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September 07th, 2015

Back to school - is it with trepidation or delight?

How are you feeling about the return to the school routine? Perhaps you have a littlie starting school for the very first time? Or a tween making that big transition to secondary school? 

Many clients we speak to are breathing a huge sigh of relief as getting back to a regular routine and a bit of ME TIME is much needed, but there are others for whom the transition may not be so welcome. 

Perhaps you are feeling anxious about the rushed mornings and the thought of getting everyone up and out of the house by 8.15am or earlier! 

Perhaps you have a child who does not like change or transition and finds going to school hard. 

It may not surprise you to hear that the key to a successful return to school is PREPARATION, PREPARATION, PREPARATION! 

Take some time NOW to Set Up For Success  with these top tips

Physical Preparation 

This year make getting ready for school a team effort as much as possible. 

  • Change schedules - Routines usually become more flexible during the holidays. Consider moving back to a term-time schedule a few days in advance of school starting. Allowing time to settle down to the term-time regime BEFORE the impact of the first day back makes a smoother transition.
  • Uniformdo make sure the uniform and shoes still fit in time. Don’t leave it till the night before to check it’s clean and pressed. Consider whether your child is now old enough to take more responsibility for looking after his uniform, putting it in the wash and checking that it’s ready the night before. Is everything marked? Perhaps the children can even learn to sew on those name tapes and polish shoes.
  • Other kitinvolve the children in assembling what they need for school –there will probably be a checklist from the school.
  • Lunch if your child takes a packed lunch to school a few days before term starts practice making it - and eating it - as it may be different from what they’ve been having in the holidays. Involve them in the preparation.
  • Infrastructure –set up notice boards for schedules somewhere conspicuous. Have designated, accessible places for school bags, shoes and coats. Consider whether keeping toothbrushes and hairbrushes downstairs would facilitate a quick getaway in the mornings.
  • Morning task list  - help your children be independent by setting up a list of the essentials that need to be done. After teeth and hair brushing and packed school bag and making bed they then get to select a  non-material reward perhaps choosing which music to listen to in the car, or selecting the scooter instead of walking to school. Be creative and pick a reward that motivates your child! 

Chat through what is needed for the first day back - ask the children questions to get their input and Descriptively Praise their answers.  Ask THEM to write shopping or other lists and check items off. All these things help them not only take responsibility and develop competencies which boosts self-esteem.. 

 

Emotional Preparation 

Emotional preparation is just as important as getting kit together. 

Build confidence by focusing on your children’s efforts, attitude and improvements – not results!

Although schools keep their main focus on results, we can provide an alternate view, putting the emphasis on the journey or process. Keep noticing their efforts WHENEVER your children display them describing in detail the ‘good’ stuff they do. 

Praise them for qualities that they are showing in non-academic areas such as perseverance and  they will likely transfer those attributes to school life.

For example: “I am impressed how you kept working on this juggling. It’s complicated and time-consuming but you persevered until you could do it.” Or “You made such an effort to keep up with everyone today, and you kept a smiley face and a happy voice which meant we all had a lovely day out together.” 

Helping them cope with their feelings

There are many feelings associated with school – good ones, and not so good ones. And we need to know how our children feel – even when the feelings are ones that we’d rather protect them from, or don’t feel comfortable handling. 

When we accept and validate uncomfortable feelings we reduce the need for children to ‘act out’ these feelings in ‘misbehaviour’ - such as being ‘mean’ to siblings or rude to parents or defiance. We help them learn how to identify and manage negative feelings appropriately. 

For example: “I imagine you are totally exhausted by all the new people and places you have dealt with this week. It probably feels quite overwhelming.” Or “You might feel like you can’t possibly do one more thing for anyone this afternoon. You’ve been told what to do all day long, and now all you want to do is nothing.” 

Remember, there is a clear distinction between acknowledging negative feelings and condoning negative behaviour. So, although it’s understandable a child might feel left out at school, it is NOT acceptable to hit a sibling. 

Sometimes children’s excitement at starting school is tinged with the conflicting and confusing feeling of anxiety. 

Sometimes feelings show up in butterflies in the tummy, headaches, eczema or nausea. It can help children to know that these feelings won’t last and there are solutions too, like breathing, visualisations or distraction. It helps to hear that other people have similar feelings – most children love hearing about your experiences at school. 

