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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!”

How to raise earth-friendly children

By | Education, environment, Uncategorized

Children are increasingly aware of the need to help the planet. Westbourne House School’s Head of Nursery and Pre-Prep Caroline Oglethorpe thinks that to raise earth-friendly children we need to show we care and respect the environment both at school and at home.

“You wouldn’t think a 15 year old could change the world and she literally has”, Honor (aged 11) told me when she heard the news that Greta Thunberg had won Time’s Person of the Year.

Honor is a keen environmentalist in Year 7 at Westbourne House School, Chichester, and she sits on the Environment Committee, an initiative involving Years 1 to 8. She is supported by the school to take positive action, which helps her and her fellow committee feel positive and empowered. And as we’ve witnessed, children’s enthusiasm, passion and understanding can have a huge impact and help change attitudes and behaviour.

I believe that when we practice what we preach, when we show we care too – either as a school or as parents at home – the impact on young minds is stronger and our children learn better how to make a difference to the environment. As Benjamin Franklin is famously quoted, “Tell me and I forget, teach me and I may remember, involve me and I learn”. Nothing could be truer when it comes to educating and as a school we are working to create many opportunities for children to be involved. Recently our children from Nursery, Reception, Year 1 and 2 – and their parents – enthusiastically planted 100 trees to create a new wildlife woodland. With the children, we discussed the carbon cycle and the importance of trees and how trees make homes for wildlife. The children in Year 2 wrote a letter to the trees thanking them for the air that we breathe and for absorbing CO2, helping our planet to breathe too.

Speaking at the tree planting event, Sarah Cunliffe, wildlife filmmaker at Sussex-based Big Wave Productions, said: “I am so proud of all the children. What is happening is a fantastic example of how we can all make change and reduce our carbon footprint. We all need to do more.”

“We all need to do more” this is the reason to empower children and help them to realise that they can make a positive impact if they choose. The Environmental Committee members at our school are tasked with looking around the school, deciding where they can make a difference and driving changes. It is about getting back to basics as well – gardening and growing vegetables, thinking about eating seasonally, reducing food waste, being outside, appreciating what we have and mindfulness.

The school of course will continue to encourage green behaviour with visits from outside organisations such as Solar Education, who visited Years 3 and 4 recently and helped them work out their carbon footprints. Plus visits from inspirational people such as author and passionate conservationist Laurent St John, who reminded the children during her visit that they can be their parents’ conscience. In the spring, pupils will be planting wild flowers adjacent to the new woodland site as part of a pan-European pollination project, which aims to create even more opportunities for wildlife to flourish.

I’ve collected together a few ideas that you might want to do with your child/ren to help develop their environmental awareness and to remind us all that every little action helps:

1 It is always good to remind ourselves how incredible our planet is. If you haven’t watched Seven Worlds One Planet on BBC1 with your children, you can catch it on iPlayer.

2 If you want to learn together, there are sites that explain climate change in a factual way for children such as National Geographic Kids.

3 Create a challenge to catch each other when not making sustainable choices. For example, a child might not think about the impact of leaving the lid off a glue stick, which means that the whole stick, including plastic casing, has to be thrown away. You might forget to turn off your engine at the level crossing. Your child might struggle to resist the ice cream with the biggest plastic packaging.

4 There are so many fun initiatives you can join in with as a family for example:
• No Mow May: Plantlife, a British conservation charity, urges you not to mow your lawn (or part of it) in May. By the end, your garden will be buzzing with happy pollinators and your family can join in the flower count.
• Your family could join up to Hedgehog Street (www.hedgehogstreet.org). Aimed at gardens with fences, you can ensure that there is a hedgehog highway and put yourself down as a Hedgehog Champion in your street and encourage others to do the same.

Westbourne House School: for boys and girls aged 2½ – 13. www.westbournehouse.org

family love

How children communicate

By | Education, Uncategorized
by Justine van de Weg
The Arts College, Worthing

Do you find you become irritated at times when your child will not listen to you? Some days you may feel like ripping your hair out in frustration! When you understand how children think, it can sometimes give you a clearer perspective.

Children are developing their brains, fine motor muscles in their hands, co-ordination, speech and walking on a daily basis. It can be easy to assume that when a child can put a sentence together they know or understand how situations, conversations or emotions work. As an adult, this is second nature. However, think about when you, as an adult, start a job for the first time. Could you fully operate the office, know where all the paper work is, how to answer the phone, who to speak to, where to find materials or resources? Think back to the time you learnt how to drive. You had to learn how the gears, accelerator, steering wheel and rear view mirror work together as a team.

