The benefits of animals for children’s development

The benefits of animals for children’s development

There’s no doubt that the UK is a nation of animal lovers! You only have to look around at the number of us who co-habit with pets of every shape and size, the predominance of pet shops, and the amount we spend on our pets each year, which currently runs into the tens of billions of pounds. Pets are big business, but we rarely count their worth in money. In fact, most of us have admitted we would rather reduce spending on ourselves than our pets, because our pets can melt the heart of even the toughest cynic, remind us of our humanity, our unity and our underlying need for unconditional love.

Perceived benefits

Animals have anecdotally been reported as being of benefit to children by parents, teachers and childcare professionals for a number of years. Some of the benefits reported include:

Improving confidence and learning about unconditional love

– pets do not judge children with any moral compass; they simply give love and affection regardless of the child’s mood or recent behaviour (provided no negative behaviour has been directed towards the animal). Children often find animals comforting if they are feeling sad or low as the pet is always there to ‘listen to’ and ‘accept’ problems, when adults may not be.

Teaching empathy and respect

– animals need to be treated with love, empathy and respect, just like humans. And whilst they may enjoy a cuddle sometimes, at others, they may need space, feeding, grooming or walking. Children can learn to be empathetic to the needs of the animal and to recognise these needs without using words. This is an excellent skill to have in dealing with humans who may not be able to express emotions too well themselves.

Understanding the circle of life

– watching a pet be born, grow up, reproduce and eventually die, helps children learn about life and death. It may be a difficult lesson for most, but it is an essential one, especially if dealt with in a sensitive manner by the adults around them. It may be a cat or dog, hamster, fish or worm; the process of grieving and learning that ‘life goes on’ and memories will remain, is one that we all need to learn at some point.

Learning to appreciate nature and the natural world

– by observing animals, children can get an understanding and develop an appreciation for the natural world around them. They can observe different animal lifecycles and learn about reproduction by watching a caterpillar turn into a butterfly or seeing the lambs being born at a local farm. With the right encouragement, it can also lead to an interest in the natural world and an appreciation for all forms of life on earth.

Teaching responsibility

– although most animal species have been around on the planet a lot longer than humans, and as such, are very self-sufficient, the ones we have spent time domesticating, or those we keep in captivity, need our help to survive. This means they need feeding, cleaning out and exercising regularly, depending on the animal. This is a great way to teach children about looking after others and although no pet should be the sole responsibility of a child, they can learn to take on certain responsibilities (such as feeding or refilling water bottles) with the aid of a supervising adult.

Helping with communication

– we might not all be Dr Doolittle, but animals can still be useful in helping children communicate. Dogs are currently used in schools to help boost the confidence of children learning to read. The children read aloud to a dog, who listens without judgement and the children learn to feel calmer whilst reading. The very presence of animals can help children to start to speak as they learn to communicate with another living being.

Scientifically-researched benefits

As well as anecdotal reports, there have also been a number of scientific studies confirming some measurable benefits in children. Pets have been shown to(1,2):

  • help lower blood pressure
  • reduce stress and anxiety
  • make recovery times shorter
  • improve social interactions
  • improve self-worth
  • reduce loneliness and depression

In children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), researchers found the children demonstrated more social behaviours and received more social approaches from their peers when animals were present, compared to when toys were present.3

What you need to consider

Bringing animals into your setting either as pets or with occasional visitors can have many benefits, but also requires careful planning and the safety of all children and adults is paramount. Therefore, before you consider bringing animals in, ensure that you have thought everything through, have the approval of parents, staff and governors and have suitable policies, risk-assessments and insurances in place. Remember to consider any allergies that children and staff may have, costs such as food costs or vet bills, and if bringing in a class pet such as a fish or hamster, determine who is going to look after it during the weekends and holidays.

Ways to introduce more animals into setting 

Here are some ways you can introduce more animals, without breaking the bank.

