Mummy will you play?

Never be afraid to get down and play, even if you feel a bit silly!

Never be afraid to get down and play, even if you feel a bit silly!

Leave a comment »

Dark days – a more serious post

If there is one thing, above all, likely to affect your child’s learning then I would say it is emotional turmoil.

A friend of mine, himself now a teacher, once described to me how he had felt when, as a child,  his parents had separated. ‘I couldn’t think about anything else,’ was his conclusion, having described how he would sit and stare at the work on his desk.

I have been teaching roughly thirteen years and over that time I have seen and heard a great deal I wish I hadn’t.  From children who have escaped a car crash which killed their parents, a friend whose pupil was murdered by a fire bomb through the letter box, down to ‘lesser’ emotional shocks such as seeing the family cat annihilated by a speeding car.  There have also been children whose parental battles, chronically ill siblings and own ill health have led to them being unable to apply themselves to the demands of a busy classroom.

Here I will explore a few of these topics and hope to provide some sound and structured advice to those who need it.  Please remember that much of this is based on my own personal and professional experiences.  All families are different and what works for one may not work for another.  None of the links listed represent my views, I present them merely as interesting reading and as jumping off points for anyone experiencing these unfortunate situations.


A child can live with anything as long as he or she is told the truth and is allowed to share with loved ones the natural feelings people have when they are suffering.- Eda LeShan

This is an area in which I have had both personal and professional experience.  It is one of the things parents find particularly difficult to approach, especially if they are grieving themselves.

It is important to remember that very young children can feel grief.  They may not express it in a way that we, as adults feel comfortable with, but children should not be punished or scolded for expressing themselves.

They may, for example, attempt to rationalise loss with such expressions as ‘Well, I suppose it was a good thing Granny died because she did break the television last year.’

Or they may not seem to care at all, continuing to play normally, but this may be a way to control their surroundings and keep a grip on normality.  Watch their play carefully, they may be expressing their grief through subject matter.

Children need to know the truth, or at least some of it.  Refusing to tell a child what is going on when everyone is clearly upset must be terrifying for the child.  Avoid the temptation to tell a child that someone has ‘gone to sleep forever’, it is confusing.  Explain that when people die their bodies stop working.  If you have a religious belief this may help you explain the part about the ‘personality’, if not it is fine to explain that we don’t know what happens.  You cannot protect children from the reality of death perpetually, but depending on their age you can protect them from the more upsetting details surrounding the death.

Patience is so important here.  Take time to talk through children’s worries and unpick any seemingly blasé statements – after all a broken television isn’t really that important with hindsight although it might have been a big deal to Grandpa at the time!

Keep the school informed, be clear that you are willing to discuss it with them.  Some teachers, like some members of the general public, might try to avoid confronting the issue with you or your child out of embarrassment or a feeling of inadequacy.  But it is so important for your child that their feelings are taken into consideration when making Mothers’ Day cards, a few months after Mummy died of cancer.  There are options: he/she can choose not to make one at all, can make one for granny or for daddy, make one to put on mummy’s grave, make one for themselves which reminds them of all the important things mummy did for them.

The school should also be aware, and keep you informed, of any unusual behaviours or comments. Not wanting to worry you is not a good enough excuse.

Here are some links which you may find useful:


(Winston’s wish is a bereavement  charity especially for children)




The BBC provides a superb article on how children experience grief, which can help you understand your child’s reactions:


With less detail, but some useful guidance and links:


Some books I have found useful over the years :


This is often touted as a great book for small children, I disagree as I think there is too much to it for the very young.  However, it is certainly very helpful for six, seven, eight year olds.


Not, I think for young children, but teenagers may benefit form its honesty.  It is very dark and is based on the author’s own grief, reflecting his anger and misery.


Excellent for very young children, although you may find yourself sobbing as you read it!!


A fabulous book for older children and teenagers.


The following is  a site where people who have lost  a partner can connect.  Originally for young widows it is now open to everyone, but many have school age children


Parental separation

I had a really good childhood up until I was nine, then a classic case of divorce really affected me.  – Kurt Cobain

From a teacher’s point of view it is absolutely essential that you keep them abreast of any family turmoil.  Good teachers will probably already have an inkling that things are not going well.

