School News and Head's Blog

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Posted on: 22/03/2019

Head's Blog - Social Media (by Mr. Lewis)

Let's get straight to the point. Children of primary school age should not be using apps such as Whatsapp, Snapchat, Instagram and Facebook. If they have these accounts, they have been untruthful about their age and are breaking the terms of use agreement that they have entered into. This is not a good start to their online lives.  The age restrictions on apps and games are in place for good reason. We have a programme of education on keeping safe online that runs throughout the children's time at St. Helen's College. Our Year 5 children build their own websites on internet safety issues. We constantly remind them about keeping safe and about proper use of the internet but these are young children who are finding out how to interact with others. it is a necessary part of growing up to establish boundaries, fall out with friends and find ways of resolving differences. Even the most pleasant and sensible child will react badly to disputes and differences with their friends. In the playground, they will immediately see the effect of their behaviour and they will have an opportunity to make amends or walk away from the situation. Minor disputes can be kept private and quickly resolved and forgotten.  The online world is not so forgiving. It is a public place. When a thoughtless comment or inappropriate image is published it is not easily withdrawn and can be rapidly shared with people who were not the intended audience.  We interpret facial expressions, body language and tone of voice very well but the internet does not convey the same subtlety and a comment made in jest can be easily misconstrued. Online disagreements can quickly escalate and comments that are made cannot be easily withdrawn. Whilst apps such as Facetime and Skype provide valuable means of communications when used in a family setting, children's use of unmonitored Whatsapp groups has no such benefits. Schools can help to educate children but it is our job as parents to set a good example, guide them, set boundaries and monitor their activity.  Whilst our children are finding their way in the real world and making necessary mistakes on the way, I urge you to discuss online etiquette and safety with your children and to remove access to apps and games that have age restrictions that they do not meet. Net Aware from the NSPCC has a guide to parents on children's use of social media.  Mr. Lewis
Posted on: 15/03/2019

Head's Blog - Lent

  Lent is upon us once again – the time of year when we remember the sacrifices made by Jesus during his forty days in the wilderness, leading up to the great sacrifice of his life. Traditionally, Christians give up something for Lent and I’m sure many parents have already started a period of abstinence. Perhaps you are giving up chocolate, sweets or alcohol for this forty day period.   I would like to encourage a new tradition for the children of St. Helen’s College. Rather than encourage our children to deprive themselves of something, I would like to suggest that, for Lent this year, they take up something new, or expand on a talent or interest they already enjoy. Last week we celebrated World Book Day at school and it was magical, as ever, to see the children immersed in stories. We had a visit from The Book Bus on Monday, authors visited the school to share their experiences as writers and their stories, many classes heard traditional and modern tales and poetry read by visiting readers; Mrs. Smith, Mrs. Crehan and I had the most wonderful time over at Lower School, and, throughout the school, there were lively discussions of favourite books. (My favourite is still Enid Blyton's ‘The Faraway Tree’). Perhaps Lent is the perfect time to build upon this by taking up a new reading habit. If your child does not already read for a set period of time before bed, now would be the perfect time to add this to your daily routine. For our youngest children, this will mean sitting with parents, grandparents, older siblings or other adults to listen to stories and look at words and pictures together. Rhyming books are, of course, particularly good for children of this age and don’t worry if you don’t currently have many at home. Not only are the school and local libraries full of lovely children’s books for your children to borrow, but young children thrive on repetition and absolutely love to hear the same book several times over. There is comfort in familiarity, especially when a young child is tired, just before bed. As your child grows older and moves through the Lower School, you should choose slightly longer stories/rhyming tales to read with them, introducing longer, traditional tales such as fairy tales, Aesop’s Fables, Winnie the Pooh stories and poems, Roald Dahl stories and poems and more. Once the children are old enough for chapter books or longer stories which can be split up across several days, there are so many beautiful, classic tales to share with them: The Wizard of Oz, Alice in Wonderland, Treasure Island… the list really is endless. If you are not sure which books are appropriate for your child, do ask your class teacher or contact Mr. McLaughlin, our Head of English. If you already have a well-established reading routine at bedtime – and we know that many of you already do – then why not add in some reading at another time of day? Lent is the perfect time to make a promise to reduce screen time by 15 minutes a day, and increase reading time by 15 minutes. Perhaps, as you’re cooking dinner, your children could sit at the table 15 minutes early and read a book aloud to you, or you could listen to an audio book together and then discuss it during your meal. Reading is at the heart of everything in education, as self-sacrifice is at the heart of everything in Christianity. So I do hope that you will take the opportunity of Lent to increase your child’s reading time. Perhaps, when Lent ends and Easter is here, you might consider buying them a new book instead of (or even as well as!) an Easter egg, to reward them for forty days of wonderful reading and to inspire them for the following forty days and beyond!  Although we are almost halfway through Lent, there is no time like the present to foster a love of reading!
Posted on: 8/03/2019