  • Visit a local farm or petting zoo – this can be an easy way to get children to pet animals and discover more about the natural world
  • Incubate some fertilised chicken eggs and raise some chicks
  • Order a butterfly nursery and teach the children about their lifecycle
  • Set up a fish tank – this can offer sensory and visual stimulation too
  • Introduce some rabbits and/or guinea pigs but ensure they can be properly looked after• Start a worm farm – another great way to introduce children to natural science
  • Feed the birds/local wildlife – set up some feeding/watering stations to welcome some British wildlife to your garden
  • Go on a bug or mini-beast hunt – you can do this in your outside space or at a local park

However you choose to introduce more animal interactions in your setting, we’d love to hear from you and see your pictures. Please email us at marketing@parenta.com. 

References

1. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/3236382

2. https://habri.org/research/child-health-development/

3. https://www.relias.com/blog/animal-assisted-therapy-for-autism

How to involve parents with children’s learning

How to involve parents with children’s learning

In today’s modern society, when parents are often working full-time (and subsequently short on time!) it’s not uncommon for their children to be placed in childcare for up to 50 hours a week. More often than not, your setting is the prime provider of early years education for these children. This, of course, is in contrast to years gone by when children would mainly learn the about the world – and their place in it – through conversations, play activities and routines with parents and families in a home environment.

By working in collaboration with parents, you can enhance children’s learning and development in ways that would not be possible without them. By working in collaboration with parents, you can enhance children’s learning and development in ways that would not be possible without them. A ‘partnership approach’ of sharing information to improve the children’s learning outcomes can prove really valuable in the long term.

What are the benefits of parents and childcare practitioners working together?

  • It gives parents a better understanding of how you are helping to prepare their children for success in school.
  • Parents learn how well their children are progressing in developing the building blocks of learning.
  • Parents learn ways to help their children at home.
  • You will have a better understanding of children’s backgrounds and experiences.
  • Children will see that the adults in their life care about them, and their learning and development.

When parents see you make the effort and involve them in the day-to-day education of their children, they can feel valued and respected, they become aware of their children’s experiences outside the family home and can then use this information to support their learning and development more effectively by reinforcing these experiences at home.

It works both ways too: practitioners can benefit from parents’ skills and expertise, they can gain a better understanding of the children in their setting and use this information to make learning more enjoyable and rewarding for all children. After all, the parents are the experts on their own children and so their feedback is invaluable!

With increasing emphasis on, and changes to EYFS, parents care more than ever about the education path of their child and we know they want to engage.

But how?

Collaboration

When you engage with parents, you automatically build a stronger “practitioner-family” partnership. This, in turn, leads to a better understanding of the child, increased feedback from parents on how things are going and ultimately, a happier and more successful learning experience for the child.

You could suggest new ways that parents can get involved and support their child’s learning at home, for example: when they are reading a bedtime story, they can ask their child to make predictions about what will happen next. This will help strengthen the child’s reading comprehension and reinforce their reading ability.

Communication is key!

Keep parents up-to-date as much as possible with what’s going on in your setting and what events or other activities are coming up. If you produce a newsletter, you could suggest conversation topics so parents can ask their children about what they’re learning and then this learning can continue at home, after the event. Even if you only produce a short newsletter, it’s really important to thank parents for all the ways they’re currently helping your setting and how this is impacting on the lives of the children.

 

Top Tip

A good way to engage parents and make them part of your extended learning team is to make your passion shine through – enthusiasm is contagious and parents will want to continue their child’s learning at home if they see how engaged you are!

Cutting through the barriers

Busy lives, financial worries, language barriers and time pressures are just some of the obstacles practitioners can be faced with which hinder the development of an open, honest and trusting relationship with parents. However, parents really do want to hear from you… they do want to get involved with their children’s learning outside your setting.

Say “cheese”!

A great way to communicate a child’s learning journey with their parents and carers is by sending updates that bring the learning to life. What parent wouldn’t love an update from you that includes a picture that catches their child in the act of learning something? If parents understand and are excited by the value of an activity, they are more likely to continue the learning at home and also provide feedback that you can use for future staff training.

Engage and educate with family learning

Here are a few examples of family learning which can easily be started in the childcare setting and then continued and extended at home:

  • Family history and culture sharing Demonstrating what a ‘family tree’ is can encourage the children to talk about where they come from – they can work at home to make their own family tree and share it with the others at their childcare setting.
  • Extended storytime During storytime, they can learn about different cultures and then discuss at home and bring something in which relates to their particular surroundings – e.g. a pebble from the beach where they live, or a leaf from a walk in the woods, or something that symbolises their particular culture.
  • Counting the pennies Playing ‘shop keepers’ at nursery can easily be put into practice while out shopping with family. Counting coins and pointing out groceries is an excellent example of fun, family learning.

