Category

Playing

Outdoor learning and Forest School – a breath of fresh air!

By | Education, environment, fun for children, Gardening, Playing, Uncategorized
by Kirsty Keep
Head Mistress, Lancing College Preparatory School at Hove

Schools and nurseries are increasingly taking learning outside, whether by using their own outdoor space as an open-air classroom or by tackling traditional ‘woodland activities’ in natural areas or ones specifically designed for the purpose. But where do the origins of Forest School lie and how do our schools and nurseries embrace that philosophy in 2020?

The longstanding Scandinavian passion for nature is known as friluftsliv which translates as ‘open-air living’. As far back as the mid-nineteenth century, Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen described friluftsliv as the value to spiritual and physical wellbeing achieved by spending time outside in remote locations. So-called ‘nature schools’ began to appear in Denmark as early as the 1950s and grew in number in the 1970s when the demand for childcare rose dramatically to meet the needs of mothers returning to work while their children were very young. These early schools developed a kindergarten system that provided children with the opportunities to learn and develop in natural environments and outdoor settings. They were modelled on the work of Friedrich Fröbel, a 19th century German pedagogue and a student of Pestalozzi. Fröbel recognised that each child has unique needs and capabilities and it is no surprise that this has laid the foundation for modern early years education offered today.

These days, for our youngest children, outdoor locations tend, generally speaking, not to be particularly remote but they offer experiences that are a world away from lessons within the walls of a classroom or learning through play indoors.

School trips and visits have always given children a taste of the world beyond school but outdoor learning at school is a way of using natural resources to learn about nature. It also offers some welcome respite from the plethora of electronic resources for recreation and learning that immerse today’s children, who are born ‘digital natives’ unlike their parents, grandparents and teachers who have had to acquire digital awareness or in some cases had digital awareness thrust upon them!

Many schools and nurseries have their own garden areas where children can literally get ‘hands-on’ experience, planting seeds, watering and weeding and seeing the fruits of their endeavours grow as the seasons change. Ponds and science gardens give a myriad of opportunities for children of all ages to try their hand at pond-dipping, recording the diversity of insects and bugs visiting the gardens and operating weather stations.

However, whatever fabulous facilities a school or nursery may have on site, the possibilities for taking learning outdoors at school are endless, only limited by imagination! They can range from outdoor maths, for example counting the right angles around the school buildings and campus, creating art from nature, using twigs and leaves to make temporary pieces of art that are not only cost-free but also recyclable. Young children studying history, for example, can see for themselves just how rapidly the Great Fire of London spread by creating their own model Tudor houses from cardboard boxes, packing them into a fire pit and watching them burn. Carefully supervised by staff armed with fire extinguishers, this activity can also act as a Health & Safety lesson as to what to do in the event of a fire!

Forest School is a more sustained, long-term process which aims through positive outdoor experiences to encourage and inspire children to love the world around them. For preschool children, Forest School nurtures their sense of wonder and their curiosity about the world outside, closely entwined with the ideals of free-flow play and learning from play that underpin the child-centred learning ethos and areas that lie at the heart of the Early Years Foundation Stage which runs from birth to five years of age. Away from their school or nursery, they have adventures in natural habitats such as woods, rivers and streams, ponds and beaches. Supervised with the lightest of touches by staff, the children have the freedom to discover what fascinates them in nature and to respond spontaneously to the environment they are exploring.

Forest School is for young children of all ages; it helps babies to expand their sensory awareness, for example by feeling plants and mosses in woodland or digging up shells and pebbles on a beach. Toddlers try their hands at making camps out of logs and branches and have their first go at climbing trees or making a tyre swing. Three year olds build on their problem-solving skills by arranging logs to form a bridge to get over a stream.

For older children, there is a huge range of practical activities including bushcraft, fire-lighting, knifecraft, such as whittling and carving, how to tie knots and build shelters. Naturalist skills such as identifying plants, animal tracks and signs are eagerly embraced and children enjoy learning how to forage safely and sustainably and how to prepare and cook wild food. Who would have thought under eights would get excited by the prospect of nettle tea?