When I was at school I sat next to a boy who cried and cried and cried.  Almost anything would tip him into despair.  I think the teacher sat him with me because she considered me one of the kindest in the class.  Even now I find it distressing to think about him, not only was he devastated by his parents separating but he worried constantly about money and how his family would cope.  And yet this poor child was still expected to do his school work and socialise normally with his peers.

Try not to put your child in the middle of your disagreements, or use them as weapons.  This is not fair on them.  They are people and not objects to use for your own ends.

In this situation children need lots of reassurance that they are loved, valued and important.  Make sure your child can see any positives, even if you are struggling to, they will be able to have special one-to-one time with each adult (hopefully, if not emphasise how much fun you two can have together).


A brief explanation of the effects of separation on children of all ages.


The Royal College of Psychiatrists have some excellent leaflets for parents on a variety of topics.  They are also available in some other languages.


Gingerbread is a charity for single parents, it has lots of practical advice to give.




This book is fabulous for young children.  It presents the situation as highly positive.  I use this a lot.


Young teenagers can identify with Karen, or not, as the case maybe!

Any more recommendations for helpful resources are really welcome.

1 Comment »

Phonics article

I found this and thought it might make interesting reading:


Leave a comment »

Food for thought…

Roald Dahl, Enid Blyton, J.R.R Tolkien, J.K.Rowling…

Think about some of the most popular children’s authors of  our time, what do the books have in common? I can think of several things but, as far as I am concerned, food is one of the most important.  In general children can be highly motivated by food so why not take advantage of this? Here are some ideas as to how…

  • Spaghetti letters:  Use cooked spaghetti to correctly form letters on pieces of card.  Take turns to wear a blindfold (or close eyes) and try to work out which letter you are touching by feeling it lightly.  For a more permanent game use string and glue!
  • Disgusting menus:  Imagine a cafe such as ‘Vampire Place’ or ‘Dog’s Dinner Restaurant’.  Design a revolting menu for it, with dishes such as ‘Delicious blood soup with live worms’.
  • Imagine if ‘The Twits’ ran a cafe, what would they sell?
  • Lemon juice code: Write words on paper in lemon juice, when they dry they will be invisible.  Iron them (adult input necessary!) to discover what they say.  See if you can guess the word before it is fully developed.
  • Pasta necklaces: The great Nursery stand by, but great for fine motor skills or pattern making using different colours and shapes! Dried pasta can also be used as counters.
  • Rice words:   Use a Pritt stick to write words or letters (large) on paper or card,  cover the whole paper with rice and then carefully tip off to reveal the words!
  • Recipes:  Obvious but fantastic way to read without noticing – have your child read out the instructions as far as possible while you cook.
  • Shopping lists:  Ask them to write yours for you, let them add some things of their own!  Of course, there are the added skills of measuring and time…
  • Food packaging:  Cut out the names of foods from the packets,  have your child sort and stick them onto paper plates depending on whether they like them or not.
  • Paper plate meals:  There is nothing more appealing than designing your ideal meal, either by cutting pictures from the free leaflets at supermarkets or from magazines, or by using traditional pens and pencils.  Use post its or plain stickers to label the food.
  • Tummy Ache: In  my opinion one of the greatest games ever invented!  You can buy it new or pick it up in a charity shop.  Hours of fun and a fabulous way to learn simple game rules.
  • Create your own cafe: Great for children who love role play, set up a table with a paper table-cloth, make menus, have plates and play food (and empty food boxes) ready.  Provide cheap notebooks and pens for taking orders.
  • Dried foods for sorting: peas, beans, pasta etc can be mixed up in plastic bowl or box, provide a range of containers (empty yoghurt pots will do) and let your child sort them as they please.  This is a really valuable skill, small children who can successfully sort have a real advantage with later mathematics.
  • Banana fractions: Don’t just give them a banana, give them half a banana, then four quarters of a banana, three thirds.  Extend this by eating one part yourself: Look I ate one of the four quarters so do you have a whole banana?  No? How many quarters do you have then?
  • Doll’s tea party:  Make place settings for a given number of soft toys.  Make sure there is one item of each piece of food or equipment for each soft toy.  Share the cakes (make , print or use toy food), sandwiches etc so each one has the same. Extend by putting an extra piece in: Oh there is one left over! Is that fair or will someone get more? Greedy teddy!
  • Harry Potter Food Hall: Grab a large sheet of paper (maybe one each so you can do your own) imagine the dining hall is going to serve all the foods YOU would like, and decorate itself your way,  draw your ideas and label.  Note, some children, especially older ones can be sensitive about drawing.  If necessary take the pressure off by doing the drawing yourself (you don’t have to be a great expert either but just assume the attitude that you don’t care!) and give them post-its to label the picture.
  • The What that came to tea?!: Make your own Tiger Who Came to Tea  book with yourselves and a creature of your choice.
  • Fraction Pizza:  This is a game you can buy, I use it a lot, both with the instructions and just for fun.
  • Nursery Rhymes: Sing a song of six pence, Five currant buns, Muffin Man, Ten Fat Sausages (my favourite!), Aiken Drum, Hot Cross Buns, Simple Simon.  Find lyrics at
  • http://www.nurseryrhymes.org/food.html      
  • These videos on youtube aren’t great quality which is really unfortunate as I once had the original video and it was fab, the children in my class adored it.  Good for the tunes though
  • http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hS1ELNsyRdY                                            Ooooh I just found it on dvd:
  • http://www.amazon.co.uk/The-Classic-Nursery-Rhymes-Collection/dp/B005LPMMSC/ref=pd_cp_v_h__0                                                                                                                You may think it is totally bizarre to begin with but with real children starring and more traditional graphics it will grow on you!  Although I could have done without the interminable discussions in my class about what was ‘real’ and what wasn’t! No, for the nine thousandth time, Aiken Drum isn’t a puppet he is a man dressed up…
  • Fruit Guessing:  Buy a selection of unusual and common fruits.  Have your child draw what they think the fruit will look like on the inside.  Cut it up, taste it, inspect it with a magnifying glass, feel it, smell it etc.