Empathise with any reluctance to go to school. It is TOTALLY normal for there to be times when they don’t want to go. Knowing that feeling is understood and accepted makes it easier to keep going. 

For example: “I bet you wish you could stay at home today – it’s such a huge change to being on holiday. You probably wish we were still on the beach.”

“You might be wishing you didn’t have to change schools.  You feel sad about leaving your friends and teachers.  Maybe you are worried you won’t know anyone and you won’t make friends quickly.  You might miss your old school for a while. Maybe a part of you is also looking forward to making new friends and having more activities. It can be confusing when you feel two different feelings at the same time.”

Continued reluctance may mean there is something else going on which merits further investigation. 

And three last tips! 

First, remember how tiring school is for children of all ages.  It’s not unusual for children to display regressive behaviour – sucking thumbs, using baby voices, or disrupted sleep and rudeness  because they are so exhausted by their efforts to be ‘good’ at school.  Plan time for them to rest each afternoon and at the weekend – avoid lots of playdates and activities until things settle down. 

Secondly, our children follow where we lead. When we enthuse, we create enthusiasm. When we look forward to new challenges, they do too. And when we show an appetite for learning, they pick this up.  So, be positive about school, and it will help give them a very good start. 

And finally, “rushing is the enemy of love”. I know it sounds obvious but just getting up 20 minutes earlier will enable you to get on top of things and prevent overwhelm and stress. When we start the day off feeling in charge we will feel more confident about using all our skills and get results! 

Follow  these tips and let us know the results and any other great tips for helping your children go back to school?

If you found these tips useful why not sign up for a regular dose of parenting news, information and ideas in our newsletter and share this blog with your friends?

Happy parenting,

Elaine and Melissa

 

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December 04th, 2014

Surviving the 11plus exam preparation

While many of us are looking forward to the holiday season, many families will be trying to combine having some fun with preparing for January exams. What can we do to support our children in the lead-up to these important days, without losing all the festive spirit? 

It’s too easy to say “make a revision schedule and stick to it” because we all know this will work in theory, but what we want to know is HOW we can do it in practice. What’s the right amount of revision? Too much, too little - how do we get the balance right? We all know we need to make revision motivational and rewarding, but we can’t keep handing out sweets or letting them use the i-pad, so what can we say and do that will encourage our child to persevere and feel confident they can do what is required?  We all know that on the day it’s going to pay off to be organised, and if our child is getting anxious, they will need to breathe. But what is the best way of preparing ourselves and our child so they go into the exam with the best chance of doing their best? For full details on how to motivate without pressurising and how to support children’s learning see our publications on 'Creating Happy Learners' and 'How to Handle Homework Horrors'. Below are three ideas that we know will help, but aren’t usually mentioned.  

LET them do it their way (a bit!) and have a choice
And this doesn’t mean doing NO revision! Try, whenever possible, to let your child revise their way rather than insisting they do it your way. Most children find it very hard to sit still and simply regurgitate facts and in fact being forced to be still may impede their learning. Many learn better by moving, maybe hitting or bouncing a ball, or simply walking around the room. Others are more visual and need pictures – get drawing with shapes and flow-diagrams on a white board, or blank postcards. Other children are more auditory and they may find background music helpful and not distracting. They may find making up songs or poems, or using mnemonics helpful – it doesn’t matter if these are wacky and not very serious. They just need to be memorable to your child. Your child remembers things differently to the way you do now as an adult.  

ALLOW them to be upset or worried – name it to tame it!
This probably the biggest stress they’ve been under in their life, so it would be strange if there weren’t some tears and tantrums, but this doesn’t spell doom and disaster.

Our instinctive reaction is of course to reassure and try to push them through to feeling ‘better’ about revision and exams so we say “don’t worry, it will be absolutely fine soon, it will all work out” or “You poor thing, this is just awful and unfair” or “Come along, there’s no need for all this upset, it’s just a test, you need to toughen up and get your head down, getting cross doesn’t help any of us….”

Instead we need to really listen to how they feel and then help them work their way towards a solution. We have to connect first, before they can trust us to redirect them. For example: “I sense this is really getting you down right now. I wonder if it feels like this is all you get to do, and maybe you can’t see the light at the end of the tunnel. Maybe you’re scared about what will happen after you’ve tried your best….”

This doesn’t make them feel worse, or feel anything they don’t already feel, but it does make them feel connected and understood. This in itself is calming. Take care not to add “but….” afterwards because this undoes everything you’ve done so far. It’s usually best to keep quiet and hear how they respond. Most children feel less resistant after they’ve been allowed to express their reluctance to do something.