Motivation and Mandarin

Reading the Head’s blog last week on the value of learning modern languages, and on the great work going on at St. Helen’s College in this area, reminded me how times have changed – for the better! At secondary school I studied French and German to ‘O’ Level. It was a struggle! I wasn’t particularly motivated, the teachers (none were native speakers) were extraordinarily unimaginative in their methods, and the focus was too much on grammar and textbooks and too little on conversation. We did visit Germany and Austria for a week but were left to our own devices (don’t ask!) and, apart from an idyllic lakeside lunch, my memories are mostly of Pepsi and chips, being bored, and the music of Simon and Garfunkel (the only cassette tape owned by the coach driver). Nevertheless, I achieved good ‘O’ Level grades, have reasonable conversational French and (somewhat to my surprise) was recently complimented on my German when helping a confused couple to understand a ferry timetable. I felt very proud. I didn’t enjoy studying these languages and struggled terribly with learning vocabulary, so it came as something of a surprise to my family (and, if I am honest, to me) when I decided eighteen months ago that I was going to learn Mandarin. This was not a random choice – my son is married to a Singaporean of Chinese ethnicity, and my grandson Teddy is going to be bilingual in English and Mandarin. Not really knowing where to start, I downloaded the app Hello Chinese and set to work on lesson 1. It is a really terrific learning tool which takes the complete beginner to a reasonable conversational standard, with each topic introducing new vocabulary, grammatical structures and common phrases. It uses a wide variety of excellent methods, including recording and playback, games, video, letter formation and flash cards and I can access it easily on my smart phone. Shortly after starting work on the app, I was introduced to a Chinese class by a St. Helen’s College parent. The class was well ahead of me, which provided a spur to encourage me to work hard and catch up, and I am now about to enrol on a more advanced class at the School of Oriental and African Studies. My aim is to try to keep pace with my grandson who, at just 2 years and 4 months, already has a high degree of fluency in Mandarin.  So why is my experience of learning Mandarin so much more positive today than that of my schoolboy French and German lessons? On reflection, I think that there are four reasons, all of which are interlinked. Motivation In contrast to my schooldays, I am hugely motivated to learn Mandarin. I hear it spoken at home every day and want to understand and join in the conversations. I want it to be a shared experience with my grandson, and I want to get over my long-held belief that I am not good at language learning. Knowing how to learn Over many years of learning, both informally and through academic courses, I have learned which learning strategies work best for me. I try to study a little each day, regularly consolidate my knowledge, ask myself and answer questions, keep a pack of flashcards in my pocket at all times and practise speaking as much as I can. Quality of teaching The Hello Chinese app is an excellent, interactive and adaptive virtual teacher, but I also have a super class teacher at my Saturday Chinese class. Always warm and encouraging, she provides the right level of challenge for our (admittedly rather laid back) class, and, as a native speaker who has lived in China, immerses us not only in language but in the culture of the country. Peer support My Chinese school co-students are remarkably friendly and supportive. The help which we give each other, and the fun which we have together, have created a sense of shared endeavour and mutual support. Language learning is very popular at St. Helen’s College, and the children make excellent progress in their fluency in Spanish, French and Latin. This is not surprising, given that my four factors are all in place. They have a thirst for knowledge and are hugely motivated to succeed. Through discussions about metacognition, and reflecting on and discussing their progress with their teachers, they understand how best to learn. They have inspiring teachers who create wonderful lessons to challenge and support them in their learning and they support each other through the joy of learning and the shared enthusiasm which arises from it. These four factors are interwoven, and the latter three all impact positively on the first, motivation. Motivation is critical to learning: without motivation learning is limited and dry, whereas the motivated learner is unstoppable. Teaching is both a science and an art, and the artistry of the brilliant teacher, parent or grandparent has a lot to do with motivating children. I am very mindful of this with Teddy, and am so enjoying helping him to discover the wonderful world of knowledge. Mr. Crehan
Posted on: 1/03/2019