Outdoor explorers learn soft skills too that nurture critical thinking skills and teamwork. They develop empathy and sympathy with their peers and learn how to work as a team to solve problems, honing their communication and negotiation skills. The children learn to recognise and assess risks for themselves and to make choices to ensure their group’s safety. They grow in confidence and self-esteem through these hands-on experiences.

It is also an excellent way to introduce conservation activities and the ‘leave no trace’ philosophy that we should preserve wild places and leave nature as unchanged by our presence as possible, so that future generations can enjoy it too.

Above all, it’s fun – children can get messy, get wet, climb higher and develop a love of outdoor life. They explore the natural world around them using magnifying glasses, saws, spades and buckets. This brings their learning to life and helps to create an understanding of the balance of nature and resources.

The Lancing College family includes its two Prep Schools located in Hove and Worthing, and located on the edge of the College’s 550 acre estate, a Day Nursery which opened in September 2019 and offers day care all-year round for children aged two months and over. All three provide wonderful opportunities for children to take their learning outdoors and are prime examples of nursery school pioneer Margaret McMillan’s assertion made in the mid-1920s “The best classroom and the richest cupboard is roofed only by the sky!”

trombone playing boy

Talent spotting in schools

By | Education, fun for children, Music and singing, Playing

Talent spotting in schools
The difference between scholarships and bursaries

More attention than ever before is being devoted to the significant levels of financial support provided by independent schools, to assist aspirational families on lower incomes. According to the Independent Schools Council’s 2019 census, 34% of pupils educated at independent schools currently receive help with their fees, at a cost of £1bn. The majority of this is provided directly from the schools themselves.

Fee assistance comes in many different shapes and sizes and, as a result, the world of scholarships and bursaries can seem like a minefield to those embarking on the journey for the first time. What can make things even trickier, is that different schools give different names to their individual types of fee assistance. One school might offer a ‘scholarship’ worth 10%, whereas at its neighbour down the road, it might be 50%. It is therefore important to know how to navigate the world of scholarships and bursaries and to establish the difference between them.

At the majority of schools, scholarships will refer to a portion of money off school fees and they will be awarded on merit – the result of a child being an excellent academic all-rounder or brilliant at, for example, art, drama, music, sport, or design technology. They usually (although not always) come with some form of percentage discount on the cost of a child’s overall fees.

Bursaries, on the other hand, are usually hosted by charitable foundations within independent schools and tend to be means-tested places that are offered to an outstanding pupil from a family on a very low income who would never be able to consider providing their child with a private education without the support of a bursary. In most cases, this level of assistance gives life-changing access to talented students who would otherwise never benefit from an independent school education and all that it offers. Being independent, these schools have been able to keep the torch alight for vital areas of the wider curriculum – such as music, the arts, competitive team sports, modern and classical languages – that have so often had to be marginalised in their state counterparts.

The landscape has changed significantly in recent years and it is now more usual for scholarships and awards to attract a very modest reduction in school fees, with larger fee remissions being offered through means-tested bursaries. In the very early stages it is important to establish the detail of the criteria for entry, the maximum scholarship or bursary that a school is prepared to award, and the process that you and your child will need to go through to secure either a scholarship or bursary.

A typical scholarship process could look like this:
• Initial enquiry received by School Registrar who discusses scholarship criteria, any specific examination requirements, for example.
• Families interested in pursuing an application are sent appropriate forms for completion.
• Parents submit completed forms, with child’s most recent school report and reference from current school.
• Application considered and, if successful, child invited for interview.
• Child puts together a portfolio demonstrating their abilities and wider interest in the area for which they are applying for a scholarship.
• Child visits the school with portfolio, is interviewed by the Head, attends interview with the Head of Department and demonstrates their talents, undergoes academic tests, as appropriate.
• Once all applicants are interviewed, candidates are considered by the Head and Heads of Department.
• Scholarships offered according to merit and number available.

