Learning and laughing together – it’s ‘Family Learning’ month!

Learning and laughing together – it’s ‘Family Learning’ month!

Whether you’re a parent or a practitioner, the importance of educating children outside, as well as inside, the classroom, can never be underestimated. Although the traditional ‘nuclear’ family has changed considerably over the years, it doesn’t seem to have had an effect on the desire of parents, grandparents, carers and blended families to learn together, regardless of how the family is made up!

What is “Family Learning”?

‘Family learning’ enables families of all shapes and sizes to learn in a relaxed and fun atmosphere, which helps reinforce the importance of learning at home, outside the environment of the childcare setting, or classroom. It allows parents and carers to reconnect to learning and gives them an insight into how their children learn - which in turn helps to understand how to support them better.

The Family Learning Festival

The UK’s Family Learning Festival celebrates the values of learning as a family. It runs from 19th October until 3rd November and is organised by the Campaign for Learning, the national charity that aims to build a culture of learning everywhere.

“Family learning refers to any learning activity that involves both children and adult family members, where learning outcomes are intended for both, and that contributes to a culture of learning in the family.”

Get involved!

Schools and nurseries, libraries, museums, galleries and attractions get involved every year and put on brilliant and creative events, showcasing ideas and learning opportunities that families can do afterwards.

You can find out what events are taking place near you by visiting the Family Learning Festival website at familylearningfestival.com – here, you can also find some great ideas to hold your own event!

Why learn as a family?

  • It really does make a difference to children’s achievement. Research suggests that the learning we do at home is the biggest influence on the achievement of 3-to 7-year-olds.
  • Learning together as a family makes for an enjoyable and friendly environment. This can help build confidence and encourage us to try new things.
  • Parents and adult family members can help children foster a love of learning that will help them throughout life e.g. we learn to read at school but also learn to love stories at home.
  • It can inspire parents too. Adults who take part in family learning often discover a new thirst for learning, which can open up new opportunities.


Did you know?

  • Children only spend up to 20% of their waking hours in school
  • A four-year-old can ask up to 400 ‘why’ questions a day!
  • Kids are brilliant learners! By age 5, they will know over 3,000 words.
  • At the age of 6, we will have learned half of our adult vocabulary!

We know that the majority of children learn best when they are doing something for a real purpose….and, “just because they want to”, of course! So, playing games that bring to life and contextualise what the children learn within the childcare setting, is a great way for parents and carers to support this learning.

Engage and educate!

Real-life events and day-to-day activities enrich children’s understanding, by putting these experiences into action. Here are a few 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.

During story time, 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.

Learning as a family can help us to become confident, lifelong learners with all the benefits that brings - from better health to being happier! Family learning supports children to achieve at school and can be transformative, helping to find new passions and interests, and realise our aspirations through further learning.

Dyslexia Awareness Week

Dyslexia Awareness Week

Richard Branson is one of the UK’s most successful entrepreneurs: his Virgin brand operates over 60 companies in 35 countries; he has written 8 books and has over 41 million followers on social networks, and his net worth in 2019 was reported at just over £4 billion. That’s a pretty successful life in anyone’s book!

Yet Branson struggled in school and dropped out at 16 saying “my teachers thought I was lazy and dumb, and I couldn’t keep up or fit in - people just assumed that I was not bright when it came to academic things.”

It turns out that Richard Branson has dyslexia, which was little understood when he was at school and instead of receiving help and support, he says it was “treated as a handicap”.

Nowadays, much more is known about this complex, neurodiverse condition and many people now recognise that dyslexic people have many strengths. So, from 7–13 October, the British Dyslexia Association (BDA) is promoting Dyslexia Awareness Week to encourage everyone to empower people with dyslexia so that their gifts can be recognised, and they can fulfil their true potential. More than 10% of the UK population has dyslexia, yet often their needs are not being met, opportunities are being missed and we are not maximising the potential and abilities these people have, to the detriment of us all.

What is dyslexia?

