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Balance and coordination, like all of the skills children and adults have, need to be learnt. There is, by the time a toddler is toddling, a certain amount of the two that comes naturally to them but they need to be developed and practised.  So, what are balance and coordination? Well, in simple terms BALANCE is the ability to control the body and keep it in the desired position both when standing still and when moving. COORDINATION is the skill of using different parts of the body together, smoothly and effectively.

One of the best places for children to improve on these skills is in the playground. If you do have children you will hear time and time again that playtime is so important in a child’s development as it requires a lot of different skills whether they be physical, like balance, social, cognitive or emotional. Playgrounds are full of different equipment that tests them in different ways. Specific playground equipment that will get their balance and coordination skills working hard are things like a wobbly bridge or a balance beam.  But you don’t necessarily need a playground to practise; any activity that involves running, jumping, hopping or skipping will help to improve muscle and core strength and therefore balance. For slightly older and more advanced children riding a bike is of course a great achievement in balance and coordination. Even things as simple as walking around on different levelled surfaces will test balance and help encourage correct posture.

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Do remember though that all children develop at different rates and these skills are ones that are developed gradually and continue to develop up until around the age of 16. For some it may take longer than others but quality playground time will make sure everyone is developing and also having fun!

Here’s a handy list of simple activities that will help improve balance and coordination.


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Two major studies into the impact of free nursery places for three year olds have found that children gain no specific benefit from the head start they get as a result of pre school education.  Research by the Institute of Education and the Universities of Surrey and Essex  found that although children did make good progress at five, the overall impact became diluted by the time children reached seven and was not at all evident by the time children reached eleven.  These results have been reinforced by the report made by Fiscal Studies and the university of Essex as they have found that for every six children only one child was accessing nursery eduction that they wouldn’t normally have, the other five’s parents were benefiting from reduced childcare costs.  I find these results really interesting because I have observed the catch up stage at seven years old where the children all seem to find a similar level – the quicker children tend to slow down in their progress while the children who have taken their time tend to catch up.  It is almost as if seven is the age that any assessment should be used as a baseline, especially as the attainment of children tends to drop a little in relation to the SATS results achieved in year two.

The success of any education system comes down to how well the children in any given country perform in tests at a chosen age.  Presently Asian countries are topping the list of best education systems, with South Korea at the top.  European countries seem to be slowly declining in their ability to reach the top of the tables, even Scandinavia, who are usually ranked highly, are starting to slip.  If we look deeper at the different educational approaches it becomes quite obvious that the reason Asian countries are topping the tables is because they are simply hot housed and forced to do well at tests while Western children’s education is still pretty holistic despite there being a huge emphasis on testing at the moment.  The Asian system is flawed because it produces a huge group of people who are great at passing tests and have a disciplined approach to work.  The downside to this approach is that they are not particularly good at thinking for themselves and lack innovation.  The Western system is a mish mash of trying to compete in tests and trying to put the needs of the children first that we are ending up with a load of children who are highly opinionated but are not very good at passing tests.

It would seem that the whole world seems to have lost its way in terms of knowing what is best for children educationally and schools in the UK are increasingly pressurised to educate their pupils to a standard that is average or above regardless of the child’s true ability.  Assessment is a valuable way to determine the ability of children and if used solely as an information tool for teachers would be very valuable.  However assessment in our primary schools is essentially a test for the school, as OFSTED can state that a school requires improvement on the strength of their SATs results.  Mistakenly I thought that schools in Special Measures were likely to be the most stressful but now believe that aiming to keep the same grading or improve is just as stressful.  You hear about Michelin Starred Chefs losing their nerve when they lose a star and running to the hills – I am beginning to think that this is starting to apply to school.

Hours of research has concluded that for preschoolers play is the most valuable learning tool, in fact play is the cooking pot that every life skill your child acquires originates from.  Learning to read and write for example is like the formation of the earth you need a universe worth of experience in order to achieve these skills – something that sitting at a table will most certainly not achieve.  Sure Start Centres hold courses on play and life with a preschooler is so much fun, whether you play around a climbing frame in the garden or splash about in squelchy mud you can enjoy the pleasure of the experience.  It is only through the eyes of our young children that we are able to re experience the magic in the world. All studies into the development of children generally indicate that children follow a rough pattern of development at their own pace but generally reach their milestones by the time they are five.  Two year olds are assessed to see what their attainment level is and anyone in the position of educating the such as nurseries or childminders have to explain their provision if the child doesn’t tick all of the boxes.  Thankfully that type of assessment has not extended to children who are at home with parents.

What concerns me is that combining the concept of play and teaching to the test is causing a clash of experiences that can only end in disaster.  We are already anticipating a shortfall in engineers and skilled people who are capable of being innovative enough to take us into the next century.  History frequently tells us that the people who made the greatest difference to our lives were not always the best at passing tests – the world changers were the ones who had a vision and could turn that vision into reality.  Leonardo De Vinci invented many objects that the world was not yet ready for but have now been produced using the technology that his time period was lacking.  De Vinci would not have been able to have produced such awesome works of art if he lacked imagination.  Every film we watch, book we read, technology we use, garment we wear, painting we admire, music we listen to has been produced by someone’s imagination.  I can’t remember ever looking at an exam paper and feeling overawed by its beauty.