I’m sure there will be more…

Other bits and bobs:

North London Families Magazine, which is free, has some great articles.  This one is particularly useful for anyone whose child will start school in September.  It focusses on the really important skills children need, not the academic ones which are generally much easier to teach!


Be prepared to become addicted!:


Widely used in Primary Schools, a fun and well presented phonic sight.  You can play some games free or subscribe for £12 for the year (well worth it if you are prepared to use it).


Leave a comment »

Another quick idea – times tables

I invented this game for someone who really needed to learn times tables.  The thought of doing a test or copying them out seemed too mind-numbing so I tried to think up a more enjoyable way!  Bring forth the trusty dice!

1) Both contestants (or more) write down all the times table sums from 1 – 12 (but not the answers).  For example: 1 x 4 =, 2 x 4 =  etc.

2) Using two dice (or a 1-12 dice), roll a number.  What ever number you get you answer that sum on your sheet.  When you have completed all the sums from 7-12 you can begin using one dice if you so choose (unless you are using a 1-12 dice and then you don’t need to make any adjustments), but this is up to the player.  It may take a while to realise it is the only way to get a one!  The winner is the first person to complete all their times tables.

Simple but more interesting than rote!

Leave a comment »

extra to adapting games you already own – Operation

Today I had a student who was desperate to play their ‘Operation’ game with me.  I bring  lots of games to play with the children I work with, so it is a bit hard for them to understand why I can’t play their games sometimes.  Now I am always promoting teaching through children’s interests, so I needed to put my money where my mouth is.  Hence, my plans went out of the window and instead I drew up a a chart with an outline of all the patient’s body parts.  I gave each one a score and then said we had to add ten to it if we managed to pull out the body part in question.  The result was quite miraculous – I have been working on this concept on and off for a while.  Today it was grasped within two goes!  Feel free to make all the parts worth 3 or 5 or 6 (so you end up adding multiples) or start with a number and subtract from it every time someone sets the board off and sends the bits flying!

Honestly, I’m not sure who had the most fun today!

