school is a major event but don’t overplay this. You will have spent considerable time and effort choosing the right school, trust your instincts and remain calm and positive. Allow plenty of time for the school run on the first morning and leave as quickly as you can once your child is in the classroom and starting to settle. Your child will spend the day learning names of the other children in the class, being shown their immediate environment and they will most likely come home exhausted but happy.

During the first term, establish a good rapport with your child’s teacher and encourage their early reading and writing at home as advised by the school. Ask what happens in the book that they are reading and help with extending their vocabulary to include words such as ‘first, second, finally.’ Don’t be scared to use the correct vocabulary – if your child can recite Hickory Dickory Dock they can learn the correct vocabulary and should be moving away from pet names for things.

You will hear about the first falling out between friends. If you have watched ‘The Secret Life of Four Year Olds,’ you will see these happen frequently and are as quickly resolved. There will be moments where your child’s effort and success is recognised and other moments when they feel overlooked or left out. They are still in egocentric infant mode and it is important to remember that you are hearing a four year old version of events.

The first nativity with lines to deliver, songs to sing and the chance to ‘perform’ in front of an audience. They are likely to be apprehensive especially post pandemic but also excited to show their newfound confidence. Your child will want to please you, please their teacher and be starting to want to please their peers by this stage. Frantic waving and trying to get their attention from your seat in the audience is adding pressure to an already fairly daunting experience for some. By all means wave on arrival and reassure your child that you are there but try to keep it discrete.

By the end of the first year your child will be very attached to their first teacher and the school will prepare them for moving on to a new class, possibly with new pupils arriving too which can change the dynamic amongst the class. Over the first long summer break encourage more constructive play which requires your child to build things, take things apart and put them back together. Go on walks, build dens in the garden, start to ride a bike. Check table manners and correct use of cutlery and ‘please and thank you’s.’ Use the days of the week more and continue with reading and basic writing.

Then come swimming lessons, possibly picking up an instrument for the first time, presenting in assembly and taking on minor roles of responsibility within the class (taking a message to the office or assisting with classroom chores). You will increasingly feel that you are not there for every milestone moment. This is important as your child will be forming a self-esteem based on their sense of their own achievements and by six we hope finding intrinsic motivation. They will be working out that effort impacts outcomes and they will be turning to peers to share their achievements. Winning the sack race, learning their times tables, holding the door open for a visitor, sharing their snack at break are all equally important.

Each of these little steps are in fact giant leaps. Here at St Catherine’s we aim to capture the magic as it happens and share it with you when we can. We ask the children to give everything a try and to step out of their comfort zone with as much confidence as possible. Learning at this age must be fun and curiosity must be fostered. Enjoy the milestone moments – they are to be cherished.

St Catherine’s is situated in the village of Bramley, four miles south of Guildford, which has fast train connections to London. Prep School girls benefit immeasurably from the world-class facilities of the Senior School, including the extensive grounds, 25m indoor pool, sports hall, dance studio, magnificent auditorium and 19th century chapel. Girls from age four engage in a full and varied curriculum which includes music, IT, ballet and sport delivered by dedicated specialist teachers. Our Patron, HRH The Duchess of Cornwall, said on a recent visit, “You are all extremely lucky to be at such a wonderful school.”

forest girl

Benefits of outdoor, nature based play for children with autism

By Education, environment, Green, Mental health, Playing, Relationships, special educational needs, Special support needs
by Melanie Parr
Managing Director, Lymley Wood CIC

“My child has made a friend for the first time when he came to your Forest School, we are now planning a play date.”

Being a parent to a neurodiverse child can be a challenge and a struggle but also full of such joy. All parents want their children to make friends, have fun, learn and be able to explore new environments safely while knowing they will be respected and their individual needs will be accommodated and embraced.

Autism is not ‘one size fits all’ and every child with ASC (Autistic Spectrum Condition) has different presentations to others, but one thing we have found at Lymley Wood CIC is that being outside in a natural space provides children with ASC the chance to enjoy experiences just like other children do.

There isn’t currently a great deal of research into autism and nature activities but there is a growing body of evidence to prove a link between increased wellbeing, higher achievement and access to nature. There are many individual stories illustrating the positive influence which Forest School has had on autistic participants.