Dyslexia is not an illness. It is a difference in the way that people’s brains work and a difference in how people learn and process information through their senses. It primarily affects a person’s reading and writing skills although not exclusively. For example, dyslexic people may have difficulty processing and remembering information they see and hear, especially linking letters to phonics, which can lead to problems with literacy. However, many dyslexic people display positive strengths in terms of their reasoning, visual processing skills and creativity.

Dyslexia does not affect a person’s IQ or intelligence, although because there is usually a great emphasis on reading and writing in schools, many dyslexic people can feel inadequate due to having a lower reading age than would normally be expected. Recognising that a child has dyslexia, and putting strategies in place to help them, is therefore vital to avoid self-esteem problems and to build on the strengths that the child does have.

Speech and language difficulties and dyslexia

Speech and language difficulties in early years have been linked to later childhood literacy problems through numerous studies, but there is much that can be done to help children in the early years develop their language skills if problems are identified early enough. A diagnosis of dyslexia can only be given after a diagnostic assessment, but these are not usually given until the child is around 7 years old and already at school. There are other causes of speech and language problems too, so the emphasis needs to be on identifying problems early (whatever the underlying cause) to allow interventions as soon as possible.

Signs of dyslexia in the early years

The BDA has listed several indicators which may suggest that a child has a Specific Learning Difficulty such as dyslexia. One of the problems of identifying them in early years settings, however, is that many young children will display the same behaviours and make the same mistakes, so it can be difficult to differentiate between dyslexia and differences in developmental timing. The BDA suggest that parents and early years staff should look out for “the severity of the behaviour and the length of time it persists” as this information can give vital clues leading to a diagnosis of dyslexia.

According to the BDA, indicators for dyslexia in young children are:

  • Difficulty learning nursery rhymes
  • Difficulty paying attention, sitting still, listening to stories
  • Likes listening to stories but shows no interest in letters or words
  • Difficulty learning to sing or recite the alphabet
  • Slow speech development
  • Muddles words e.g. cubumber, flutterby
  • Difficulty keeping simple rhythm
  • Finds it hard to carry out two or more instructions at one time, but is better if tasks are broken down
  • Forgets names
  • Poor auditory discrimination
  • Difficulty cutting, sticking and crayoning in comparison with their peer group
  • Difficulty in dressing, e.g. finds shoelaces and buttons difficult
  • Difficulty with catching, kicking or throwing a ball
  • Often trips, bumps into things, and falls over
  • Difficulty hopping or skipping
  • Obvious ‘good’ and ‘bad’ days for no apparent reason

What to do during Dyslexia Awareness Week

The aim of the week is to empower people with dyslexia, which can only be done if there is wider understanding and knowledge about dyslexia, and the myths surrounding it are challenged.

The BDA are asking nurseries, educational establishments and workplaces to spare some time to hold an awareness session, ideally facilitated by a SENCO or other suitable professional, including input from dyslexic people themselves. Obviously in an early years setting, the children will be largely unaware and undiagnosed but the aim is really to advance the knowledge of staff about the condition, and what can be done to help support children. There are lots of resources, videos and information on the BDA website: bdadyslexia.org.uk which are free to access to help you.

The BDA also run awards for dyslexia-friendly organisations helping to support people with neurodiverse conditions. The award, Literacy Leap, is aimed at early years settings, focusing on early identification and supporting children who may be at risk of dyslexia or other speech and language disorders with early interventions.

What you can do to help children
There are numerous interventions that can help children with speech and learning or information processing issues, including:

  • online and electronic language development apps
  • breaking words down into small syllables, prefixes and suffixes
  • reading together
  • adopting a multi-sensory approach to learning
  • taking the pressure off by understanding that everyone is different
  • awareness of visual issues such as fonts, colours and visual stresses
  • teaching to the child’s strengths

The important thing is to recognise that everyone is different and interventions should be tailored accordingly.

What to expect when working in childcare

What to expect when working in childcare

Have you ever considered working in childcare but don’t know what to expect? Maybe you’re a parent returning to work, or a school leaver seeking their first apprentice placement, or maybe you just want a change of scene, and childcare appeals. Whatever your current status, knowing what to expect will help you make an informed choice about joining the childcare workforce.