While the process for securing a bursary might look like this:
• Initial enquiry received by the School’s Registrar, who discusses the application process and criteria applied.
• Families interested in pursuing their application are sent an ‘Application and Means-Testing Financial’ form for completion.
• The family completes and returns the form with the child’s most recent school report.
• The child’s potential is assessed ‘on paper’ by the Head.
• The family’s financial circumstances are then assessed by the School’s Bursar or an independent financial assessment company.
• If successful, the child’s parents or guardians are interviewed by the Head.
• If successful, the child attends an ‘experience day’ at the school, is interviewed by the Head, is academically assessed and is given the opportunity to demonstrate their particular talents to relevant Heads of Department (maybe art, drama, DT, music or sport).
• If successful, the family might be visited at home.
• If successful, the Head might put forward short-listed candidates with recommendations for consideration by, and confirmation from, Charity Board.
• Foundation Scholarship places offered, as appropriate.

Probably the most important thing for any parent or guardian interested in applying for a scholarship or bursary for their child or charge to remember, is that they should not worry about approaching their school of choice and openly discussing the opportunities available. There is no such thing as ‘saying the wrong thing’ and it may well be that their child is exactly the kind of student that a school is looking for. The important thing to realise is that the schools are as keen to support talented children with bursaries and scholarships – provided
they match their criteria – as parents or guardians are to secure them.

Christian Heinrich is Headmaster at Cumnor House Sussex in Danehill. He set up The Cumnor Foundation which offers 2 means-tested bursaries each year that cover the entire cost of a talented child’s education for ten years from the age of 8 to 18, in collaboration with sixteen independent senior school partners. www.cumnor.co.uk/cumnor-community/the-cumnor-foundation/
For further information please contact Cecilia Desmond, Registrar at Cumnor House Sussex on 01825 792006 or email registrar@cumnor.co.uk. www.cumnor.co.uk

theatre boy popcorn

Enjoy the show!

By | dance & Art, family, Music and singing, parties, Playing, Theatre, Uncategorized

We are lucky enough to have some fantastic theatres in the county and it is important to support local theatres if we want to keep them around. Some of our theatres have some wonderful shows on for children over the next few months so it’s a great time to visit them.

Seeing a live show is an escape from daily life for a couple of hours – whatever your age. Children can fully immerse themselves in what they are seeing on stage. Apart from the pure enjoyment of seeing a show there are many other benefits of taking your children to see a show.

Seeing a live performance encourages children to be more empathetic and to put themselves in the shoes of others. They can imagine how it will feel to have the family of the boy on stage, or what it feels like to be a soldier, or even to live as a refugee. Theatres encourage you to step into the shoes of a character – building empathy, understanding and inclusivity.

Many of today’s theatre shows stem from books. For children who have read the books, there’s nothing quite like watching their favourite characters come to life. It’s also a great way to expose children who haven’t read the books to some fantastic and imaginative literature.

Lots of new shows that are aimed at children tackle issues that children many find hard to talk about such as mental health, friendship, sense of belonging, bullying and family breakdowns. You will be amazed at some of the conversations that seeing a show can prompt. Taking children to the theatre can give parents a way to explore difficult themes together and a way to begin those vital conversations.

For little ones, theatre is simply a lot of fun. There’s so much to watch, sing along to and laugh along with. Even if children are too young to understand verbal dialogue they will still be stimulated by the visual side of the show and shows that are aimed at toddlers will be deliberately short and more interactive with lots to keep young children stimulated.

Some parents find taking their children to the theatre a daunting experience; will they be able to sit still long enough? Will they be quiet and what happens if they need the toilet during the show? When theatres put on shows for children, they realise that you can’t predict
how your child will behave and are far more accepting of the odd interruption from a child who needs the toilet or who can’t manage to sit down for that long.

Shows for children usually have age recommendations. These aren’t set in stone and act as a guide for how old audience members should be. These recommendations act much like certificates for films, but also give you a sense of whether your child will understand the plot of the show.

Get children excited about going to the show in advance and talk to them about the kind of behaviour that is expected. Make sure you arrive in plenty of time for the inevitable toilet queues and to get settled comfortably in your seats.