“This is the first holiday club my child has attended where I haven’t been called to take him home due to his behaviour.” One of our parents with a child aged eight with ASC.

Finding a provision that has a person-centred approach is essential for autistic children and with an autism-aware practitioner, ASD children have an opportunity to thrive. As well as physical activity benefits, outdoor sessions can help with motor skills, speech and language and aid emotional regulation.

So what can time spent in a natural space such as a Forest School offer:
1. A person-centred approach doesn’t only take into account any differences or difficulties someone may have, it looks at all children as unique individuals. Sit spots and favourite places for children to go to if they feel overwhelmed are easy in the woods.
2. Curiosity led play – special interests are welcome in the woods and are a great way to engage children.
3. Space to be safely sensorily stimulated – stimming, rocking, feeling the senses of nature all around is all OK in a natural space. Jumping in play nets or lying wrapped up in a blanket looking up through the trees allows for senses to be explored.
4. Encouraging an interest in nature – maybe our next Chris Packham, who openly talks about his own challenges with ASC and how nature has benefited him.
5. A chance to make new friends and connections with children and adults.
6. Physical and mental health benefits of being outdoors, leading to calmer children and a chance to overcome some triggers and decreasing sensitivities like windy weather.

“I loved everything but the mud was the best” boy aged 10.

Forest Schools are popping up all over Sussex as are holiday cubs in woodland spaces such as Lymley Wood near Crowborough ( They all offer a great place to trial a session for children with ASC or other SEND needs.

East Sussex Council also supports access to holiday clubs with funded places for SEND children as part of the HAF scheme, for further details see

Mel Parr runs Lymley Wood CIC based near Five Ashes, that has been challenging Nature Deficit Disorder in Children since 2019.
For upcoming events please visit

kids playing and learning

The ‘Power of Play’

By Education, fun for children, Mental health, play, Playing

Great Ormond Street Hospital Children’s Charity (GOSH Charity) has launched a new, digital learning and entertainment hub to showcase the ‘Power of Play’ and how it helps children cope with life’s challenges, big or small.

The hub is packed full of free inspiring ideas, spectacular stories and fun activities to bring the incredible power of play to children of all ages and families.

New stories on the Power of Play hub show play helping household names like Beano’s Dennis and Gnasher overcome difficult situations. Play features in re-imagined classics including the first new Peter Pan story from GOSH Charity in 15 years. Alice, with Tweedledee and Tweedledum star in a brand-new poem, narrated by Matt Lucas, and the campaign to inspire the nation’s families to explore play is supported with a TV advert voiced by Olivia Colman. A brand-new Horrid Henry animation, and an audio book from CBeebies’ JoJo & Gran Gran.

The free animations, audio-books and activities will help parents and children deal with themes including loss, loneliness, sadness, illness and isolation, which many children have experienced during the pandemic. Life’s everyday challenges like making new friends or moving to a new environment such as a new school are also addressed through the lens of play.

GOSH’s dedicated hospital Play team, the largest in Europe, use their skills every day to support seriously ill children from across the UK to understand and cope with their treatment and recovery. This expertise has shaped each story, activity and idea on the Power of Play hub.

Research released earlier in the year by GOSH Charity revealed 66% of parents polled said they were concerned that the Covid pandemic’s impact on how children play will have long-term impacts on their child’s wellbeing. 74% of parents said that play has “helped their child cope” as the world around them has changed beyond recognition – the new Power of Play hub shows how play can be a brilliant outlet for children to express themselves and their emotions.

Laura Walsh, Head of Play at Great Ormond Street Hospital says: “Play is a superpower at the fingertips of all children, and it’s especially important at times of change or worry, when building our children’s resilience can help them to cope with life’s challenges. While the last 18 months have seen children adapt to circumstances none of us could have imagined, this September they’ll also have the ordinary childhood experiences likes starting school and making new friends. Using our years of experience as play specialists at GOSH, we have teamed up with GOSH Charity and some much-loved children’s characters to create our Power of Play hub and bring to life the transformative power of play. We’re really proud to offer parents free, trustworthy, practical tips and resources to help their children embrace play to overcome their worries and discover all that life has to offer them.”

A great learning and entertainment platform packed full of original stories, ideas and advice. Explore


sun safety

Sun safety

By environment, family, Health, Playing, Safety, Summer, sun safety

Take extra care to protect babies and children in the sun. Their skin is much more sensitive than adult skin, and damage caused by repeated exposure to sunlight could lead to skin cancer developing in later life.

