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
Keeping teenage boys engaged with reading isn’t always easy. At a time in their lives when instant gratification thrill-seeking instincts are in the driving seat, books for teenage boys have to compete with the higher adrenalin kicks and quicker pay-offs of sport and computer games, the social approval of hanging out with peer groups and the no-brain-input-required of easy watching TV box sets. The odds aren’t good.
To compete with those alternatives, books for teenage boys need to offer thrills, excitement and the kind of page-turning compulsion that keeps them reading even when the technology is calling. Not to mention, stretching them to new emotional levels and providing insight into themselves and the world they are about to inherit.
This is my list of books for teenage boys that simply cannot be dismissed as boring! As long as you can get him to start one of these books, he won’t want to put it down! (Got younger boys? See these recommendations!) Continue reading
We all want our children to do well – at school and in life – and to reach their full potential. But battling over homework and bribing them to complete extra maths booklets isn’t always the best way of supporting your child’s development. Young children are like scientists. Their play is a series of experiments conducted on the world to find out how it works. Play helps children master key skills and develop neurological pathways in their brains: the more they use those pathways, the faster and more established they become.
The internet is jam-packed with practical ideas for busy parents to stimulate their child’s learning whilst also having fun. But most of us are too busy to wade through it to find the best ideas! So – to help out all you busy parents – I have compiled a handy resource list of articles and websites that cover all the bases when it comes to supporting your child’s development. From 2-minute games to 2-week projects, this resource list gives parents concrete do-able ideas for using learning through play to optimise their children’s development at different ages across key developmental areas: Continue reading
One of my teenagers is a bit of a grump at the moment. Put it down to hormones or identity struggles, whatever the cause the result isn’t always pleasant. After dragging him to a barbecue this summer and being rewarded with appalling rudeness (in the presence of my Dad, even worse!), I came to the conclusion that spending family time with a teenager was a doomed project. But after a trip to the Victoria & Albert Museum less than a week later, I changed my mind. Having fun family time with a teenager is possible, but there is definitely a Right Way and a Wrong Way to go about it.
For parents, knowing how our children are getting on at school is very important. Especially if they have just started a new phase or if there have been problems with schoolwork, behaviour or friendships. But what are the best questions to get children to talk about school? Keeping in touch with what’s going on isn’t easy when your key source of information won’t open up…
[Parent] “How was school today?”
[Parent] “What did you do?”
It’s very frustrating and not very illuminating! So if you are stuck in a rut and want to find out something more meaningful about your child’s day, it’s probably time to take a different tack. Continue reading
There’s no doubt that if you want to boost children’s reading skills the best thing you can do is to encourage them to read. Lots and lots. But not all children are quick to discover a love of books and many children (especially boys) go through periods when reading books just doesn’t float their boat (see Books to make boys love reading!).
When pushing your child to read books is more painful than pulling teeth, it’s time to find some new ideas to engage them in reading! Books are not the only way to boost children’s reading skills and inspire them with a love of words and stories.
Here’s 20 ways parents can help boost children’s reading skills that don’t involve them actually reading books: Continue reading
Talking to children about bodies and bits and how they fit together isn’t always easy. The earlier you start and the more relaxed you are about it, the easier it will be (see Talking to children about sex, bodies and relationships). The hardest bit is getting started. Luckily, there are some great books for teaching children about sex, bodies and families, which can make launching into those conversations much easier. There’s no need to buy them – your local library will have lots of books for teaching children about sex (and that way you can check them out and find exactly the right one for your family).
To help you along, here’s my top ten list of the best books for teaching children about sex, puberty and relationships (and other things we don’t like talking about). Continue reading
Homework is a common struggle for all parents. Every school night at desks, computers and kitchen tables across the country, weary parents pitch into battle over what homework needs to be done, when, how, and how good is good enough? Homework fights can really sour those precious few hours with our children between work and bed.