 

If you would like to find out how the team at Parenta works in partnership with thousands of settings, helping them to engage with parents, involving them with their children’s day-to-day learning, talk to us about ‘Dayshare – an online daily diary software. Dayshare captures all of the day’s activities and allows you to upload photos and give parents a detailed insight into their child’s day of learning through play.

Call us on 0800 002 9242 or email hello@parenta.com

How our inner child affects us

How our inner child affects us

I talk a lot about early childhood programming and how a child’s consistent experiences form subconscious belief systems that then silently guide them throughout life. There’s always a big focus on how our actions as parents, practitioners and teachers impact children, but what about our own childhood programming and how that is now impacting us?

We are all walking around, looking at the world through a lens that is influenced by the internal programming we received in our formative years and in order to be the best that we can be, both personally and professionally, it is important to understand this programming and how it affects us on a daily basis.

How we consistently felt as children, the messages that were given to us by the actions and words of those around us and any major incidents that we went through will have likely created beliefs within us that now subconsciously impact our actions, reactions and decisions. If we grew up feeling valued and empowered, there’s a good chance that we will look at the world through a lens influenced by this belief and feel (more often than not) this way. However, if we grew up feeling like we weren’t good enough or unimportant, we will most likely view the world and ourselves in the same light or find ourselves in situations that reaffirm this belief.

Example

I always give the example of two people seeing a larger than life character who is dominating the room. One person might think they are inspirational and admire how they are commanding their audience. However, the other person might think they are ‘too big for their boots’ and be convinced that they were looking down their nose at them. Both people entered the same room but viewed it through a completely different lens.

This is because each and every one of us has our own set of beliefs that almost put a filter over how we see the world.

Neuroscientists have done studies showing that up to 95% of what we do is completely subconscious. This means that most of the time we are on autopilot with our subconscious mind in the driving seat. One of its main jobs is also to keep us ‘safe’. Now, safe to you and me would be to make good decisions, to react well and to surround ourselves with good people. However, ‘safe’ to our subconscious mind means keeping us in alignment with our beliefs no matter if they are good or bad. If we have a belief that we are ‘not good enough’, it is more than likely that the world around us will reflect this. We might be surrounded by critical people or feel that others look down their nose at us. Either way, what we experience will probably link to this belief in some way, shape or form because that is what we are programmed to see or feel.

Although what we experience is our truth, it is also important to realise that it is not necessarily the actual truth or the truth of others because we are all seeing the world through our own unique lens. It’s like one person saying that 5 + 5 = 10 and being adamant that they are right. However, another person argues that they are wrong because 6 + 4 = 10. Both are correct, each of them is just seeing it from a different perspective. Just because we are right does not mean

that someone else is wrong, which is  why it is important to try to view the world through other people’s lenses as well as our own.

Beliefs are created over time. However, two people who experience the same circumstances might react differently to the same belief. People who were put down a lot as children might get the belief that they are not good enough. However, one person might learn that they have to do as they are told and to acquiesce in order to get by, yet another person might learn that they have to be a bully in order to be heard. In my experience, in adulthood, we either mirror the main influencers that were in our life as children, or we rebel against them.

If we grew up feeling less than we might make a vow to never make anyone else feel that way and therefore conduct ourselves with kindness at all times. However, someone else might mirror what they experienced and become forceful and brash in a subconscious attempt to be someone powerful and significant. Either way, it’s important to try to understand our inner programming and to gain an understanding of how this can impact us as a parent, practitioner or teacher.

If we have a belief that we are ‘not good enough’, it is more than likely that the world around us will reflect this.

