Skip to main content


active fun for kids

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

By Education, environment, Exercise, fun for children, Green, Mental health, Playing, Relationships, 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-ins, 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 also problem solving skills.

Children who get to be active everyday alongside other children will also benefit in all 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 practise 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.



girl canopy

Outdoor learning gives you superpowers!

By Education, environment, Forest School, Green, Mental health, Nature, Playing, Wellbeing
by Caroline Oglethorpe
Head of Nursery and Pre-Prep, Westbourne House School

Some of my happiest moments are spent outdoors, observing the beauty of nature and having adventures, and clearly children enjoy playing outside too. However, have you ever wondered how learning outdoors actually works in nurseries and schools? Early Years teachers (looking after children under five) observe significant and positive changes in children when time outdoors is used for high quality learning. So how do nurseries create these opportunities? What does outdoor learning look like? And can it really give children superpowers? Here are four reasons it can.

Taking risks!
It can feel counterintuitive to talk about wanting young children to take risks. However, it is now widely recognised that a risk-averse culture undermines children’s confidence and learning. Take the example of a nursery or school with a climbing stack for its Early Years pupils. This provides an exciting culture of risk and challenge for these young learners. For children who are not used to taking risks, the chance to climb gives them the opportunity to develop this key skill. Teachers witness the children challenging themselves, setting their own goals, succeeding and becoming more confident and motivated in doing so. This risk-taking attitude transfers to other areas of physical and intellectual learning. For example, new-found confidence outside leads to an open-minded approach to learning new phonic sounds in the classroom.

Climbing boosts handwriting
monkey puzzle The ability to write is an essential skill to learn and a tool for life. It is interesting to understand that developing children’s upper body strength is essential to help them control their hands and fingers. This is because there is a strength domino effect which starts at the top: once children can control the large muscle groups of the shoulder, upper back and core, they are able to exert more control on their upper and lower arm, which in turn enables them to control their hand well, before finally achieving fine motor control in the fingers. By climbing, pulling themselves up and hanging down, the muscles in the shoulder are well exercised and this has huge benefits for handwriting and, as they grow older, handwriting at speed.

Playdates with nature
It is easy to overlook the way our brain works and our cognitive abilities are all part of how the body functions and yet we all know how hard it is to concentrate when you are hungry, angry or both! The mind-body connection is incredibly important. Children benefit enormously from being in nature and we see calmer, happier children after they have spent time outdoors. Studies show that being in nature reduces cortisol, and therefore tension, heart rate and blood pressure, and increases a sense of wellbeing. Plus children can follow their curiosity freely and explore, enjoy and question nature along the way, boosting inquisitiveness and creativity on a daily basis.

The environment as the ‘third teacher’
Some schools and nurseries embrace the environment, inside and out, as the ‘third teacher’. What exactly do we mean by this? It is a way of seeing the possibilities of a well-thought-out environment, an environment that enables children to direct their own learning. It is about children exploring, using their natural desire to discover things for themselves, rather than having a fixed outcome from an activity.

A natural environment is obviously important and creates learning opportunities in itself. However, you can enhance the outdoor spaces further, changing them into dynamic arenas for enquiry-led learning, fostering skills such as creativity, collaboration, higher-order thinking and promoting a strong sense of self. For example:
• A climbing stack builds upper body strength and helps children to take risks.
• A den building area encourages children to develop their relationships and gain confidence in problem-solving.
• A water wall builds problem-solving and analysing skills, as well as enhancing mathematical and scientific concepts and vocabulary.
• A ‘mud kitchen’ area creates opportunities for sensory play, and the chance to apply skills which have been introduced in direct teaching time.
• A stage and music area allows children to hone their performance skills, and ensures that music and performance is accessible to everyone, all the time.

So, what overall benefits do we see when outdoor learning is working well in a nursery or school? Children are more independent in their play and don’t ask what should they do. The style of play is elevated with all children better engaged. We see improved communication and negotiation. The children are more open-minded and curious in their approach to learning. The play flows seamlessly and is more creative. The children take more risks and are more resilient. They look out for one another. They problem solve and collaborate.

