School News and Head's Blog
Posted on: 23/06/2017
Competitive Sport - Head's BlogI am still buzzing after the excitement of all our Sports Days. Following the Foundation and Pre-Prep Sports Day last week, on Thursday we had the most incredible event at Hillingdon Athletics track where pupils from Year 3 to Year 6 had us all on our feet cheering for them, congratulating them and in awe of the incredible skills (not only of the sporting sort) that were demonstrated.
Over the years there has been so much written about the place of competitive sport in schools and the debate will surely continue, but I for one certainly am an advocate of competition from a very young age. It nurtures the growth mindset that underpins how we teach the children and supports our pupils to deal with failure (FAIL; First Attempt in Learning). It further encourages the children to strive even harder to continue to practise and understand the concept of ‘mastery’ in their learning.
In the lead up to Sports Day the children were keeping an eye on the sports boards, looking at the previous records which had been set by ex-pupils and setting themselves goals to try to break those records. And boy, didn’t they smash some of those long standing records! Zoe even beating one record set by her sister, who was in attendance as a Sports Leader! Good, positive sibling rivalry!
Many of the pupils spoke to me directly about how they were intending to use their mindfulness practices before their events to overcome their wobbles, worries and nerves. It is so wonderful to hear from the pupils in Year 4 and 6 how they are engaging with using some of the tools they have been equipped with in their .b and paws b mindfulness learning.
The Year 6 Sports Captains and House Captains spoke so eloquently and with confidence. The pupils really did sum up why we feel so proud of your children for the values and character traits that they demonstrated not only on the day but in the preparation for the event. They were living embodiments of the Olympic and Paralympic values:
· Respect – fair play; knowing one’s own limits; and taking care of one’s health and the environment
· Excellence – how to give the best of oneself, on the field of play or in life; taking part; and progressing according to one’s own objectives
· Friendship – how, through sport, to understand each other despite any differences
· Determination – the drive and motivation to overcome both physical and mental barriers in order to achieve your goals.
· Courage – having the self-belief and confidence to overcome adversity and face difficulty.
· Equality – showing respect and humility towards all those around you in the spirit of fair play.
· Inspiration – being motivated by the achievements and actions of others and being a positive example to others.
It is no wonder that we have so many former students returning to us year after year to be part of our annual Sports Days as Sports Leaders. These Old Helenians hold onto the values which were so much part and parcel of their life when they were pupils themselves at St. Helen’s College. Their contributions on Sports Day are a testament to the school; they have grown into responsible, independent young men and women and are now actively giving back to their community, as well as consolidating and developing further skills and attributes in preparation for what lies ahead for them as members of our workforce in the near future.
I feel truly honoured to have experienced another of my firsts this year – one of the best Prep School Sports Days that I have ever witnessed! Congratulations TEAM St. Helen’s College!
Posted on: 16/06/2017
To Play Or Not To Play? - Head's BlogTo play, or not to play…that really is the question when it comes to the Early Years Foundation Stage, especially here in the Independent sector. For many, the early years classroom remains that mysterious and terrifying place in every school where the children magically learn to read, write and count even though they seem to play all day! Indeed, ‘play’ and the value thereof, has long been a bone of contention for many - teachers, educational researchers and parents alike. However, it seems to me that the crux of the problem lies in how we define the ‘play’ that is afforded to our children.
The EYFS curriculum offers a framework to support practitioners in helping young children learn and develop through play. It was developed through extensive discussion with professionals, academics and practitioners and represents an amalgamation of their knowledge and experience. It begins with the premise that every child is unique and that learning and development occurs at different rates and in different ways. Additionally, there is a strong focus on enabling the fulfilment of each of the three ‘Characteristics of Effective Learning’: Playing and Exploring, Active Learning and Creating and Thinking Critically - fundamentals which have far-reaching connotations for the way in which we all learn*. The EYFS framework has also been designed to be flexible in responding to every child’s individual needs and, while it sets out a number of goals and milestones, these are not set in stone.
But what does that mean for your children?
Throughout Ducklings, Nursery and Reception, ‘play’ at St. Helen’s College can be defined as cogent, purposeful and engaging exploration. Yes, your children will be presented with a huge range of child-initiated, open-ended games, activities and opportunities for learning where we, as adult practitioners, take a step back and let the children lead the learning. However, these child-led learning opportunities are carefully planned to maximise potential and they are successfully coupled with inspiring teacher-led sessions to impart the vital academic knowledge of literacy, mathematics, communication and language that your child will need as he or she moves through our school. We are extremely fortunate to have an expert EYFS staff, who are astute in knowing how and when to guide the children, either with a carefully worded question here and there or a gentle nudge to try a different approach. The need for our children to develop motor skills, social skills, creativity, confidence and self-esteem (not to mention that all-encompassing sense of awe and wonder) is beyond doubt and play is vital in this. Whether it is seeing a group of children work together to write a recipe in the ‘Mud Kitchen’ or watching the joy on a child’s face on discovering that they are suddenly able to find a number bond to ten after ‘playing’ with the Numicon tiles in the sand tray, it is easy to see that purposeful, collaborative play is an essential part of learning. I think we would all agree that our children should not be subjected to endless rigorous academic teaching at such a tender age and the holistic approach to learning in the EYFS here at St. Helen’s College has proven consistent in enabling hugely successful outcomes for our children year on year.
It is staggering to think that much of what we now take for granted about early education dates back to Friedrich Froebel’s revolutionary work as long ago as the early 19th century. It was Froebel who believed that young children should learn through play and through first-hand experiences with natural materials like sand and water and that physical education was of huge importance at school. Froebel put the relationship between educator and child at the heart of learning and saw each child as an individual whose wishes and choices should be respected. These were revolutionary ideas in his time – so revolutionary that both his school and his kindergarten were banned at different times by the Prussian authorities for such radical thoughts! However, Froebelian theory continues to be at the heart of most current Early Years teaching and many other principles founded almost two hundred years ago continue to ring true with the St. Helen’s College ethos - not least in our school motto: Excellentium e Concordia - Excellence through Harmony.
Over the past three weeks, we have undertaken our wonderfully successful EYFS Family Discovery Days across Nursery and Reception, opening our classrooms (both indoors and out) to offer parents a glimpse of the vast learning opportunities available to our younger learners - play included. As a staff, we were thrilled to see every parent stepping into their children’s shoes for a few hours, taking a full and active part in all the learning, play and fun! Each time you joined your children playing with blocks, with sand, water or clay, or became immersed in a scintillating bug hunt, or planted and tended plants in the ‘Garden Centre’, you were seeing planned, purposeful play in action. I do hope that it proved to be an enlightening and rewarding experience for those of you who were able to attend (as well as a lovely excuse to join in a bit of play yourselves!) and the many positive comments we have already received from parents have been truly heartwarming to hear.
So, I urge you never to underestimate the benefits of play, no matter the age of your child and perhaps consider playing a game or two with your family this weekend. Play really can shape learning for life from the very start; a true building block to the future, limited only by our imagination.
I realise that I might be somewhat biased in this, but I am proud to admit to a deeply held belief that we can all look to the EYFS for inspiration in shaping the path for our future learners - there’s a reason we are named the ‘Foundation’ stage after all…
*Should the Characteristics of Effective of Learning only be prioritised in the Early Years? https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BTYhmRHDPl8