And make sure that you don’t add to their stress by the way you’re talking about these exams. Scare tactics don’t usually make children perform better.  

UNDERSTAND their reluctance
We can understand how they feel about revising, and still require that they do revise. But we need to understand why they don’t want to do it – we often start with the assumption they are lazy, not taking it seriously, etc, and when we approach it this way, it ends up negative and confrontational. And ineffective!

Children want to do well – it’s in their nature. And they do care about the result and their future (to the extent that they can imagine their future), and what we think about them, even when it may not seem that way!

The problems come when they start to believe they can’t do something well, and that we are not happy with them, so they pull back from trying. Some children will bluster this out and vigorously assert they don’t care or they may simply shrug and refuse to put much effort in. In their mind, they believe this will protect them from the failure they fear is coming – the price they have to pay on the way is to accept the negative reaction they get from us….

Our best approach is to face this head on – but not with a direct question, let alone an accusation! So, try “I wonder if you’re worried about trying hard, and still not getting a good mark. It’s scary to push yourself to the full, and not know whether you will achieve what you hope for. It may feel as if you’ve used up all of your brain power. In fact your brain grows the more you make it struggle with things.”  Wait here, this isn’t the time to go on to lecture about how this is how life works, and they have to learn to knuckle down and get on with things….. Let them open up and talk to you about how they feel about the exams. It may be quite illuminating – they may have some cross-wires in their understanding, which you can help untangle. Or there may be some real issues that are concerning them that you can help them address. These things don’t come out with direction questions such as “what’s wrong, what’s the matter” etc. Most children duck these questions with ‘nothing’ because they sense a judgment in the question that they are wrong to be worried etc.  Empathise also with the fact that they’d just rather be playing and that other children (and adults) don’t have to be working as they are. 

Make sure they do have some down time.

Remember that this stressful time will pass and think of it as an opportunity for your child to learn how to handle the stress that they will inevitably encounter in life. Encourage them to employ some anti-stress measures such as physical play and having a good laugh –maybe a joke book in the Christmas stocking! Make sure you look after your own stress levels too. 2 joke books.

How does your child react to stressful situations? What do you do to inject calm? Let us know your thoughts.

If you found the ideas in this blog helpful do share them on your favourite social media outlet. 

Wishing you a happy Christmas and calm holidays,

Melissa and Elaine.

 

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October 17th, 2014

Understanding the Independent Girls Schools 11+ Process: What you need to know and how to protect your daughter’s sanity and self-esteem.

The process of applying for independent secondary schools for girls at eleven can be a nightmare for many reasons. Parents and girls are subject to extreme pressures so to take some of the stress out of it we set out here in simple terms how it all works, including insider tips. 

The 11+ process starts to pick up steam from Year 3.  Many preparatory schools commence Christmas and summer exams and girls and parents start to get a sense of how the girls are performing academically.  The subjects of particular importance are English comprehension, English composition, Mathematics and Science. 

In Yr 4 parents start to think about and schedule preliminary visits to potential schools.  Exams become more formal with revision being expected. 

Yr 5 is the year of heavy lifting when most of the 11+ syllabuses are covered.  Depending on how their child is fairing academically, this is the point that many parents start to get their children tutored.  This is particularly true in London where there is intense competition for London day school places and many parents fear taking a too softly, softly approach.  School visits happen in earnest in Yr 5.  For parents considering boarding schools this is particularly important.

Boarding schools

The boarding school process is quite different from the London day school process. With boarding schools you register approximately 18 months in advance.  When enough people have registered they close their lists.  Even for the most academic boarding schools there is likely to be no more than four girls registered for each place.  As soon as you start Yr 6, in the September or October, your daughter gets invited to spend a day at the school.  There may be some computerized aptitude tests (normally some combination of verbal, non-verbal, mathematical reasoning questions), an interview, a chance to do some sport and a general seeing if you will fit in.  The Head Teacher’s report from your existing school is particularly important and there will be an emphasis on your Yr 5 academic performance. 

