The September start...

Written by: Rebecca from London’s Little Thinkers

September is looming!  
I hope up until now, you have been enjoying your Summer Holidays with your Little Thinkers and have completely, or almost completely, forgotten that September is looming. About now, the fear/excitement/nerves kick in and you start to think about going ‘back to school’, whether that be starting big school, another year group or for some starting Nursery School. 

We hope that our latest blog ‘Holiday Planning ’provided you with some simple and fun ways to keep your Little Thinker’s THINK-ing throughout the holidays!  

Lots of you have been in touch asking for tips of how best to prepare your child for starting back at school or starting school altogether. I could talk for hours about this but I thought I would cover what I feel to be the most important areas below. The most important thing is for your Little Thinker to feel well rested and to have had lots of fun and fresh air!

Embrace mistakes & Self-Confidence 

Encourage your child to start their new adventure with a Growth Mindset. As Carol Dweck states “In a growth mindset challenges are exciting, rather than threatening. So, rather than thinking ‘Oh no, I am going to reveal my weaknesses’, you say, ‘Wow, here’s a chance to grow’. I have always aimed to create a classroom (from EYFS through to KS2) where children don’t feel scared to make a mistake. We call them ‘marvellous mistakes’ so that children can embrace their mistakes and learn from them in the future. This not only builds their resilience but also their self-confidence significantly. You see children suddenly trying their very best at everything as they have lost (or never gained!) the fear of doing something wrong; with this comes an increased work ethic and incredible progress. So, before your child starts their next adventure in September, ensure that they don’t feel scared to give something a go because without mistakes we would never learn and develop. And remember always praise their efforts rather than the outcome. If they find something hard then tackle it together and praise their efforts (e.g. I am so proud of how hard you are trying). They will soon realise that even if something doesn’t come easily it is still an achievement, still fun and they will always be learning along the way! 

Recommended books to promote a Growth Mindset: 

  • Activity book: Find your Power or Stretch your confidence- Build confidence and empathy with inclusivity expert Beth Cox, Power Thoughts founder Natalie Costa and Blue Peter Book Award winner Vicky Barker. Order here.

  • Big Life Journal for Kids - Order here.

  • Beautiful Oops by Barney Salzburg

  • Your Fantastic Elastic Brain, stretch it, shape it by Joann Deak

  • The Most Magnificent Thingby Ashley Spires

  • Ish by Peter Reynolds

Play dates: 

Play Dates are always a good way to develop children’s social skills and confidence before September arrives. If they are entering a new School or Nursery then try to set up a play date with a few of the children who will be in their class. If they are starting a new year group then try setting up a play date with a child that they haven’t spent much time with before. This will develop their confidence and make them feel more prepared for day 1 of the Autumn Term.

Independence: 

Encouraging independence and having high expectations (whatever the age) will significantly help your child in preparation for September. Remember to model everything so that you scaffold the learning and set your (realistic!) expectations. Here are some of our top tips: 

  • Dressing independently: this can be age appropriate but even children starting at Nursery can be encouraged to do aspects independently e.g. put their own coat on or pull a jumper over their head. Remember the coat trick – lie the coat on the floor with the label facing your child’s toes. Encourage them to put their arms into the arm holes and then flick the coat over their head.

  • Make them feel grown up: “Now that you are a big boy/girl can you help me to…”

  • Setting the table – give them a role e.g. can you put 1 fork by each plate. You can then incorporate age appropriate maths into this, from simple counting to multiplication (if there are 6 people coming to supper and each of them has 2 pieces of cutlery, how many pieces of cutlery are there altogether?)

  • Eating at the table together and encouraging eye contact/conversation and of course, allowing them to eat independently. Of course EYFS teachers, will support children at mealtimes too but the more independent they can be the better.

  • Tidy their room, clear away toys, make their bed etc.

  • Wash their hands independently before and after mealtime (model how to do this correctly with soap).

  • Show them their uniform (if they have one) and talk to them about how they could be in charge of setting it out each night before bedtime.

  • Include your child in the preparation for school e.g. labelling items, buying stationary etc.

  • Encourage your child to hand over the money at the counter when buying items in preparation for school. This will encourage confidence and communication skills. You can also include age appropriate mathematical concepts too e.g. handling money or receiving change/mental maths.

Remember to give children warning before asking them to tidy up e.g. ‘you have 5 more minutes and then we are going to do X’; this gives them time to adapt from one situation to another. You can always use a sand timer if this helps. If your child is engrossed in making something and has spent time doing this then put their creation to one side or on a table to show it off and so that they can come back to it later. This gives children a feeling of pride and satisfaction.

At school/nursery, for all ages, children will be expected to follow a routine throughout the day so preparing them for this in advance will be a huge support for them in September. Give yourself additional time frames when you are asking your child to do something; this will avoid frustrations and try to remember that sometimes you will have to forget perfection!!