Children aged under six months should be kept out of direct strong sunlight.

From March to October in the UK, children should:
• Cover up with suitable clothing.
• Spend time in the shade, particularly from 11am to 3pm.
• Wear at least SPF30 sunscreen.

Apply sunscreen to areas not protected by clothing, such as the face, ears, feet and backs of hands.

To ensure they get enough vitamin D, all children under five are advised to take vitamin D supplements.

When buying sunscreen, the label should have:
• A sun protection factor (SPF) of at least 30 to protect against UVB
• At least 4-star UVA protection
• UVA protection can also be indicated by the letters ‘UVA’ in a circle, which indicates that it meets the EU standard.

What are the SPF and star rating?
The sun protection factor, or SPF, is a measure of the amount of ultraviolet B radiation (UVB) protection.

SPFs are rated on a scale of two to 50+ based on the level of protection they offer, with 50+ offering the strongest form of UVB protection.

The star rating measures the amount of ultraviolet A radiation (UVA) protection. You should see a star rating of up to five stars on UK sunscreens. The higher the star rating, the better. Sunscreens that offer both UVA and UVB protection are sometimes called broad spectrum.

How to apply sunscreen
Most people do not apply enough sunscreen. As a guide, adults should aim to apply around six to eight teaspoons of sunscreen if you’re covering your entire body.

If sunscreen is applied too thinly, the amount of protection it gives is reduced. If you’re worried you might not be applying enough SPF30, you could use a sunscreen with a higher SPF.

If you plan to be out in the sun long enough to risk burning, sunscreen needs to be applied at least twice:
• 30 minutes before going out.
• Just before going out.
• Sunscreen should be applied to all exposed skin, including the face, neck and ears, and head if you have thinning or no hair, but a wide-brimmed hat is better protection.

Sunscreen needs to be reapplied liberally and frequently, and according to the manufacturer’s instructions.

This includes applying it straight after you have been in water, even if it’s ‘water resistant’, and after towel drying, sweating or when it may have rubbed off.

It’s also recommended to reapply sunscreen every two hours, as the sun can dry it off your skin.

Taken from

relationships matter

It’s good to talk

By Education, fun for children, play, Playing, Relationships
by Marsha Dann
Lead Teacher, Play B C Preschool

Why conversations matter in the early years

Building brains
A child is born already equipped to process language and able to distinguish between different speech sounds. Hearing words helps to build a rich vocabulary in the child’s brain long before they actually start speaking. The brain develops rapidly in the first three years and forms the neural connections that are used for all sorts of functions. During this critical period a child’s brain is flexible and particularly receptive to language input. It is literally shaped by the experiences encountered, reorganising itself as more language is heard, creating and strengthening more neural pathways.

Building relationships
Attachment theory tells us that we are born wired to seek relationships with others. When these relationships and attachments are positive and secure, children feel safe enough to explore the world and interact with others. This paves the way for learning and deepens understanding. Conversations with very young children help them to develop social skills. They learn that adults care about them and that they are valued and respected. Through meaningful discussion, children learn to identify and articulate their feelings and those of others. This fosters emotional intelligence and the development of self-awareness. They learn they have to take turns to speak and have to actively listen to what the other person says. This develops empathy, understanding and respect for others’ opinions.

Building knowledge
Language is used for communication but is also linked to memory, attention, problem solving and self-regulation. Good language skills support cognitive growth in general and literacy skills in particular. Conversations expose children to a wide range of information about family life, occupations, nature, animals and a host of other topics. They help them to learn, explore, and make sense of the world around them. They encourage questions, fuel curiosity and spark a love of learning.

Research suggests educational outcomes are significantly impacted by the quantity and quality of adult-child interactions.

Building vocabulary
A typically developing child will:
• At one, respond to their own name.
• At two, understand between 200 and 500 words.
• At three, use up to 300 words.
• At four, talk in sentences of four to six words.
• At five, have acquired almost all the grammar they will ever need for their first language.

