How can we prepare for school during a pandemic?

How can we prepare for school during a pandemic?

If you have a child born between 1st September 2016 – 31st August 2017 then you (hopefully) have applied for their Primary School place or are planning to do it in the next 7 days, applications close on 15th January. In just 7 short months your precious little baby will be starting their Education journey. If the thought of this in some way terrifies you then you are certainly not alone. I was in your position this time last year and for me the fear was mostly because I was realising how quickly time was flying by and how much my eldest daughter had grown. The leap into starting school for is exciting but it marks the end of an era whether you have children at nursery, pre-school or home with you and 2021 is already throwing us a heap of challenges. 

When I was thinking about preparing Lily for school I felt lucky that I knew what school would be like for her. I have worked in and seen lots of Reception classes and I understand how the start of school works; what the routines will be, what the expectations are and what she needs to know. But, I understand that this is not true for most of the population who will be dropping off their little ones in September and I know this sparks very understandable anxiety and worry for many. This year we have added worries like the lack of school visits, uncertainty about transition and what this will be like and whether September will be a more ‘normal’ start than we had in 2020.

Anticipation of the unknown is always difficult to manage. I would love to reassure you that their first day will be fab but to really know, you will have to wait until your little one skips back out of school from their first session and tells you all about it (which actually never happens, they say they have done nothing, but that’s a whole other blog!!) I’m a serial organiser, we always have a ‘plan’ in our household and I truly believe that ‘forewarned is forearmed’ and despite the lockdown last year, Lily having significantly less time in nursery and pre-school than we had expected and missing loads of experiences that I had planned for her she was still very ‘ready’ for school.

There is so much focus on getting children ready for school that I think parents are often forgotten in the whole process. We need to feel confident and as positive as possible in order to support our children and to get started on the best foot. And I promise that this can all still happen despite lockdowns, limited social experiences and dealing with the current pandemic. We have created an online community to support parents and families who are preparing for school in the current situation. 

Developing confidence often comes when you know what they are going to encounter at school and what the expectations are. That’s what we aim to offer via our facebook group, social media channels and in these blogs. To start us thinking about preparing during the current situation here are the top two elements to think about and try out whatever your current situation, in the moments that you’re not pretending they’re still tiny toddlers!

Developing Independence:

Think about independence and giving your child opportunities which are similar to school. At school they will be expected to find their way around including finding belongings, make choices about what to play with and be able to do this without an adult and also do things like put their coat on, go to the toilet and eat their lunch independently. 

There is lots of time to practise these things at home. You can do it in a fun way and reward independence: have dressing races, make treasure hunts for items to find or have picnics in dens around your house to practise eating skills.

Lots of parents mention to us that their child finds playing alone a challenge. To work on playing independently try to set up play situations which they can find and start by themselves. You could set up a tea party with teddies, lay out part of a train track to be completed or put playdough rolled out with toy animal footprints in to explore.

If children start playing alone they are likely to be able to continue, you can dip in and out and praise them for great independence. Try not to feel guilty about letting them get on alone, fostering their independence and getting used to not always being with them is good for both of you and you might even get an uninterrupted coffee if you’re lucky!

Listening Skills

Think about how well you both can listen and I don’t just mean listen to music or stories. At school, your child will be expected to listen to these things but in a large group which can make concentrating more challenging. They will also be expected to listen to and follow instructions which involve more than one part for example ‘go to the toilet, wash your hands and line up by the door.’ This can be difficult for children and requires some practise for them to remember key parts. Many children will use other strategies when in school to help them, teaching them to ask an adult to repeat the instructions or following others’ lead can be really useful. 

When you give instructions at home try asking them to repeat back to you the things you have asked. Maybe they could count on their fingers and then check at the end if everything has been done. Bedtimes or the dreaded ‘trying to get out of the house’ routines are great for practising these skills and also sending us parents running to the wine rack!