Many theatres now offer relaxed performances for children with autism who may find a show too overwhelming. During these performances, the house lights often stay up, loud noises are made quieter and there’s sometimes a chill out area to sit in if children find it too much to take in.

A trip to the theatre should be accessible to all, and theatres are working hard to make theatres welcoming and enticing for children. A theatre show provides an escape for all ages and you get to sit back while someone else is in charge of the entertainment!

Brighton-Festival

Art saves lives

By | dance & Art, Education, family, fun for children, Mental health, Music and singing, Playing, reading, Relationships, Theatre
by Eleanor Costello
Brighton Dome and Brighton Festival

Young people face new challenges every day. From navigating the complexities of an ever-changing Internet culture to fighting for their future in an era of climate crisis. Art provides opportunities for everyone to make sense of the world, to test our boundaries and let our imagination thrive. Children benefit from having the opportunity to read books, go to theatre shows and to make their own art.

The acclaimed poet and Brighton Festival 2020 Guest Director, Lemn Sissay said; “Art saves lives, it literally saves lives. Art is how we translate the human spirit. That’s why you have art and religions. That’s why people sing. That’s why we read poems at funerals and weddings, we need some bridge between the spiritual, the physical, the past, the present, the future.”

Through events like Brighton Festival, young people can explore, discover and participate in the arts. For 30 years the Children’s Parade has officially marked the start of Brighton Festival, with over 5,000 participants, including 3,473 school children, stepping into show stopping costumes they have designed and made themselves. Around 10,000 people come along to see the parade and be part of the largest annual children’s event in the UK. The parade is a unique event produced by community arts organisation, Same Sky, which offers thousands of young people the chance to come together in creations they’ve designed around a central theme, giving them a sense of belonging. In 2020, the Children’s Parade theme is Nature’s Marvels, offering a platform for participants to think more about the world and environment around them.

Stories fire the imagination, invite us to empathise with and understand others, give children the creativity needed to face the world and even the tools to change it. Young City Reads is an annual Brighton Festival and Collected Works CIC reading project. A book is selected for primary school children in Brighton & Hove, Sussex and beyond to read and discuss, culminating in a final event with the book’s author at the Festival in May. In 2019, over 3,000 pupils took part in free weekly activities. For 2020, the chosen book is Malamander by Thomas Taylor, featuring a daring duo Herbert Lemon and Violet Parma who team up to solve the mystery of a legendary sea-monster. This is a chance for schools across the county to foster a love of reading in young people and give support to teaching staff to think outside the box with their curriculum.

Hilary Cooke, Brighton Festival Children’s Literature Producer says; “Children’s book events are an opportunity to turn the private activity of reading into a shared experience. Being in a room with a new (or favourite) author and a group of young readers is quite magical, with laughter, imagination and surprise. Illustrators drawing live on stage create another layer of creativity that is beautiful to watch (and possibly my favourite thing).” Due East, Hangleton and Knoll Project and the community steering committees enable local residents to make their vision come to life in Our Place, a Brighton Festival event that has been running for three years. Pop up performances take place across Hangleton and East Brighton with a community event in each area. Seeing arts and culture being celebrated and given a platform in their own neighbourhood opens the door for young people to think differently about the places they live in.

Brighton Festival offers opportunities for young people in Brighton and beyond to experience groundbreaking, original and spectacular performances by international artists. Australian company, Gravity & Other Myths bring a new jaw-dropping circus show bound to blow the minds of aspiring acrobats, Drag Queen Story Time gives children the opportunity to be who they want to be with a LGBTQ friendly storytelling, and hilarious theatre show Slime allows two to five year olds to squish and squelch their way through a tale about a slug and caterpillar.

May is a time of spectacular celebration across the county, with Brighton Fringe, The Great Escape, Artist Open Studios and Charleston Festival in addition to Brighton Festival’s jam-packed programme.