The communication processes that are constantly developing within a child are the sensory senses. Sight, smell, taste, touch and hearing. When children are trying to communicate they will communicate through senses and exploring. Putting it simply – children use less words. When you grow up and become an adult, your senses are second nature and not much thought is given to the development of your senses. As an adult, you rely more on logical thinking, words, actions and, of course, assumptions based on what you have learnt from the adults who surrounded you when you were growing up. Putting it simply – adults use more words.

When adults and children become frustrated with one another, it’s because one is communicating with too many words, and the other (mostly the child) is trying to understand the words, but cannot because they don’t relate to their senses and understanding. Their processing is through senses. When you ask children how they feel, although they can speak, they cannot always say how they feel, or why they feel irritable or angry. This is because they need support and guidance from the adult to communicate through their senses.

Tips to help:
1 Communicate through pictures. Instead of asking children how they feel, ask them to point to a face that has an expression. You can draw various faces ranging from smiling to angry. Number the faces up to 10 so that you know the extent of irritation or anger.

2 Have activities around that can help children release anger – for example: a punching bag, trampoline, swinging tennis ball or a ‘screaming pillow’.

Giving a child an activity with the expectation of them just doing it will not always work. They are still learning and the only way they learn is by watching their parents and the adults surrounding them.

When your child is working through the activity, it is important to ask them if they want you near them or they want you to leave them alone. With some activities they may just want you to stand there whilst they hit the ball, or jump on the trampoline.

3 Sensory activity suggestions include breathing exercises, chopping up strips of hard food like carrots and getting children chewing on them or having relaxing and calming oil smells in the house.

4 EFT – this is an emotional freedom technique. Tapping on certain acupressure points on the body stimulates the effect as if attending an acupuncture session, only without the needles. Great EFT points which I always use with children are the point on the chest, just below the collar bone closest to the shoulder, and the side of the hand .When parents are willing to do this activity with their children, the children will follow their lead.

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!

Swim-Little-Fishy-Swim-Group-Photo

Sing, play… and learn!

By | Education, fun for children, Music and singing, parties, Uncategorized
by Al Start
www.gokidmusic.com

When our children are babies and preschoolers their lives are full of music – songs, nursery rhymes and bedtime lullabies. But when they start school, they seek songs that aren’t ‘babyish’. From the age of five to 10 children still need great songs to inspire them until they are old enough to find their own style.

Does your child struggle to learn in a conventional way? Even if they don’t, music and singing can play a huge part in supporting and even improving learning in subjects such as maths and literacy. Engaging in creative music activities positively affects self-confidence and aspirations. It gives children more motivation and subsequent attainment at school. It even lightens mood, reduces anger and improves behaviour. Handy!

Sadly, we are now seeing more children with mental health issues – even in Key Stage 1. Singing, playing musical instruments, and regularly listening to music are all proven to give significant wellbeing benefits. So music really should be a big part of your family’s daily routine.

As parents, carers and music-lovers, what can we do to help our children continue to develop their love of music?

Talk to your child’s teacher – how much music and singing is your child able to participate in each day? Could they do more? You may be pleasantly surprised.

Play music in your car (rather than give children tablets and gadgets to fiddle with). Singing together is a positive, bonding experience for adults and children alike.

Choose wisely – pick your favourite songs, or listen to the radio – but be aware of what the song is about. What do the words mean to a child? Can they relate? Are they even appropriate? Children listen to words and song lyrics way more that us adults – believe me, it’s all going in – good and bad!

Play soft music in the back-ground at home instead of having the TV on. Chat to your kids about who the song is by, what instruments can they hear?

Spotify is a great source of finding appropriate music for families to listen to together. In the USA they even have a genre known as ‘Kindie Music’ – Kids Indie – independent artists like me making music that is child-friendly and adult-friendly too!

Learn an instrument – another chance to spend a little more quality time with your child is to learn together. My favourite is the (affordable) ukulele. It’s easy for little fingers (I’d suggest from Year 2 upwards) and with just four strings you can play simple songs quickly. Its great fun for adults too!

Music lessons and classes – look in your local area for music projects. You will find basic instrument lessons but also think outside the box, and look up band projects for kids – groups that teach electric guitar, drums, rock/pop singing and so on – very cool and great socially too.

Get singing yourself! We concentrate on our children so much we may have lost touch with music ourselves. Did you used to play an instrument or love singing when you were at school? Get back into it, dude!

The Internet offers us access to amazing online tools to learn instruments, brush-up on old skills and try new things. Search for your favourite music activity and just see what’s out there. If you are inspired, you can inspire your children too!

