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10 Ways to Prepare for Starting School in September

By Early Years Specialist and founder of playHOORAY!, Claire Russell

When it comes to preparing your child for school it’s not all academic, it’s about supporting and preparing them from a social, emotional and general wellbeing perspective too. It is also important to remember that all children develop in different ways and at different times, so parents shouldn’t panic or put any pressure on themselves or their young children. Don’t forget children will pick up on your own anxieties about them starting school so it can be really beneficial to prepare together for the new chapter in both of your lives through a combination of play and stories.

Here are my top 10 tips for helping to get your child ready for school…

  1. Recognising their name

It’s necessarily about children being able to write their own name (though if they can, then great) but about them recognising their name as it will be on their belongings such as their school jumper, lunchbox, P.E. kit etc and it will help if they identify it in order to enable them to take responsibility for their own belongings (or you may end up with a lot of lost socks!).

Try playing games, ordering the letters in their name, making labels for their book bag, creating a bedroom sign for their door, or moulding it with play dough.

  1. Counting

Counting does not mean reading, writing and ordering numbers one through to 10 as that involves a lot of skill for a pre-schooler but practising counting through songs and stories. Try playing with numbers and noticing numbers when out and about – on doors, buses and price tags etc.  PlayHOORAY! Number and Letters playPROMPTS include lots of inspiration for practising numbers.

  1. Dressing

Get them to practise dressing themselves – putting on underwear, attempting shoes, etc. Adults will be on hand in school to help but this will support them to become more independent.

  1. Toileting independently

Ensure that when going to the toilet your child is able to undo his or her trousers, wipe their bottom and wash their hands.  All good practice for looking after their own wellbeing.

  1. Eating independently

Don’t expect miracles but do encourage your child to use their cutlery correctly, eat independently and try clearing their plate away when finished.

  1. Read any information provided by the school

Take the time to visit your child’s new school (most will have had open days) and read any booklets or information prepared by the school. Practise taking the journey to school too so it is not so alien and use it as an opportunity to talk about any anxieties your child may be having.

  1. Make a countdown

‘After the holidays’ is a difficult concept to understand at four years old.  Why not make a peg chart or tick off the weeks until starting school so they know when it’s coming.

  1. Social support

A lot of children in one space means they are going to have to learn to share and take turns. Practise by playing lots of games together as a family or with friends to help your child to wait for their go.

  1. Using scissors

Practise using scissors and holding a pencil through lots of play activities. You’ll find lots of ideas in our playHOORAY! art Mini playPROMPT pack.

  1. Getting into the routine of bedtime stories

Most schools will send home books or even homework, so it’s a good idea if you don’t already, to build books and reading into the bedtime routine over the summer.

My recommended book list:

  • Topsy and Tim start school, Jean Adamson
  • Starting School, Allan and Janet Ahlberg
  • Harry and the Dinosaurs start school, Ian  Whybrow
  • Alfie and the big boys, Shirley Hughes
  • Usborne first experiences, Starting School
  • Kissing Hand, Audrey Penn

For further information about playHOORAY! please visit or follow Claire on social media at: and


8 ways to beat back-to-school anxiety and sleep better this September

It’s now September, summer is officially over and the time has come for parents to get their kids ready for going back-to-school. While some parents might enjoy this time, 80% of parents claim that getting their kids ready for the new year leaves them with severe anxiety

Back-to-school financial shopping pressures; adjusting to new schedules and the early mornings can all leave parents with feelings of anxiety.

This chaotic time also means that 61% of parents struggle to get to sleep, meaning parents rely on caffeine to get them up in the morning ready for the early school runs, which can in turn increase feelings of anxiety and worry.