Talk: 

For some children, the biggest fear they can face is the unknown and the change of routine when September comes around again. They just get settled with their teacher, classmates and routine and then suddenly it all changes. For this reason, open communication and talk is fundamental for children of all ages. Be excited for them but also allow them to share any worries or ask any questions. You could ask them: What are you most excited about? Is there anything you are worried about? Give them an opportunity to share their feelings.

Talk about your child’s new teacher and the expectations in that year group. I used to teach Year 2 and when I asked them what they were most excited about most said - “Being able to choose my own lunch in the dining room!”. Who would have thought that would be the highlight! Embrace change and discuss it as a family. 

For children starting at Nursery or Big School, it is crucial to speak about their new setting. Use their teachers name, walk past their new school/nursery and tell them about some of the things they will be doing. Familiarity is key.

Reading stories (see our highlighted story on Instagram for reading tips)

As you will see from our previous ‘Holiday Planning’ blog, reading to children develops endless learning opportunities and provides quality time with you and your Little Thinker. Reading is a huge focus of Nursery/School so support your Little Thinker by reading together in the lead up. Discuss the story, the characters, the author, the illustrations, predict, imagine and most importantly have fun! Silly character voices are the best! As Einstein said “Logic will get you from A to B, Imagination will take you everywhere!” – so read with your Little Thinkers and let the adventures begin! 

Name recognising/writing: 

Often parents panic that when starting at ‘big school’ their child will be expected to write their name. Please do not worry! This is not an expectation and your child will be guided to write their name when in Reception. Obviously, for some children they may be able to do this already in which case you can keep practising this before school. Make it fun – write it in shaving foam, create it with gems or write it with chalks on concrete but do not make it a chore. For those children, who are not yet writing their name (this is perfectly fine!!) then you can begin to support them to recognise their name. Look at the shapes of the letters (especially the capital letter at the start) and together create it using a variety of mediums (paint, shaving foam, with magnetic letters, foam letters, chalk, water etc.). Supporting children to recognise their name will help their confidence when they start at big school when they see their name on pegs, tables, bags, on their clothes etc. Create a name poster together so that they can put it up on their bedroom door to reinforce the recognition. 

Fine Motor Skills: 

See our ‘Finger Gym’ highlighted story on Instagram for some simple ideas to strengthen your Little Thinker’s fine motor skills (hand strength) in preparation for September. Whether your Little Thinker is in Early Years (Nursery or Reception), KS1 or KS2, developing these skills will have lots of benefits and for older children will make the process of writing a much more enjoyable one. These activities can be anything that gets the little muscles in your hands working: weaving, cutting, rolling, threading, lacing, sewing, stirring, spooning, tracing, beading, balancing…the list goes on!   

Finally, try to relax and trust the process of change. Your teacher’s/school will guide you through the new journey of a new classroom/school/nursery so enjoy the rest of your holidays and I hope this blog post gives you some ideas/guidance. Don’t be a stranger, feel free to contact me at any point for advice on the next September step (londonslittlethinkers@gmail.com).

Below are some simple picture books which I have found helpful before when supporting children starting school or a new year group.

Some books to read to children in preparation for September 

1.    First Day at Bug School by Sam Lloyd 

2.    Kindness Rules by Eunice Moyle & Sabrina Moyle 

3.    Have you filled Bucket Today (one of my all time favourites!) by Carol McCloud  

4.    Starting School by Janet Ahlberg 

5.    Twit Twoo School: Mouse’s Big Day by Lydia Monks 

6.    A Friend for Henry by Jenn Bailey 

7.    All the Ways to be Smart by Davina Bell 

8.    Too many carrots by Katy Hudson 

9.    Swapsies by Fiona Roberton

10.  Happy to be me by Emma Dodd  

Need advice on Potty training? Read our LLT Blog below from Expect the Best & Check out our LLT Highlighted story on Instagram

Don’t forget to download ‘Handy Hints for Starting School’ by Jojo Maman and Nana’s Manners here

#Letthembelittle

Written by: Rebecca @ London’s Little Thinkers

As the wonderful Einstein said “Logic will get you from A – B. Imagination will take you everywhere” and here at LLT we couldn’t agree with him more. Sir Ken Robinson has always been a source of inspiration for me and I fully value his attitude towards enlightening imagination and creativity and moving away from the ‘production line of activity’ in education. It is time that we value each learner and support children to make mistakes, to think outside the box and to foster their imagination. You can probably understand now why I chose the name ‘Little Thinkers’ for my company. Children should be free to think, to explore and most importantly to dream and to be children! It is our role to allow them to be little whilst listening to and respecting them.

