Guest post by Jo Travers BSc RD
Supporting children’s learning is a key concern for modern parents. But developing good homework habits and helping children learn their spellings and times tables is not all there is to it. Healthy habits such as exercise, sleep and good nutrition are essential ingredients in academic success. I asked The London Nutritionist Jo Travers to give her top nutrition tips for supporting children’s learning and wellbeing.
When we look at all the processes involved in learning, brain function and brain development, many of them are reliant on nutrients that we get from our diet. Although the brain is very resilient and can survive if we don’t get everything that we need, for children’s brains to thrive they need to be fed well. Here are my top ‘eating smart’ nutrition tips to support children’s learning:
I get asked lots of questions by parents who are either raising their children to be bilingual or teaching them a second language. Since it’s not an area of my expertise, I asked Josefina Garcia to write a guest post with some top tips for parents on teaching a second language to young children.
In our multicultural society, lots of parents are keen for their children to learn a second language. Teaching a second language to your baby, toddler or pre-schooler is easy and it can be an especially rewarding activity if you embark on learning a new language together.
The benefits of learning a second language are well-researched, in early childhood as well as in adulthood. We all want the best for our children, but is trying to introduce a second language at an early age a step too far?
“Science indicates that babies’ brains are the best learning machines ever created, and that infants’ learning is time-sensitive. Their brains will never be better at learning a second language than they are between 0 and 3 years of age,” says co-author Patricia Kuhl, co-director of I-LABS (University of Washington Institute of Learning & Brain Sciences) and a UW professor of speech and hearing sciences.
Therefore, yes, babies can learn a second language, even when they aren’t getting the same language exposure at home from bilingual parents.
So how can we best teach a second language to babies, toddlers and pre-schoolers? Here are some tips on what parents can do to help introduce a second language. Continue reading
Sometimes it can feel like a lot of parenting is about trying to change our children. To change their behaviour, change their habits, change their attitudes. Having just come out of a rocky set of Year 11 GCSE mock exams, believe me, I have a long list of things I would like my teenage son to stop doing – and plenty I would like him to start doing instead!
But, to be fair, I am sure he could say the same of me. In fact, I know he could. He has told me often enough over the last few weeks to get off his back. And, it being New Year and a time for reflection and resolutions, that got me thinking, What would my kids change about me if they could?
So, I asked my children to write five New Year’s Resolutions. But for me, not for them. What did they think I should do differently next year?
The results were really surprising. Continue reading
Concerns about managing children’s screen time and the impacts of technology on children’s wellbeing are high on the worry list for modern parents. But most advice on positive parenting seems to have been written in a golden age when wrestling iPads off children just wasn’t an issue. So how can modern parents adapt positive parenting techniques to help manage children’s tech time?
The problem with children using technology is that tech use tends to expand to fill all available time. That can displace many other valuable activities that are vital for children’s healthy development. Like running around. And face-to-face communication. And physical play.
Tech is an easy boredom-filler. But boredom is an essential driver in children’s development through which they learn creativity and self-sufficiency and new ways of interacting with their environment.
And it’s not just children’s use of technology that’s at issue. Digitally-distracted adults are less able to provide the connection, attention and eye contact that help children develop healthy brains and essential life-skills. Parents and children are now spending more time in each other’s physical proximity but we are talking to each other less. Continue reading
Getting ready to start school has very little to do with the alphabet and lots to do with practical and emotional preparation (see School readiness skills for pre-schoolers). Their first day at school can seem like a huge leap in the dark so help prepare children for starting school with these brilliant starting school books. Snuggling up with a storybook is a great way to familiarise your child with their new routine and address any worries in a relaxed and non-threatening environment.
Children thrive on predictability and change and many children do find change worrying. When there are big changes coming up, you can also help by keeping the rest of their lives as stable as possible (see Helping children cope with change). And make sure your morning routine is stress-free to help them arrive at school (and you arrive at work!) calm and collected.
Here are my top ten starting school books for preparing children for their first day at school (in no particular order). Continue reading
Guest post by Lucy Parsons
We all want our children to make the most of their education. However, when you watch a teenager diligently putting hours into their revision only to be rewarded with less than remarkable grades or you get increasingly frustrated as you watch your teen fritter away hours on their phone whilst only putting minimal effort into their studies, it’s not easy knowing what to do.