Supporting the next generation of art-goers is integral to Brighton Festival’s spirit and this year’s programme aims to bring a variety of events for children and young people – from infants to Instagrammers. Children of all ages can discover, create and participate in the arts, giving them unexpected and enriching experiences that can be shared with their friends or family. Many events are free, others starting as low as £5 and there are often family offers so the whole clan can come along.

Head to www.brightonfestival.org today to find out what’s happening at Brighton Festival from 2nd to 24th May 2020.

happy child

Protecting your precious little one’s palate

By | baby health, Education, family, Food & Eating, fun for children, Playing

How getting early feeding right can benefit your child’s future health and wellbeing.

Emily Day is Head of Food Development at Organix Brands Ltd, a purpose driven children’s food brand, founded in 1992, with a clear mission to ensure healthy nutritious food is a real choice for everyone. Emily recognises the importance and challenges of providing the appropriate early foods which will set babies on the right path for a lifetime of healthy eating.

“Eat your greens!” is a parental mantra that has persisted through countless generations of vegetable shy youngsters – with Popeye style threats if you don’t!

Start as you mean to go on! Introducing what is an essential part of all our diets, vital for the health of our bodies, should start from those first wonderful weaning moments. Like anything new or unfamiliar, this may not always elicit a thumbs up or gurgle from our little ones. So be patient – persist, because if you crack it early, you’ll avoid mentioning our favourite cartoon sailor.

How can you future proof your tiny tots’ precious palates, and help them be appreciative of the flavours, textures, shapes and tastes of fruits and vegetables so they have a lifelong loving relationship?

For starters, did you know that children learn about their likes and dislikes by being in direct contact with foods; through tasting smelling, touching, holding and also observing others and the way they eat. In fact, even before they start on solids, your baby’s taste buds will be responding to what they’re being fed on, even from inside the womb and if breastfed through the milk.

And don’t forget it’s not just about taste, meal time is also a key development time for children, so should be fun and engaging. To support parents, at what we know can often be a tricky time, we’ve put together some top tips to help:
• After six months of nothing but breast milk or formula, it’s understandable that new tastes come as a surprise to babies, especially when more challenging flavours such as vegetables are introduced. And after all, it’s natural for them to be somewhat suspicious, after only being accustomed to the sweet taste of milk. Our bodies, especially in childhood, do not need or want added salt, sugar or additives, which is why Organix only develop foods with our ‘No Junk Promise’, so parents can trust what they are giving to their children.

• Exposing babies to vegetables in the early weaning stage is a known means of gaining their early acceptance – but not for all! The taste and smell can lead to food refusal. But don’t give up! It might take up to 15 attempts on a regular basis to introduce a baby to a new taste, but research shows that repeated and frequent exposure to them is the most successful route to familiarity and their ultimate acceptance.

• Familiarising babies and toddlers with fruit and vegetables through listening, seeing, touching and smelling them can be a very effective way to win over little taste buds. Try the wonderful aromas of a banana or strawberry, or create a fun to make visual feast by making a fun food plate together.

• Don’t forget fruit and vegetables make wonderful baby finger foods or toddler snacks. Once your baby is past the 12 months stage, two to three snacks are recommended daily. This makes for an excellent opportunity to squeeze in a little extra, so why not choose a fruit or vegetable that is in season for two? Then if required for a third, give yourself a break and why not try Organix Melty Veggie Sticks made with organic corn and pea and flavoured with vegetables? These are baked into a chunky shape, making them easy to hold.

Organix weaning and finger foods help babies discover new shapes, tastes and textures, and our wide range of toddler snacks provide parents with healthier snacking options to fuel happy days.You can find heaps of further information in the Organix Baby & Toddler Cookbook which has over 70 quick and easy recipes from weaning purees to dinner time faves for the whole family to enjoy!

wooden toys

Wooden toys

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

Wooden toys- the freedom to explore, create and grow

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1 https://ec.europa.eu/consumers/consumers_safety/safety_products/rapex/alerts/repository/content/pages/rapex/reports/docs/RAPEX.2018.Factsheet.EN.pdf