Childcare workers provide care and supervision for children. They can work in public and private settings including residential homes, hospitals, women’s shelters and educational establishments. As a childcare worker, you help shape the lives of exuberant and inquisitive little people as they work out what the world is, and their place in it.

According to Government statistics, as of March 31, 2019, the number of childcare providers registered with Ofsted, were1:
39,000 childminders
27,300 providers on non-domestic premises (group-based settings)
10,100 home childcarers (nannies)
200 childcarers on domestic premises (home-based settings)

That’s 76,600 providers, and 2018 statistics record 700,000 childcare workers in the sector.2 Each setting will offer different advantages and disadvantages, autonomy and working conditions, and like any career, starters and apprentices will have different day-to-day practices than an experienced, degree-qualified, nursery manager or owner.

But working in childcare is incredibly rewarding, so read on to see what to expect and if this career is for you. In this article, we have focused on nursery workers, which can also be known as nursery nurses, nursery assistants, pre-school assistants, playgroup assistants and childcare apprentices.

Day-to-day tasks

One great thing about working in childcare, is that everyday will bring something new. Yes, there will be routines to follow and schedules to keep to, but you will be working with children, and that means new situations, new ideas and new experiences.

Day-to-day tasks can include:

  • Planning and supervising activities, e.g. music, mark-making, arts and crafts, cooking
  • Helping with language and numeracy skills through games and activities like phonics and counting
  • Taking part in trips and activities outside the setting or in an outdoor space
  • Supporting children at mealtimes
  • Feeding and changing babies and assisting with toilet training toddlers
  • Observing children and making notes on their development
  • Safeguarding children
  • Managing children’s behaviour in a positive and nurturing way
  • Helping children’s social, emotional and educational development
  • Setting-up and packing-away equipment as needed
  • Dealing with children with special needs
  • Following rules and adhering to your setting’s policies and procedures

As you gain more experience, you could progress to become a key worker for one or more children, which may include liaising with parents or providing reports on the children’s development.

Qualifications expected and regulatory checks

Childcare is a career that you can still get into without having formal qualifications, although most settings will expect you to be able to demonstrate that you have some interest in the sector or at least some experience, even as a volunteer. You can expect there to be competition for places on college courses and apprenticeships, and most settings will expect you to train for at least a level 2 or level 3 childcare qualification on the job if you do not already have qualifications.

Childcare qualifications range from level 2 (equivalent to GCSEs) right up to post-graduate and research level, and the higher paid jobs with more responsibility, will inevitably require a higher level of experience and qualification.

You will also need to have an enhanced Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) check but this is a standard requirement for anyone working with children.

Environment and working hours

Childcare workers are employed in different settings, including:

  • Dedicated childcare premises or crèches
  • Daily childcare settings (such as those who operate from church halls or community centres who set-up/pack-away daily)
  • Domestic settings
  • Playschemes
  • Children’s centres
  • Primary schools

The majority of childcare is provided during normal working hours, although this can vary if you are employed in a domestic situation. In a dedicated setting, you should normally expect to work an 8-hour day, 5 days a week but nurseries can be open from 7am to 6pm or even later, and you might need to work a shift system to cover the operating hours. Your setting may also work Saturdays in some cases.

Some jobs, such as those in reception classes in schools, may operate during term-time only which may appeal.

You will also be with predominantly female colleagues since only 2% of the current UK childcare workforce is male.

Earnings & career advancement

According to Total Jobs, the average salary for childcare jobs is £27,000, ranging from £20,536 to £37,0003. Starter salaries and apprenticeships are lower, but apprentices will get at least the national minimum wage, currently £4.30 per hour.

Tips and advice

Wherever you end up, when you work with children, you can expect to work hard for your money. It can be a stressful environment, but it’s also an incredibly creative, rewarding and fulfilling one too.

Our advice is to make sure you do your homework about the setting you are thinking of working in. Read their relevant Ofsted reports, which will give you more information about the environment and ethos, and talk to people actually working in childcare to find out what they think are the pros and cons of the industry.