As a parent you feel helpless, frustrated and at a loss about how to help. You know you should be taking a leadership role, showing them how to study effectively so that their education opens doors for them for the rest of their lives. But how do you do it? Continue reading
One of the things I find hard as a parent is balancing the desire for my children to fulfil their potential academically with looking after their wider needs such as wellbeing and emotional health. The two don’t always sit easily together. Supporting children to do well at school inevitably involves a certain amount of pushing – few children engage gleefully with every piece of homework they are set on the exact day when it needs to be done. But pushing too hard risks negative impacts on children’s self-esteem and mental health.
Homework often needs doing at exactly the wrong time for working parents. Adults and children’s needs tend to collide in the evenings – the children want a piece of their parents, parents want to enjoy their children, everyone is a bit tired and looking for some downtime, but there is a meal to make and eat, bags to pack for the next day, clothes to wash, hair to wash, PE kit to find, phone calls to make… And slap bang in the middle of that is homework that we know we have to do but nobody actually wants to do.
As a result, homework (reading and spellings for younger children) has become a battle in many houses. It is a chore that parents and children dread. Despite our best intentions, there is often very little joy in those home learning tasks. And joy in learning ought to be a key ingredient in children’s education. Continue reading
Like most parents, I am very keen to support my children to do as well as they can at school. And now that my two boys are in their GCSE years, the pressure is really on. It’s time to translate potential into the kind of results that will open doors to the next stage of their lives.
Now, much as I love him and am blinded to his faults, it’s very apparent that one of my lovely boys could never be accused of being overly engaged with his schoolwork. ‘Do enough to get by’ is usually his motto. Don’t get me wrong, he has a phenomenal ability to focus and stay on task when he is interested. I have no doubt that when he finds his niche he will fly with it. It’s just that his passion and self-motivation seldom seems to coincide with what he is studying at school.
Not ideal for upcoming GCSE examinations.
So when I was contacted by Audiopi to do a review of their GCSE/A Level audio tutorials, I spotted an opportunity. Audiopi offered me free access to all their revision tutorials in return for an honest review. Quick to spot the faintest chance to ignite an interest in actual school topics, I readily agreed.
Predictably, the boy was less keen and not the least bit enticed by the offer of a treasure trove of learning – so I resorted to bribery and offered to pay him a fiver out of my own pocket to do a review for me. Anything to get him at least looking at the website. (Don’t judge me you parents of tweens – just wait till you are staring down the barrel of GCSEs and then we’ll see how many are left on the moral high ground!). Continue reading
I know it is not just me who finds men and boys so much harder to buy gifts for. Having been outnumbered by the males in my family for so long, I find myself increasingly desperate each Christmas to come up with new ideas to put in their stockings. My husband’s solution is to opt for joke presents but I can’t help striving for something that might actually do the kids some good and not end up in the bin by the end of the day.
Books are, of course the ideal solution. Educational and pocket-sized they are ideal stocking fillers. But choosing a book that will actually be read and won’t just gather dust isn’t so easy. I know there are boys who love reading but there are also lots who will only pick up a book if forced…
So, whether you are buying for dads, sons, uncles, nephews, brothers or friends, here are my top recommendations for books to put in their stockings that they will love and that you will feel good about. Continue reading
Sadly, more than half of UK children will experience bullying – either as victim, perpetrator or witness. Most bullying is quickly dealt with and most children bounce back from it. But for some children being bullied can have long term damaging consequences. And in this age of digital connectedness, there are fewer safe spaces: cyberbullying can happen 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
Finding out that your child is being bullied can provoke some very strong emotions in parents. But an emotional reaction is seldom helpful – either in supporting your child or in resolving the situation. Bullying is an issue that is always best dealt with calmly and in a considered way.
So, if you are unlucky enough to find yourself dealing with bullying, before you jump in with solutions take a step back, be sure to listen empathetically and have a look at these expert websites for sound advice on the best ways forward. Continue reading
Lots of parents find talking to children about sex, bodies and relationships difficult. But not talking about those topics can send out a powerful message. Feeling that certain bits of their body are taboo can leave children unable to negotiate issues around intimacy – or even just seek medical help – when they are adults. More than half of young women in the UK avoid seeing their GP about sexual or gynaecological concerns and two-thirds of 18-24 year olds say they would be too embarrassed to use the word ‘vagina’ when talking to a doctor.