Head's Blog - Love of Language Learning

The BBC reported this week that foreign language learning is at its lowest level in UK secondary schools since the turn of the millennium, with their analysis showing frankly alarming drops of between 30% and 50% since 2013 in the numbers of children taking GCSE language courses in some areas of England. A separate survey of UK secondary schools suggests that a third have dropped at least one language from their GCSE options. https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-47334374 https://schoolsweek.co.uk/a-third-of-state-schools-no-longer-teach-languages-in-year-9/ To those of us who believe passionately in the advantages of learning languages, this is concerning news indeed, especially as business organisations have expressed concern at the lack of language skills in the UK. Matthew Fell, Chief UK Policy Director for business group the CBI, said: "Employer demand for French, German and Spanish skills has significantly increased over the last few years. The decline in language learning in schools must be reversed, or else the UK will be less competitive globally and young people less prepared for the modern world. As well as speaking a foreign language, increasing young people's cultural awareness and their ability to work with people from around the world is just as important." Mr. Fell makes important points: in a global marketplace and with Brexit imminent, the ability of the UK’s future leaders in all sectors to communicate effectively with their counterparts across the world is likely to be crucial. For the next generation, being able to speak languages other than English can surely only assist with this. Moreover, there is undeniable merit in learning languages for their own sake. As a school teaching three languages, we see daily that language learning helps to instil, even in the very young, discipline, perseverance, the development of ‘an ear’ for meaning and expression, the ability to choose the correct word, phrase or tone to convey meaning and emotion, listening skills, grammatical knowledge and skills, conversational/interview skills, an appreciation of the subtleties of communication, and tolerance and respect for other languages and cultures. So it is clear to us that the teaching of languages imparts the all important ‘soft skills’ often mentioned by employers as being of equal importance with examination results and acquired knowledge. For its survey, the BBC attempted to contact every one of the almost 4,000 mainstream secondary schools in the UK, and more than half - 2,048 - responded. Of the schools which replied, most said the perception of languages as a difficult subject was the main reason behind a drop in the number of pupils studying for exams, with pupils believing it would be harder for them to achieve a top GCSE grade in a language than in other subjects. This is deeply worrying, but hardly surprising when you consider that, nationwide, many pupils transfer at 11+ into their senior school with very little, if any, experience of learning languages at primary level. We are very proud that this is not the case for St. Helen’s College children, where language learning is given a high priority. Our pupils learn Spanish from the age of 2, French from the age of 8 and Latin from the age of 9. Every child aged between 6 and 10 also takes part, every year, in the U-Talk National Languages competition, through which they have the opportunity to learn (for fun) three further languages each year - one European, one Asian and one African - and to enjoy competing online against pupils from across the United Kingdom. St. Helen’s College pupils learn about French, Spanish and Roman culture, develop relationships with French pen pals and spend a full week immersed in French language and culture during their Year 6 languages trip to the Chateau de la Baudonniere in Normandy, where they also have the chance to visit a French school and meet with their pen pals. Our languages curriculum therefore gives pupils the opportunity to gain a solid grounding in grammar and vocabulary. St. Helen’s College children reach a good level in two of the most widely spoken languages, French and Spanish, and relish their introduction to several other languages. During their time with us, children become able to identify similarities and differences in languages and cultures; they also develop a love of languages and a willingness to ‘have a go’ at learning pretty much any new language which comes along. This week, observing Spanish lessons in Reception, it has been impressive to see the children’s confidence at the age of 4 and 5, as they are immersed in the language, learning numbers and actions through song. This foundation, laid during the children's earliest years with us, is built upon over the years to develop into a strong linguistic interest, confidence and skill set by the time they reach Year 6. There is no doubt that St. Helen’s College children love their language learning and leave us with an excellent grounding in this area. They are well equipped to tackle - and hopefully to excel at - languages at GCSE and A level in their senior school of choice. In England, Ministers say that they are taking steps to reverse the nationwide decline in language learning and this is, in our view, absolutely essential. The government reportedly has a £2.5m plan which aims to increase the take-up of modern foreign languages at GCSE and A-level through new centres of excellence. Let us hope that this plan is successful but, whether it is or not, at least we know that St. Helen’s College children will be ready, willing and able to take full advantage of language learning at senior school and throughout their lives, since they have been lucky enough to attend a linguistic centre of excellence in their youngest years!
Posted on: 15/02/2019