If possible, try to gain some experience as a volunteer before you commit to a course or apprenticeship, so you are making an informed decision based on some practical knowledge or experience. This could be baby-sitting for friends and family, as a volunteer or as a nanny. Visit All for Good, where you can search for volunteering programs in your area, including assisting with child care.

For more information on Parenta childcare apprenticeships, see:


Let’s go outside this autumn

Let’s go outside this autumn

As the weather gets cooler and the evenings draw in, we are reminded that it’s no longer summer. In the UK, we have four seasons, each with a very different climate. Of all the different times of the year, I think autumn is my favourite, not least because of the beautiful colourful trees and yummy fruits that are readily available! In addition, autumn can be a very special time with young children and there are lots of lovely activities we can do.

In the past, this time of year was referred to as ‘Harvest’, but as farming communities decreased and more and more people lived in towns, the term Harvest lost its significance and now predominantly refers to the process of reaping or harvesting the crops, and we use the word ‘autumn’, after the Latin ‘autumnus’, to describe the season. There are also a number of festivals and celebrations that take place in autumn and we may choose to acknowledge them in our settings, for example, All Saints Day (Christian), All Hallow’s Eve (Halloween), Thanksgiving (Canada and United States), and Sukkot (Jewish). So there is lots of scope for celebration!

For me, however, the best part about autumn is depicted in a cool, crisp morning walk, in dappled sunshine under trees with fiery leaves. The leaves of deciduous trees change colour from green to all shades of red, orange, yellow, gold and brown. Usually a leaf is green because of the levels of chlorophyll and as the sunlight hours shorten and the air cools in autumn, the chlorophyll begins to decrease and the leaf loses its green colour leaving us with a beautiful landscape. Part of teaching children about the world around them will include teaching them about growth, decay and changes over time. So talking with children about the changes they notice with autumn leaves is a really good introduction to this. One childminding team shared with me recently that during an outside session, a child found a tiny leaf which magically encapsulated all of the colours of decay. This tiny leaf sparked discussions about how leaves decompose and the cycle of life and death.

With children there are a number of things you can do during the autumn. In the past I have made up rhymes and songs to sing with the children using a familiar tune, and taught the children some actions. For example, (to the tune “Rock-A-Bye-Baby”):

“Red rosy apples on the treetop, When the wind blows the apples will rock, When autumn comes the leaves will fall, And down will come apples, leaves and all.”

Often the environment itself will be an invitation to play for many children, however, you may also want to extend their interest in all things autumn with a few of the ideas below. Most of the ideas are free and many are outside or bringing the outside in.

  • Go on a welly walk and find some muddy puddles to splash in
  • Play outside in the mud kitchen
    Visit a local woodland and make a den
  • Try apple bobbing
  • Teach the children some harvest songs like “Cauliflower’s fluffy”
  • Collect conkers or acorns and use them as counters
  • Sort leaves into different colours and shapes
  • Go on a colour hunt – offer the children colour paint swatches in autumn colours and encourage them to find something the same colour as their card
  • Collect as many different coloured leaves as you can – you could stick some double-sided tape to card for children to use as a collection base
  • Use a wax crayon to do some bark or leaf rubbings (most successful back in the setting after the walk, resting on a table)
  • Make an autumn leaf dream-catcher
  • Thread leaves onto a thin stick
  • Make some autumn-scented playdough with the children, using spices such as cinnamon, nutmeg and mixed spice
  • Print using natural materials, leaves, twigs and stones
  • Make a natural paint brush by tying a feather or leaves onto a stick and then paint your own autumn picture. You could even crush some blackberries in a pot as your paint
  • Press pushpins into a pumpkin and encourage the children to arrange elastic bands around them to make different shapes
  • Why not brighten up the day and carve a smiley face into a pumpkin (children will need help with this)
  • Make a stick-man or stick-lady
  • Make an apple crumble or apple pie or another traditional autumn dish
  • Pick some wild blackberries (reminding the children never to eat anything unless a grown-up has said it is safe to eat)
  • Find a sycamore tree and throw the seeds into the air then watch them spin around
  • Create a leaf crown by attaching leaves to a card base or weaving leaves together


Going on an autumn walk is also the perfect time to share with the children about plants that can hurt us, like the prickles on brambles or a stinging nettle or thistle. While collecting conkers and acorns or picking blackberries, we can also talk about the importance of not eating seeds and berries unless an adult has told them that it’s safe to do so, and we can show children how we can wash fruit before we eat it. These lessons are much better learned outside where they naturally arise through what we experience with our senses.