8 tips on how to beat back-to-school anxiety and sleep better

  1. Practice breathing exercises – If you’re feeling anxious, try taking slow deep breaths; calmly inhaling for 4 seconds through your nose, then exhaling for the same via your mouth
  2. Try an anxiety relieving traditional herbal remedy, such as Kalms Lavender – Lavender oil has a long-standing association with relieving symptoms of mild anxiety, such as stress and nervousness
  3. Exercise it out – Exercising for just one minute can give you the same benefits as between 90 and 120 minutes of relaxation, thanks to the ‘’feel good’ endorphins that are released
  4. Share your worries – talking to a trusted family member or friend can make your worries seem less dauting and help you realise you are not alone
  5. Embrace a meditation practice – Meditation helps to calm the mind and body, combat stress and improve your sleep. If you’re new to meditation, start of small and increase your mediation sessions over time
  6. Ditch the caffeine and try a traditional herbal remedy, such as Kalms Night – Drift off to sleep peacefully and wake up ready to face the day ahead. Valerian root has been used for centuries due to its herbal sedative effect
  7. Rewind your day – Reliving the mundane details of your day in reverse can help you to order you worries and aid your mental state ready for sleep
  8. Write it down – Keep a sleep journal, ‘I can’t sleep because I’m worried about…’

About Kalms Lavender

Kalms Lavender One-A-Day Capsules is a traditional herbal medicinal product used for the temporary relief of the symptoms of mild anxiety such as stress and nervousness, exclusively based on long standing use as a traditional herbal remedy. Always read the label.

Kalms Lavender One-A-Day capsules are available in Boots, Asda and online at   £6.99

About Kalms Night

Kalms Night and Kalms Night One-A-Night are traditional herbal medicinal products used for temporary relief of sleep disturbances exclusively based on long standing use as traditional remedies. Contain Valerian Root. Always read the label.

Kalms Night tablets are available to purchase from supermarkets and online at

Kalms Night RRP: £5.17 for 50 tablets, Kalms One-A-Night RRP £5,49 for 21 tablets.


Every London school to have access to Youth Mental Health First Aid by 2021

A ground-breaking programme has been launched to ensure every state-funded primary, secondary school and further education college in London has access to Youth Mental Health First Aid by 2021.

The programme is a collaboration between Thrive LDN and Mental Health First Aid England, supported by funding from the Mayor of London through the Young Londoners Fund. The partnership continues the Mayor’s drive to help and support children and young people to fulfil their potential, with a particular focus on improving the mental health and wellbeing of all young Londoners.

Half of all cases of diagnosable mental illness begin by age 14 and three-quarters by the age of 24. The planned Youth Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) training programme will ensure schools have access to a trained individual who can recognise the crucial warning signs and symptoms of poor mental health in young people and can guide a young person to the appropriate support.

The ambitious programme will initially provide 100 funded places on a Royal Society for Public Health accredited Youth MHFA Instructor Training programme. This will more than double the number of Youth MHFA instructors in London. The seven-day instructor training programme is facilitated by Mental Health First Aid England and is typically spread out over six weeks.

As part of their training, individuals undertaking this ‘train the trainer’ programme will go on to lead an on-going programme of Youth MHFA two day training courses across London. The programme will initially see training delivered to approximately 2,000 school staff and peer mentors.

Fionuala Bonnar, Chief Operating Officer, Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) England, said: “Youth Mental Health First Aid teaches people the skills and confidence to spot the signs of mental health issues in a young person, offer first aid and guide them towards the support they need. In doing so, this can speed up a young person’s recovery and stop a mental health issue from getting worse. Mental Health First Aid England is already working with a number of schools across the City as part of the Department of Health funded Youth MHFA in Schools programme. We are excited to build on this reach and support the Mayor’s ambition to now train a Youth Mental Health First Aider in every school in London.”

Dr Yvonne Doyle, London regional director for Public Health England and Mayoral Health Advisor, said: “Good mental health is essential for children and young people to be able to thrive in life. The emotional health and wellbeing of a child is just as important as their physical health and wellbeing and prevention is paramount. Helping children early with ground-breaking programmes such as this can avoid them falling into lifelong struggles with poor mental health.”

Jane Milligan, senior responsible officer for Healthy London Partnership’s mental health programme of work, said:  “This is a great example of how we are all working together across London’s health and care systems to improve the mental health of young people in London and reduce stigma. This partnership approach will help to ensure that the correct support is being offered to children and young people who begin to feel vulnerable or mentally unwell.”