Head's Blog - Working At St. Helen's College

  Working in the independent sector is a privilege for many teachers and support staff. Here at St. Helen’s College we have an incredibly supportive parent body, pupils who are eager to learn and it is the journey which home and school take together which ensures that we get the best from each child. This may not always be the picture some schools are facing. For those of you who have been keeping an eye on the education news, it can often be quite a depressing read; teacher recruitment and retention sits high on the agenda. Damian Hinds, education secretary, said: “I think teachers work too many hours – aggravated by unnecessary tasks like excessive marking and data entry, spending more than half their time on non-teaching tasks.” I make it my job to keep in touch with what is going on in the maintained sector and regularly meet up and interact with colleagues from both the independent and maintained sector.  On a Sunday evening I regularly contribute to an online discussions platform, ‘SLTChat’, which is both enlightening and refreshing as I am able to reflect on the good practice happening at our school.   At St. Helen’s College we have an incredibly dedicated staff who all work for the common interest in giving your children the most interesting experiences in our  curriculum. We use smart assessment methods which are effective and involve the pupils in the process and our data is used effectively to plan the next steps for the children’s learning.   Parents from Year 1 upwards will have received the children’s Learning Logs this week as part of our reporting process. These Learning Logs were noted in our last school inspection as an exceptional aspect of our teaching and learning process and the inspectors were showing so much interest in these that I have become very protective of these unique logs as they are totally bespoke for our school, being the brainchild of Mr. Lewis. The subject leaders have ownership of their subject logs and work closely with the class teachers to ensure that each statement is appropriate for the children but that pupils will all be stretched and challenged, often aspiring to targets in the year above or adapting to targets which still need to be consolidated from the previous year.  The pupils take ownership of their learning and visit these logs often to reflect on their progress and set their targets. For our younger pupils from Ducklings to Reception their learning is tracked and monitored via our online platform ‘Tapestry’ which I know that all the parents also have access to. This assists us in building up the profile of the children’s progress and development as they work within the Early Years Framework. Our staff have the freedom to be creative with our curriculum and have the time to research and plan for inspirational lessons to engage your children.   We have not felt the backlash of teacher recruitment which many schools face and it is with confidence and pride that we have a very low turnover of staff here at St. Helen’s College.  When teachers do decide to move on to pastures new or retire (sadly we will bid Mrs. Stark farewell in due course), we are inundated with applications from ambitious and inspiring teachers and other staff  who would like to join our team to make their contributions to your children’s learning. To say that that I am proud of our school is an understatement.  As we approach the mid-year point in our school calendar, I can hardly believe that we have already completed a term and a half of the 2018 - 2019 academic year.  Enjoy the half term break with your children. Continue to enrich their learning - talk to them about the world around them, play games and puzzles, read books together, visit interesting places! Happy Half Term! Mrs. Drummond
Posted on: 8/02/2019