Share a simple poem with the children and encourage them to find different ways of moving to the words…

Autumn leaves are falling down
Autumn leaves are falling down
Leaving us a golden gown.

So celebrate the changing seasons with the children and whatever you do this autumn, go and play outside!

About the author

Tamsin GTamsin Grimmer photo2rimmer is an experienced early years consultant and trainer and parent who is passionate about young children’s learning and development. She believes that all children deserve practitioners who are inspiring, dynamic, reflective and committed to improving on their current best. Tamsin particularly enjoys planning and delivering training and supporting early years practitioners and teachers to improve outcomes for young children.

Tamsin has written two books – Observing and Developing Schematic Behaviour in Young Children and School Readiness and the Characteristics of Effective Learning.

You can contact Tamsin via Twitter @tamsingrimmer, her Facebook pagewebsite or email info@tamsingrimmer.co.uk


Share a simple poem with the children and encourage them to find different ways of moving to the words…
Autumn leaves are falling down
Autumn leaves are falling down
Leaving us a golden gown.


Supporting an angry child in your setting

Supporting an angry child in your setting

All young children display extreme emotion from time to time. If you have a child in your setting that is repeatedly displaying angry behaviour, then it can be particularly scary, disruptive and stressful; both for that child and the other children around them. Here are some strategies to put in place for a child that may be struggling with their anger.

1.  Teach the child about emotions. Show them different feelings and help them to recognise these in their friends, book characters, and eventually in themselves. On this journey, it helps if you label their emotion for them – “I can see that you are angry”. A child needs to recognise their emotion before they are able to address it.

2.  Teach children to recognise the physical responses to being angry – again, another tool to helping them recognise and understand what is going on. Talk to them about how it actually feels to be angry – you become hot, your cheeks go red, your heart starts beating faster and harder and you might feel butterflies in your tummy. If a child is able to recognise these signs in their body, then they are on their way to being able to recognise their own anger and handle it appropriately.

3.  Separate the feeling from the behaviour – “it is OK to be angry, it is not OK to hit”. Help the child to understand that they are not wrong to experience the emotion and nobody is cross with them for feeling it, they just have to be careful how they act on it.

4.  Give the child a strategy. Work with the child (at a time that they are calm) to come up with a plan, that is right for them and your setting, for when they are feeling those physical responses to anger. It may be that they go to a room by themselves, hit a cushion, squeeze a sensory ball or spend time outside. Lots of children find sensory play such as bubbles or water-play very calming. They need the opportunity to work through their anger without making things worse by hurting someone or something.

5.  Verbalise your own feelings to demonstrate how you handle them. “That made me feel very cross so I’m going to take some time on my own to calm down”. Don’t forget that you are one of the child’s role models, therefore do your best to remain calm when dealing with both their anger and your own.

6.  Encourage them to talk. There will be a reason for their anger and hopefully, in time, you will be able to get to find out what it is and help them with it. It can help to use puppets or comic strips to encourage a child to talk about their feelings. It is very likely that the anger is a result of things happening outside of your setting but you can still help the child work through their feelings about it and, if necessary and appropriate, feedback to their carers. Remember – behaviour is communication.

Don’t forget that the child that is getting really angry is going to feel really scared and out of control at that time. Your ultimate goal is for that child to be able to come to you and tell you how they are feeling before it builds to an angry outburst. By remaining calm and showing understanding towards the way they are feeling, you should gradually be able to earn their trust and lessen the anger.


About the author

Gina SmithGina Smith is an experienced teacher with experience of teaching in both mainstream and special education. She is the creator of ‘Create Visual Aids’ – a business that provides both homes and education settings with bespoke visual resources. Gina recognises the fact that no two children are the same and therefore individuals are likely to need different resources. Create Visual Aids is dedicated to making visual symbols exactly how the individual needs them.



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