If we felt inadequate growing up and rebelled against what we experienced making a subconscious vow to never make anyone else feel this way, we might:

 

  • Struggle to assert ourselves and set boundaries because we subconsciously don’t want to see children feeling sad
  • Struggle to allow children to fail because we subconsciously don’t want them to feel like they aren’t good enough
  • Struggle to follow through with consequences because we don’t want to make children feel bad
With or without this vow, we can still also be personally impacted by a ‘not good enough’ belief. We might:

 

  • Struggle to accept criticism of any kind because it hooks into this inner feeling of not being good enough
  • Have a default setting that makes us feel that people don’t like us or judge us in some way
  • Doubt ourselves a lot
  • Put ourselves down
Either way, our childhood can impact us a lot. If we are struggling with anything personally or professionally, it can help to look at what belief might be linked to the scenario and where this came from in our own childhood. Self-awareness is crucial in life and by looking inwardly at our own programming, we can not only gain a better understanding of who we are and what drives us, but also avoid any of our own negative beliefs from being passed down to the little ones that look up to us so much.


About the author

Stacey Kelly is a former teacher, a parent to 2 beautiful babies and the founder of Early Years Story Box, which is a subscription website providing children’s storybooks and early years resources. She is passionate about building children’s imagination, creativity and self-belief and about creating awareness of the impact that the Early Years have on a child’s future. Stacey loves her role as a writer, illustrator and public speaker and believes in the power of personal development. She is also on a mission to empower children to live a life full of happiness and fulfilment, which is why she launched the #ThankYouOaky Gratitude Movement.

Sign up to Stacey’s premium membership and use the code PARENTA20 to get 20% off or contact Stacey for an online demo.

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How to help young children understand time

How to help young children understand time

As grown-ups, we spend much of our time thinking about time, whether it’s seconds, minutes and hours – or yesterday, today and tomorrow.

But as Dr Angharad Rudkin and I reveal in our recent book, “What’s My Child Thinking?”, time is an abstract concept for young children – and it will take a few years of their own personal life experience, along with thoughtful guidance from adults, for them to start to understand it.

Although it can feel challenging, helping children understand time is always worth it. Explaining the sequences of events and the passage of time from the past to the present – and the future – will not only help them make sense of their world, but will also make it feel like a safer, and more predictable place.

Here’s the “What’s my Child thinking?” guide to helping children develop their concept of time up to the age of seven.

Ages 2 to 3

At this age, children only really understand what they can touch or feel. They have not yet developed the higher brain functions to understand how to count minutes and hours. They also live mainly in the moment. Their concept of the passage of time is based on knowing that things happen at roughly the same times in their day, like getting up when it’s light, eating breakfast, lunch and dinner, and going to bed when it gets dark.

By hearing you link these events to words, like ‘before’ and ‘after’, a child will start to understand that things happen in a predictable sequence.

However at this stage, when you say ‘tomorrow’, that’s a concept which is still too far away and abstract for most children this age to imagine. As children are still developing self-control and so find it hard delaying gratification, this can also make them seem very impatient to adults. This is because in a child’s mind, they want an event they are looking forward to, like a visit to the zoo, to happen right now – so that’s when they think it should happen.

How to help:

Avoid telling children about events too far in advance: At this stage, save the news of exciting upcoming events until a few days or hours before, so they do not get too overexcited too soon.

Use lots of time words: Nursery-age children are ready to understand concepts like ‘before’ and ‘after’, so work these words into your descriptions of their day.

Show how time passes: As they get a little older, you can use visual tools to help children understand time. For example, you could stick a timetable of the week on the wall. If you are planning a zoo visit for example, you could move a picture of an animal along as it gets closer to the day you are going.

Age 4 to 5

By this age, a young child’s understanding of time is starting to evolve. They have experienced enough of the routine of life to start to understand that days add up into weeks and months. This means they can now refer to events that happen as ‘last week’ or ‘next week’, though they may not get these descriptions quite right.

So a child who says “yesterday” may be talking about an event that happened two of three days ago. By now, children are also gradually developing a concept of the years passing. So a four-year-old may now hold up four fingers to show you what age he is. The same child may also have enough experience of the world to relate activities to different times of year.

So he may understand that Christmas happens when it’s cold in winter, while Halloween takes place when the leaves fall off the trees in autumn. This means children can start to look forward to events, like birthdays, several months in advance.

How to help:

Listen to memories: Pay attention when children talk about the past and ask for more details. Ask a child what they were feeling or thinking at the time. This sort of interaction makes a child feel important and validates the way they experience the world.

Introduce concepts of smaller units to time: Help them learn to divide up time into minutes and seconds. Try an egg timer, which takes one minute to empty, to show how long it lasts.