Leave a comment »

to tutor or not to tutor

Some time ago I asked a friend of mine, a working mum who is not in education, why on earth anyone would pay for someone to come into their home to teach?  She replied with the following points:

– busy mums might not want to spend their quality time corralling their child into doing something they might be resistant to.

– they may not be able to afford private schooling but can afford for their child to have 1:1 with a qualified tutor once or twice a week.

– they may not be confident to support their child academically.

These are all opinions which have been backed up by other parents since I began tutoring.  Many say their children just will not do things for them which they will do for someone else.  I have also begun to appreciate what a difference professional and informed help can make to a struggling child.  Indeed, I’ve come to realise quite a lot of teachers actually use tutors – they don’t want to be teacher to their own child too!

On the other hand, I have been told stories of a tutor who made a (very hard working) Year Six cry because she could not understand the maths, one who was so un-confident that she asked for homework to be emailed to her in advance so she could work it out (!), one young teacher who came brandishing materials concerning a learning difficulty he decided the child had (a good tutor will raise concerns with you but not diagnose), one who purported to be qualified but when asked to prove this suddenly stopped responding, one who refused to discuss a child’s progress with the parents.

With this in mind, knowing some readers may be considering this option, I would like to offer some pointers in finding someone who suits both you and your child.

1) Look for qualifications.  Ask to see original copies.  I am not necessarily suggesting that you rule out anyone without a teaching qualification, but choose wisely if this is not available.  This applies particularly to primary subjects, there are many people who would have you believe that because they have a degree in maths they can teach a six year old with attention difficulties.  Or that they have a ‘system’ which will benefit your child no end (usually something a parent unfamiliar with good, thorough teaching might find reassuring such as levelled work sheets or books).  A qualified and experienced teacher will have a vast range of activities and ideas to call upon, professional knowledge, and behaviour management techniques.  Beware too of those who claim to ‘work in schools’ – they are not necessarily teachers.  They could even be the chef for all you know.

– Ask to meet them (they should not charge for this).  Ask them about their experience, introduce them to your child and see how they interact, ask them what their ethos is, try to gather if they are really interested in the child or just in taking your money.  For example, do they ask about what the school says? What the areas of weakness/strengths are?

– If they make promises of quick results, treat with great scepticism.  A good tutor will not make such promises but will reassure you that they plan to be thorough in their teaching.

– Find out what they charge and if there are cancellation fees.  A qualified teacher may seem expensive but they will generally bring a great deal more expertise to the job.

–  Contact references, always! And ask to to see CRB.

– There are various agencies out there which will be willing to do these things for you, at a cost.  Alternatively there are introduction sites where tutors advertise and you pay to get their details.  Read their profiles with a critical eye.  The odd typo is probably not a major cause for concern, but those who write ‘I am qualified tutor of English language, with maby year experience’ are probably best avoided, although they are usually the cheapest!  Paying the introduction fee can be a leap of faith but if you engage them in some email chat first, read their profiles carefully and have a look at the comments of other parents, you can get a good feel for the person.

–  Are they a teacher at your child’s school?  I personally do not feel that a teacher should tutor a child they have in their school.  It can lead to all sorts of complications and is a conflict of interest. I think it is highly unprofessional if your child is in their class.  It maybe worth asking teachers if they know anyone who could do it.  If they suggest themselves just say you are uncomfortable with mixing the two.

– Don’t feel you have to pay a tutor if your child is doing ok.  There are lots of websites offering parents support in helping their child at home.   I will try to list some at a later date. I am also happy to answer questions from parents on this blog – if you would like any ideas on how to address a topic please feel free to ask.

I hope this has been helpful.

Leave a comment »

a skeleton without flesh is just a pile of bones (helping your child use language with imagination and enjoyment)

Adjectives, adverbs, similes, superlatives, comparatives, synonyms, homographs, etc, etc, etc ….

You can download any number of work sheets designed to practise these things in technical sense, but being able use them to enrich and enjoy language is a different ball game.  Yes, it can be a ball game, it can be any type of game!  You don’t have to force your child to write copious stories and compositions in order to get them right – language games and word play all provide opportunities to extend children’s grasp and use of language.