Just a few weeks after your school assessment you are told whether you are being offered a place.  You can apply to lots of boarding schools but once they have sent out their offers, you can only accept one to sit the 11+ Common Entrance exam for.  The Independent Schools Examinations Board organizes this exam. In mid January of Yr 6 you sit the 11+ exam – this normally takes place at your own school and is then sent off to your chosen boarding school to mark.  The results are normally sent out two weeks after taking the exam. Each school has it’s own mark scheme and pass threshold.  If you reach the necessary pass mark you are then automatically accepted.  For boarding schools you sit papers in English, Maths and Science. There are a few boarding schools that have their own exams so these can be sat for in addition to the 11+ exam. 

In general the boarding school route is much less pressured and there are quite a few good girls boarding schools in easy reach of London including Wycombe Abbey (High Wycombe), St. Mary’s Ascot (Ascot), Downe House (near Oxford), Benenden (Kent), St Mary's Calne (Wiltshire), St. Swithuns (Winchester) to name just a few.   

London day schools

For the London day school process parents generally have to register their daughters to sit the exams by November of Yr 6. There is no limit to the number of exams you can sit.  Some of the London girls’ schools have formed a consortium for purposes of the 11+ exams. The North London Independent Girls’ Schools Consortium comprises two groups of schools that have their entrance examinations on the same day. Schools in the same group set common papers using the same mark scheme.


Group1:
Francis Holland (Clarence Gate), Francis Holland (Graham Terrace), Heathfield School, Notting Hill and Ealing High School, Queen’s College, St. Albans High School, St. Helen’s High School, South Hampstead High School, The Royal School, Hampstead

Group 2:
Channing School, City of London School for Girls, More House, Northwood College, Queen’s Gate School, St. James Independent School, The Godolphin and Latymer School.


By sitting the exams for these two groups you are covering a lot of schools in one go but many London girls schools are not part of these consortia.  For instance, St Paul's Girls School (for which you need to pass a computerized pre-test in November before being eligible to sit the exam), North London Collegiate School, Putney High School, Lady Eleanor Holles School, Latymer Upper, Wimbledon High School.
This means that many girls sit exams for 5 -7 different schools/consortia over a two-week period in early January.  The exams are generally English and Maths (no Science).  Some schools also test for Verbal and Non-Verbal reasoning.  This can be very exhausting for the child. 

If you score highly enough in these exams, you are invited in for an interview.  The head teacher’s report will also be taken into consideration at this point. Many of the day schools are highly competitive – in some cases there will be up to 10 applicants for every place.

Around the middle of February the day school places are awarded. The deadline for acceptances for the day school places is early March. 

What do I need to think about as a parent? 

From Year 3 you need to start thinking about what type of school – boarding or day – will suit your daughter and your family. 

From Year 4 start to narrow the list and get as much information as possible, talk to other parents who have children at these schools.  Where possible do preliminary visits. 

From Year 5 do follow up visits.  Visit as many times as needed so you really understand a school’s values, culture and how it will fit with your daughter.  This is the year to decide if you do want to go down the boarding school route (many parents who feel it is too early to make this decision apply to a limited number of boarding schools and then to day schools as well). 

Your daughter’s wellbeing

Consider carefully how hard your daughter is working, particularly if you decide to go down the tutoring route. With girls you have to be very careful about their mental health.  There is some evidence that girls’ brains have a higher blood flow through the area of the brain that handles emotions, thereby making them more susceptible to depression and anxiety and also the pervasive feeling that they are never good enough and they should be striving for perfection.   

Whilst for many parents an academic education is important - it is only one part of a bigger picture.  Confidence, curiosity, resilience, emotional intelligence, good social skills are key to a fulfilling life, so it is important not to focus exclusively on academics.  Girls need to keep a balance in their lives so make sure they keep up the extra curricular activities they enjoy and that there is still plenty of fun and family time at the weekends.  

In Year 6 the boarding school process will start immediately and there is only a term until the 11+ exams.  Try to de stress their lives as much as possible.  Make sure they understand your love and acceptance is not dependent on how well they perform in their 11+ and that the world is much wider than this process!   You can do this by focusing not on exam and test results but on the effort they put in, strategies they use for learning, attitudes they show, improvements made and when they don’t do so well what they can learn from that. Give them lots of descriptive praise and empathise when things are tough. And make sure they get some play time! 

If you want to know more see our publication on Creating Happy Learners. http://www.theparentpractice.com/shop/publications 

Wishing you a stress-free approach to secondary school preparations.

Do you find the school system stressful? What are your tips for counteracting those pressures? 

If this information has been useful to you share it on your favourite social media platform. 

Jenny, Melissa and Elaine

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