These are all essential life skills, learnt through outdoor and fun-filled exploration. The icing on the cake? The children’s confidence soars. Now that’s how outdoor learning gives you superpowers!

To discover more about the remarkable education at Westbourne House School Nursery & Pre-Prep, book a tour or come to our next open morning.
Please call 01243 782739 or visit

adventurous play

Adventurous play

By environment, Exercise, Forest School, Green, Holiday camps, Mental health, Nature, Playing, Relationships, Wellbeing
by Dr John Allan
Head of Education at Inspiring Learning, Camp Beaumont

Adventurous play helps children adapt to the challenges of today and to face up to the demands of tomorrow

Learning new skills is fundamental to healthy, human development. Skills come in many forms – from physical movement to reading, writing and listening. Although we all recognise the power of acquiring knowledge, cultivating a child’s sense of purpose and passion must be equal to the importance we place upon their retention of information.

Nurturing an optimum blend of physical, social, cognitive and emotional literacy is most important in childhood. This is where brain growth is most prolific, and a toolkit of skill sets, such as self-awareness, creativity, trust and empathy can be fostered to help children to adapt to the challenges of today and to face up to the demands of tomorrow. We know that youngsters who score high on a combination of psychosocial skills at an early age report better adult outcomes in education, employment, and mental health.

The unpredictable and dynamic nature of adventure-based play makes it an ideal process for the cultivation of skills children require to thrive in an ever-changing world. Outdoor play combines the revitalising, mood-enhancing impact of nature with the adventurous uncertainty of youngsters interacting with each other in non-uniform playful settings without rules and restrictions. Here, children can enjoy exploring their emerging physical capabilities, take turns, co-operate and socialise; finding solutions to new problems in novel ways rather than just sticking to the tried and tested.

Adventure Education is about empowering children to take control of their own learning. This involves educators and parents being responsible without being over-protective so that youngsters are never allowed to wobble, trip, stumble or fall and as a result, miss out on the experience to know what it like to get back up again. Activities which offer some negative emotion, such as feeling unstable in the moment, counterbalanced by positive emotions such as joy, pride and attentiveness underpins a ‘steeling effect’. This helps to inoculate young people to handle more significant risks in the future.

This authentic, experiential approach of ‘learning by doing’ is the foremost guiding principle for facilitating adventurous play. This can take place in school grounds or within an out-of-school adventure camp setting, where a particular focus on specific skill sets can be achieved.

Constructing opportunities for children to be willing to take a path less travelled will make them resilient. Resilience is the learned ability of individuals to ‘bounce-back’ from adversity and ‘bounce-beyond’ their original position to face future testing circumstances with greater capacity. Resilience is recognised in school-based education as an effective policy for developing learners’ wellbeing and academic success.

Having the capacity to share positive resilient experiences with others also suggests resilience may be catching and may be a first step in helping it grow in others.

At a time where children have faced unprecedented upheaval and threats to their wellbeing, it has never been more important to create daily opportunities for them to build their resilience. But how is resilience built through adventurous play which can positively impact other avenues of learning? The following ten tips, which collectively spell the word resilience, outline out-of-school camp practices which help build the adaptive capabilities of learners.

R – Rebound and re-invent
A child’s setback in camp can be framed as a lesson to learn and not a failure. This signifies that achievement comes because of stretching oneself by applying continued effort. This allows young people to self-correct and adjust their responses to produce gains from losses. As a result, learners will attribute their learning to themselves, and take pride in their achievements.

E – Energise
Playful experiences without obvious outcomes help to create a resilient ‘growth mindset’, where a fixed, perspective of ‘can’t do’ is replaced by flexible, task-focused ‘can-do’ persistence. This process is strengthened by camp facilitators stressing the importance of children taking small risks in new situations and not predicting negative outcomes.

