6 Ways to Support Your Child’s Emotional Wellbeing at Home

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Emotional wellbeing is crucial to supporting physical and mental health. But with everything going on at the moment, it’s easy to overlook…

Coronavirus is scary and stressful. We’re worried about our loved ones, our careers, our homelife. Huge shifts in the way we live our lives are happening with very little explanation or warning. If adults are finding this time tricky to navigate, imagine what our little ones are going through. As adults we understand what is happening, but for many of our children the way in which they have always lived their life is changing, and they may have no understanding of why.

So here are a few tips that you could try to support your family’s emotional wellbeing in these troubled times.

Routines – children thrive on routines. Being able to predict what will happen next is hugely reassuring to children, who often have little control over their lives. At nursery our routines are largely set around meals, which act as anchor points for the children to anticipate whether they will be moving to a calm part of the day (e.g. nap/relaxation or story time), or a louder, more playful time. Creating a routine that can be repeated daily at home may be reassuring for some children.

Rest – We have been fortunate to receive so many emails from our families showing us what their children have been getting up to, and we love seeing such happy, proud faces. But while there is time for learning in a day, there is also time for rest. Our children will go, go, go all day if they can, but by building in rest time they are able to conserve energy, and recharge emotionally, which helps them to regulate their emotions and play beautifully throughout the day. And if it means you are able to have a well-deserved biscuit break, then even better! We create a calm environment by diffusing lavender oil and playing soothing music.

Outdoor time – if you have a garden, we would thoroughly recommend making the most of sunshiney days and getting outside. This will provide a space for your child to burn off any excess energy, as well as giving them time to be soothed by nature and access Vitamin D. Additionally, a garden offers an environment with different challenges and possibilities than those found indoors, which will support both physical and cognitive development.

Emotional check ins – at nursery we regularly have circle time to discuss our emotions. This enables the children to recognise and articulate things that have made them happy, cross, or sad, so that we adults can support them through their emotions. At home, you could check in with your child’s emotions at meal times. Of course, for non-verbal children, singing, dancing and musical instruments allow them to have a voice and express themselves emotionally!

Eat good mood foods – a tough one with the state of the supermarkets at the moment, but food does have an impact on our mood. Try to eat foods that are high in omega 3 fatty acids, such as oily fish or eggs. Leafy green veg or brown rice are high in magnesium, which aids relaxation and helps produce seratonin, to stabilise moods.

Take care of yourself – Perhaps most importantly, one of the best ways to care for your child’s emotional wellbeing is look after yourself. You cannot pour from an empty cup. If you feel overwhelmed, take a few moments to apply handcream and breathe.

 

We hope these tips help your family navigate through these turbulent times. Take care, and stay safe.

Phonics at Westgate

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Systematic Synthetic Phonics form a major part of Primary education. Phonics lessons occur daily in most schools, where the emphasis is placed on the children recognising and naming the sounds (phonemes) that form most words. With rigorous training and support, children will eventually learn to decode and read words independently.

Withresearch indicating that learning to read at an early age could affect a child’s outcomes later in life, phonics is undeniably an important part of early education; however you will never see a formal Phonics lesson at Westgate. Instead, we practice phonics in the same way that we approach all aspects of learning: holistically, through exciting, experiences that are relevant to the child’s interests.

Over the years, we have made the conscious decision to eschew formal phonics schemes. There are several reasons for this choice; most notably that our philosophy of early education is that it should put the child at the centre of their learning; not a pre-conceived scheme. Additionally, as we are lucky to work with many local schools, there is no guarantee that the phonics scheme offered at Westgate would match those used in all of the schools. Instead, we have created our own system of activities and experiences that are offered daily, and can be adapted based on the interests and needs of each individual child.