2 https://eeb.org/more-banned-chemicals-in-toys-than-any-other-product-type/

3https://www.eastsussex.gov.uk/environment/rubbishandrecycling/factsandfigures/

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

 

child bouncing

Stay active all winter

By | children's health, Health, Mental health, play, Playing, Uncategorized

We’re all aware that regular physical activity is important and has many health benefits. But even some very active children have a difficult time keeping exercise going during the winter months. The weather is probably horrible, it gets dark earlier, and a ‘duvet day’ can be very appealing!
However, whatever the weather, it’s important to keep little ones active and help them stay that way by developing an exercise habit from before they even start school. The NHS recommends that to maintain a basic level of health, children aged five to 18 need to do:

• At least 60 minutes of physical activity every day – this should range from moderate activity, such as cycling and playground activities, to vigorous activity, such as running and tennis.
• On three days a week, these activities should involve exercises for strong muscles, such as push-ups, and exercises for strong bones, such as jumping and running.

This sounds a lot but can be made more manageable by combining structured activity classes with fun exercises at home, and building fitness into your everyday routine. It can then help promote healthy weight management and reduce the risk of many chronic diseases.

Get outside
Just because it’s cold outside does not mean you have to stay inside! The key is to wrap everyone up in layers and to keep moving. Moving around outside and getting your heart rate up will help keep you warm as well. Walk to school or part of the way, once a week, go to the park, or play outside with friends. Children’s farms still have plenty going on in the winter and there is lots of space to run around in. Most of them now have vast outdoor play areas and you can warm up with a hot chocolate in the café afterwards.

Choose another indoor location
Especially in the winter months, getting out of the house will help prevent children getting cabin fever, and can mean they will sleep better at night. Try choosing a location that also incorporates physical activity with lots of fun such as a leisure pool, soft play centre, ice rink or indoor climbing.

Enrol children into a new class
If you want to get your children involved in something fun and consistent, enrol them in a regular class. It’s a great way to try something new, be active, and meet new people – for them and you. Trying new activities is a great way to figure out what children might like. There are lots of classes for preschool children upwards. Classes for preschoolers are all about having
fun while being active. Classes are age-appropriate, and babies can start at many of them from six months, and so by the time they reach school age exercise has become a healthy habit for them, and their social skills will also be enhanced.

Build exercise into your routine
Everyday activities can count as exercise too, as long as your children are getting their heart rates up. Things like walking the dog, biking to the shops, or going to the park on the way home from school all help. Incorporating these activities into your children’s daily routines will help them develop a healthy lifestyle that will stay with them for the rest of their lives. An hour a day is the target, but these activities can be accumulated throughout the day not necessarily all at once.

Limit screen time
We are all aware that even very young children are spending increasing amounts of time in front of a screen, which includes television, videogames, computers and phones. Whilst children are at primary school you are almost completely in charge of what they eat and what they watch, so don’t let them get used to spending hours in front of a screen every day. If screen time isn’t allowed to become a habit whilst they are young, you will have far less problems getting them off screens as they become older.

In order for children to find exercise fun, they need lots of variety. And when they find exercise enjoyable, they are much more likely to stick with it over an extended period of time. Avoid the boredom factor by offering as many different options for activity as possible. Plus, trying new physical activities together as a family will not only benefit your children’s health, but can help fight the winter ‘blues’ too. So, get up, get moving, and stay active this winter!

Encouraging independence

By | Education, Playing, Relationships, Sport, Uncategorized
by Sam Selkirk
Head of Lower School at Reigate St Mary’s

Once asked by a university lecturer, what was my most enduring childhood memory, it didn’t take long to remember. Of course it was the hours I spent outside, playing with my siblings, my friends, no constraints and – most importantly – no adults looming. Our parents gave us clear instructions on where we could and couldn’t go, and what time we needed to return home; but freedom and the room to be independent was afforded to us. The expectation was that we made our own fun. I wonder if the same could be said now?