 If your child finds several instructions difficult try using pictures of the routine, just draw a quick picture of each thing in a line. For example getting up, having breakfast, putting on clothes, brushing teeth. It acts like a map so they can follow what to do next. You could keep key ones to use each day for regular routines.

Your listening skills will be really important when they start school too. These are more about tuning in to your child’s emotions than always listening to their words. Starting school is a hugely overwhelming experience even though it’s an exciting one and often children can’t communicate their feelings with words. They will need you to be in tune to offer hugs, chill out time, physical activity to run off frustrations or a trailer load of after school snacks! 

We are passionate about supporting parents and children with everything relating to school. School readiness is a cause of anxiety and worry for many families and our unique school readiness programme ‘School Ready with Teddy’ is cleverly designed in an online format to dispel the fears and give families a window into a Reception class. Developing Independence and listening skills are a key part of the sessions alongside lots of other school ready skills. Our programme is closed for enrolment at the moment but will launch again soon. Join our friendly facebook community: School Starters Hub for support with last minute applications, tips for preparing you and your child and loads more…

School Starters Hub

Join our friendly community supporting families to prepare for Primary School during the pandemic and beyond. 

I hope these ideas are reassuring and useful as a starting point for preparation. Vix and I have lots more planned to share in the group and on our social media pages so please do check those out. And get in contact if you have any concerns, we’re always happy to help.

Em x

Top ten educational gift ideas!

Top ten educational gift ideas!

How on earth is it December already? Normally I’m quite organised but this year it’s not the case. There are some brilliant gift lists out there this year and a real focus on shopping small and independent. I like to do this where possible but for me it’s a balance, in the same way that I like to buy a mix of educational and playful gifts.

Being teachers, Vix and I can’t help but spot the learning opportunities in most toys and we often get asked for recommendations. So we’ve come up with our top ten educational gift buys to give you some extra inspiration. Some are from Amazon, some are from independent shops, some are specific items and some are links to a range of products. Most are small gifts maybe to top up the stocking, ask for from relatives or for those who are really organised – some last minute add-ons! All are recommended for children aged between 2-7 and nearly all (at the time of writing) are under £15. Just click the pictures to buy, we hope you enjoy them!

Just to let you know that some links in this blog are affiliate links which means we earn a very tiny amount if you click through and buy from here. We won’t be offended if you’d rather search direct but it helps us to keep creating content for you if you do buy through here.

 

 

Ideas to inspire Reading, Writing and Language development.

In this blog we haven’t included story or non fiction books – instead we have a whole one especially for them!

1. The little writing company activity books

 An imaginative and vibrant collection of activity books for all ages. Lovely stocking fillers to support and encourage children’s writing at home. There’s story writing notebooks, handwriting books, outdoor adventure books and more.

2. Mini Whiteboard

Useful for lots of home learning. This little whiteboard is magnetic so you can use magnetic letters or numbers to create words or sums. It also has a squared side for maths work and a plain side for writing and drawing. 

3. Invisible Ink Pens

These little pens make a great stocking filler to inspire little readers and writers. The 6 pens write in invisible ink and you use the magic light on the end to illuminate the writing. Great for writing hidden letters or numbers for children to find. Practise tricky words, spellings or write secret notes!

4. Story Telling Dice

 I can’t get away from stories, so if it isn’t books then making stories up is the next best thing. These story dice are a great way to help children develop ideas, make up stories and to be inspired to write. Another nice toy to take out and about.

 

5. Lower case letters

It’s hard to find lowercase letters and this is the best place to start for pre-schoolers or to use with early readers and writers. Here is an inexpensive set of magetic letters and also foam ones which are great for messy play, the bath and outside!

Ideas to inspire STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) learning:

6. Shape Puzzles

 A great little kit to develop fine motor skills, shape and colour recognition and language skills. This kit would be a great one for out and about.