Al Start is a children’s singer-songwriter and music specialist with 20 year’s experience.She set up her award-winning children’s music company Go Kid Music in 2015 to provide more children, schools and families with great music. Find them online for unique music for your family. Live shows, CDs, downloads, songs for learning/teaching, online music clubs and ukulele lessons. www.gokidmusic.com

 

couple

Marriage, civil partnership or living together?

By | Uncategorized

Here Rachael House, Senior Associate Solicitor in Family Law at Mackrell Turner Garrett Solicitors in Woking answers questions to explain the different options so you can work out what’s best for your own relationship.

Can couples of the opposite sex enter into a civil partnership?
Yes. Since the end of 2019, couples of the opposite sex have been able to enter into a civil partnership to cement their relationship in law. This is something that was previously only allowed for same sex couples.

Why not just get married?
People have their own personal reasons for not wanting to get married but they may still want to have the same legal rights afforded to them as married couples. Allowing opposite sex couples to enter into a civil partnership enables them to benefit from the same legal rights as though they were married. This applies to money matters such as tax benefits, pensions and inheritance.

I am happy living with my partner, why bother with either?
Bear in mind that there is no such thing as a ‘common law’ husband or wife. This means that just because you have lived together for a number of years, you do not have the same legal rights as married couples or those in a civil partnership. This can create financial hardship in the event of death or separation if careful planning is not taken at the outset or during the relationship. There are important matters to consider to protect your legal rights for example, if you own your own home or are going to invest unequal amounts into a property. With legal advice, a co-habitation agreement can be prepared setting out how money will be treated in the event of the relationship ending but it can also include provision about the day-to-day running of the household during the relationship. However, as the law currently stands, you will not have the same automatic benefits as married couples or those in a civil partnership.

What do I need to consider before getting married or entering into a civil partnership?
Whether you are getting married or entering into a civil partnership, it is sensible to consider entering into a pre-nuptial agreement, particularly if this is a second marriage or partnership for you – as you may have assets from a previous relationship you wish to protect should this current relationship break down.

Can I convert my civil partnership into a marriage in the future?
Currently only same sex couples can convert their civil partnership into a marriage. Conversion for opposite sex civil partnerships is not yet available, but it is likely to become law in the future.

What if my marriage or civil partnership breaks down?
You must have been separated for a year or more before commencing divorce or (in the case of a civil partnership) dissolution proceedings. Upon the ending of a civil partnership, you are entitled to the same financial provisions as those available in a divorce. The provisions deal with selling or transferring property, payment of a lump sum of money from one party to the other, ongoing payments to support one party to help them live day-to-day, and entitlement to receive a share of the other party’s pension. These may sound like simple matters but the practicality of applying them to the assets is often complicated, and so legal advice is beneficial. Taking early legal advice can often avoid costly court proceedings.

What if I do not want to go to court?
There are different routes to achieve financial settlement without attending court. Many couples go through mediation (legal aid is still available in some circumstances to cover the cost). Another option is the collaborative route where parties meet in the same room with their respective legal teams and pledge not to go to court. Arbitration can be entered into where couples require a court-like decision without actually going to court. It is also possible to arrange private court-like meetings to obtain the expert view of a person acting as a judge. The ‘judgement’ is then used to guide the parties towards reaching agreement swiftly. Your legal advisor can discuss which route is most appropriate for you.

Rachael House is a specialist family solicitor at Mackrell Turner Garrett, an established firm of experienced Solicitors based in Woking. www.mtgsurrey.co.uk

Legal Solutions

By | Uncategorized

All Your Legal Worries Answered

In each issue of ABC one of Brighton’s leading firms of Solicitors Dean Wilson LLP, covers a topic of interest to parents everywhere. In this issue, Julian Hunt, Partner of the Family Department, aims to set out some of the practical issues you should consider if your relationship has broken down.

The breakdown of your relationship is a distressing and emotional experience. The following summary aims to set out some of the issues you should consider if your relationship has broken down. Of course, every individual case is different and therefore it is advisable that you discuss the situation with your Solicitor.