Head's Blog - Antarctica by Mrs. McLaughlin

This week we have a guest blog from Mrs. McLaughlin, who has been inspiring the children at Upper School with assemblies about her journeys in Antarctica. On Monday I had the opportunity to lead the Middle School and Upper School assemblies. When I am given such opportunities I like to share my life experiences with the children: having written a book, explored Antarctica with Sir Robert Swan, trekked the Amazon Rainforest and the Himalayan range, hiked Mt Fuji in Japan and volunteered in Palestine, there is something there that intrigues everyone.   On Monday, I chose to inspire the children (and staff) with my Antarctica story. It seemed apt with the children having had a snow day on the Friday and temperatures in other parts of the world sinking to lows never experienced before. I showed the children videos and pictures of my trip and talked about what it was like to visit one of the coldest, loneliest and driest places on Earth. The children were in awe! I started by telling the children that I had watched a video that Sir Robert Swan had shown the children at the school I was working in at the time, and it was this video, showing the beauty and wonder of Antarctica, that made me determined to visit. I shared this video with the children and they seemed to be just as inspired as I was.   As I continued to show the children videos and pictures, I could see their eyes widen with excitement. The story of my friend Jemima the penguin and the leopard seal was one of the stories that intrigued them most. After telling my story of perseverance, co-operation, respect and fairness - just some of the values we teach here at school - I went on to explain the real reason I visited Antarctica. It was to make a difference, however small. It was to make small changes in my lifestyle and to inspire others to do the same, so that the world could be a much nicer place to live in. I shared some eye-opening facts about climate change with the children and asked them what they felt was the number one threat to our planet. I got so many fantastic answers: pollution, noise, humans, artificial intelligence and more. The children were surprised but quickly realised the truth when I told them Sir Robert Swan’s most famous quote: ‘The greatest threat to our planet is the belief that someone else will save it.’ This alone inspired me to do more and I know that it got the children thinking too. Since the assembly, the children have asked me a whole host of questions and have carried out research about Antarctica independently of their own accord. As a school, we continue to work closely with our Eco Reps to make a big impact in small ways. This includes taking part in 'Waste Week' and 'Switch Off Fortnight', ensuring that electricity is used efficiently, growing our own vegetables and monitoring food waste. Last year we achieved the Eco Schools Silver award and we are now striving for the prestigious ‘Green Flag’ award. If there is a final message I can leave you with, it is this: ‘The greatest threat to our planet is the belief that someone else will save it.’ - Sir Robert Swan OBE Mrs. McLaughlin
Posted on: 25/01/2019