Our approach to phonics looks like:

  • Regular story-telling sessions, wherein adults (and sometimes confident children) create or retell their own traditional tale, often supported by props. This develops the children’s listening and attention skills; as well as ensuring they are familiar with story structure and traditional tales.
  • Multiple storytime sessions daily, where adults read stories from out library to various sized groups of children. This enables us to introduce and consolidate new vocabulary, as well as providing an experience that is highly motivating to our children (we have a cohort of readers already!). An additional benefit is that the children become used to sitting in larger groups for gradually increasing periods of time, ready for school. For children who choose not to join in with storytime, we also offer audiobook sessions – this multi-media approach ensures that all children are motivated to access stories.
  • High quality literature (picture books) is available in the environment at all times, so children are always able to access stories.
  • Daily mark-making activities, which are often sensory-based (for example, making marks in flour, mud, sand, or even beans!). These are novel and therefore highly motivating, as well as giving children the opportunity to practice holding writing tools. These activities would usually be accompanied with letter cards/stones/stencils for the children to copy, if they so choose, thus increasing the children’s familiarity with a range of letters.
  • Writing opportunities are encouraged where appropriate, but these are always made meaningful to the children – for example, writing adoption certificates in the pet shop, writing day sheets for babies, or writing architectural plans in the construction area!
  • We share meaningful and relevant examples of letters in the environment or in activities. For example, we may challenge the children to cut letters from a magazine, and then arrange them to spell their own name. This supports the fine motor development necessary to learn to write through using one-handed tools, while also making the children familiar with an increasing range of print from which they are able to identify letters. Moreover, this activity also teaches children that letters have meaning!
  • Place name labels are used when the children join Preschool, to ensure the children are able to identify their name as well as their photos. We also encourage the children to practice writing their names in meaningful contexts, such as writing their name on the back of their artwork.
  • As many of our children enjoy spending time outdoors, we often go for listening walks. This is where the children are asked to listen to, discriminate, and identify sounds, which is essential for developing the ability to segment words into phonemes.
  • Songs and rhymes are shared throughout the day; these allow the children to ‘tune into’ rhyme and rhythm.

By the time our children transition to school, we aim that every child can confidently meet the criteria of Letters and Sounds Phase One as well as having the ability to read their own name; and listen to a story for 10 minutes. However through our child-centred approach, we ensure that children learn in a way that is meaningful and motivational to them. In this way, we support our children to develop a lifelong love of reading.

Exploring Music in the Ladybirds Room

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Music is a huge part of life – from moving film soundtracks to joyful songs on the radio, music has the ability to affect our emotions. At Westgate, we play soothing music to calm children during nap and relaxation times, and fast-paced, catchy songs during discos. Recently, however, as part of the emotional wellbeing focus that underpins everything that we do, we have been exploring other ways in which music can support our children.

Research (see article) has found that music can support brain development, and is particularly effective at developing literacy and speaking skills. Indeed, when examined against the seven areas of the EYFS curriculum, music can support nearly every area:

Personal, Social and Emotional – Children gain confidence and self-esteem as they learn to make sounds using instruments.

Communication and Language – Singing sessions help to familiarise children with songs, rhymes and words. Playing musical instruments develops the ability to differentiate between the different sounds of the instruments, which can later help with phonic learning.

Physical Development – Playing musical instruments can support hand-eye co-ordination and dancing to music supports gross motor and rhythmic movement.

Understanding the World – Listening to music from a range of cultures can help children to be interested in ways of life other than their own, which should also support tolerance.

Expressive Arts and Design – Playing instruments, singing and dancing supports self-expression, imagination and creativity.

With this in mind, we will be focusing on music throughout the nursery, but have decided to particularly prioritise music in our under-two’s room, where many of the children are non-verbal. The children already enjoy regular discos, singing sessions and story telling times, but to access the benefits of music we have decided to offer these multiple times a day, and have introduced musical instruments or props to these sessions. We will also be working with our team to empower our practitioners to confidently lead musical activities.

For some ideas of how to use music to support your little ones at home, please read the article here.

The Learning Tree

At Westgate, we believe that children learn best when they are motivated, interested, and empowered. As such, this year we have redesigned our planning system to better reflect our children’s interests and harness their natural desire to learn. We are pleased to present: our learning tree!

Following observations and discussion with our children, each room has been able to identify themes that reflect the interests of groups of children. The key carers then use their knowledge of the child and the curriculum to plan activities that are both based around each child’s interest, and provide a challenge to the child. We have also been lucky enough for our parents to get involved, by sharing their children’s interests or suggestions for areas of development.

