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Childhood anxiety

We all experience anxiety in some form. Indeed, anxiety can serve a useful purpose when we are facing a stressful anxiety picsituation as it is part of the body’s way of triggering a ‘flight or fight’ response through the release of adrenaline. Feelings of anxiety are also a normal part of growing up as children navigate their way through new challenges and gain independence. However, some children are faced with higher levels of anxiety for a range of reasons, and it falls to us as parents and carers to support them through these challenges.
What does anxiety feel like?
According to www.youngminds.org.uk, anxiety causes a number of reactions in the body, which can feel very unpleasant: They include:
▪   Feeling shaky, feeling sick or having stomach cramps, or feeling dizzy or faint.
▪   Breathing fast or finding it hard to breathe,
▪   Heart palpitations, sweating, tense muscles
▪   Feeling like you might die.
How do these feelings impact on children?
These reactions can, in turn, affect the behaviour and thoughts of a child suffering from anxiety. For example:
▪   Feeling scared, panicky, embarrassed or ashamed a lot of the time.
▪   Not having the confidence to try new things, face challenges or even carry on as normal
▪   Finding it hard to concentrate, or having problems with sleeping or eating.
▪   Having angry outbursts where the person gets very angry very quickly and feels ‘out of control’.
▪   Worries or negative thoughts going round and round the person’s head, or thinking that bad things are going to happen all the time.
▪   Feeling that they have to do or say certain things, or bad things will happen.
These are, of course, only some of the ways that anxiety can manifest itself in young people. The main point to consider is whether anxiety is having a negative impact on a child’s quality of life. There are numerous sources of help and support that parents and carers can access such as:
www.nopanic.org.uk (includes youth telephone helpline)

Helping children find their ‘writing voice’

Ros WilsonWhen our children take their first hesitant steps in writing parents tend to focus on the tangible things; can they hold a pencil correctly? Will they ever learn the difference between ‘b’ and ‘d’? Why does a finger space have to be more like a fist space? Then we move onto the dreaded spelling tests, the joys of knowing the phonetic alphabet better than our own phone number, and the sheer hair-pulling frustration of explaining the necessity of a full-stop.
When they have mastered the basics though, there is still a huge amount to learn. The problem for parents is that the next stages in a child’s writing journey are less tangible. We move onto written comprehension, creative writing, and the need for children to develop their confidence.  Children also need to learn the parameters of the ‘written voice’, and the opportunities that it can give them. Writing can allow children a huge amount of freedom to experiment with ideas and language, far more than they would have in their everyday verbal interactions, but it can be difficult for them to express themselves on the page.
This is where thinking such as Ros Wilson’s Big Writing approach can be illuminating. Wilson, an educational expert with over fifty years experience, has formulated a method that is based on the idea that  ‘if a kid can’t say it, a kid can’t write it’.  Big Writing focuses on a number of areas that children need to engage with the written word, and also encourages them to build their writing stamina at an appropriate pace. And like most things in education, parental support can add significantly enhance the child’s experience. As parents, we have to be careful not to see learning to write as merely a matter of spellings and rules. If we help build our children’s confidence in writing, and encourage them to experience the joy in creating with words, we have truly given them a fantastic and lifelong gift.
For an opportunity to hear Ros Wilson in person on April 28th at the SandPit Theatre – book here

Unique opportunity to hear leading eating disorder specialist

According to BFree eating disorderseat, a charity that supports people with eating disorders, more than 725,000 people in the UK are affected by an eating disorder and sufferers can range in age from 6 to over 70. There are no simple solutions or rules for those supporting a child with an eating disorder and parents and carers can find themselves feeling isolated as they try to navigate their way through complex, and often emotionally draining situations.

We are therefore extremely grateful that Dr Dasha Nicholls, one of the countries foremost experts on eating disorders in children and adolescents, will give a Keystone talk on Tuesday 22nd March. This is an opportunity for parents to come together in a supportive environment to hear the latest thinking on eating disorders, but also to gain practical insights from a leading practitioner.
Dr Nicholls is Consultant Child and Adolescent Psychiatrist and Joint Head of the Feeding and Eating Disorders service at Great Ormond Street Hospital and Honorary Senior Lecturer at the Institute of Child Health. Dr Nicholls will cover a range of issues, including:
·      What are eating disorders?
·      What are disturbances of eating behavior, and how do they differ from eating disorders? 
·      What are the risks for developing eating disorders?
·      What are the early signs to watch for?
·      What is the latest research about what makes a child vulnerable to developing an eating disorder?
·      What treatment can a young person expect?
·      What support is available?
We would urge parents who would like to be more aware of this issue, those who are already affected and those who care for or work with children who may be affected by an eating disorder to attend. This is a unique opportunity for us all to learn more about these complex and challenging conditions.

Is coding an itch that needs to be Scratched?

Coding is one of the building blocks of computer science, and learning to code can also open up huge and exciting opportunities for children. It is not just a skill for ‘geeky’ kids. It is a way in which all children can learn to design their own games and websites and change their perspectives on how computers can work for them.


