Ideas for the school holidays

Kathryn Ryan from Radio NZ talks to Karen Boyes about fun and family in the school holidays.


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Nathan Wallis and our brain

If you click through to around the 7th minute into this TV programme, Nathan demonstrates, using a group of school children, how their brain works.  Take a look.

Nathan Mikaere Wallis is a neuroscience educator, early childhood teacher, primary teacher, lecturer, and parent.

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Speech Development in pre-schoolers

As heard on Radio NZ 12 April 2018 on Nine to Noon with Kathryn Ryan.  Copy and paste the attachment below to listen to this excellent interview.


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Nigel Latta comments on Self Control

Nigel Latta comments on Self-Control.

I’ve talked about this a few times but thought I would post an article I wrote a few years ago for the simple reason that self-control is an important predictor of future outcomes for kids. Fortunately, it’s also a skill that can be learned – so read on….
When you think about it, self-control is one of the most basic skills that we need to get through life. Self-control is what gets you through when your idiot boss tells you he needs that report by five o’clock when he’s known about it for three days. Self-control is what gets you through when you’re trying to lose a bit of weight and you see the best white chocolate muffins in the history of muffins sitting on the counter right in front of you when you go to pay for your trim flat white. Self-control is also what gets you through when your precious little one breaks the window with the ball that you’ve told them not to kick inside a thousand times.

Self-control is a very good thing.

Up until very recently though, we didn’t know just how good it was, and the story of how we found this out is almost as remarkable as the information itself. Way back in the early seventies a group of researchers at Otago University in Dunedin decided to examine every baby born in the city between 1972-73. All the parents brought all these babies in. A few years later these same researchers decided to follow up these 1073 babies to see how they were going at age 5 years. Once again all 1073 babies came back in and this time the things they discovered were so remarkable that the researchers wondered what would happen if they followed these babies for their whole lives? What would they find then? Incredibly, that is exactly what they’ve done for the last four decades.

The things they have discovered about the factors which influence our development through the lifespan are changing all of our lives. A few years ago, some of the researchers published a paper about the impact of self-control on children’s lives. In my opinion this was one of the most amazing scientific papers I have ever read (and trust me, I’ve read a few) and I also think it has really important implications for anyone who is in the business of making and growing little people.

What is self-control?
It’s kind of obvious at first glance but it’s useful to break it down a little. Fundamentally the ability to exercise self-control is about the delay gratification (which basically means waiting rather than grabbing what’s in front of your face), control impulses (so you don’t dump your popcorn over Mr Big Head who sits right in front of you at the movies), and reign in your emotions (so you don’t scream at your partner who went all the way to the supermarket and brought back everything except the can of pineapple pieces you actually wanted). Self-control is also a fundamental part of self-discipline, conscientiousness, and perseverance. There are particular parts of the brain that are involved in the exercise of self-control, and there also seem to be both genetic and environmental influences on how good we are at it.

What did the researchers find?
Before we get to that you need to promise me that you’re going to read the whole article before you do anything. If you just read this next paragraph and stop then you’re probably going to panic a bit and go off and start doing all kinds of mad stuff.
So read it all, ok?

Essentially what they found is that low self-control in children predicted all kinds of problems later in life. If you had low self-control as a child you were more likely to have problems with alcohol and drugs, become a teen parent, have financial problems, and have problems with your career. You also were more likely to experience health problems later in life as well.
Right now, out there in Littlies-land, there will be a parent who has broken out into a cold sweat having decided that their little person has very little self-control and therefore is now doomed to a life of substance abuse, teen pregnancy, and crime.

So why would I burden you with this information?
Simply because just as that stuff is the bad news there is plenty of good news as well. Just like low self-control is bad, having more self-control is good. What’s more the researchers also showed self-control is something that can be developed over the lifespan, and those children who do end up doing better as a result. So if you have two children with low self-control then the one who develops/learns self-control ends up better off in adulthood.
This is important and so I’ll just say it again: Even if you have low self-control as a child then you can learn to develop self-control as you grow and this will have real benefits in your life. The big message here for all of us parents is not that low self-control is bad, but really that we can help them to develop self-control and the more we do that the better they will be.