What do we mean by independence? The Cambridge dictionary definition is: ‘the ability to live your life without being helped or influenced by other people’. For young children it is about becoming an independent person which incorporates self-esteem and relationships with others; being independent with life skills and becoming an independent learner – finding things you need, asking questions, solving problems, thinking critically and for yourself, for example.

Where does it start? More recently, I was shown a YouTube clip – Ruby reaches for a toy https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5Q2cL-WteZk: The clip was about three minutes long and showed six month old Ruby’s determination to reach a toy. I have since used this at a parent information evening and also during an assembly to four to seven year olds – their response was magical, they got it, this little baby could overcome barriers and reach the toy for herself. An extrinsic reward did not need to be dangled to entice Ruby, her satisfaction was evident when she began to play with the toy; it was intrinsic. During the video I was overcome by two thoughts, the first being: just help her get the toy – which I quickly dismissed – and secondly, how this short clip summed up so much of what I believe in. In allowing children to do things for themselves, they will undoubtedly develop the essential life skill of independence.

So how do we develop this? Evidence suggests that the ability to think and behave independently is possessed from a very early age. As such we need to nurture it in babies and young children. Reflecting on our behaviour is perhaps a good place to start: what have I done today for a child, which they could have done for themselves? As Lella Gandini of Reggio Emilia states: “children are strong, rich and capable. All children have preparedness, potential, curiosity and interest in constructing their learning, negotiating with everything their environment brings to them.”

So how do we help a child become that independent person? As adults we need to find a balance between not overprotecting our children, or pressurising them to run before they can walk; our expectations need to be realistic, and we must bear in mind that children will always develop at very different rates. The ‘Early Years Development Matters’ takes us through a child’s Personal, Social and Emotional Development and exemplifies the ‘Characteristics of Effective Learning’ from birth to five years old; some good ideas and guidance may be found in the DfE document ‘What to expect, when?’ which has been developed for parents and carers. Furthermore, it is important that we encourage healthy risk taking, through climbing trees or doing something new, and the opportunity to embrace mistakes. In the words of Carol Dweck: “What we do not want is to encourage a fixed mind set where a child feels they are unable to do something for themselves so they will not try, we want a child who is comfortable trying for themselves and develops a growth mind set – they will experience the feeling that before success comes failure after failure. But that hard work and persistence works.”

In many ways it is easier to identify the opportunities we can give our children to be independent when developing life skills, such as encouraging them to get dressed in the morning, cutting their own food, opening packets and having a go at pouring a drink, tidying up their toys, being provided with a cloth to mop up spills, to name but a few. Furthermore, many of these activities help a child’s physical development, therefore, providing a sound foundation for writing and drawing – a win win situation!

We also need to enhance a child’s innate desire to learn and explore. To do this we must ensure the home environment is ordered (a little like an Early Years classroom) and children know where to find things. Offering a couple of choices – such as what to eat at snack time or wear, (it is important not to ignore a child’s choice, as this will undermine their self-assurance) – and making decisions will enable them to develop their own thoughts, views and critical thinking. Allowing children to pursue their own plans, giving them the opportunity to choose what to play with and then leaving them for uninterrupted learning for increasing lengths of time in a safe environment further supports independence.

The report, ‘Developing Independent Learning in children aged three to five’, by the Faculty of Education, University of Cambridge says:”Learning is intrinsic to life and because it is this important children need to be the owners of their own learning; they won’t see it as intrinsic to life if they don’t own it themselves – everything they do must have a purpose which makes sense to them.”

As already mentioned, children develop at varying rates; and as such it is important to know where each individual is on their journey, so we may support them in the next step. For example, if a child can put on their coat, demonstrate, explain and encourage them to do up the zip. New skills may need practising, help may still be needed; but practice will ensure independence in learning new skill sets. In the words of Maria Montessori “Never help a child with a task at which he feels he can succeed” and Lev Vygotsky “What a child can do with assistance today she will be able to do by herself tomorrow.” Giving time is essential too, though it may be quicker at this point to do it for them, in the long run encouraging independence will save us time and help our children grow.