7. Baking Soda Rocket

From Vix’s favourite shop Crane and Kind in Sidmouth this little kit looks like lots of fun.

If you’re not into science kits but want some more children’s gift ideas from and indie shop click and have a look. They have some really beautiful things (and for parents too, be warned!!)

8. Maths scales

I like multipurpose toys and we have a verson of these scales. They’re perfect for supporting children’s early understanding of number. You can use them for counting, find equal numbers, adding (including number bonds) number recognition and matching numbers to amounts. Using these for number bonds is really clever, for example for bonds to 10 you add 10 to one side and then have to put the pairs of numbers on the other side to make it balance!

9. Science Experiments

Galt have a range of little science kits for developing children’s exploration of how things work. This bubble kit is easy to use and doesn’t make too much mess, a big hit in my book! You can buy 2 or 3 kits togther which would be nice for siblings to share and explore together.

10. Mini Carpenter Kits

Ok, so technically these are above the £20 limit I set myself when collecting these ideas but I can’t not include these creative and sustainable mini carpenter kits for children. Not least because they’re created by my husband!!

Perfect for little builders to create their own bird house or bug hotels.

 

Right, I better stop there, I keep finding new things I want to buy! I hope this list is helpful with some extra ideas to add some quality learning to your gift buying this year. We would love to know if we have inspired you to buy or if you have some suggestions for us.

Happy shopping!

Em and Vix x

Brilliant Books to buys as gifts!

Brilliant Books to buys as gifts!

I love children’s books, probably a little too much! Each bookcase in the girls’ bedrooms is overflowing and there are little stashes of books all over the house! I’ve read nearly 100 books for children in our Facebook group which started during lockdown to provide free teaching for children in Reception, year 1 and year 2. I’m still reading on the group just weekly now but I still love it, even though my bank balance is less keen as I use it as an excuse to buy more! I often get asked for book recommendations and with Christmas on the horizon (looming a little too fast for my liking) I thought I’d share my top recommendations for books as gifts, just click on the images to buy striaght from Amazon.

I’ve listed the ages that they would be most suitable for and the best bits but all children are different so the age ranges could expand. I’d love to know if you have extra recommendations too, we will share all comments and contributions on social media!

Just to let you know the links in this blog are affiliate links which means we earn a very tiny amount if you click through and buy from here. We won’t be offended if you’d rather search direct for the books but it helps us to keep creating content for you if you do buy through here.

Ok, here’s my top 10 (it’s actually 11 and possibly more with box sets, oops!)

 

Search and Find Alphabet of Alphabets

What’s it all about? A brilliant book with engaging pictures, words and ideas. Think ‘Where’s Wally but more educational. There are 26 pages and on each 26 objects to search for. It is our the current favourite in our house, my 1 year old loves finding the mouse that is hiding on each page and my four year old loves discovering new words and searching for things that begins with sounds she has learnt at school. 

Perfect for: Age 1-6

Best bits: Great gift for siblings as it suits a wide age range and lovely because it will last so long, the ways to use it are really vast.

 

An Anthology of Intriguing Animals

What’s it all about? This is the most beautiful children’s encyclopaedia of animals that I’ve ever seen. I’ve bought it for so many friend’s children and it seems to have become a favourite in their houses too. This book has a page per animal and the text is well written, it is short and sweet but gives interesting and sometimes funny factual information. For each animal there are stunning photographs and incredible illustrations which is such a lovely mix to see in a book. 

Perfect for: Age 4-8 (the text is appropriate for approximately age 5/6 to begin to read depending on how competent they are)

Best bits: The pictures! This could easily be a coffee table book it’s so beautiful.

 

The Invisible String

 What’s it all about? A story about human connection. This is such a wonderful story about we are connected to others by love and in 2020 it’s message could not be more helpful and perfect. My four year old adores this as a bedtime read and will talk about all of the people who she has invisible strings with, it’s a tear jerker for sure!