How do you teach self-control?
So here’s the bit which is really cool, because the way that you teach children to develop this amazing, life-changing skill, is just by doing all those good old fashioned things that good mums and dads have been doing ever since children were invented. You don’t have to buy any special equipment or learn some special technique or learn special magical words. You just keep doing what you’ve always been doing.
If you think about the basic tasks involved in self-control (delaying gratification, managing your feelings, controlling your impulses, persevering, and being conscientious) it all becomes much simpler. All you need to do is help them to see the connection between those things and the payoffs, and then giving them plenty of chances to practice self-control.

Here are a few ideas to get you started… most of which you will almost certainly already be doing:
* Reward good behaviour and punish bad behaviour. This provides motivation to control those little impulses and focus on the longer term reward.
* Don’t give them everything they want whenever they want it. Make them wait for things from time to time. Waiting is a skill that needs practice.
* Teach them that sometimes you have to do things you don’t like (eg picking up your toys) to get access to things you do like (eg walks in the park).
* Praise sharing with their friends and others. This helps them to understand that grabbing stuff first isn’t as big a payoff as good times with the people you co-operate with.
* If you start walking up a hill don’t give up just because little legs get a bit tired. Push on and then make a big deal of the sense of achievement you get from doing things that are hard. The best views tend to be from the top of the hill in life, not the bottom.
* When they are old enough for pocket money pay them a pittance. You learn more if you have to save hard for something, and it means more to you when you eventually get it.
* Model all of these things as much as you can. None of us are perfect, let’s be honest, just practice what you preach as much as you can manage.
* Instead of telling them how clever they are, praise the effort. So instead of saying how clever they are for building a block tower tell them what hard workers they are and that the reason they are so good at building block towers is because they work away at and practice really hard.
* Learn that guests choose their biscuits first.
* Even if you are angry you still have to speak nicely to your parents. This is a skill they will need when they get their first job working for an idiot. Sometimes you just have to shut up and smile politely.
* Basically anything and everything that involves them reigning in their impulses and focusing on the bigger picture.

Remember that it’s a developing thing
It’s very important to remember that self-control is not something little people possess in any great amount. Most young children have very little self-control. If the block tower falls over many of them will dissolve into tears and tantrums in abundance. If they can’t have the dolly with the pink dress they scream. If you don’t give them the blue cup right now the world ends. All this is very normal. It usually takes about a decade for children to really master self-control in any meaningful way. Some of us struggle with self-control many decades down the track. It’s normal for young children to be impulsive, selfish, instant reward oriented, impatient and short sighted.
All these things are simply part of the journey from no control to having as much of it as you can manage. The ability to exercise self-control is important but just like any life-skill (eg juggling, lion taming, solving Rubik’s cube) it takes time and a lot of practice.

The really important thing here is that there is now some very solid science which totally supports all that old common sense stuff mums and dads have been doing forever. What’s especially nice I think is that we can now say with absolute certainty to our children that it really is important to let the guests choose their biscuit first, to share your toys, and to figure out some other thing to do when your little brother annoys you other than clouting him. We can say and know with absolute certainty that we are helping them to be better, healthier, more productive, and happier grownups.

And that’s the best science of all.

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New Entrant Parent Information