Ignatius of Loyola sums up the responsibility upon us as adults: “Give me a child until he is seven and I will give you the man”. Now, all we need to do to ensure we provide children with the best ‘independent’ start in life, is to permit them to feel in control of their lives, confident and capable, provide them with opportunities to master new skills, think for themselves and afford responsibility – job done!

Reigate St Mary’s is a coeducational day school for pupils aged 2 to 11 set in 15 acres of beautiful parkland close to Reigate town centre. It is a junior school of Reigate Grammar School with an emphasis on nurturing confidence and self-esteem to produce happy learners.
High quality wraparound care is available onsite for all pupils aged 2 and above for 48 weeks of the year.
www.reigatestmarys.org

st catherines

Milestone moments

By | Education, family, Playing, Relationships
by Naomi Bartholomew
Headmistress, St Catherine’s Prep School

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 preschool 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.

In 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 4 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’s version of events.

The first nativity brings lines to deliver, songs to sing and the chance to ‘perform’ in front of an audience. They 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 children.
By all means wave to them on arrival and reassure your child that you are there but try to keep it discreet.

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 with stabilisers. Check table manners and correct use of cutlery and ‘please and thank yous.’ 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. At our school we aim to capture the magic as it happens and share it with parents 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, three 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.”
www.stcatherines.info

There’s no such thing as bad weather…

By | Education, environment, family, Family Farms, Playing, Uncategorized

There’s no such thing as bad weather – just the wrong clothes, or so the saying goes…

It also helps to be well planned when you have little ones still needing to burn off steam and be kept occupied. So it’s no wonder that farm parks across the UK are growing in popularity with over 250 members of the National Farm Attractions Network (NFAN) setting the standard in good quality places for families to visit.

Nicola Henderson, CEO of the popular children’s attraction Godstone Farm in Surrey agrees the winter months can be a challenge. But with nearly 20 years of experience in running family attractions and as a mum of three herself, she shares her three nifty tips with ABC Magazine on innovative ways to get outdoors in the winter.

1 Seek out the animals who love the cold weather! You’ll find many types of animals in a farm park, especially those who just love the winter months. Highland cows are a great example of a hardy breed and they look pretty impressive even if a bit wet and bedraggled! Many of the farm attractions now have interesting ways to feed some of the animals yourselves, plus opportunities to book in for exclusive experiences – we have introduced a Mini Farmer experience and it has been a huge hit.

2 Soft play is not just somewhere to dry off, it helps little ones learn through imaginative role-play. The brightly coloured and physically challenging play areas at many children’s attractions are a familiar feature today thanks to the understanding we have for learning through play within the Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS). Many soft play areas offer further stimulation for little one’s imaginations with indoor play areas where they can pretend to be a vet, work in a café or as part of a construction team. It’s a delight to see parents getting involved in the role-play too – encouraging bonding and learning even further.

3 Get hands-on with the animals. Being part of NFAN means that farms adhere to a strict code of practice for cleanliness and hygiene; parents can be reassured that they will find excellent hand washing facilities and protocols in place at farms with this accreditation. It brings absolute delight to their little faces when children get the chance to hold a rabbit, groom a guinea pig or see a newly hatched chick. These sensory experiences are so important and provide the perfect balance of fun and education and many farm parks have dedicated spaces, allowing these activities to carry on all year round.

Nicola adds: “Our farm is home to over 500 animals so there’s so much to do in the winter for families. I love having the chance to chat to the visiting children about the sheep in their woolly coats or encouraging them to pretend to be goats who keep active by climbing and jumping! As part of our 40th birthday celebrations we’ve been living by our moto of: Explore, Discover. Play. We have a large indoor playbarn with a dedicated toddler area, plus Wiglet’s Play Village – an indoor role-play centre with a ball play zone and a baby area. Meaning there’s wholesome farm fun to be had all year round.”

Godstone Farm is open all year round, and a NEW Winter Pass has just been launched! Engineer your own fun this winter with our new pass, perfect for keeping the family entertained come rain or shine – and even snow!
www.godstonefarm.co.uk