In Action:

The Butterflies team have used the learning tree to ensure that the role play area is a source of awe and wonder for children by relating it to the most popular theme from the tree. Over the summer, many of our children indicated that they were interested in exploring flowers. In order to facilitate this indoors as well as in our garden, the Butterflies team created a florist shop, which the children loved. This enabled the team to support the children’s fine motor skills by providing opportunities to wrap bouquets; extend vocabulary by using specific language related to flowers (flower names and parts); develop awareness of numerals and quantity by completing order forms and counting out flowers; and express their creativity by making flowers for the shop.

After several weeks, however, the children’s interest in flowers waned and the practitioners observed increasing interest in babies. As the learning tree was updated, it was also important to update the role play area to reflect the change in interest. Children were consulted about what they would like to do with the babies; each child made marks to represent their ideas. When it became apparent that the children wanted to care for the babies like grown ups, several children were taken to visit the Ladybird’s room and invited to take photographs of elements that they would like to incorporate into their role play area, before helping to create the new baby room role play.

Following the addition, the children are once again inspired to explore the roleplay area. Our baby room role play encourages the children to be empathetic to the needs of others (dolls); thus supporting PSE. The children talk to one another and act out scenarios, as well as singing to the babies like the ‘upstairs grown ups do’, to support C&L. The children act out care routines including hand washing and toileting, helping to solidify their own independence and self-care. Stories are read (and told) to the babies to support literacy; and of course acting out experiences and roleplaying is key to EAD development.

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In this way, the learning tree has helped the Butterflies team to identify a change in interest and create an area that provides awe and wonder, and motivates our children to access opportunities to develop in so many other areas of learning.

Graduation

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Sticky fingers, runny noses,
Heads, shoulders, knees and toes-es,
Shapes and colours, ABC’s,
Taking turns, and 123’s.

Toothless smiles, hugs and giggles,
Circle time and lots of wiggles,
Wooden blocks and dress up clothes,
Learning how a flower grows.

Milk and biscuit, first-time friend,
Thinking days like these will never end,
Preschool’s done before you know it,
No-one’s sadder than this poet.

Like a butterfly, time has flown,
you have learned and you have grown,
Tiny chairs give way to desks,
homework and spelling tests.

So take off now, spread your wings,
Soar to new heights, learn new things,
Just remember, as you do,
We are all so proud of you.

Book Making

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If you take a look at the book corners in each of the rooms at Westgate, you may notice some handbound or laminated pages. Please do take a closer look – these are the books that your children have made!

We have collated artwork that reflect the children’s interests – the Ladybirds have made books about themselves and their families; the Caterpillar’s books are about flowers and the Butterflies have made books about nature and bugs.

DSC05734In the Butterflies room children have even been helping to laminate their artwork, supporting their understanding of technology and safety. By making books as a team we can practice collaborative skills, as well as highlighting each child’s different talents. In this way our book making does not only support literacy and communication, but personal, social and emotional skills too!

The children love being able to examine their own creations, and we see so many proud smiles when they share their work with friends!

A New (Partly Plant-Based) Menu for Summer

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At Westgate, we pride ourselves on caring for our children’s emotional and physical wellbeing.

Our cook Angie has whipped up a new menu to enhance our current mealtime offerings and ensure that our children receive balanced meals and the opportunity to eat SEVEN portions of fruit and vegetables every day. To encourage children to be open-minded eaters, our new menu features both new flavours and traditional favourites, with a little twist.

They’re plant-based.

True, we’re not an entirely plant-based setting yet, but of the eleven daily menus on offer, six are entirely vegetarian; with another four involve one vegetarian meal.

And why have we chosen to embrace plant-based meals? Partly because they are more inclusive to the needs of our children with dietary requirements, and we feel that mealtimes should be inclusive, social events. Moreover, we believe that children are more likely to try – and ultimately enjoy – unfamiliar foods when they have been exposed to it multiple times.

Our experience with children’s eating habits has also taught us that the more involved children are in preparing meals, the more motivated they may be to try it. As such, many of our meals are made – at least in part – by the children. Whether it’s grating carrots for the coleslaw to go with BBQ Quorn and sweet potato wedges; or adding spices and slicing up homemade tortilla chips to top our spiced chickpea tagine, we will provide opportunities for our children to join in too!

For a sneak peak at our menu – and a few cheeky recipes – make sure you check out our facebook page!