Help them notice the weather: Watching the weather can help children understand the passage of the days. Making a weather chart in which youngsters can mark their observations will enable them to better understand the ideas of ‘yesterday’, ‘today’ and ‘tomorrow’ better.

Age 6 to 7

By now, children, understand that clocks represent the symbolic passing of time. They also understand that time passes in a predictable way – in the same units of seconds, minutes and hours – for everyone. This is partly due to the fact that children’s frontal lobes are now more efficiently wired up to the rest of their brains, so they are able to start viewing the world in a more logical way. This allows them a better grasp of what numbers can symbolise, while their working memory allows them to hold numerical ideas in their heads. This higher-order thinking also allows them to plan more for the future and have a better memory, so they are now better able to understand the broader concepts of the past, present and future.

How to help:

Teach kids the value of time: Set start and end times on a timer to show children how to estimate how much time an activity, like putting away toys, will take. Make it fun by turning it into a race. This is not to pressure them, but to help them estimate time and develop planning skills.

Read clocks with them. Start with the short hand. Tell them look at where it’s pointing first to find out what ‘o clock’ it is. Explain that when the big hand goes all the way round and back up to the top again, an hour has gone by. Show them how to make a basic clock out of a paper plate and write the numbers round the edge in the same order so they start to understand the concept of ‘clock-wise.’

Show them how time relates to their day: Talk about what a clock face will look like – and where the little hand and big hand will be – when their favourite things in the day happen, so they start to notice how time passes.

Taken from “What’s My Child Thinking? Practical Child Psychology for Modern Parents”, by Tanith Carey and clinical psychologist Dr Angharad Rudkin, which uses child development to look at more than 100 different scenarios for two-to-seven-year-olds. Available in book shops and on Amazon.co.uk.

About the author:

Tanith Carey writes books which offer a lucid analysis of the most pressing challenges facing today’s parents and childcarers – by looking at the latest research and presenting achievable strategies for how to tackle them. Her books have been translated into 15 languages, including German, French, Arabic, Chinese and Turkish. Her 2019 publications are “What’s My Child Thinking? Practical Child Psychology for Modern Parents” and “The Friendship Maze: How to help your child navigate their way to positive and happier friendships”. Tanith Carey writes books which offer a lucid analysis of the most pressing challenges facing today’s parents and childcarers – by looking at the latest research and presenting achievable strategies for how to tackle them. Her books have been translated into 15 languages, including German, French, Arabic, Chinese and Turkish. Her 2019 publications are “What’s My Child Thinking? Practical Child Psychology for Modern Parents” and “The Friendship Maze: How to help your child navigate their way to positive and happier friendships”.

An award-winning journalist, Tanith also writes on parenting for the Daily Telegraph, The Times, the Guardian and the Daily Mail, in which she also serialises and promotes her books. She is also a regular presence on TV and radio programmes, including the NBC Today Show in the US and Radio Four Woman’s Hour and You and Yours.
Her full bio can be found on her website at www.cliomedia.co.uk and you can follow her on social media channels @tanithcarey.

Talking about difference: profound disability

Talking about difference: profound disability

In our settings, we explore many differences with the children we support: we talk about the changing seasons, we explore different cultures and ethnicities, we celebrate festivals and we talk about growing up and growing old.

Difference is a part of life; a very wonderful part.

This is my second article in a series of four, talking about difference through the lenses of disability, neurodivergence and social and emotional wellbeing. Difference is always immediately relevant to children, because all children are different. When we learn to recognise and understand difference in others, we are better equipped to recognise and understand our own differences. Teach children to embrace difference, and you teach them to embrace themselves.

My first article talked about children with Down’s syndrome. It is very likely that the children in your setting have, or will, encounter someone with Down’s syndrome. In this article, I am going to be talking about children who have profound and multiple learning disabilities. It is much less likely that the children in your setting have encountered someone with a profound physical disability, but it is no less important to talk about them.

The reason the children in your setting are unlikely to have met someone with a profound and multiple learning disability is because they lead hidden lives. A long time ago these people would have been locked away from society in institutions on the outskirts of town. Today, the institutions have closed but we do little better than before. Take toilets for example: Imagine if I suggested to you that you take the children in your setting out to a place that had no toilets? You would be unlikely to go. Very unlikely!