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Here is Alistair’s Mine Craft Design Using Paint.

Despite being a bit dubious about how technology can negatively effect our children my son has inherited a liking for playing on the computer.  It is hardly surprising that Alistair is a budding computer nerd as both sides of the family are guilty of being computer geeks.  Since Alistair has been able to read he has been able to navigate the Cbeebies site like a pro, he can either be found watching, ‘In the Night Garden’, on the Iplayer or indeed playing computer games on the CBBC site – his favourite game seems to be the game builder where he adds blocks to a simple platform game to make it easier.  He also likes using the Paint programme to draw maps so that he can go exploring with my parents when he stays with them. The best piece of work he  once he wrote ten jokes using a Word Document – the typing was great but the jokes were not funny how ever hard you tried to make them.  He does like to play with real things too and can often be found on the bedroom floor surrounded by large pieces of paper with maps drawn on them.

Once the maps have been completed Alistair likes to go out into the garden and follow his maps – at the moment he seems to draw maps and fit the garden into them rather than looking at the garden and drawing a map of it.  This is another interesting insight into how a young child interprets the world around them.  Alistair’s imagination is amazing, I absolutely love it when gets into the fantasy zone and suddenly the real world become his world and anything is possible.  Even more amusing is when I try to join in and he informs me that the invisible dog I have been chasing doesn’t actually exist.  For a while, when he was at nursery, he had invisible versions of all of his friends so he could be heard having running races with; Corvus, George, Harry and Charlie.  Now of course he prefers to play with real people and enjoys school for social reasons and attends after school clubs so he can continue playing.

Ever since Alistair was very young I have turned to nature to entertain him in the garden and on the estuary, it is amazing how many natural toys you can find in the garden and the different objects a pine cone can be.  I detect a great trend towards natural play, which is quite apparent with the rise in forest schooling during the school week.  If you can get your child interested in playing with natural objects and surroundings then they are guaranteed to have toys with them where ever they go.  If you are short of ideas there are many sites on the internet that will give you good ideas as to how to entertain your child outside.

Here is a list of some good activity sites you could try:-

www.playdalegarden.co.uk

www.kidsactivityblog.com

www.theimaginationtree.com

www.activityvillage.co.uk


I have a love/hate relationship with technology.

I love new gadgets. I am an internet-oholic. I use social media regularly. I can spend hours on Youtube. I am always within close proximity to my smart phone.

Sounds like I’m a fan doesn’t it? For the most part yes I am but at the same time our dependence on technology is starting to worry me. I worry about it mainly for the effect it has on our kids. They are growing up in a very different world to the one I grew up in and indeed to anyone over the age of about 20. I’m thankful we didn’t have all this to deal with when I was younger! I dread the day my son wants to join Facebook and have his own phone and learns how to use the internet properly. I think most parents want their kids to stay kids and retain their innocence and happy outlook on the world for as long as possible but unfortunately that is becoming less and less easy nowadays. As an adult obviously I am less impressionable and more wary of the world and the people in it but now kids are exposed to so much more at earlier and earlier ages and it’s pretty difficult to prevent that.

We’ve all heard cases of online bullying, stalking people, jealousy, negative views and opinions, bragging, trolling, hacking etc – all of the bad things. Of course it can be a great and useful learning tool too. It helps raise awareness of certain causes e.g The ALS ice bucket challenge, Kony 2012 that otherwise we would not hear about but I would rather the vast majority of learning was done in school.

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You’ve probably read debates about social media making us less social and I would have to agree with that. It is uncommon to take a walk around and not see countless people on their phones/ipads etc playing games, checking Facebook or texting etc and forgetting how to actually talk to people. In all honesty I’m sure that without sites like Facebook I, and I think most people, would have a lot more face to face interaction.

 

There aren’t just the social issues to think about. For kids, spending time on devices can also lead to other health issues and concerns such as:

Childhood obesity – Unsurprisingly, use of technology, video games and TV is linked to obesity as it leads to decreased physical activity.

Sleep deprivation – Screens give off blue light which interferes with the production of melanin which controls the bodies sleep and wake cycle. Also, the brain can become overloaded with information from different technology sources which makes it harder to relax at bedtime.

Delayed development – Using technology restricts movement and often social interaction which can have a bad effect on development.

Mental Illness – Studies show that overuse of technology can play a part in a number of mental disorders in children including depression, anxiety, attention deficit, bipolar disorder and [problematic behaviour.

Addiction – With people becoming more and more attached to their devices and less to each other, addictions can develop between a child and their technology.

Aggression – Media and video games with violent content can lead to child aggression.

If you want some heavier reading on the subject here is the big study by Common Sense into children’s media use and the effects it has: https://www.commonsensemedia.org/research/zero-to-eight-childrens-media-use-in-america-2013

All of this sounds a bit scary to me and that is why I both love and hate technology and the internet. I just hope we don’t become any more dependent on it than we already are. I don’t know about you but I am going to encourage good old fashioned outdoor play for as long as I possibly can!