Perfect for: Age 3-8 and for any children who are missing friends and family (also helpful for talking about grief and loss)

Best bits: The message, this is a story which will form part of your family conversations about love and connection to others. This would be a lovely gift for those you are unable to be physically with this year.

 

Goose Books by Laura Wall

What’s it all about? The Goose stories are created by Devon Artist Laura Wall. They are brightly coloured with simple and engaging text and illustrations. Both my girls love the stories and Goose goes to School is a big hit. We’ve got lots of the collection, other favourites include – Goose Gets Ready (a baby book) Goose Goes to the Zoo and Goose goes Shopping!

Perfect for: Ages 0-6 (The text would be appropriate for age 5/6 to begin to read depending on their competence)

Best bits: These books would be really lovely if you always buy for a family or child and want to start a tradition. There are a huge number of stories and you could buy one per birthday, Christmas and other celebrations.

Not all of the books are available on amazon, here’s a link to Laura’s Goose shop – this isn’t an affiliate link:

 

Storyteller's Word a Day

What’s it all about? This book is from a company called Mrs Wordsmith which I regularly recommend to parents and teachers alike. They have brilliant resources to support children learning new words and developing their language from phonics games to dictionaries. This word a day book is brilliant for helping children to learn new words, understand their meaning and put them into context. The illustrations are bright and funny, they are really engaging for all.

Perfect for: Ages 4-8 (The storytellers dictionary is fab for older children and really supports reluctant writers to develop their use of language. It’s especially popular with boys)

Best bits: A great gift for a child or teacher and something that is fun yet really educational.

 

Julia Donaldson Audio Story Collection

What’s it all about? Ok so not technically a book but instead a collection of stories and songs by the very wonderful Julia Donaldson. We were given the older version as a gift when Lily was 1 and it’s been so well used. Great stories and songs to listen to in the car and on children’s CD players. You can also get versions on audible and Amazon are offering a free trial which could be timed perfectly if you’ve got a long journey coming up!

Perfect for: Ages 1-6 

Best bits: A lovely gift for siblings or a younger child as the stories are entertaining for years. I still love them!

 

Clem and Crab

What’s it all about? A beautifully illustrated story about cleaning up our beaches. This is the only book in the list which we don’t own yet, it’s Vix’s family favourite and as beach lovers it looks perfect.

(edit: I have just ordered it, I really don’t need any more books but I couldn’t resist)

Perfect for: Ages 1-6 

Best bits: A powerful and important message told in a lovely way for children to understand.

Another story I love with a powerful message about protecting our planet is Elephant in my Kitchen, here’s a little link to that one too!)

 

Oliver Jeffers collection

What’s it all about? I just can’t pick a favourite book from Oliver Jeffers. All of his stories are incredible; they are moving, funny and relatable. The illustrations are captivating and engaging for children and adults alike. This link is to a collection of four stories about discoveries and friendships. You can buy them separately too and he is an author I would definitely recommend if you’re looking to start buying a collection for a gifts. One Oliver Jeffers book for each celebration would be such a lovely idea.

Perfect for: Ages 1-7 but wonderful for older children too (I’ve used the stories with children aged 11 and know as an adult I love to read them too!)

Best bits: Thought provoking and interesting stories that will spark discussion, curiosity and imagination. 

I also love ‘Here we are’ and Oliver has new book out – ‘What we’ll Build’ Links here:

Ok, I’ve had to force myself to stop here. I could go on listing my favourites for another 50 or so books. I think these give a good mix of fiction and non-fiction, age range and suitability. If you don’t think any of these would suit and want some more ideas just pop us a message giving some details about the child/ family you’re hoping to buy for. I promise I’ll have something to recommend!

I really hope this list has given you some inspiration, wishing you happy shopping!