Coding is SCratch imagenow taught as part of the National Curriculum, and there is a rapid increase in coding clubs springing up in schools across the country. Next week we are running a hands-on workshop on coding in schools, looking specifically at a commonly used piece of software called Scratch. Each parent will go back to school and have their own PC in the computer lab, as they learn some basic coding that they can then share with their child.


If you can’t make it to the workshop but are still keen to learn more about coding check out:






Maths for Y2,3, and 4 and emotional resilience for all

It’s a busy week at Keystone as we have two talks in St Albans. Tonight, primary teacher Katie Dona-Paz explains how maths is taught in years 2,3 and 4. And on Thursday psychologist Emma Judge will discuss how to raise an
emotioKids_Summer_Hammocknally resilient child. There are still a few tickets available for both, so please feel free to either book online or come along, as there may be some tickets available at the door. 
In some ways this week sums up what Keystone is all about. We want to empower parents to support their children’s academic progress, but we also recognize how important it is to protect and nurture a child’s happiness and wellbeing. We’ll report back later in the week with some top tips from both sessions.


How children learn and what parents can do at home

Learning in young children is socially mediated

Engage in role play with your children/play pretend schools/ libraries/ “goodies and baddies”/ families – use vocabulary that these real life characters would really use: For e.g. as the librarian you might say: ‘ I’m afraid you are 12 days late returning your book madam ..You have to pay a fine of £1.50’ Use ‘real life’ props as you play and enjoy the chance to use your own imagination. Invite your child to literally ‘bring their ideas to the table!’ When you are having adult, light-hearted conversations at the dinner table ~ involve your child as soon as they can talk. Show them that you value their opinions and by playing this game you will encourage them to “listen in” to adults modelling language and talking about the world.

The QUALITY of the learning environments created by families, schools and the wider culture is CRITICAL for children’s development.

Give your child a clutter free working area for their home-work. Provide comfortable chairs for sitting at a surface to do homework. Think about the height of the chair – does it allow your child to be able to write comfortably? A non-slippy cushion placed on the seat can make a big difference to posture and thus writing. Observe your child’s natural preference for being comfy and relaxed to read /write /play with Lego, etc… Lying on their tummy/sitting at a table and tucked in properly? / Settling on a wobbly cushion if they are a fidgeter? Audit the noise levels/the smells/the human traffic /your voice (volume and quantity) in the space where your child is trying to concentrate – Is their learning space providing sensory over-load?. Try to resource your child’s learning and play environments to allow them to really immerse themselves in exploration of their world without needing to ask for your support too often.

Children need to be exposed to lots of different experiences to help them develop these important skills, both in the classroom and in their home life.

Play with puppets – make a puppet theatre and your own puppets then watch and listen to your child’s puppet shows – allow them to refine their shows over time as their knowledge and confidence grows. Praise their efforts! Ask your child questions that start with the word ‘how….’ Get in to a habit of taking a moment to engage in a parent / child appraisal type conversation -where you take time to encourage your child to reflect on their own behaviour or choices and try to think of a way they could develop or improve them the next time Also ~ importantly ~ Tell them what you appreciate about them and how they demonstrate their uniqueness to you. An example might be ;’ I was so proud when I saw you offer to run upstairs and bring grandma’s purse down for her. You know that her knees hurt don’t you. You are a kind and thoughtful person ‘. Remember attitudes / dispositions and effort are the things to praise and try to be specific in your feedback.

Children gain knowledge through active experience, pretend play, language; good teaching and parenting help children make sense of all their experiences.

Simple – be your child’s play partner! You can teach your child SO much by being in their play with them. You can scaffold (support development of) their playing and thinking by asking ‘how’ starting questions and learning new things WITH your child at the same time as your child. Letting them lead and choose the place/time/resources for play and exploration. Engineer play dates with different aged children. Provide outdoor playing and learning resources and time – in all weathers – Sticks, Mud, Water, Buckets…can teach them science skills/Cooking skills/Painting skills/Help their fine and gross motor skills development…Not to mention develop social skills if they are playing with others outside.

Language is crucial for development

Sing to and with your child & make up silly songs. Let them make up the lyrics and accept their ideas. Read signs and point out to them any that you see in the environment. Let them attend activities with children who are older than them. Play board games in your family. Don’t jump in and talk for your child when they are asked a question …Give them time to formulate their answer having thought for themselves.

Incremental experience is crucial for learning and knowledge building in children. The brain learns from every experience and the more regularly an activity is experienced, the easier it is for the brain to learn from it. This is called “cumulative learning”.

Break every new learning experience into smaller units of action. Allow them TIME to refine and master a skill or to embed their learning. Try to allow them to learn in a multi- sensory way – Can they See it/Touch it/Smell it/Hear it/Taste it /Do it?

Children’s learning is enriched by experiencing knowledge in different ways or being exposed to language in different ways.

Do not limit their experience of print to school reading scheme books! Why not spend a day recording on a clipboard….WHERE you both notice print in your worlds. It’s everywhere and used for all types of purposes.

Genetic differences between children influence development.