Further to our own transition to school programme, the information below should help to answer many of the questions you may have about school.
First steps – before your child starts
Have a play at the school in the weekend – walk around, explore the playgrounds, look through the windows and get familiar – things that become familiar are not scary.
Have a chat with the teacher.
When teachers know children well they can support them better. It is always helpful to know special health needs and also what your child enjoys doing, what they are good at and what makes them happy.
If you child has special learning needs they often get identified in that first year of school. If you have any early concerns it is great to chat to the teacher.
It is lovely to share your child’s portfolio from kindy. A great snapshot to what your child has already learned and great to extend the relationship from kindy to school.
Teacher tips
Before your child starts school, it is great if they can:
• Do up their shoes
• Put on and take off their coats and jumpers
• Go to the toilet and wash their hands
• Unpack and hang up their bags where they are told
• Open and close their lunchbox by themselves and eat independently
Parent tips
Your child will find it easier if you can teach them to:
• Sit on a chair at a table for 5-10 minutes to complete an activity
• Become comfortable being away from you
• Know how to take turns and wait for things
• Know the letters of the alphabet
• Know the numbers 1 to 9
• Write their name
School bag
Make sure your child’s school bag is big enough to fit a lunchbox, book bag, library books, warm jumper, but small enough so your little person can still wear and carry the bag by themselves. Remember the whole goal of that first year is independence.
In your child’s school bag ensure you have their lunch and a water bottle.
Suggest to eat 1 or 2 things from their lunchbox for morning tea and the rest for lunch.
Note: The children feed themselves at lunchtime. We do not allow you to come in and feed your child or bring in a hot meal for them. Encouraging independence is a big part of the first year of being at school.
Other things that might go in the school bag…
• Sunhat in Terms 1 and 4. (It is compulsory to wear a hat outside in all New Zealand schools during our warmer months).
• It is a good idea to put in a change of clothes in case of toileting accidents in that first year.
Naming clothing
PLEASE name all your child’s clothing, shoes and items. It is so easy for items to get misplaced and nearly impossible to return if not named.
Put sunblock on before your child goes to school in Terms 1 and 4. You child will also need to wear a hat every time they go outside in Terms 1 and 4. The New Zealand sun is very harsh and if you do not apply sunblock your child’s skin will burn in our harsh climate.
Mornings before school
Teacher tip
Give yourself plenty of time to get ready so you don’t all feel rushed and stressed. Some children get upset walking in late.
Arriving at school
• Go into the classroom and say hello
• Please tell the teacher about after school arrangements if you won’t be the person picking up your child
• Ask your child if they need to go to the toilet
• Chat with the other children together
• Make goodbyes short – teachers have lots of experience helping children to settle in and managing an upset child.
Timing (check with your individual school – this is a general timetable)
Class starts at 8.50 am.
Morning Tea is from 10.30am – 10.50am. During this time encourage your child to eat a healthy snack (1 or 2 things from their lunchbox), and have a drink.
Lunch is from 12.30pm – 1.30pm. Duty teachers check that children have eaten all their lunch so please try not to overfill their lunch box. Please let the teacher know if your child is not eating their lunch or coming home with a full drink bottle.
The school day finishes at 3pm. Before this time the children will work together to tidy the classroom, collect their belongings and say goodbye to each other. Please wait in the junior courtyard so that your child can see you when it’s time to leave. We do not let a child go until we have made eye contact with the parent or caregiver and if you are running late, please let the office know.
After school
Expect your child to be very tired in the first few weeks. Go home and just relax.
We suggest, instead of asking ‘how was your day?”, asking more specific questions can be helpful such as, “What did you write about today?” Letting them adjust to being at home before asking about school is helpful and even waiting until you are doing something else such as clearing up after afternoon tea can be a better way to casually chat about the day.
It is a good idea to not schedule in lots of afternoon activities – let your child get use to the routine of school first.
Your child will be hungry – a nice big healthy afternoon tea and water will be well received.
Schools are very busy places – being organised will really help you feel more settled. This new chapter will bring endless permission slips, parent help requests, newsletters, notices, homework forms, and so much more into your house. Using the school website to stay on top of dates is a great idea. There is a calendar on the home page.
2 o’clock pick ups (check this policy with your school)
For the first two weeks we suggest the children be picked up at 2 o’clock. We know many of the children have been in kindergarten for longer days, however school is very different and the children get very tired. Picking them up a little bit earlier at first, helps set them up for success and makes the transition to school more happy and manageable for them.
At School (may vary between schools)
Mat tips
Children sit on the mat at school for short bursts. It is a great advantage if they can sit for at least 10 minutes. Children are taught quickly that if they need to say something on the mat they need to put up their hand.
Children are encouraged to share news from home during sharing time. We get them to focus on talking clearly, making eye contact and answering questions. It is also the time we talk about being a good audience by listening and making eye contact back. Being thoughtful and respectful to others is promoted at this time.
For more specific information please visit the Education New Zealand website
Writing programmes initially aim to develop children’s ability to draw a picture, think of a sentence and record some of the sounds they can hear in words. Once they are able to do this independently, children then begin to develop specific elements of their writing depending on their needs. There is a daily handwriting programme as it is such an advantage when children learn correct letter formation early on and start with good habits.
Maths programmes begin with a whole class number warm-up, such as counting forwards and backwards. Then small groups of similar ability children, whilst the other children work on independent group activities that support their maths learning.
The New Zealand Curriculum
This website is great for highlighting our priorities for your child’s learning during their first year at school.
How to help at home
Schools need to work in partnership with families to support children to learn. Always talk to them for ideas but we suggest you look at this website.
Schools are busy places so keep an eye on what is going on, what is coming up and important dates on the school website calendar and reading the newsletters.
School is a wonderful new chapter in your child’s life.

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