Em x

Phonics SOS

Phonics SOS

 We’ve all heard of it…but does anyone actually know what it is? Ever wondered what the heck teachers are talking about in your child’s report or during parent’s evening when they mention phonics? Well, quite simply, phonics is HOW children are taught to read and write. Children learn the sounds that single letters and groups of letters make then use this information to read words and spell words. Simple, hey? Well….in principle it is! But I was never taught like that’, I hear you cry!! No and it can feel confusing so we’re here to help. Learning sounds helps children spell and read by breaking down each word rather than just learning spelling rules.

During the course of the first few years of school, your child will learn all of the sounds that are needed to help them spell and read words. Phonics is grouped into levels of difficulty and these groups are called Phases. Your child will be taught the letters and sounds in each Phase and taught rules that apply to these sounds. There are, of course, a few words that we cannot apply these rules to and these are called Tricky Words or Common Exception Words. Children learn to recognise and remember these as whole words.

Here’s a brief overview of the Phases:

Phase 1: This is focused on listening skills, hearing sounds and making sounds in different ways. It also includes rhyming, syllables and hearing sounds in words. Phase 1 is taught at nursery and pre-school. It is such a vital part of phonics learning that is sometimes overlooked in a rush for children to learn letters.

Phase 2: This is taught in the first year of school. Children will learn the most commonly used sounds, the letters which make these sounds and how to read and write them. They also learn some Tricky Words which don’t follow the sound patterns they have learnt. Some pre-schools will start to teach some sounds but this is always recapped at school.

Phase 3: Also taught in the first year of school, phase 3 includes more sounds, tricky words and also where two or three letters are used to make one sound (digraphs and trigraphs, for more on these see our jargon buster info at the end of this blog)

Phase 4: Sometimes taught in children’s first year at school and recapped in Year 1, sometimes started in Year 1. Phase 4 does not include new sounds, instead children learn longer words and where we blend consonants together e.g lamp, crisp, frog, step. They also learn lots of new tricky words.

Phase 5: Phase 5 is taught in Year 1. Using previously learnt sounds, children learn where the same sounds are written with different letters and groups of letters. For example, they will learn the ‘ai’ sound in rain can also be written like ‘ay’ as in day or like ‘a_e’ as in cake. They also learn some new Tricky Words.

Phase 6: Taught in Year 2 this is the last phase of formal phonics learning. All of the sounds have been learnt and this phase includes understanding the past tense, word endings, using apostrophes and more to help children become more fluent with reading and spelling.

There are a wealth of resources to help support your child’s learning of sounds on the internet but sometimes it can feel like too much. All schools teach phonics but they will use a range of different methods for doing this. It is a really good idea to ask your child’s teacher what scheme they use at school. Then, you can then have a little google to see if there are helpful videos/ resources which match how your child is learning in school. Many schemes will have recognisable pictures, songs and actions to help your child remember the sounds and letter shapes. When your child starts bringing books home to read most schools try to select books which only feature words that they have been taught during their phonics and literacy sessions. 

Phonics can include so many jargon terms which makes it even scarier. You might hear words like digraph, trigraph, blending, segmenting and phoneme to name just a few. If you’d like to know what all of these mean just pop to our jargon buster where we give you simple definitions that won’t hurt your brain!

We hope this is a useful overview and hasn’t been phonics overwhelm! We have lots of ways to help you more with your own knowledge and to support your child learning at home including two brilliant new online courses which you can access and learn in your own time. Check out the links below to learn more.

As always we would love you to get in touch to tell us if you found this helpful or if you have any questions at all.

Em and Vix xx

All About Sounds Online Workshop

If you have a child aged 2 – 4 this workshop gives you the tools to help them learn the first steps in phonics. 

First Year Phonics

Your ultimate guide to phonics in the first year of school!

Our All About Sounds kit has everything you need to support your child to learn Phase 1 phonics. Full of handy tips, game ideas and resources, this kit is your one stop shop to ensuring your child is prepared for phonics when they start school.