Our 5 top tips for Little Thinkers:

  1. Encourage them to ask questions, to dream, to think, to explore , to believe and most importantly to smile!

  2. Encourage them to appreciate the simple things especially in the world around them e.g. the people, the nature, the wildlife, the music, the food (the list goes on!)

  3. Read to them, read with them. Discuss, question, listen.

  4. Encourage PLAY. They need it and they are never too old for it. Let them be little.

  5. Praise mistakes and teach them how to learn from them. It is the best way to learn. I have always called them “marvellous mistakes'“ to the children that I teach.

The big screen time debate!

Written by: Rebecca @ London’s Little Thinkers

The question of ‘How much screen time should a child have?’ is a debated topic and one which does not have a definitive answer.

 In a new set of guidelines, the World Health Organization said that infants under 1 year old should not be exposed to electronic screens (unless for video calls) and that children between the ages of 2 and 4 should not have more than one hour of “sedentary screen time” per day but that “less is better”.

 However, these guidelines have caused a contentious reaction by UK experts who state that there is not enough evidence to back it up. What are your views as parents or educational practitioners on this?

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) say that there is not a “one size fits all approach” but that parent’s must be their child’s ‘media mentor’ ensuring that they create a healthy lifestyle where they encourage media as a tool to “create, connect and learn”. The AAP state that some media can have educational value for children starting at approximately 18 months of age, but it's critically important that this be high-quality programming. The AAP offers healthy media guidelines and recommend that parents prioritise “creative, unplugged playtime for infants and toddlers”.

 Amongst all of the varied views, guidelines and recommendations, what we do know is that media usage must be monitored carefully, openly talked about and also balanced with other healthy behaviours which is what I will discuss in more detail below.

 Children develop rapidly in early childhood and it is important to develop a healthy balanced lifestyle so that they can reach their full potential.

4 areas to promote a healthier childhood for our Little Thinkers: 

Communication: Where possible, encourage media free times & zones including meal times and crossing the road. During media free meal times, take this time for conversation and talk. Ask questions, ponder ideas, discuss news and tell jokes! At LLT we love Nana’s Manners Conversation Cards & Would you rather cards; they are a fun way to generate imaginative conversation.  

Talk to your Little Thinker about what they are seeing and watching online. Teach them to talk to you if they see anything that makes them feel uncomfortable and encourage them to talk about online safety and respect. Face to face interaction is crucial in childhood so the more time you have without a device blocking that time the better.

Sleep: Encouraging media free zones, including inside your Little Thinker’s bedroom, will help to increase the amount of quality sleep that they have. It also limits the risk of children accessing information online which is not adult approved. Reading a bedtime story will not only develop your Little Thinkers language, communication skills, imagination and love of reading but also enhance the chances of a good night sleep.

Play: In the words of Fred Rogers “Play is often talked about as if it were a relief from serious learning. But, for children, play is serious learning. Play is really the work of childhood.” I couldn’t agree with this more. Working as a teacher/headmistress has meant that I observe childhood all day and the time where children are the most focused is when they are immersed in the world of their play. They are problem solving, they are communicating, they are imagining and they are learning and it really is a joy to observe. It is our role to encourage children to break sedentary activity and promote the world of play.

We often feel that children need to fill their free time with set activities and structured learning however it is often the simplest forms that create the most powerful learning opportunities and happiness. Last week I observed my nieces (both nearly 2 years old) playing; they spent hours in the wood finding bugs, looking at & listening to birds, picking flowers, playing hide and seek and running in the grass. . they were immersed in a world of simplistic yet powerful learning and it was all for free.

We often underestimate how simplicity can create the most engaging entertainment and effective learning.

I also recently observed the children in our nursery playing with a cardboard box. Some may say ‘a cardboard box? Is she mad?’ but it again leads to my belief that sometimes the simplest things can create the best imaginations. The interactions and communication that it created was magical to watch; they created their own theatre production using the box as the stage and then when their imagination was satisfied with this idea, the box was then transformed into a spaceship that took them to space to eat ice cream on the moon! A true representation of childhood at its best.

Exercise: Most often or not exercise is incorporated into play for children and it is our role as adults to ensure that the Little Thinkers in our care experience enough physical activity throughout the day. The quote “adults call it ‘exercise or working out’ but children call it play” has always resonated with me. Children are naturally drawn to physical activity, so it leaves it up to us to continue to encourage the time and passion for it.  Encouraging play/exercise means that children and young people reduce the time spent sitting for extended periods of time which has endless health benefits. The NHS states that children aged 5-18 should be active for least 60 minutes a day. This is linked to better general health, stronger bones and muscles and higher levels of self-esteem.

Although the evidence supporting screen time is often unclear and conflicting, what is consistent is the view that promoting physical activity, encouraging communication, play and sleep can only lead to a healthier and more positive childhood for our Little Thinkers.  

As featured in My Baba.