Top tips for a great after school routine

Now the summer holidays are over, kids across the country are back to school once more. Whether they are returning to the same school, are starting school for the first time, or have progressed from infant to primary school it can be challenging, for both parent and child, to get back into an effective after school routine after that long, sun filled break!

If you’re finding it difficult to get back into the swing of the term-time routine, read on as we list some top tips to ensure that afterschool time is spent effectively, winding your child down after a long day of learning and preparing them for their next day ahead.

Pack a healthy snack

Even after the most nutritious lunch, with so much energy and lots of running around children are often hungry at home time, which can quickly lower their mood. After school it can be tempting to head to the local shop for crisps, chocolate, or other sugary food and drinks. Be prepared and bring with you some fresh fruit, veg or other healthy nibbles that will fill them up, without spoiling their evening meal.

Save their energy

Younger children may find a long day at school very tiring, which can make the walk home very difficult. However, it is best to try to keep them awake so that their sleeping pattern isn’t disrupted. If you are walking home, bring a scooter or some other toy vehicle that you can place your child in to push them along, saving their energy while also making the journey home fun!

 Or burn it off!

Alternatively, some kids will be bursting with energy at the end of the day, ‘letting loose’ with their parents after a long day of being on their best behaviour. If there is a local park, make sure to stop there for a little while on the way home when the weather is nice, or bring bikes and other fun toys for your kids to ride home on, allowing them to burn off their energy.

Unpack bags before its too late

Make sure to unpack your kid’s bag as soon as you get home. Doing so, you can make sure that you receive all the letters that have been sent by the school and can be aware of any homework that may need to be completed. This helps you to keep up to date with what is happening at your child’s school, helping you to prepare for any upcoming trips, events and special classes.

 

How to get children to follow rules

Every parent has a different parenting style; what works for one doesn’t work for another. And what dad allows mum doesn’t and vice versa. However getting children to follow rules takes a unified effort – no matter what their age.

Young children are prone to simply doing as they wish despite parents’ best efforts, but when they grow up, some can really push boundaries and it can be difficult to get them to adhere to rules. Curfews, chores and screen time are common rules that can cause chaos and arguments in a household, so how exactly can you overcome this?

Turn your family into a team

Some rules, such as those involving safety, have to be set in stone for everyone’s protection, however if you let your children have a say in less important matters, they will feel more in control and it will feel less like a ‘rule’. Let them choose which chores they would prefer to do from a list for example, allow them to set their own bedtime (within reason) and let them decide which hours they would like to use the computer or watch television. This means they will be more likely to follow the rules as it is more of a choice for them.

Plan ahead

If you’re going on holiday, to visit family or friends or it’s the school holidays, some rules are likely to differ from the ones at home. It’s always worth planning ahead and talking to your children about what is expected of them in this new environment. The bedtime might be a bit later or they may be allowed more treats per week for example. Setting these rules at the start will minimise challenging situations when you get there. As it is fresh in their minds, it also makes them more likely to follow them.

Talk about things

Children see things very much in black and white. And if one of their friends is allowed to do something they can’t, it can make it extremely hard for them to understand why they can’t do the same. If you sit them down and explain that every family is different, with their own set of rules, nd explain why you have set specific rules, it will open up the lines of communication and give you the ideal opportunity to discuss matters.

Set consequences

There is no point in setting rules if there’s no consequences for not following them. If your children break a rule, give them one warning. However if this is repeated, you must act to avoid similar situations in future. Time-outs are a good consequence for smaller children, while taking away privileges, such as computer consoles, are better for older ones. This will minimise the chances this being repeated.

Reward good behaviour

Just like setting consequences, rewarding behaviour is an important part of parenting. All children love recognition and praise; however school children in particular respond to praise more than any other. School children’s brains are going through a stage of cognitive development. This means they’re becoming aware of their behaviours’ effects on others’. The type of praise depends solely on the activity. A simple pat on the back or small reward such as an extra hour on the computer is perfect for general good behaviour, but if they went above and beyond, a day out, a new outfit or a bit more freedom will go a long way. It’s worth investing a behaviour chart so your children can see their progress and work towards a reward.