Children with profound and multiple learning disabilities cannot use disabled toilets, they need a Changing Places toilet – this has a large changing bed and a hoist to lift the person onto the bed. Over a quarter of a million people in the UK need a Changing Places toilet, but they remain few and far between, even hospitals do not have them! Consequently, the families of people with profound disabilities are less able to get out and about. We may think of these lives as being very far removed from our own, but a twist of fate, and they could become ours. We are not so far away from their reality.

Imagine being the parent of a child with profound and multiple learning disabilities and taking them to the supermarket. Imagine all the logistics this would entail, how much harder it would be than your regular trip to the supermarket. Now imagine that when you get there, people stare at you, parents pull their children away from your child, children make faces of disgust at your child.

This rejection of your child is by no means the biggest burden that you have faced, but you are braced for the big attacks and are ill prepared for the small ones. It is the straw that breaks the camel’s back, not the load it was already carrying.

Preventing that hurt is simple, because it comes about through a lack of understanding. People stare because they want to learn more. Parents pull their children away because they understand staring is rude (but in that pull is the message that the other child is something bad). Children make faces because they do not know what they are looking at. Once people understand (adults and children) they will respond to people with profound disabilities in much the same way as they respond to anyone else.

As we did with children with Down’s Syndrome show the children in your setting some pictures of children with profound disabilities and ask them to describe what they see. Accept answers about clothes and hair colour, etc. in the same way that you accept answers about twisted limbs and mobility equipment. Help them to shape their answers so that they are factual not judgemental, e.g. if a child says “Her legs are wrong,” shape this to “Her legs look small, or twisted, or have a support on the outside.” They are not wrong, they are different.

My own son is five. He has been helping me with my work with children with profound disabilities since he was 18 months old. He talks about them as “my friends whose bodies do not work properly.” He is fascinated by their differences, not afraid of them. I am always clear with him about what his friend’s bodies can and cannot do, and what they are interested in. Together we find ways they can play together and everyone has a lot of fun.

Engaging children’s curiosity and wonder is a great way to approach differences that are too complex for them to fully understand yet. I write sensory stories for children with profound and multiple learning disabilities: these are concise narratives in which each sentence is partnered by a rich and relevant sensory experience. Sharing a sensory story can be a fun way to explore how someone with a complex disability might learn and have fun.

Explain to the children that the children with profound disabilities they have seen pictures of, often have sensory impairments as well as mobility impairments. Ask them, “If you couldn’t see a picture, how could I show you what was happening in a story?” See if someone says “make a noise” or “touch something”. Share a sensory story to gain an insight into how much fun it can be to learn in a different way.

End by asking the children if they would be interested in getting to know someone who had a profound disability. What might they do if they met someone with a complex disability when they were out and about? Teach them to smile and say hello. When you do this, you turn the straws that break the camel’s back into lifelines of hope for a more inclusive, friendly world.

For more information about Changing Places see www.changing-places.org
For more information about Sensory Stories see www.thesensoryprojects.co.uk 

For more information about people with profound and multiple learning disabilities go to www.PMLDlink.org.uk

“Sharing a sensory story can be a fun way to explore how someone with a complex disability might learn and have fun.”

About the author

Joanna Grace

Joanna Grace is an international Sensory Engagement and Inclusion Specialist, trainer, author, TEDx speaker and founder of The Sensory Projects.

Consistently rated as “outstanding” by Ofsted, Joanna has taught in mainstream and special-school settings, connecting with pupils of all ages and abilities. To inform her work, Joanna draws on her own experience from her private and professional life as well as taking in all the information she can from the research archives. Joanna’s private life includes family members with disabilities and neurodivergent conditions and time spent as a registered foster carer for children with profound disabilities.

Joanna has published four practitioner books: “Multiple Multisensory Rooms: Myth Busting the Magic”“Sensory Stories for Children and Teens”“Sensory-Being for Sensory Beings” and “Sharing Sensory Stories and Conversations with People with Dementia”. and two inclusive sensory story children’s books: “Voyage to Arghan” and “Ernest and I”.

Joanna is a big fan of social media and is always happy to connect with people via Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn.

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