Here are some ideas:


The more stories and books you read to children, the more ideas they will have to draw on when writing their own compositions.  Read with expression, throw yourself into the story (if you’re a bit self conscious don’t try this in a busy tube carriage), do accents (even if they are absolutely terrible and sound nothing like they’re supposed to, it demonstrates difference in characters if nothing else!).  Wonder what will happen next.

If you are pushed for time (or on the tube) download some audio books for your child to listen to on headphones.

Don’t stick to one author.  Horrid Henry is popular so, even if you can’t stand the little brat, indulge your child’s interest.  BUT also insist on reading some other books, the trade off being that they don’t have to do the reading themselves. Pick books you loved as a child.  If they are dated, use it to your advantage as a discussion point. I often tell children ‘When I was a little girl…’ which they seem to love as they consider me rather old and possibly not ever a child.


A great poem by Sylvia Marks, which describes an imaginary animal and is written entirely in similies.  Make up your own crazy monster:

‘Head like a football

Teeth like glass


Then get the other person to draw it!


Find some old magazines on a theme which interests your child, cut and stick the items, price them and describe them for the customer (if your child is reluctant writer focus on single descriptive words).  I recently assisted in the making of one entirely dedicated to shoes and handbags!


One player (1)chooses a noun (such as school or car) and roles the dice for the other player (2).  The second player (2) must then think of that number of words which relate to the main one and write them in bubbles round it (attached by a line).  Then  (2) rolls the dice for (1) who then has to attach that number of words to ANY bubbles.  And so on until you have a massive spider diagram.


Both of you make a shopping list  (always let your child see you making and writing things as you go – they get a much better understanding of the task than they do from a pre-written, pretty-pretty worksheet!)

Each list must have ten items, such as:

smelly sausages

rotten eggs

Then you read your lists to each other, then swap.  Cross out words to turn each other’s list from disgusting to delicious:

Succulent sausages

Fresh eggs.

The best thing is that you can use words they won’t be familiar with, you can explain them and they will have a larger vocabulary without knowing it.

You can also play this game with menus, or slightly change the focus to animals or transport or such.


Draw out a simple track game with empty squares.  Write a word in each (colours, feelings, textures etc).  Roll a dice, whichever word a player lands on they have to think of as many words with similar meanings (blue, navy, turquoise) as they can in one minute (30 seconds for adults!!).  At the end of the track count up to see who has the most words.

This week little shoots loves:

The new (second hand) bingo machine we got for £1 from a charity shop. It needs a little wd40, but it is amazing how enthusiastic you can suddenly get about adding and subtracting tens and units! Turn twice each and add up your scores! Take turns to roll the machine, put the balls in the right order on the board – 10, 23, 75, which do you need to put down first?  So many games, so little time….

Electronic dictionary bookmarks

Beats leafing through a dictionary in this technological world.  You can have it in your copy of The Secret Garden ready to translate all those obscure (well, obscure for some of us, but we can’t be good at everything!) Yorkshire words as you go along.

How many ‘r’ s in the curriculum?

Following on from last week, we did a web search on the words ‘schools should teach’.  Here were some of the results (bear in mind some sites were a bit obscure or not from the UK), made me wonder how much time and money they think schools have.  After all there are only so many hours in the day, however worthy the suggestions:

Apparently we should teach (as discrete subjects – rather than as part of subjects such as CPSHE or history):

computer coding

girls to find supportive husbands (!)

driving science (how to drive a car – that from the AA)

how not to drown


Arabic, Spanish, French, Mandarin etc etc etc etc

data security

disability history

(don’t get me wrong, remember this is about discrete subjects.  History is a huge subject and can be spliced by various means.  As far as I am concerned History should be tailored to the needs of the groups and should in all cases encompass a wide range of themes and represent varying social groups.  However, if we had to teach ALL possible strands separately, as different subjects, we would never teach anything else.)

business intelligence

entrepreneurship (though many entrepreneurs hated school and left young, so teaching it would seem a bit suspect)

employability skills

cooking and cleaning (apparently parents are too busy to teach this any more)

social responsibility


junk food

civic and government

family and consumer sciences

Leave a comment »

game on! (adapting games you already own)

I rarely bother with the rules in the games I use.  Some of those supposedly designed for seven year olds have instructions which resemble those for building your own house from scratch.  Mostly I find, it is the boards, cards and equipment that are useful for adapting to the needs of my students.