Head's Blog - Talking Together

This week I have worked with both pupils and parents on issues regarding the use of social media platforms.  We are all members of a digital society and for those of us who are slightly older we have had to embrace this new arena and re-educate and up-skill ourselves (my final dissertation at university was typed up by a paid typist - computers were not a part of our world!)   By contrast, children nowadays know no different - technology is their world and it is rapidly changing.   This blog is not about how we use technology but more about the interpersonal relationships about which we MUST not forget. This week I met with some parents who wanted to dispel some myths or rumours which had been circulating in a parents' group on their social media platform WhatsApp. Through our face to face meeting, I was able to give them some clarity and answers to their queries. I was somewhat concerned about how much worry adults and children alike can allow themselves to suffer through dependency on online interactions and second guessing truths. This week in my Year 6 mindfulness lesson we discussed how to deal with worries and addressed how our minds can ruminate, catastrophise or overthink things and how worries can snowball and end up causing unnecessary stress and anxiety. I urge us all as a community to be kinder to ourselves and to each other -  let us remember what being human is all about - it is those interpersonal relationships and ability to communicate with each other which makes us quite superior to other living creatures.  We are a unique community here at St. Helen's College and, as a staff body, we are passionate about what we offer and how we work together to keep inspiring a lifelong love of learning in your children. Do keep speaking with us - communicate regularly, because ultimately we all put the children at the centre of every decision we make together!  Tomorrow I have my next set of meetings with Year 5 parents as we discuss their next steps; this is one more example of school and family working together - talking together - to get the best for the children! Have a lovely weekend. Mrs. Drummond
Posted on: 18/01/2019

Head's Blog - Looking Forward

Tomorrow I will have the pleasure of meeting many new families with their children who would like to become members of our wonderful St. Helen’s College family at our annual 3+ entry day.  I am also currently in the process of meeting with all of our current Year 5 parents to discuss future schools as our Upper School pupils begin to think about their future schools and the next step in their learning journey. It is always an emotional time for parents at both end of the scale. When the children are preparing to join us at 2+ or 3+, suddenly their babes in arms are wearing school uniforms, carrying a book bag and running into the playground to greet their new friends!  And at the other end, when the parents reflect on the many years they have spent under the watchful eye of the caring and compassionate staff at St. Helen’s College, emotions always run high. Many parents this week at the transfer evening related their memories of sitting with Mr. and Mrs. Crehan all those years ago as they entered into their journey with us. I can hardly believe it myself that the children we have been discussing were only beginning Year 3 when I arrived at the school as the new Head; they seemed so little, so young as they embraced the changes of moving from the end of Key Stage 1. Many of our current parents have older children now sitting GCSEs and beyond whose siblings are still with us - there is such a sense of family and strong bonds with the school. It certainly is unique and special to keep building those relationships with families and for the alumni parents and children to keep in touch with us, celebrating the children’s achievements and successes. Tomorrow I will be sharing with our new prospective parents the joys of being part of our community, what we stand for and the pride that we take in forming such strong bonds with families as we all work together to unlock their children’s talents and nurture each and every one of them to achieve their utmost best in all that they do. We are, as normal, incredibly over subscribed for entry to our Robins and Wrens Nursery classes, thus we already know that we will not be able to give a place to every child we meet on Saturday - for everyone that is so difficult - as everyone wants a piece of what we offer! Thank you to all parents and staff who are reading my blog this week - I am proud to lead this school and am full of admiration of each and every one of our pupils every day as they embrace new challenges and opportunities in their learning.  But without the staff and the full support of parents this would not be achievable. One day your children, when they are grown up, will reflect on their school days at St. Helen’s College - the best days of their lives! Mrs. Drummond
Posted on: 11/01/2019