Here are some general tips about issues, which you will need to consider right away:
• Children – decisions need to be made about who will care for the children. Many parents are able to make arrangements between themselves which is always the best way. If you encounter difficulties consider a referral to Mediation. Court proceedings should only be a last resort.
Take note that the Children Act provides a presumption that the involvement of each parent in the life of the child will further the child’s welfare. ‘Custody’, ‘Residence’ and ‘Contact Orders’ are terms which no longer apply. Instead the Court will make a ‘Child Arrangements Order’ to define the amount of time that the child would spend with each parent.
• Inform your children jointly of the decision to separate and emphasise that it is not their fault and that both parents love them equally.
• Child Support – try to reach a voluntary arrangement with your ex-partner for a weekly or monthly payment. Go to www.gov.uk/child-maintenance and use the child maintenance calculator to assess how much your ex-partner should pay.
• Ongoing financial Support – (‘spousal maintenance’) – if you are married you could apply for maintenance for yourself. If you are not married your partner does not have a duty to support you once the relationship ends, only to pay child support if applicable.
• Property – if there are children involved it is always better for parents to come to a mutual decision about who will leave
the home so that it will cause the least disruption for the family. If you jointly own the property you cannot simply change the locks and exclude the other from the property. If you are a non-owning spouse you have rights of occupation and a right not to be evicted from your home. Application can be made to the Land Registry to protect your occupation and prevent your spouse from disposing of the property.

If you have been subjected to
or threatened with physical abuse by your partner you may need to consider making application for a Court Order
to have them excluded.

If you are in rented accommodation and you are moving out of the property, you should see if you can be removed from the Tenancy.

On Separation:
• Contact the Local Authority Council Tax Section as you may be eligible for a Council Tax reduction, or if you are moving out of the property to ensure that you are not liable for any subsequent payments.
• Contact the Benefits Agency if you are in receipt of benefits, as separation may affect your entitlements.
• Contact the Tax Office if you are receiving Universal Credit or Tax Credits to reassess your entitlements, or otherwise to see if you are now entitled to Child and Working Families Tax Credits.
• Contact your banks, building societies especially if you have a joint account. It may be advisable to consider freezing the account to prevent your partner from withdrawing some or all of the funds without your agreement, or at least change the drawing arrangement so that withdrawals require both your signatures.
• Contact all credit card companies especially if you have joint credit cards because you are jointly responsible for any expenses incurred. You do not want a situation whereby your partner could run up further debts because ultimately the credit card company could also pursue you for these as the card is in your joint names.
• Consider changing your Will if you have appointed your ex-partner as the beneficiary of your Estate. If you have not made a Will then you may want to consider making one to ensure that your Estate does not automatically pass to your spouse, or you may want to make specific provision for any children to ensure security for them.

As an ABC reader you can call the Private Client Department on 01273 249200 to arrange a no obligation telephone discussion and, if required, a fixed-fee meeting.

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!

Why recognising the early signs of mental health issues in children is crucial

By | children's health, Health, Mental health, Relationships, Uncategorized

Children and young people’s mental health has never been so high on the public agenda. Figures released recently show that 5% of children aged five to 10 have conduct disorder; this increases to 7% as young people approach secondary school years (Green et al.) and referrals to child mental health units from UK primary schools for pupils aged 11 and under have risen by nearly 50% in three years.
In May this year, former Prime Minister Theresa May announced a funding package to provide teachers and care workers with training on how to spot the signs of mental health issues. The wide-ranging package of measures make sure staff have the confidence and skills they need to identify mental health issues in young people before they become critical.

However, concerns have already been raised about the lack of mental health services available to young people once issues have been identified. Shadow Health Secretary Barbara Keeley said: “Once again we hear warm words from the Prime Minister on mental health, but the reality is that mental health services are stretched to breaking point and people with mental health problems aren’t getting the support they need.”

The most common mental health problem affecting children are conduct disorders (severe and persistent behavioural problems). Severe and persistent behavioural problems starting before secondary school years which go unsupported can have a long-term impact on children’s mental health and life chances.

Early years and education providers have a responsibility to provide staff with the training and support required to recognise early signs of mental health problems at this young age. Equipping staff with the skills to recognise warning signs and behaviours could lead to a child gaining the support they need to maintain mental wellbeing.

It’s a subject very close to the heart of Ann Poolton, Head of CPD Courses at BB Training, and her team. “We are very passionate about this issue. Not only can early identification save children from stressful situations, but it ensures staff are better placed to support young people in their care. We continue to offer best practice advise and training on this subject both internally and externally, as we understand the importance of promoting good mental health for children and staff alike.”

The funding now available should be used by employers to provide the necessary training required to give teachers the confidence and ability to cope with the rise in mental health issues in children.

Ann concluded: “For people working with young children, it is key that they are able to recognise the early signs of mental health problems and understand how to develop strategies to build resilience in children. The environment they grow up in, and their ability to handle the pressures and stresses of growing up, all play an important role in preventing problems from developing.”

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