The quality and quantity of children’s vocabulary at age five is a strong predictor of how well they are going to do in the future. Research suggests children with larger vocabularies have better brain connectivity and stronger links between the areas of the brain which process language. They are likely to do better at school and therefore have better life outcomes. This is why conversation is so very important. It is vital for the overall development of very young children in areas of language, cognitive, social, and emotional growth. When you talk to your child you show them how to express thoughts, feelings and ideas. They learn new words, grammar and concepts and begin to reason and make connections between things.

Talk to your child about any and everything because creating an environment that promotes rich language experiences can literally change their lives.

Play B C Preschools offer teacher led provision. We prioritise relationships, sensitive interaction, and fun but challenging learning through developmentally appropriate activities for our wonderfully diverse cohort. More than just a place, at Play B C every day is a learning adventure. Contact to arrange a visit.

pretend play

How can pretend play help children cope with the challenges of life?

By Education, fun for children, Mental health, Playing, Relationships, Theatre
by Suzy Duxbury
Principal of Dramatis

In today’s increasingly stressful, polarised and tech-dominated world, play is more important than ever. As a society, we’re still assessing the long-term impact of the pandemic – with some research suggesting the global event has undermined children’s confidence, sense-of-self, and their emotional and mental wellbeing.

The power of play, and particularly pretend play, can be harnessed to help children develop the skills they need to cope with the challenges of life.

But what is pretend play, how does it help build these life skills and how can parents ensure their children benefit?

What is pretend play?
Children have always been instinctively drawn towards play but it wasn’t until the 1890s that its wider benefits (beyond a form of entertainment) were officially recognised.

Thanks to the early pioneering work led by educators and child psychologists like Fredrich Frobel, Jean Piaget and Lev Vygotsky, the importance of play in child development is now widely acknowledged. Pretend play in particular, is noted for its ability to improve the cognitive, physical, social, and emotional wellbeing of children.

Pretend play is when children take on roles and act them out as a way of exploring (consciously or subconsciously) different situations and emotions. Classic examples children naturally gravitate towards include playing ‘mummies and daddies’, ‘doctors and nurses’ or ‘monsters and robots’.

As well as being a lot of fun, pretending to be someone, something or somewhere else, also helps children to express themselves, share thoughts and ideas, and better understand their feelings and emotions.

Children can engage in pretend play alone or with parents, but it is most effective in building life skills when done with a group of other children.

What are life skills?
The World Health Organisation defines life skills as being the attributes required to “deal well and effectively with the challenges of life”.

Whilst there is no definitive list, they are broadly recognised as being:
• Problem solving and decision making.
• Creative and critical thinking.
• Communication and interpersonal skills.
• Self-awareness and empathy.
• Coping with emotions and stress.

How does pretend play help children develop life skills?

Problem solving and decision making
At the heart of pretend play there is always a problem to be solved (some lost treasure to be found or a monster to confront!). By creating their own imaginary scenes and characters, children learn to understand different types of problems, consider different solutions to them, and then take action to address them.

Creative and critical thinking
Pretend play forces children to think on their feet and respond creatively to a range of imaginary situations. This improves their ability to think ‘outside the box’, find new solutions and generate new ideas whilst assessing information and understanding its relevance.

Communication and interpersonal
Taking on different roles requires children to share their thoughts and ideas, listen and respond to others, develop their vocabulary, and take on appropriate body language and gestures. This improves their ability to get on and work with other people, as well as effectively communicate messages.

Self-awareness and empathy
Playing out/simulating scenarios that children have limited personal experience with, helps them to better understand their own thoughts and feelings whilst building empathy and understanding for others.

Coping with emotions and stress
Creating and acting out imaginary scenes is a lot of fun and the physical element generates beneficial endorphins. Pretend play can transport children away from their daily stresses but also enables them to play out difficult situations and emotions in a safe environment. Whether they choose to use it for escapism or cathartic release, pretend play can help children to cope with problems and recover from setbacks.

How can parents encourage pretend play at home?
Whilst pretend play is most effective at building life skills when children are engaged in the activity with their peers, parents can use it to help ignite creativity at home.

When pretend playing together, it’s important that parents allow their child to “be the boss” as giving children creative control allows them to express themselves in an uninhibited way and to explore their ideas in a supported environment.

Here are three ways you can encourage your child to use pretend play at home:
1. Give them a scenario
Give them a character, a setting and an end line that they must finish their scene with and see what they come up with.