Does your child need to be ‘unplugged’?

It’s no secret that we live in a digitally and technologically dependant society, with more and more of our daily tasks such as buying a train ticket, managing our money, booking a taxi and ordering food being done at the click of a mouse or the swipe of a screen. And it’s not only grownups that are glued to technological devices, kids often ask for smartphones or tablets for birthday and Christmas gifts, resulting in the younger generation also joining the tech-fuelled community.

A survey conducted on behalf of a kids clothing retailer found that 37% of the parents surveyed said that their child spent between one to two hours a day playing with technological gadgets, with 38% of children aged two to five old children owned an android tablet, 32% an iPad and another 32% owning a mobile phone.

Edward Timpson, and education minister is urging schools to teach mindfulness techniques such as yoga and meditation, in order to give them a peaceful break from the hectic online world. Timpson suggests that this is necessary in order to enable children to enjoy ‘good mental health and emotional wellbeing’.  But do our children need to be ‘unplugged’?

The risks of too much screen time?

Website, games and streaming services all provide sources of entertainment for children, as well as keeping them connected with their friends. However, this recent statement by Timpson suggests that it could also be having a negative impact. What are the risks?

Cyberbullying

Now, bullying is no longer restricted to the refines of the playground, and it can spread into a child’s personal, virtual life through the use of social media and other forum sites. Last year, a report by ChildLine revealed that they had seen an 87% increase in counselling about online bullying over the past three years. If your child is a victim of cyberbullying, and is constantly connected, then the negative emotional impact could be accelerated due to the continuous exposure.

Poor mental health

Last year, a report from the Office of National Statistics also showed the impact that excessive use of online social media can have on children that are not necessarily victims of cyberbullying. Symptoms of poor mental health was apparent in 12% of the children that were not active on social media, but these figures rose to 27% in those that spent three hours or more a day on the websites. In the report, experts also suggested that children that spent too much time in the virtual world could risk delaying their real world social developments, potentially leading to social stress and anxiety in adult life.

Affecting education

In a 2015 study researchers at Cambridge University found that, out of the 800 14-16 year olds involved in the project, those that spent an extra hour a day interacting with a screen (compared to the other children) received GCSE results that were two grades lower overall.

Many adults are practising mindfulness techniques in order to cope with daily stresses with a rise in the sales of colouring books, an increased interest in yoga and meditation, and apps such as Headspace becoming commonly used. Do our children, as suggested by Timpson, also have a need to ‘unplug’?

Encouraging your children to do their homework

As an adult, coming home after a long day at work and knowing that you have more work to do is not an appealing thought, so as a parent it is easy to relate to your child if finishing their homework isn’t at the top of their to do list after a tiring day at school. Unfortunately, it is in your kids best interest to keep up with their extra workload in order to help them progress through their education easily. So how do you get past the tantrums and create an atmosphere that encourages your child to succeed with finishing their homework? Read on!

Limit distractions

Homework can often seem like a chore to your child, because the thought of doing it means that they will have no spare time to enjoy that evening. More often than not though, their homework will not actually take them much time and will only be lengthy if they are constantly distracted. Help them finish what needs to be done much more quickly by creating an area that allows your child to focus, removing all tempting televisions, video games, and other forms of entertainment that may seem much more appealing!

Make it manageable

Allocate specific time slots to doing homework every day or week, depending on your child’s workload. Some kids will work best if they complete their tasks immediately after school, and if so, you should get into a routine that assists this way of working. Other children will need a break after a busy day, so if this is the case dedicate  a time period for fun after school, but make it clear to your child that they are expected to do their homework at a certain time after then. Once you have agreed these time slots with your child, be sure to stick with them to build trust. Keeping to a dedicated schedule will help your child to concentrate during this period, knowing that they will be able to enjoy the rest of the evening once it is over.