So here goes, a few off the top of my head:


Who doesn’t love Monopoly money?  Make a mini catalogue from the Argos one by cutting out and sticking things which will appeal to your child.  Give them prices which accord with what you want to practise.  For example, if you want to practise counting in fives, give the items prices which are 5, 10,15, 20, 25 etc.  Split the pile of £5 notes between you, take turns to choose something and find the right number of notes to pay for it.  If your child choose a bike for £15 they have to count out three notes.  You can do the same with the £1s and £10s.  Or practise one more/one less by saying there is a mistake in the catalogue and all prices are £1 more or less.  Your child can work out the correct price then find the notes they need.

Snakes and Ladders

A game which never seems to end!  Quicken it up by multiplying each dice throw by two, or three.

Magnetic fishing games

These only ever seem to be used for counting to ten.  Make your own fish from paper and attach them to paper clips.  Put numbers 10s numbers and units on them and lay face down, fish for two numbers at a time.  Add your two numbers together.  Let the other player/players have a go whoever has the highest score (and adds its correctly) gets 1 point.  Play ten times to see who will win.

Or write key words on paper and cut in half (splitting them after the onset – pl/ay, thr/ee, b/ig, w/ent).  Take turns to fish and try to catch a whole word in two goes.  Person who finds the most correctly wins.


Roll a dice and make words with that many letters, take turns.

Put out four rows of four letters in a cube (or more depending on the age of your child).  See how many words you can make.  They all count so long as the letters are touching in some way (such as at corners) , they don’t have to be in straight lines.

Make spelling words with the letters.  Challenge your child to shut their eyes and then work out which letters you have removed or swapped around.  Let them do the same for you.

Make words and change a letter each, in turn, to make new words – silly ones are allowed for younger children.  Just laugh and say ‘Jat is a funny word, I’ve never heard of one of those – have you?!’

Have an alphabet race.  The person who can put all the letters of the alphabet in order first wins (just make sure you have enough of every letter for each player!).

1970’s card game ‘My Word’

Deal five (or ten) cards each.  Take one from the main pile and place face up on the table.  Players take turns to place ANY one of their cards next to another to make a word and get points.  Encourage them to look for the highest scoring combination.  Record each score and add up total at end.  Beware though, this game can get highly competitive.  Also, if there are two cards and you can fit a card in the middle which will make say two words and one gobble-de-gook word, allow it.  But they only get points for the real words made.

Hungry Hippos

Assign set points to the balls – each one worth say 2 or 5.  So if you get ten balls, that’s two points each so you can count up 2,4,6,8,10.  A fun way to practise times table concepts informally.

Guess Who

Choose a character and write a profile for them.  Where do they live? What colour socks do they wear?  Take turns to ask a question and have the other person answer it.  Have some fun! Maybe create whole families and stories about them.

I’m sure there are a hundred more, just let me think on it….

littleshoots is loving:

Magnetic gel boards.  They have little pens which go with them and only work well if you don’t press too hard.  You can rub out with pressure from your fingers.  Great for practising handwriting with the under confident or those struggling with fine motor skills

Mellisa and Doug puzzles

Especially the one with door and window fastening which I have been coveting since seeing it at a friend’s house!


A new section  : The three,make it four,make it five, no make it six, Rs!

What teachers should apparently be teaching in schools alongside traditional subjects.  This is just to see, over time, how many different calls for teaching in schools there are.  If you spot one let me know!

This time it is Facebook safety



starting school – but don’t grow up too soon!

Children are starting school much younger these days than they did in previous generations in the UK and in recent years we seem to have begun to develop the attitude that the earlier they start the more they will learn.  However, what is often meant by ‘learn’ relates only to numbers and letters,  and persists (and worryingly seems to grow) despite the reams of evidence to the contrary.