2. Give them a prop
It can be anything around the house (a bit of coloured material, a colander, or an empty trinket box). Ask them to make up a story about the item – telling them it can be absolutely anything (apart from what it really is!)

3. Make a film
Give them a character and a mystery to solve. Get them to create various scenes (in different locations in the house) and record them on your phone. Then merge the videos together to make a film than you watch together (add popcorn for extra cinematic effect!)

How can parents encourage pretend play outside the home?
Ultimately, to harness the full potential of pretend play, children should work in groups, with their peers.

Whilst children can play with friends at the local park or in the playground, it is during drama classes (under the guidance of a professional and within a structured framework) that they will really reap the full benefits of pretend play.

Working together to develop scenes and characters requires children to share thoughts and ideas whilst listening to and negotiating with others. The skills they develop will help them to become more confident, more resilient, and more empathetic so they can thrive in life.

You can find out more about local drama schools offering extra-curricular classes and workshops in the ABC Magazine Directory.

Suzy Duxbury is Principal of Dramatis, a Sussex based drama school that harnesses the power of pretend play. For more information about their drama classes and holiday workshops, please visit

confident learners

How do we best prepare our children for the future?

By Education, Forest School, Mental health, Playing, Relationships
by Nick Oakden
Head of Junior Prep School, Hurst College

In our fast-paced, ever-changing world, Nick Oakden, Head of Junior Prep School at Hurst College, explains how we can best prepare our children for their futures. The last few years have taught us that whilst we may not know what is around the corner, or indeed yet understand the world our children will face as adults, we do know that developing a strong sense of independence will mean that our children will be able to adapt and thrive in any situation.

Developing independence is a journey, and one that should start at the very beginning of a child’s education. An independent mindset that is developed from a young age will build self-confidence, develop problem-solving skills, and encourage a sense of responsibility. Embedding an independent attitude should be a fundamental part of the Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS). It starts with small practical steps such as getting dressed into their school uniform and packing their own bags which develops into shaping their own learning in a safe, nurturing environment.

One of the most critical benefits of developing independence in young children is that it builds their self-confidence. In a world where the internet and social media have a powerful influence on our children’s self-image, it is important that we embed opportunities for our pupils to develop inner confidence from a young age, about who they are and how to relate positively to others. One of the ways we seek to do this is to encourage pupils to try new things and give them opportunities to develop friendships outside of their form. We provide our pupils with a wide variety of co-curricular opportunities such as Woodland Camp craft skills, drama, dance and sporting activities, from the Reception year, to broaden their experiences and extend their learning beyond the classroom.

Independence also fosters creativity and imagination among pupils. When they are given the freedom to explore and experiment, they can expand their understanding and develop new ideas and solutions. It is important to provide pupils with tools and open-ended tasks which allow them to express themselves. Sometimes, a pot of water, a paintbrush and a brick wall are all that is needed, alongside an environment that encourages creative play.

Of course, one of the major obstacles that can prevent pupils from becoming more independent is a fear of failure. To encourage a more independent approach, we must help pupils to see failure as an opportunity to learn, rather than something to be avoided at all costs. As parents, the temptation to ‘helicopter in’ and save the day by dropping off a forgotten PE kit can seem to be the right thing to do. However, if we foster independence rather than dependency, then children will learn so much more than where the spare kit is kept at school. The skills and strategies that children develop when things don’t go to plan are vital in preparing them for the future.

In school, the learning environment should echo this ethos and be a ‘safe space’ where pupils are encouraged to take risks and make mistakes. Whether this is designing and testing experiments in a science lab, exploring Woodland School or performing on stage, pupils should focus on the importance of the learning journey, rather than the outcome. When pupils do this, failure is recognised as an important part of the journey.

Another benefit of developing independence is that it teaches pupils about responsibility. When children are independent, they learn to take responsibility for their actions, decisions and behaviour. In Early Years, examples such as self-registering, tidying the classroom and packing their school bags should be part of their daily routines. As the pupils get older, the levels of responsibility invariably increase, and they use the building blocks that have already been established to independently embrace new challenges, such as the introduction of homework.