Small Business Buys for September

Small Business Buys for September

Whether you have a child who is starting school or going back to school in September, here are four small businesses that we recommend.

Going back to school in September, or starting for the first time this year is going to be a big deal after so much change and chaos. We know we have to buy the uniform and the shoes and the book bag, which I would always recommend buying early, in fact if you haven’t bought these bits yet then invest now if you can. No-one wants to be stressed out in September trawling online shops and maybe even the high street looking for uniform and shoes in the right size! It’s also really lovely to think about the extra’s that go alongside the uniform to prepare children and us as parents for School. We love supporting fellow small businesses and so here are the things which I’ve bought for Lily so far. I may have to add to the blog before September (don’t tell my husband!)

Tales of Me Books

For school starters, The Tale of Starting School is such a beautiful book and for those going back to school there is a free download version. As soon as I caught sight of the book on an Instagram feed a few months ago I just knew I would love it. All of their designs use gorgeous illustrations packed with bright visuals to help personalise the stories for your child. Written by a Primary School Teacher they are brilliantly thought out and include so much information to support your child in being prepared for school. The Tale of Starting School includes everything you will need to think of from uniform, to teachers names and lunchtime to toilets. They even have space for you to add pieces of work and notes from their first parents evening. 

Lily absolutely loves her book and even before we started adding pictures to it she was asking me to read through it over and over and was explaining to me what she would be doing at school. I know this book will be something we treasure forever and it absolutely had to be number one on the list!

Stamptastic

There are so many ways you can label your child’s uniform; stickers, labels, stamps and pens. I’ve chosen a personalised stamp from Stamptastic because I can’t sew and I know Lily would be determined to peel stickers off! A sharpie works well, that’s what I’ve used for the last four years of labelling nursery clothes but I wanted something special. The stamps are great quality, you choose the lettering style and an image. The image idea is great to help children locate their items quickly. As Reception teachers Vix and I would have been eternally grateful for anything that saved us the stressful 15 minute job at the end of every school day trying to reunite lost clothing with their rightful owners! Lily chose a mermaid and and although she can recognise her name I know this will make it a bit easier for her to see hers amongst up to 59 other cardigans or jumpers! You get an ink pad with the stamp and you can use the stamp on most materials and even some plastics (we tested a picnic box and it’s stayed on despite several runs through the dishwasher already!)

Nannas Manners

 

Being independent with lots of different things is really important for children at school. There are lots of adults to help with doing up zips, putting shoes on the right feet and cutting up their jacket potatoes but if they can do these things themselves then they don’t have to wait. That means more time to play and learn with their friends! I don’t know about you but some table manners rules have slipped over lockdown and the summer in our house so I was keen to find something to encourage her to use her cutlery properly.

Nanas manners stage 3+ independence cutlery is great. It is designed to give children the correct grip and to learn to cut up their food independently. You can get them in 6 different colours, we’ve got a pink set (because everything Lily chooses is pink!) We were having some mealtime battles especially around using a knife and fork which I now think was because she found it tricky. They have really helped her to become more confident with using cutlery and I’m so pleased that she will be able to eat her lunch more independently in September and then get out playing with her buddies!

Peggy Pip

Peggy Pip makes gorgeous peg dolls in a huge number of shapes and styles. I’ve bought Lily a personalised school doll which has blonde curly hair like hers and wears a school uniform just like the one for her school. They are a really lovely idea as a keepsake, or a worry doll idea to support children in feeling safe about starting or returning to school. The compant also do name dolls, families, occupations and more. Sets can be culturally diverse too which I think is fantastic, I’ve ordered Lottie a name set!

The delivery time is long at the moment because they are so popular but I couldn’t not include them. Definitely worth a look as something to look forward to arriving during the first few weeks.

We hope you love this list and have a great time with some online shopping. I really need to curb mine now! We would love to hear what you think or any other recommendations that you have. Drop us a comment to tell us!

Em x

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