Head's Blog - Digital Wellbeing

At the end of November,  Mr. Crehan, Mr. Lewis and I attended a conference at Radley College in Oxford arranged by the Independent Schools Council on Digital Strategy. This is an annual conference which brings together school leaders to discuss and share good practice from around the world on how we are preparing tomorrow’s leaders, your children, for this new era of digital transformation. The day was a mix of key speakers, workshops and networking opportunities. We all attended a variety of workshops and one of the workshops I attended struck a chord with me: ‘Digital Wellbeing’. We all know that mental health and wellbeing is hugely topical at the moment, but are we all playing our part in looking after our ‘Digital Wellbeing’? Technology is superb and we cannot deny that we are in a very exciting era where digital technology plays a big part in all our lives, but it is crucial that we employ strategies to ensure we do look after our digital wellbeing and that of our children. Over the festive period I am sure that many of the children received digital items; games, tablets, smart phones….and perhaps parents did too. I did chuckle when I read on Saturday 29th December an article in Schools Week, in which Damien Hinds our Education Secretary has recommended that ‘pupils should ditch gadgets and climb trees’ by schools introducing an activity passport for all school pupils - see link below. https://schoolsweek.co.uk/pupils-should-ditch-gadgets-and-climb-trees-in-2019-damian-hinds-tells-schools/ I am somewhat saddened that yet again the government seem to be dictating to schools about the job we should be doing -  surely many of the activities on these passports are part of normal family living and I am delighted that many of them also appear on our St. Helen’s College curriculum! However, digital wellbeing is a very serious aspect of healthy living and I was delighted to have been discussing this with Mrs. Smith. One of her friends has recently developed a website for parents, which I think you will all be very interested in reading about and perhaps you will take action too. I shall now hand over to Mrs Smith….. Sign4Year9 A friend of mine has co-developed a website called ‘Sign4Year9’ for parents who want to resist the pressure to let their child have a smart phone before they are emotionally mature enough to handle social media and unrestricted internet access. The idea is based on research highlighting the dangers of children having access to smart phones too young, including lack of face-to-face conversation, declining amounts of time spent outdoors and/or with family and extended family, and the perils of social media and internet access for our children’s mental health. I am sharing it in the hope that St. Helen’s College parents and staff will want to sign (and share) the pledge, which is designed mainly to give parents support in resisting pressure from their children to get a smart phone too soon. It is important to note that the pledge only relates to smart phones. Allowing your child a ‘normal’, ‘unsmart’ phone, without internet/social media access, before their teenage years would still be ok! The Sign4Year9 movement is in its infancy, so this is a chance to be there at the start of something which will hopefully go nationwide and which has already been shared internationally. If this is an idea which speaks to you, and you would like to sign up, please visit Sign4Year9 to add your name to the growing number making the pledge. Read on to find out why I believe it is so important that you do! Earlier this year, a study carried out by MusicMagpie and published in the Independent found that a quarter of children under the age of 6 own a smart phone. It also found that 8 in 10 parents do not limit the amount of time children spend on their phones, and that 75% of parents do not disable the data function so that their children are able to use these smart phones to access the internet and social media apps freely over wifi networks and through mobile data. A staggering two thirds of parents admitted that they do not put a cap on their child’s monthly smart phone spend.1 As a parent of older teenagers, these statistics were shocking to me. However, as an aunt to children aged 10, 8, 4, 3 and 1, I suspect they probably sound about right to parents of very young children, who are used to seeing their children operate smart phones and who are often amazed and impressed at their children’s ability to operate technical devices at such a young age. Smart phones, ipads and laptops weren’t widely used by children 15 years ago – the ‘baby phone’ phenomenon has been a growing area over the last 10 years in particular. Smart phone technology hit the mainstream for children just before my two sons started at their senior school and my husband and I bought them each a smart phone when they entered Year 7. We believed that having a phone was all but essential from the beginning of secondary school, as our sons would be travelling to/from school independently for the first time. Being able to communicate with them whenever I wanted was also a huge comfort to me, as a parent, as they began a new chapter in their lives. It is humbling now to hear my sons say that they wish we had delayed them getting smart phones for a year or two. It is also obvious to me, with hindsight, that they would have been perfectly safe and healthy - indeed, possibly safer and healthier – with ‘unsmart’ phones at age 11 and 12. Their school has never limited the use of smart phones at break or lunch times and my boys particularly bemoan the fact that, on any given day, many of their friends chose not to play football at break time because they were too busy on their phones. The school is now undertaking a consultation with parents, pupils and staff on the use of smart