If homework fights are ruining your evenings, here are my top tips for taking the heat out of homework:
- Have a regular routine
- Focus on successes
- Help them to help themselves
- Don’t battle
- Remember – you are not the teacher
- If stuck, incentivise! Continue reading
It can be uncomfortable talking to children about sex – it’s a topic that many parents avoid like the plague. “You don’t need to know about that.” “I’ll tell you when you’re older.” “Ask your father!”
There are lots of reasons for dodging the conversation. Many parents worry that talking to children about sex will encourage them to have sex. Actually, the research shows the opposite: talking to children about sex tends to delay first sexual activity. Other parents dismiss sex and relationships as something far off in children’s lives. But with puberty starting as young as 8-years-old in girls, the highest teenage pregnancy rates in Europe and pornographic images only ever a few clicks away, there are lots of reasons why delaying talking to children about sex, bodies and bits just isn’t an option.
So what should we be telling our children? Which words should we use? And how much information is enough information? Here are a few tips on teaching your children about the birds, the bees and the bits we don’t like talking about. Continue reading
Last week, one of the mums I was working with repeatedly burst into tears as she described her 8-year-old’s low self-esteem. He was reluctant to try anything new, gave up easily in the face of failure and struggled with friendships. She could already see him falling behind his potential and was scared for his future. As a mum, she felt utterly powerless in the face of his relentless negative thinking and no amount of praise or encouragement (or anything else) seemed to make any difference. It is an all too common story.
The Optimistic Child is a book which will give hope to parents of children with poor self-esteem.
Right from the start it makes crystal clear the links between pessimistic thinking and low self-esteem and it is packed with practical exercises for parents to use to recognise and tackle their child’s negative habits of mind. It is immensely readable, cogent, inspiring and practical. And most importantly, because it views pessimistic thinking as a ‘learned helplessness’ it offers the possibility that new ways of thinking can be taught. Continue reading
Toddlers’ brains are only half-finished. As a result, toddlers think in fundamentally different ways from adults. For toddlers, the impossible is just as likely to be true and the laws of the physics don’t exist. Interpreting toddler behaviour according to adult logic is therefore pointless – and it sometimes leads us to draw conclusions that aren’t always helpful. Toddlers make much more sense if you step inside their heads and try and see the world from their level of development.
So here’s a quick guide to what every parent needs to know about toddlers’ brains in order to interpret toddler behaviour accurately.
Why can’t toddlers walk from A to B without being distracted by a leaf?
The part of the brain that enables adults to focus on a task and resist distractions is called the pre-frontal cortex. The pre-frontal cortex is involved in thinking, planning and focusing and it isn’t well developed in toddlers’ brains. Continue reading
“He’s got toddler OCD” is a phrase I’ve heard countless times from parents of 2 and 3 year-olds. Sometimes said with a laugh, sometimes with real concern. My response? “Excellent!”
Why “excellent”? Well, in crude terms, repeated actions are the foundation of abstract thinking. A toddler who is obsessively moving toy cars from one place to another (to the exclusion of all other children or activities) is well on the way to building an advanced conceptual model of the world. Frustrating for his parents (and for any other child who wants to play with those cars) but usually simply a sign of intellectual development.
Young children don’t learn about the world by sitting back and contemplating it – their brain structures simply haven’t developed to do that. Young children learn about the world through physical and sensory experiences: touching, tasting, throwing, jumping, and climbing into things. Continue reading
Grown-ups are really good at solving problems: we get a lot of practice! Just getting children out of the house in the morning – on time and with all the right equipment – is an epic feat of problem-solving ingenuity. I solved more problems before breakfast than I can count (many of them created by late night cereal-munching teenagers…).
Often, parents solve problems so fast we don’t realise there is a process involved: experience seems to lead us straight to the solution. In fact, all problems are solved with pretty much the same steps:
- We define the problem
- We come up with different solutions
- We evaluate those options
- We decide on the best solution
- We do it
- We look back and decide whether or not we chose the right solution (and adjust for next time if necessary)