S – Share
Adventure education often generates group situations that depend on social integration and collective responsibility. Such mutual reliance in testing circumstances necessitate that children balance their own needs with that of their groups.

I – Inquisitiveness
A combination of unfamiliar camp environments with unknown outcomes, provides an ideal breeding ground for children to set their imagination free and develop the fundamental skills of questioning how, what, who, when and why. This search for understanding may be further enhanced with less reliance on mobile technology which has been associated with youngsters vocalising and sharing less, limiting their questioning and failing to recognise the real-life implications of decision-making.

L – Life-enhancing
First-hand experiences combined with reflective practice consolidate children’s learning within and beyond camps. To promote lasting impact, camps should deliver activities with ‘transfer in mind’. Varied events which are responsive to enquiring minds and trigger emotions, such as laughter, incredulity and even mild apprehension, generate learning that can be recalled upon later using diaries, or creative writing.

I – Inclusion
Playful activities which provoke unwanted risk for one child may be seen as an opportunity for growth in another. Supporting learners to make personalised judgements of risk-taking based upon their perception of their abilities enables the growth of self-directed behaviour.

E – Environment
Just five minutes of exercise undertaken in an urban green space may be sufficient to boost a child’s physical and mental wellbeing. Therefore, a combination of active and restorative play in nature (like mindfulness exercises or forest bathing) meet health and wellbeing needs not able to be provided by similar activities (like traditional sports) and become even more powerful when deliberately designed for such purposes.

N – Natural
The authenticity of adventure-based play offers realistic consequences for success and failure. Allowing learners to own their responses to unfolding circumstances, helps them to see the bigger picture, take stock of facts and acknowledge others’ perspectives in becoming prepared for whatever challenges come along.

C – Control
Giving children choices and the autonomy to play and explore in a natural space is a primary mechanism through which they become freely acquainted with their environment, develop natural mapping skills and learn how to distinguish between themselves and others.

E – Emotional intelligence
The ability to manage both your own emotions and understand the emotions of others is a distinct feature of resilience learned through direct exposure to adventurous camp-based learning.

With over 44 years’ experience caring for children, Camp Beaumont run award-winning day camps in over 50 locations across London and the South-East for children aged between 3 and 14 years old. Book our multi-activity day programmes to ensure your child learns new skills, makes new friends and enjoys their most exciting school holiday yet.

outdoor learning

Screen time to green time – the positive benefits of outdoor play

By Digital, Early Years, environment, Family Farms, Forest School, fun for children, Green, Mental health, Nature, Playing, Summer
by Marsha Dann
Lead Teacher, Play B C Preschool

Our very young children spend an increasing amount of time on screens and statistics suggest they typically spend less time outdoors than prisoners. In his book ‘Last Child in the Woods’, Richard Louv coins the concept of Nature Deficit Disorder and brings together research which indicates that reduced exposure to the outdoors is actually harmful to children. This can be mitigated by prioritising outdoor play which has a number of benefits for our preschoolers.

Physical health
Natural light and fresh air contribute to overall wellbeing, strong immune systems and healthy growth. Active outdoor play offers a wealth of opportunities for movement and exercise, promoting the development of co-ordination, fitness and motor development. It will also help children later down the line at school because cross crawl activities such as climbing or skipping get both sides of the brain working which helps mastery of bilateral tasks such as using a knife and fork, writing or using scissors. Furthermore, motor control develops from the core of the body outwards so sufficient upper body strength will be critical in developing manual dexterity.

Sensory development
The great outdoors is a sensory playground for stimulating children’s senses in ways that are just not the same indoors. From the feel of grass underfoot to the sound of birds chirping overhead, outdoor exploration engages all five outer senses, and the inner senses too, fostering development crucial for learning and perception. Children learn to observe, feel, smell, and listen, enhancing their understanding of the world around them and enriching their cognitive abilities.