Be reasonable

Not every day is the same, and one day your child may have had a fall out with friends, something upsetting may have happened to them, or they may simply not be feeling well. Understand when your child truly needs a rest, but make it clear that they will need to make up for this time when they are in a better mood to work.

Are top performing schools still state schools?

Children up and down the country have packed their bags, filled up their pencil cases and headed back to school. However for many, they descended to a school they never thought they’d be going to.

We’re all aware how competitive school places are. In this day and age getting into a certain school can entirely rest on your street name or postcode. And as a result, millions of children – and their parents alike – are left devastated when they don’t get into their first, second or sometimes even third choice. Subsequently, parents are doing all they can to ensure their children get into their preferred school – whatever the cost.

The competitive nature of school places is heightening year upon year; reports left, right and centre come in at the start of summer, and every year it seems that more and more children are left disappointed. However figures just released from Lloyds Bank has highlighted just how far parents are willing to go in order to secure places at their preferred school. According to the bank, parents are willing to pay £53,000 on average more to secure homes that will guarantee a place at a high achieving school. And the competitive nature is further emphasised by the fact this highlights a 31% increase on last year’s figures.

Although this is seemingly good news for the property market, and a great way to secure state school places, it does exclude millions of families. Average house prices are now peaking at £366,744 in the catchment areas surrounding England’s top 30 state schools. This compares to a general average of £313,318 elsewhere. This has undoubtedly been helped along by the six top 30 schools appearing to have pushed house prices up by at least a whopping £150,000 above their county averages.

The top performing schools are judged by their previous year’s GCSE results. Last week, the Telegraph reported that The Henrietta Barnett School, the selective all-girls school in Barnet was the top performing school this year, while the Thomas Telford School in Shropshire, the fully-comprehensive school topped that list.

However it was Beaconsfield High School in Buckinghamshire, which came 35th out of the selective state schools that topped the list for demanding the biggest premiums for properties. Homes sell for almost £630,000, which is a whopping 171% above the county average house price of £367,191. The Henrietta Barnett School came second on the list with a £429,506 premium on homes, while this was followed by The William Borlase’s Grammar School in Buckinghamshire (£220,082), The Tiffin Girls’ School in Kingston upon Thames (£192,011) and Dr Challoner’s High School in Buckinghamshire (£168,308). According to Lloyds Banks, this analysis highlights that since 2011, average house prices in the areas with the best state schools have increased by £76,000. This compares to a national increase of just over £42,000. Pricing many out of the areas, it is mirroring the paid-for education, allowing only the privileged to attend such schools, and further underlining the class divide for children at a very young age.

Encouraging healthy eating with packed lunches

Encouraging kids to eat healthy can be a challenge at the best of times but when it comes to packing a fun, balanced lunchbox it can be even trickier. Everyone has heard the warnings over eating too many sugary foods but the morning school rush and eating habits means that the majority of parents struggle to include vital fruit and veg a study has shown.

Research from the University of Leeds found that less than one in five children’s lunchboxes contained any vegetables or salad and more than half contained too many sugary snacks. While the study found that there has been little improvement in what is contained in children’s school packed lunches over the last ten years, there is one positive with a significant reduction in the inclusion of sweetened drinks.

Providing a balanced meal for school lunches not only helps children stay healthier in general and teach positive eating habits but it can support better concentration and ensure that little ones remain happier throughout the day. Kids heading to school can often find that they begin to feel tired and more irritable as the long day wears on, especially when they are in foundation or key stage one, a lunch packed full with the vitamins and nutrients they need can support and keep them energised when they need it.

Where possible a child’s lunchbox should include:

  • A starchy food – Starchy food such as bread, pasta, cous cous or potato is an important part of lunch and there’s lots of variety to prevent boredom.
  • Fruit and veg – Fruit and veg is a simple way to make sure your child is getting vitamins throughout the day. Pack pieces of fruit on their own or add veggie sticks and dips or salad to a sandwich.
  • Protein – From adding ham to a sandwich to including houmous for dipping, there’s plenty of ways to make sure protein is included during a school lunch.
  • Dairy – You could make sure your child gets some diary by putting milk as a drink in their lunchbox or adding yoghurt, cheese or rice pudding pots.
  • A drink – Milk or water are the best options but diluted juice that has no added sugar is better than fruit juice or carbonated drinks.
  • A treat – A balanced lunch doesn’t mean having to go without a treat every day but you can pick healthier options, such as sugar-free jelly, scones or plain popcorn.