As well as the practical aspects of responsibility, schools should allow pupils to take responsibility for their learning and develop ownership of their studies. We seek to achieve this through a curriculum that empowers the pupils. In the Early Years, child-initiated activities and discovery time are at the heart of excellent practice. This allows pupils to direct their learning around their own interests, creating purposeful and bespoke learning opportunities. As pupils progress into Key Stage One, a creative curriculum weaves together all subject areas through a thematic approach which allows them to ask questions and seek their own answers, putting in place the building blocks for independent research as they progress in their academic journey. Although knowledge is important, what will be required in the future is an aptitude for flexibility and an attitude of mind which promotes questioning and is open to new learning.

We are all aware that the world is changing, and our role as educators is to prepare pupils to embrace the future. As children become more independent, they become more confident in their abilities to think critically, solve problems and find solutions, which is a valuable skill for success in school and beyond.

As Franklin D Roosevelt famously said: “We may not be able to prepare the future for our children, but we can at least prepare our children for the future”.

Hurst College is a thriving independent school for children aged between 4 and 18 with an overarching aim to provide an excellent all round education with a strong academic core and is ideally located between Brighton and Haywards Heath.

holiday camps

The importance of children being active and socialising throughout the school holidays

By environment, family, fun for children, Holiday camps, Playing, Sport
by Debbie Webb,
Founder of Activ8 For Kids

The school holidays can be a time for fun and relaxation, but it’s also important to keep children engaged and active during this time. School holidays are always an exciting time for children, but it can be a challenging time for parents who still need to work. This is where holiday clubs often come in, providing children with a safe, fun environment. There are a wide range of holiday clubs available depending on the interests of the children, but with the rising cost of living, parents may wonder whether the cost of the holiday clubs are worth it and whether trying to entertain them at home is a better option. So what do we want our children to be doing during the school holidays, what will help them to develop and grow as individuals and help them later in life?

As much as your child may push against routines, children actually thrive in a routine. It gives them a sense of purpose, clear expectations and a structure to their day. Routines can help their self-esteem and ensure they feel less anxious and more comfortable. Lie in’s, chilled time in front of the TV, playing computer games and having days out are all great and bring a range of benefits, but it is also important to build in time to be active and have opportunities to socialise with others regularly.

Current recommendations from the government are for children to take part in at least 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous activity a day. This means their heart rate should increase, they should be out of breath and feel hot after the activity. Physical activity is essential for maintaining good health, strengthening muscles and bones, enhancing motor skills and can prevent obesity and related health problems. Ensuring your child is active every day and recognises the benefits it brings (both physically and mentally), can cultivate a lifelong habit of exercise and a healthy lifestyle. As well as keeping them healthy, being active brings so many more benefits:
• Allows children to burn off excess energy; remember school is very tiring and during the holidays they need alternative ways to channel that energy.
• Boosts confidence and promotes social skills.
• Develops and improves their fundamental movement skills of balance, co-ordination and agility.
• Improves mental wellbeing and makes them feel good about themselves. Exercise can improve their mood, enable them to experience a sense of accomplishment and can also stimulate the release of endorphins, which are natural mood boosters.
• Contributes to better sleep.
• Increases self-esteem and helps to reduce stress and anxiety.
• Physical activity stimulates brain function and enhances cognitive abilities. Studies have shown that active children perform better academically and have improved attention spans. During school holidays, engaging in physical activities like sports, outdoor games or even activities that involve problem solving and critical thinking can contribute to their cognitive development.
• Engaging in different activities and exploring new places fosters creativity, stimulates imagination and curiosity and problem solving skills.

Children who get to be active everyday alongside other children will also benefit in the following ways:
• Develop new skills.
• Develop team work and leadership skills.
• Make new friends.
• Develop independence.
• Develop their social interaction skills.
• Learn how to transfer skills across activities.

Socialising with others during school holidays is crucial for children’s social development. It provides opportunities for them to practice communication, co-operation, teamwork and conflict resolution. Participating in group activities and interacting with others helps children build friendships, develop empathy and understand diverse perspectives.

Overall, children being active and socialising during school holidays is essential for their physical health, mental wellbeing, cognitive development, social skills and creativity. Parents, carers and communities should provide opportunities and support for children to engage in a variety of activities that promote physical activity.

Debbie Webb is a qualified teacher and sports coach. She runs Activ8 For Kids and has developed programmes of activity for the different ages and stages between two and sixteen years old based on the fundamental movement skills. Visit for more information.