phones and is considering an ‘out of sight’ policy for phones in school, which has my wholehearted support, not least because, while not directly affected, my sons have been aware throughout their teenage years of various cases of children upset by social media activity both in and out of school. I believe that children should be unable to access social media during their ‘working’ day at school, to enable them to concentrate on developing face-to-face friendships, to indulge in healthy, active break times, and to help them to focus on study in their primary place of study - school! There is a growing movement of parents who are concerned about the effects of children being given smart phones too young. Although these phones are incredible, useful pieces of technology with many advantages, research has shown that they can have some very detrimental effects on children. In particular, the following effects are now being recognised by parents and researchers: Smart phones can alter the parent-child relationship as children become more dependent on their smart phone and the immediate (although not always correct) answers it provides to their questions.   According to more than one study2, smart phones, especially when permitted in the bedroom, can cause later bedtimes, lack of sleep and fatigue. These factors may contribute to lack of concentration, reduced physical co-ordination and lower attainment at school, as well as reduced ability to cope, emotionally, with the demands of life.   Ready access to smart phones can hinder a child’s creativity and imagination. Exciting, colourful games requiring short attention bursts may slow children’s sensory and motor development.   According to a leading child psychotherapist, published in the Daily Telegraph3, the ubiquity of smart phones, broadband and social media are contributing negatively to the power and pace of mental health issues in children and teenagers, including eating disorders and teen suicide rates.   The fast-paced nature of interactions on social media, in particular, do not allow children the time and space to reflect on the impact of their words and actions. Reflection, self-evaluation, self-limitation, listening skills, tolerance and empathy are qualities that should be embedded in our children as they grow; if opportunities for them to be embedded are lost, these qualities may not be there in the adults of tomorrow. What sort of a world will we be living in then?   Researchers have found that smart phones can be detrimental to a child’s socio-economic development4. According to these findings, the amount of time children spend on smart phones and similar devices could impair the development of the skills needed for learning maths and science.   Smart phone use can be addictive5. Children who become dependent upon, or addicted to, smart phones are likely to experience problems caused by this addiction during their teenage years and in later life, including the inability to form healthy, functioning relationships with family and friends. This phenomenon is becoming known as ‘technoference’, as technology use interferes with everyday living.   The unrestricted (or minimally restricted) use of smart phones can cause obesity6, and it is unlikely that there is no relation between the increasing rates of child obesity and the increasing amounts of time spent by children on screens.   Unrestricted internet access has many, many risks for children who may access inappropriate content. Obvious risks are that they may access, and become desensitised to, pornography and extreme violence. Risks less considered by parents are that children may access information about disease and death before they are emotionally ready to cope with this; they may access inappropriate ‘beauty’ and/or body images before or as their own bodies change in puberty, which may cause body dysmorphia, anorexia or other mental health issues; they may experience online bullying; they may connect with strangers who groom them sexually or radicalise them; they may discover inappropriate information about friends, relatives, neighbours or other people. Technology has done a lot to make our lives easier and more efficient. But, as parents, it is our job to be concerned about the impact that devices like smart phones can have on our children, and our job to decide when our children are emotionally mature enough to handle the many threats of unrestricted internet and social media access. The growing body of research cannot and must not be ignored. Please, if you agree, sign the Sign4Year9 pledge to try to take back some ‘parent power’ and to help limit young children’s exposure to the potential negative effects of smart phones. Finally, in addition to the studies cited below, you may also be interested in this piece, which found a direct correlation between smart phone use by parents and behavioural issues in children. We must all be mindful of our own smart phone use too.https://globalnews.ca/news/4315717/parents-smartphone-addiction-children-behavioural-issues/ Mrs. Smith References: 1 https://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/gadgets-and-tech/children-smartphone-ideal-age-social-media-snapchat-youtube-a8294701.html 2 http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/135/2/e367 3 https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/health/children/11486167/Are-smartphones-making-our-children-mentally-ill.html 4 https://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2015-01/bumc-mai013015.php 5https://www.commonsensemedia.org/about-us/news/press-releases/new-report-finds-teens-feel-addicted-to-their-phones-causing-tension-at 6 https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/news/hsph-in-the-news/smartphone-tablet-use-linked-with-obesity-in-teens/

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