One Last Summer Hurrah!

The summer is almost over and your children will be going back to school very soon. With August Bank Holiday weekend fast approaching, there is still time for some summer fun. Here are some of the best events happening up and down the country throughout the long weekend.

Notting Hill Carnival

Europe’s largest street festival takes place in the West London district of Notting Hill every year, giving visitors a chance to sample a taste of the Caribbean in the streets of the capital. Children can get involved in a number of activities on the Saturday morning, where they even have their own special parade to show off their flamboyant costumes. Entry is free but you’ll need to pay for food and drink.

Beaumaris Medieval Festival

Beaumaris castle in North Wales opens its doors and prepares to take visitors back in time. Its Medieval festival gives children the chance to enter Knight school, letting them take part in squire training, archery, spear drills and even a dragon race. There also a host of traditional crafts for children to try their hand at. The highlight of the weekend has to be the re-enactment where the castle knights and archers will do battle. And you can take the whole family for less than £20.

Cowboys and Indians

Groombridge Place in Kent plays host to an exciting adventure weekend for children. Children can dress up and pretend they’re in the Wild West. Expect archery contests, drum circles, storytelling, hair braiding and even some more adventurous activities for those feeling brave. Your children are sure to love every minute of it. All you need to pay for is admission to Groombridge Place to enjoy all these great activities.

Hatchlands Park

Hatchlands Park in Surrey features a classic country house surrounded by swathes of countryside. Across the bank holiday weekend visitors can enjoy live music, pony rides and archery lessons. The house will also play host to a number of hosting Shakespearean plays throughout August. With admission costing just £4 for adults and less than £2 for kids, it is a great, low cost event for all the family.

Treefest

The National Arboreitum in the Cotswolds plays host to Treefest, an annual celebration of traditional woodcraft and woodland skills. This year is the final ever Treefest so expect it to be a big one. With wood carving, crafts and heaps of other events specifically for families, expect a fun day packed full of useful insights and fun facts about nature. Tickets are £10 for adults with up to four children accompanying them for free.

Encourage Your Kids to Be Tomorrows Olympians

The Olympics are in full swing and proud parents are becoming a mainstay of TV news. You may be thinking ‘how did they help their child get into sport? Can I help mine?’ This is a totally natural reaction – we all want our children to achieve as much as possible but how can it be done without becoming the pushy parent that argues with referees from the side-lines?

Opportunity

Pressuring your child to pursue a single sport is not helpful – they will grow to resent it and will not enjoy it. Provide them with opportunities to explore a number of different sports – it may mean turning your car into a taxi service for them but it will be worth it in the end.

Not only will giving children the opportunity to pick a sport make it more enjoyable, doing a lot of different sports from a young age can help them improve in others. Gareth Bale, the football superstar competed in athletics, cross country running and hockey when he was young. It has been suggested this bolstered his fitness and helped shape him into the player he is today.

Practice makes perfect

Practice makes perfect so the old saying goes but in sport there is more than a glimmer of truth is this adage. It takes 10,000 hours of practice to make an athlete distinguishable from the rest. At least that is according to a theory first put forward by Professor Anders Ericsson from the University of Colorado. It has since been popularised by a number of sports writers. Obviously ten thousand hours is unattainable for many but it shows the level of dedication and practice behind every sporting star.

Don’t take this too literally because early specialisation and intense focus on a single discipline risks both physical and mental exhaustion – which can alienate children from the sport entirely. Let them train in what they want when they want. Of course, you can’t be beholden to every whim but forcing something will not work out well.

Support

The biggest factor a parent can offer is support. Sporting children need an emotional crux that is there to celebrate their wins and commiserate their losses. Ferry them to competitions and training, support their decision making process and lend an ear whenever needed – follow this and who knows you could be sat on the side-lines of the next Olympics cheering your child on.