Are there any other parents out there who are share the same thoughts?

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I think all parents struggle when it comes to bedtime (some much more than others!) The bottom line is that most children, whether this is every night or just some nights, hate being made to go to bed. This can be for a many reasons but to name a few;

  • They may feel like they are going to be missing out on something if they do
  • They might have older siblings who have a later bedtime and so don’t see it as fair that they have to to bed earlier.
  • They might actually not be tired (or just think that they aren’t)
  • It might mean ending their favourite activity of playing or watching tv etc.

The bottom line is that bed time is boring and seen as a negative thing to a child. It is not until we get much older that we appreciate it so much more!

I think it is harder in the summer time as the evenings stay light much later into the night which can make kids feel like they are going to bed in the middle of the day. Being back at school helps quite a lot as it tires them out and means they are getting up earlier in the morning as well. However, sometimes they still might not have had a tiring enough day to be ready to go to bed at your decided time.

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Did you know that the majority of children do actually suffer from sleep deprivation?

On average, it seems as though children are getting around 2 hours less sleep a night then they should be. I find this quite easy to believe actually what with the amount of stimulation through computer, tablets, phones, televisions etc they have in front of them, it can be hard, as you may know yourself, to switch off from all of that.

The reason things like that prevent a good night’s sleep is that their screens give off blue light. Blue light is particularly bad at night because it suppresses the production of melatonin which affects the wake and sleep cycles. It is also over stimulation for the brain seeing so many different things and trying to process so much information when it should be winding down.

Experts say that exchanging ‘screen’ time for ‘green’ time can work wonders (again, this is quite easy to believe.) Getting your child outside playing is linked to a much better night’s sleep. Regular doses of natural light are much better for them than blue light from a screen. Get ready for the vaguely scientific part – daylight covers a much broader spectrum of light and it helps us stay more alert during the day, acts as a mood elevator and keeps our body clock in check.

Another reason outdoor play helps is because it acts as a stress reliever almost – there are no pressures of the classrooms or of trying to finish a difficult level on a game but rather a sense of freedom and fun.

Finally, another huge advantage I can think of for outdoor play is the exercise that children get from running around, which is much better for them than being parked in front of a TV! It also promotes all of the physical (and social) skills like balance, strength, agility and more that are important to get to grips with at a young age.

It is great that most children have an opportunity to run around outside playing on the outdoor playground equipment they have at their school during breaks but if for whatever reason they don’t get to do this each day then it can be a real benefit to get them outside at some point to burn off some excess energy and get some fresh air!

 

Here are some useful articles about sleep habits in children and teenagers if you want some further reading!

http://www.nsf.gov/news/special_reports/science_nation/sleepdeprivedkids.jsp

http://sleepfoundation.org/

http://www.webmd.com/parenting/guide/sleep-children

http://www.studentpulse.com/articles/156/getting-enough-sleep-is-no-easy-task-for-todays-students


I am continuously (and pleasantly I must say!) surprised by new playgrounds and play areas. Some of them are so imaginative and fun they are almost more than just a playground.  This is great for inspiring and encouraging kids to use their imagination whilst playing.  Along with the benefits that exercising and using and developing a lot of their skills such as balance and coordination.  Any playground equipment which encourages unstructured play is fantastic, after all, playing is learning and the more there is around to simulate that the better. I’m a big fan of natural looking playgrounds, ones that cut out much of the metal and fencing and instead include timber, little hilly mounds, logs and big smooth boulders to play on. I think overall they give children a much more freeing experience, not feeling as though they are in playground environment but rather out in the wilderness exploring.

I understand that they can’t be quite as impressive and state of the art as the ones below but I think they are great!

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The more creative the playground equipment is, the more creative it makes the child!


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My son is thankfully interested in learning all there is to know about everything and appears to have developed his own set of learning objectives that he works on at home.  I once mentioned that I had been a teacher so now he sees me as a very useful resource in his pursuit of knowledge.  I thoroughly enjoy the process of being a hippy teacher at home using everything as a learning opportunity in spontaneous and completely informal ways – the school can do the boring bits.

Leading up to Alistair’s birthday in May we were unsure of the best present to buy for him because quite often they just end up abandoned and forgotten all over the house.  I found this article by Playdale Garden  about gardening with your children which gave me the idea to buy a selection of gardening tools so he could do gardening whenever he liked.  The local garden centre didn’t have children’s versions of tools so he has trowels, forks, etc that will last him for ever.

I am very good at delegating when it comes to Alistair’s home education and never resent anyone for showing him how to do new things.  One of the best bit of delegating is related to gardening as Alistair’s granddad is a very keen gardener and frequently likes to share his pearls of green fingered wisdom with everyone.  So armed with tomato seeds and sunflower seeds my son learnt how to make things grow.!

It is now the end of the season and we have had a continuous supply of juicy tomatoes and three successful sunflowers smiled down at us throughout the summer.  I wonder what delights he will grow next year.

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