Boys and girls learn in different ways and in the same ways A very, very general rule – Boys like active and “hands on” learning with minimal verbal instructions. Girls respond well to kind, thoughtful conversation and lots of resources with which they can create and design.

Imaginative play is critical for cognitive development in children in the early years. See ideas above

Children’s learning goes so much further when supported by a teacher, parent, carer or peer. See above ideas.

Teachers and parents should praise effort rather than performance.

Thanks to Let Me Be Me for this blog:

Shirley Hayman B.Ed(hons)/EYP, Early Years Education Consultant & Trainer 077588 73734

 Let ME Be ME; An Adventure Club for Children

Minecraft as an educational tool? Really?

Is your child obsessed with Minecraft? Did you know it is an incredibly useful educational tool that parents can get on board with?

Before I met Graham Bridge, leader of a number of coding clubs in the St Albans and Harpenden area I thought Minecraft was like all the other games children play but maybe a little more addictive. How wrong was I? Graham is passionate about the value of Minecraft as an educational tool. It can show you how electronics works and can help teach code to children of all ages. BUT parents don’t know enough about it and quite often hold back their children’s  learning becaMinecraft free imageuse they don’t appreciate it’s value in learning. In Graham’s own words:

Children in my computer clubs are often limited in what they do with Minecraft at home because their parents don’t fully appreciate its value, or are afraid it is just another game taking up valuable time that should be better spent on something more serious.
When given suggestions such as “Build a mob trap that will harvest the valuable resources they drop when they perish” will lead to research on Youtube and a complex project evolves using physics of water flow, pistons, trapdoors and more.  This talk is a great chance to show parents the value of the game and how to steer it in the right direction.’

Graham will be speaking to parents on Feb 10th at the SandPit Theatre from19.30-21.00 presenting Minecraft to parents. Go to www.keystoneworkshops.co.uk/events/minecraftfriend-or-for/ to book. Tickets cost £16pp in advance and £18 at the door(if tickets are available).

Lydia El-Khouri is the Director of Keystone Workshops



Maths with lollipop sticks!

It is always very exciting for us when a parent leaves a Keystone workshop armed with at least one activity or idea that they can take home and use with their kids, that they know will enhance their child’s learning. Jo, a local St Albans mum writes below about her experience of attending Shirley Hayman’s workshop on “Making maths an everyday activity for the 0-5s”….

“Perhaps the best £1.91 I ever spent on my children was on a set of coloured lollipop sticks. I’d bought some of these sticks for making puppets with as my two girls, age three and five, love to make little puppets and put on shows from behind the settee. I realised that my £1.91 could go even further though, after attending the Keystone Workshop on Making Maths an Everyday Event for 0-5 year olds in July. I wanted to attend the workshop to get, if possible, very easy ideas for ‘doing maths’ with my daughters without them realising we were ‘doing maths’. There were loads of great ideas in the workshop- and most of them used things I’d never even thought of that I’ve already got at home, including the ever-versatile egg box! The one I thought I’d try first- mostly because I know my girls like playing with them – was the lolly sticks. So we did. I threw them on the table and we spent some time making patterns and  shapes, making a ‘road’ and a few other ideas from the workshop. The beauty of it for me was that my daughters could play with the sticks together- both girls could choose what to do and sometimes my five year old could teach my three year old- very cool to see. Now for those egg boxes…..”

Thanks Jo!

coloured sticks


Peter Worley coming soon to St Albans!

Parents really matter!

As parents, we are always worried if we are ‘doing the right thing’ for our children, whether we are thinking about simple things such what goes in the school lunch-box, or dealing with larger decisions, such as choosing a school for them to attend. Most parents understand that the decisions they make for their children can impact on their long-term well-being, health and life chances.

Recent research into parental engagement in children’s learning highlights further just how much we parents matter. A recent report from Oxford School Improvement (2012) has concluded that:

• Children of parents who take an active interest in their education make greater progress than other children.
• During primary school years, family influences have a more powerful effect on your child’s attainment and progress than school factors.
• It does not matter how wealthy you are, what REALLY matters is what you DO with your children.
• Parents’ aspirations for their children (i.e. how high you aim in life/how ambitious you are!) strongly predict children’s achievement.
So much relies on us! Which can be scary… but in reality, ‘engaging’ with our kids doesn’t have to be difficult or even expensive. There is great value in simple activities such as:
Playing a board-game together as a family (discuss rules, taking turns, playing fair, practice counting skills, negotiation skills, how to win and lose well etc.)
Inventing stories together on a car journey (children can take turns contributing to the story and adults too! In this fun way, they can learn about story structure, different types of stories, learn new words, practice using words and phrases that connect sentences, develop vivid imaginations!).

Enjoying a sporty game together as a family (you don’t have to be Andy Murray or David Beckham to do this one but you CAN ‘model’ to your children that you are (a) happy to ‘give something a go’, that practice can make perfect, and that sport is not only very good for you, but lots and lots of fun! Remember, none of us are perfect parents, but it is the trying that counts!


mother showing daughter computer