Keeping Kids Minds Active in the Summer

After days on end of being glued to the TV with minimal movement, you will naturally start to worry about your children’s minds. Are they forgetting everything they learnt last year? Will they be behind in September? All of these concerns are genuine but they can be alleviated. Here are some easy activities that will keep your children’s minds active.

Create an Art Space

Your children are at home all summer, why not let them indulge their creative spirit whenever they want? Find an area of your home and place down some dustsheets and set up a little table. Put all their paints and papers in this area and you’ve created an art studio. If your children are not into painting, then why not try clay modelling or jewellery making?

Cooking

Not only is cooking a skill for life it can also teach them to read better if they follow the recipe and will help them understand measurements. Cooking a tasty treat means they won’t even realise they’re learning. Sit down with baking books and let them choose what to make. This will make the activity even more engaging. Act as their sous chef and let them make the decisions, you may need to impart some words of advice at time but they will learn a lot from having this responsibility.

Games

A lot of parents still consider games to be just like TV and offer minimal benefits for children. However, chosen wisely games require problem solving skills, concentration and complex thinking. Minecraft has proven educational benefits but other games like Guitar Hero and Dance Dance Revolution will keep their minds and bodies active.

Reading

Most children hate sitting and reading, why would they enjoy it when they have an iPad? If you can get them to engage with books and read it will have a noticeable effect when they return to school in September. Be creative with the books and introduce activities around them. For instance, with the BFG you could go and watch the film, make food from the book or even dress up like their favourite characters – this will make reading the novel more fun.

Do you worry about your child’s development over Summer? Will you be trying some of these activities? Share your experiences on our social media pages.

Cheap or Free Summer Days Out

After a while of having the kids at home 24/7 you might start to go a bit stir crazy. There’s only so much colouring, crafting and CBBC that a parent can take, so a day trip out may seem like the only respite. However, everything is so expensive now and you don’t really want to be re-mortgaging your house just to buy Alton Towers tickets. That’s why we’ve put together this list of free (or cheap) ideas for summer days out.

If you look in local papers and online directories you will be surprised at the sheer volume of free activities for kids every summer. There is free football and tennis coaching available in most towns throughout the UK, take a look at the Tennis for Free and The FA Skills websites for more details.

Britain is a nation steeped in history, luckily for parents there are plenty of museums and landmarks which are completely free. English Heritage and its Scottish counterpart both provide free access to hundreds of historical sites all around the country. In the summer time they also often stage events like medieval jousts and displays. A small fee is sometimes payable but it is much less than commercial attractions.

Most towns and cities in the UK have their own museums but many don’t realise these are often completely free. A lot of them will also put on workshops throughout the summer.

Depending on where you live there will be a selection of summer events and festivals that are no or low cost. Here are some of our favourites:

Scarecrow Festival, Yorkshire – August 13-21

The infamous scarecrow trail is a great excuse to take your kids out for a walk. A host of colourful and creative scarecrows line the route, the fun trail sheet features many riddles to keep young ones entertained throughout the day. The village that hosts it is home to a selection of bakeries and pubs, so it can be a fun day out for all.

Viking Festival, Largs – August 27 – September 4

This 13th century village is brought to life every year by a Viking re-enactment group. It brings history to life and your children will leave with a lot of valuable information. As well as the history element a food and craft fayre will run throughout the event.

International Kite Festival, Southsea Common – August 13-14

Professional kite fliers from around the world will descend on Hampshire to fill the skies with aerial acrobatics this August. To complement the stunning displays there will be a children’s kite making workshop, where they can learn the fundamentals of flight.

Notting Hill Carnival Children’s Day, London – August 28th

The whole carnival team will be in their colourful costumes for a parade just for children. With an electric atmosphere it is a great day out that will keep kids boogieing for hours. There will also be a number of fantastic acts on the ‘World Music Stage’ and plenty of tasty Caribbean food and drink.