What a goal to have for ourselves and for our children! Learning how to take care of yourself is one of our 4 major curriculum themes. Of these, this is arguably the most important. Without it, a person is not able to focus on the world and community that they interact with. As such, everything we do can be related to this in some way, however; in addition, we do explicitly guide and teach the children how to care for themselves.
The most obvious way we do this is by making physical activity part of our every day. We want moving and being active to become habit. Sitting nicely is useful but is not going to save your life. We have wide play spaces with many varied resources that the children access for hours every day. We organise loads of physical play challenges: these include everything from obstacle races and the Daily Mile to cycling routes, dance times and yoga sessions. They can involve whole bodies or just parts such as our funky finger activities which help develop the muscles and control needed for writing.
Make physical activity part of every day
This starts from our very youngest children who are learning to walk, climb and slide, to children who are learning how to climb trees and use a hammock. All the adult team take part as well, role modelling and encouraging the children to develop physical competencies that will stand them in good stead for life. We talk about why being active every day is so important and about what we as grown-ups do as part of our active lives. Most importantly we have fun, every activity is enjoyable and achievable for every child.
Mental health is the more hidden side of the education we provide. We encourage children to recognise, name, express, manage and cope with the emotions they feel.
Mental health is important to understand
We help them develop resilience and perseverance by embracing a philosophy that trying and not managing the first few tries are essential ways to master a new skill. We support and scaffold the children as they develop their skills, teaching them to risk-assess along the way, develop problem-solving strategies and being proud of their achievements.
We help children to develop open mindsets
This helps children to become able to self-regulate which in turn allows them to develop open mindsets and to become self-motivated learners.
Cambridge Independent Learning
We do this by following a school of thought developed in a partnership between Cambridge University Faculty of Education and practitioners in 32 local schools and nurseries. Their aim was to further practitioners' understanding of how children become independent, self-regulated learners.
In plain speak, this is the difference between a child who does something because they are told to and one who does it because they want to.
The findings influence not only the physical environment but also how we interact with the children.
We make sure that we talk to the children as peers, we comment on the specific skills they are showing, for example, rather than say ‘Lovely picture’ every time they draw, we comment specifically on what they have done, so we might say, I love how you have drawn your mum’s hair, showing her curls and the different colours. This encourages the children to reflect on what they have done and leads them to consciously try to improve or vary things next time around.
We teach children how to resolve conflicts, giving them a range of strategies to understand why another might be upset and how to share a resource.
We teach children to resolve conflicts independently
If you want to try this at home:
Listen: ask the child or children to explain what they are upset about
Repeat: speak this problem back to them to make sure you understand what they want to tell you
Solution: suggest a strategy to resolve the problem, sharing using a timer or by counting turns
Support: stay with them through the next few turns to make sure that the solution works
Independence skills, dressing, personal care, oral hygiene, washing.
By the time your child is 18 you want them to be independent adults, or at least pretty much on the way there. This can’t happen overnight and we help start that journey in many ways, here are a few examples:
Toothbrushing, we help the preschoolers to brush their teeth every day, not to replace brushing at home but to reinforce the why’s and the how’s of cleaning your teeth.
Hygiene, from supporting children as they learn toileting to teaching them how and why to hand wash and ‘catch’ their coughs and sneezes.
We help children learn good hygiene
Dressing — this isn’t just about the mechanics of putting on their own clothing but also helping them to make sensible choices about appropriate clothing and footwear.
Sleep, or rather developing good sleep hygiene. We provide cosy, comfortable places for children to nap or to just have quite-times as well as supporting their families through the journey from having several naps a day through to none when they start at school.
This is too big to be just part of teaching independence.
We teach the children how to:
- make healthy choices about what they eat and drink
- where food comes from (we grow and harvest some of our own fruit and vegetables)
We help children understand where food comes from
- to eat a wide and varied diet, to try new things
We help children learn how to eat a varied and healthy diet
- as well as making mealtimes enjoyable and sociable for everyone
Again, we think of where we want the child to be when they are a teenager. We want them to risk assess in a proportional way, to reduce risks that can be limited and to say ‘No’ if that is the right decision for them.
Many of the choices we make to ensure everyone’s safety are part of our everyday routines, just as they are for families everywhere. We can’t eliminate risk but we can teach children to start managing it. A skill that can be developed and transferred to countless future situations.
At mealtimes, we follow the guidance about what foods to eat and how to prepare them as well as sitting with the children when they eat. We talk to the children about safe ways of doing things and talk through risk assessments they make. These often involve the development of their physical skills such as when and where to run or jump but also include cycle and road safety.
Children enjoy learning to play safely
We help them become strong, confident communicators. Right now I should probably apologise for the opinionated pre-schoolers we send out into the world. No one who changed the world was an easy toddler and we want our children to do the right thing and be confident in speaking up for what they believe in.
One of my biggest satisfactions in life is meeting children who used to come to Beach Babies and talking to them as older children and nowadays young adults.
I love the confidence with which they chat to me, telling me about what is important to them, sharing their achievements and seeing the adults that they will become.
I used to say we were raising an army of muddy children. Now I think we are raising the next generation of passionate adults, capable of critical thinking, and making balanced decisions, who will make the world a better place.
No pressure then all you ex-Beach Babies out there!
By Tracy Hutchison