Social skills
Outdoor play provides invaluable opportunities for children to interact with their peers in unstructured environments. Whether they’re building sandcastles at the beach, playing tag in the park, or working together to collect items on a nature scavenger hunt, outdoor activities encourage teamwork, communication, and co-operation. Through shared experiences and spontaneous play, children learn important social skills such as empathy, negotiation, and conflict resolution, laying the foundation for healthy relationships and social development.

Cognitive benefits
The outdoor environment is constantly changing and this supports learning and discovery through exploration, experimentation, and problem-solving. Whether it’s observing insects in the garden, identifying different plant species, or finding out what happens when you mix mud and water, outdoor play stimulates curiosity and creativity. Studies show that time spent in nature enhances cognitive function, improves attention span, and promotes mental wellbeing.

Appreciation for nature
Outdoor play fosters a sense of wonder and awe in children, and instils a deep appreciation for the natural world. Nurturing a connection to nature from an early age will teach children to understand cycles of growth and decay. Respecting and caring for the Earth and its plants, animals, and ecosystems will encourage them to embody principles of conservation and sustainability.

Whatever the weather, outdoor play will bring benefits all year round, and combat Nature Deficit Disorder. However, as the days are now starting to brighten and lengthen, there is no better time to get head out, soak up some Vitamin D and the other many benefits that only the great outdoors can offer.

Marsha Dann, lead teacher, Play B C Preschools. Play B C offers teacher-led provision, which prioritises relationships, sensitive interaction, and fun but challenging learning through developmentally appropriate activities for a wonderfully diverse cohort. More than just a place, at Play B C every day is a learning adventure.


education and play

They are not just playing!

By Education, play, Playing
by Shelley Allen
Teacher at Burgess Hill Girls Prep School

When you enter an Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS) classroom, either in a nursery or a reception classroom, you might look around and see that children are ‘just’ playing. But what is really happening here? Why is play such a crucial part of the day for these young people who are only at the beginning of their learning journey?

Beyond its entertainment value, play serves as a versatile tool that fosters cognitive, social, emotional, and physical development in learners of all ages, not just those in early years.

1. Cognitive development
Play engages the brain in ways that traditional teaching methods may not. It stimulates creativity, problem-solving skills, and critical thinking. When children engage in imaginative play, they create scenarios, characters, and narratives, which require them to think abstractly, plan, and make decisions. In our classroom this might take the form of using figures from the small world to tell a story, creating a rescue mission for superheroes, or making a character or puppet on the creative table.

2. Social development
Play is a social activity that encourages interaction, co-operation, and the development of interpersonal skills. Through play, children learn to share, negotiate, and communicate effectively with others. Games and group activities create opportunities for teamwork and collaboration, teaching valuable lessons about compromise and conflict resolution. They discuss and organise turn taking in role play, decide together who will put the next brick on the tower or the last piece in the jigsaw puzzle.

3. Emotional development
Play provides a safe space for emotional expression and regulation. Children, in particular, use play as a means of exploring and understanding their emotions. Whether engaging in pretend play, storytelling, or board games, they learn to recognise and navigate feelings such as joy, frustration, and empathy. They also build resilience, a key factor in positive mental health later in life. They learn that if the domino tower topples, they can try again.

4.Physical development
Physical play, including activities like running, jumping, and climbing, contributes to the development of motor skills and co-ordination. This physical play not only impacts on physical health but on attention and concentration. You may see us having ‘movement breaks’ throughout the day where we can be found dancing around the room, this also aids in gross motor control, essential in developing stability for writing. Another firm favourite is our daily ‘dough disco.’ To an outsider it may look like we ‘just’ are dancing and playing with modelling dough at the same time. In fact, we are building hand strength and motor control in preparation for writing and learning to follow and imitate sequences.

5. Cultivating a lifelong love for learning
When learning is presented in the context of play, it becomes a joyful and intrinsically motivated activity. Playful learning experiences create positive associations with education, fostering a love for learning that extends beyond the classroom. Whether it is through games, role play or construction, incorporating play into the learning process makes education an active and enjoyable journey.