The programme is now open and those who are interested in accessing Youth MHFA training as part of this funded programme should contact Thrive LDN on You can find out more about Youth MHFA training and the learning outcomes by visiting

  • There are approximately 2,500 state-funded schools in London.
  • In the last twelve months, approximately 291 schools across London have had at least one person trained in Youth MHFA skills (as part of a separate government funded schools programme).
  • The Youth MHFA in London Schools programme is funded through the Mayor’s Young Londoners Fund scale-up activity.
  • The Youth MHFA in London Schools programme is costed at £375,000 for year one of the programme and will enable Thrive LDN to train Youth Mental Health First Aiders in every London borough and undertake a robust London wide evaluation of the programme’s impact. This will inform the delivery model for years 2 and 3 of the programme.
  • School types include state-funded primary, secondary, Sixth Form College and special educational needs schools.
  • Youth MHFA instructors will be recruited from the range of organisations across the communities (schools, faith, voluntary, statutory and primary care) to ensure sustainability beyond the timeframe of the programme.
  • Everyone who attends a Youth MHFA Two Day training course receives a manual and workbook to support them in their role as a dedicated Youth Mental Health First Aider.

The Young Londoners Fund was established by the Mayor of London to help London’s children and young adults make the most of our amazing city. It will support a range of education, sport, cultural and other activities for children and young people. The 3-year fund totalling £45 will see £30m made available for projects in local communities with the remaining £15m invested in ‘scale-up activity’ to expand existing projects funded by City Hall that support young Londoners.

Thrive LDN is a citywide movement to improve the mental health and wellbeing of all Londoners. It is supported by the Mayor of London and led by the London Health Board, in partnership with Greater London Authority, Healthy London Partnership, NHS England (London Region), Public Health England (London Region) and London Councils. More information can be found at

Mental Health First Aid England is a community interest company (CIC). The organisation has a clear vision to normalise society’s attitudes and behaviours around mental health, thereby reducing stigma and discrimination across communities. It aims to do this by training one in ten of the English population in MHFA skills. It has currently trained over 290,000 people in England in MHFA skills and has 1,800 registered MHFA instructors across the country. More information can be found at

Healthy London Partnership (HLP) was formed in April 2015. HLP aims to make London the healthiest global city in the world by working with our partners for Londoners to improve health and care, so everyone can live healthier lives. HLP works across health and social care, and with the Greater London Authority, Public Health England, NHS England, London’s councils, clinical commissioning groups, and Health Education England. More information can be found at The Thrive LDN programme team is hosted by HLP.


Transition – making new friends at a new school

School Advice: When the Children’s Society asked children what made their childhood happy, friendship was the factor they mentioned most often so it is not surprising that when children are moving up to secondary school one of their big worries is, ‘Will I make friends?’ Dr Asha Patel, clinical psychologist and CEO of not for profit  Innovating Minds, has some tips to pass on to parents:

Some children find it very easy to make new contacts and are quickly at the centre of a social circle but for a child who is moving to a different catchment area or is very shy and easily overwhelmed it can seem like a mountain to climb.

Here are a few tips to improve your child’s social confidence:

1 Listen to what your child says. Some children have a negative voice in their head that holds them back. .. If you hear phrases such as ‘I’m rubbish at…’, ‘I can’t…’ ‘I won’t…’, ‘No one …’ , start asking some curious questions.  Why do you think that? How do you feel when you say that? What else could you say instead? It is also important to reflect on what messages are your children hearing from the people around them.

2 Help your child to be more confident. Pick out all the things which they are good at or the qualities they have that others value. We are quickly to identify what could be better but focus on the strengths. This will help to build self-confidence and self esteem.

Beware though – no child likes to be ‘a good listener’ so find some qualities which have a touch of glamour.

3 Often children get caught up in how many friends they have, rather then valuing the quality of the ‘real’ friends they have.  Remind your child about healthy friendships, the importance of trust. Talk about the qualities that lead to fruitful friendships – respect, liking people for who they are, not because of what they have.

4 Give them a script for conversations with strangers. If a child feels anxious, pressured they can over-think every scenario. This can stop them from chatting to people they don’t know well. Encourage them to use open questions to initiate a conversation ‘What did you do at the weekend?’ ‘What did you think of?’ ‘Which school did you used to go to?’

5 Set up opportunities for social interaction. We often go into a shop with our children and purchase items whilst they stand beside us. We go out to eat, and order food on behalf of a child. Why not let your child make the purchase at the shop and engage with a stranger or let them order the food? These are golden opportunities for children to practise talking to people they don’t know, engaging in conversation and responding to social cues.

Dr Asha Patel Innovating Minds 07854 585946

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