Take Finland, the country which tops the worldwide educational tables, where formal learning does not begin until the age of seven.  This does not mean that the children are doing nothing until this time but merely that Finland has excellent provision for rich, meaningful experiences and play in the years before compulsory school.  Finland has 100 % Literacy rates.

The British obsession with attempting to make very small children write sentences, combined with political meddling and the posturing of some massive egos within the educational world, has put massive pressure on children and parents.  I am constantly being asked what children need to be able to do to be ready for school so here are some tips, and also the reasons why!


Jigsaws engage problem solving, spatial and pre-reading skills.  They also promote concentration.

Songs, rhymes, music and dance

Children with a sense of rhythm are, apparently, often better readers.

This makes me chuckle as my partner (who is a DJ) has a great sense of rhythm but won’t read anything which isn’t a manual, where as I (who was expelled from ballet school, aged six, for being ‘uncoordinated’ and was recently referred to as ‘an enemy of the beat’) could read for hours and usually has about six books on the go!

Dice and Counting games

Any game which involves moving a counter one step at a time (Snail’s Pace, for example, looks ridiculously simple and pointless – however it actually teaches the skills for counting on a number line.  You would be amazed how many children cannot count the ‘jumps’ accurately).

Games such as ‘Scare Crow’ are fantastic for building counting skills.  Being able to say numbers 1-100 may sound impressive in a four year old but it doesn’t meant that they can actually count or have a workable knowledge of any number concepts.  I could learn to recite the names of all the parts in a car engine if you gave me enough chocolate but I couldn’t identify them or use them to build a working engine without experience of the machine itself.  A secure ability to count ten objects is far more useful in the early years than parroting 1,2,3,4,5 etc out of context.

Books, books, books (and not reading scheme ones!)

How can you write a good story if you have never heard one? Story telling has been a childhood tradition since time immemorial.

Let your child ‘read’ you the story (tell it from the pictures or from memory).  This is an important pre-reading skill.  Simple reading schemes have their place but you tell me which is going to foster a love of books – studying the photos of tigers in a non fiction book belonging to Daddy because you are fascinated by them OR sounding out ‘c-a-t’ followed by ‘b-a-t’ on each page of a reading book?

Cutting and Sticking

Being able to control scissors effectively is not only an incredibly useful presentation skill but also encourages those fine motor skills.  Children who can use scissors will have more success with handwriting than those forced to copy ‘a’ over and over.


Names are extremely powerful for beginning to recognise letters.  Usually the first one a child knows is their own initial letter sound.  Let your child write their name on all sorts of things. If it looks like a scribble still praise the attempt, if it only has two of the letters or is upside down and back to front don’t worry.  It will work itself out.  Use other names in the family to expand the repertoire.  Draw attention to upper and lower case letters – and please don’t teach your child to write their whole name in capitals.  You will desperately be trying to stop them using capitals T-O-M throughout their writing when they are seven!

Role Play

Someone once described the importance of role play to me thus –  humans can solve problems in the abstract and can plan for different eventualities.  If they did not have imagination then they could not do this.  Role play enables children to (among other things)  see not only what is before them but also the possibilities a situation may present.  Get out your old shoes and necklaces, that 1990’s cordless phone gathering dust under the stairs, draw rings on an upturned carboard box and cut a door in it -voila an oven!

Grow something

What better way to introduce the idea of cause and effect, and thus early science?  Make it more gratifying by planting something you can eat!

Think big

Cheap paper table cloths make excellent canvasses for map making, finger painting, printing (make your own wrapping paper from them!), patterning etc.  Patterns are vastly important to later maths learning.  The ability to spot and continue patterns can make a huge difference to achievement.


Much of the academic side of things will come if you take an interest in your child and engage them in a variety of activities.  If it makes you feel any better my mother tried very hard to get me to read before I started school. She used to get these packs with word cards and games delivered every month. It didn’t work – I couldn’t have cared less.  That was until the first day of Reception when it transpired that Emma Johnson had read the first set of Billy Blue Hat books at home.  I was so jealous I was reading simple words myself within a few days! I was just ready!

Leave a comment »