From early childhood through adulthood, play serves as a powerful tool for whole person development and it is important that we embrace this. Educators and parents alike should embrace the idea that play is not a distraction from serious learning but an integral part of it. By harnessing the natural desire to play, we can unlock the full potential of learners and create environments that nurture creativity, resilience, and lifelong curiosity and development.

To find out more about Burgess Hill Girls, visit

trampolining fun

The surprising benefits of trampolining

By children's health, Exercise, family, fun for children, Mental health, parties, Playing, Wellbeing
by Sandra Zerr
Head of Marketing, AirHop Group

Trampolining isn’t just fun, it’s good for you too. Exercising regularly not only improves physical health, but mental health as well. And, unlike most other forms of exercise, it doesn’t feel like hard work yet it’s still effective. Bouncing on a trampoline or in a trampoline park can burn up to 1,000 calories per hour! Read on to find out more about some of the surprising benefits that visiting an indoor trampoline park can bring to both your body and mind, whatever your age.

Exercising on a trampoline is three times more effective at burning calories than jogging whilst being lower impact on your joints and limbs. Just ten minutes on a trampoline burns as many calories as half an hour of jogging. The bouncy surface of a trampoline is much kinder on the joints that experience a lot of stress and impact when running, such as your knees and ankles. Stop plodding along the pavement and start bouncing instead, it’s a low impact activity that provides you with really good high impact results!

Research has shown that there is a positive link between physical activity and improved mental health, and what better way to exercise than in a trampoline park!

Exercise can help to reduce stress in the body and release endorphins. These are your body’s feel-good chemicals, so you’ll happily come back for more bouncing! So take a break from your screens and social media and go for a bounce! A couple of hours in a trampoline park will tire you out whilst having fun at the same time, helping to improve your mood and your sleep.

Bouncing is a great way to improve your co-ordination and balance, as well as increasing your spatial awareness. Trampolining requires balance and adjustments of the body to stay in the centre of the trampoline and get a good bounce! The other activities found in trampoline parks – like the wipeout zone, battle beams, assault course, or reaction wall – all challenge your reaction times, physical ability, balance, and strength in different ways.

Every jump uses multiple muscle groups. Bouncing requires the muscles in your glutes, legs, back, and core to be tensed and relaxed repeatedly, giving you a full body workout, and increasing your strength over time. It’s also an aerobic exercise, so your circulation is greatly improved. As you jump, your muscles contract and help the heart push greater quantities of oxygen around the body. So you’ll feel fitter and better in other areas of your life after time spent in a trampoline park!

We’ve found the cure to growing older! Or slowed it down at least – because jumping works in unison with your body’s natural detox system, better known as the lymphatic system, the system responsible for removing dead cells and toxins from the body. Exercising in a trampoline park stimulates lymphatic circulation, promoting a healthy metabolism and helping to burn fat more effectively.

Visiting a trampoline park isn’t just for children, it’s the perfect active day out for the whole family! It’s a great way to spend time together and there are activities for all ages and abilities, not just trampolines! Indoor trampoline parks often have obstacle courses, airbags or foam pits to jump into and practise tricks, battle beams to challenge your friends and family, or reaction games to test your reflexes. Whether you are four or 54, there is an activity for you that will leave you with a big smile on your face.

Students can take a break from the books; swap times tables for trampolines, algebra for airbags, the whiteboard for wipeout, and enjoy a much-needed study break at an indoor trampoline park! They are also the perfect venue for sober socials and even corporate team building events, with a range of different activities to suit everyone and the physical element and fun environment helping to break the ice. Ice breakers without the cringe!

Some of these benefits may have surprised you but they certainly show that the pleasure of going to a trampoline park shouldn’t be restricted to just children; all ages will benefit whilst having a huge amount of fun!

AirHop Adventure & Trampoline Parks run 17 parks throughout the UK providing a fun and active day out for the whole family with sessions for all ages and capabilities.


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