For young people, being able to talk about their bodies and express their wishes around intimacy is a key component in staying healthy and safe. It is essential for avoiding sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and unplanned pregnancy – both of which have lifelong and potentially life-limiting consequences. In the worst case scenario, it is the difference between life and death. Diseases such as cervical cancer and testicular cancer strike young and have a much higher survival rate if they are caught early. Half of the young women who say they are reluctant to visit a doctor about intimate issues say it is because of fear of a physical examination. But a quarter of them say it is simply because they would not know which words to use. Continue reading
Contrary to popular belief, being able to read, write or do arithmetic are the least important skills that a pre-schooler needs in order to be ready to start school. In fact, only 4% of teachers rate these as important factors in ‘school readiness’.
So what is school readiness, why is it important and what can parents do to ensure their pre-schoolers get off to a flying start at school?
The most important factors that determine whether a preschooIer is ready for learning have nothing to do with knowledge and everything to do with attitude. The best learners (whether they are four or eighty-four) are independent, confident to try things out and, above all, curious. For a four-year-old, that means being able to manage their own bodies and interact competently with their environment, being able to recognise similarities/differences, trying different solutions to solve problems and using words to ask questions. Continue reading
Lots of the characteristics that we associate with maturity are related to the brain’s frontal lobes. This part of the brain governs our higher executive functions such as being able to switch between tasks, weighing things up and planning ahead. The frontal lobes are not fully developed until early adulthood (around 25 years old) – which goes some way to explaining why teenagers can look so mature on the outside but make such bad decisions.
There is quite a bit of evidence that girls’ frontal lobes tend to develop faster than boys’. This might explain the truism that girls mature earlier and might also be one factor in why teenage girls do better at GCSEs than boys. Being better at task planning, time management and self-organisation is a real advantage when it comes to studying.
But, while we are waiting for our teens’ brains to catch up and get with the programme, there is a lot parents can do to provide external structures and tools for teaching teens self-organisation skills (regardless of whether they are girls or boys).
According to recent data by the NSPCC, there has been a 200% increase in the number of young people seeking counselling for exam stress. In 2013-14, a total of 34,000 contacts with Childline related to school worries and exam stress – putting school stress in the top ten reasons why children reach out to Childline. There is growing evidence that children and young people in the UK are experiencing a mental health crisis. And with England’s children being among the most tested in the world, it’s hard not to wonder if school stress is playing a part in this.
But are parents making this problem worse?
“I am about to take my GCSEs and I am under so much pressure as my parents are expecting me to do really well. I am going to revision classes and trying really hard but I feel like it is not good enough for them.” (NSPCC)
Two of the keys issues cited by young people experiencing school stress are not wanting to disappoint their parents and fear of failure. When parents push children hard at school (with the best of intentions), children can interpret this as a signal that they are not good enough. Which, perversely, can impact negatively on their actual performance.
As parents, we have high aspirations for our children. We want them to be successful and reach their full potential so that every possible door is open to them. But there is a fine line between encouraging children and piling on the pressure. Continue reading
Amazing! magazine is a monthly children’s educational magazine for boys and girls aged 7+. It’s aim is to educate whilst entertaining by providing engaging content that children will actually want to read. The content is based on the UK Key Stage 2 national curriculum and covers core subjects such as Maths, English, Science, History, Art etc. – but in a fun and accessible way that draws on children’s fascination with the gory, rude and funny. If your kids like Horrible Histories, then Amazing! magazine might be right up their street.
Unlike cheap and cheerful keep-them-quiet-in-the-supermarket comics, there are no free plastic toys (hurray!) but 36 pages of cheeky puzzles, brainteasers, jokes and funny factoids. The academic subject matter is all re-interpreted to have a child-fascinating focus (think zombies, cheesy feet, aliens and bogeys) with high quality illustrations and a child-friendly font and snippets layout. If only all learning could be like this… Continue reading