Thursday, 15 December 2011

Nursery Applications in Hertfordshire

Parents of children born between 1 September 2008 and 31 August 2009 can apply online for nursery places at Hertfordshire maintained nursery schools and classes from Monday 20th February 2012.  Parents should approach private, voluntary and independent (PVI) providers direct for a place at these settings.

Applying online for nursery:
  • is quick and easy to do
  • you will have your own unique log in details
  • you can change your application right up until the closing date
  • your information is fully protected and secure
  • available 24 hours a day 7 days a week up until the closing date

All you need is an email account and internet access whether it is your home computer, at an internet cafĂ© or at your local library. Many children’s centres also offer access.

Nursery Applications
Apply online from:            Monday 20th February 2012
Closing date:                        Sunday 1st April 2012
Allocation date:            Monday 30th April 2012
Accept your place by:            Sunday 6th May 2012

For more information on how to apply please visit:

Tuesday, 15 November 2011

Top 10 'Good' Gifts - Why not be nice to the world this Christmas?

Give a gift from the Good Gifts Catalogue (over 200 to choose, from £5 - £5,000) and do something amazing this Christmas. 
1.   Help revive the River Jordan – a gift truly in the spirit of Christmas. Sponsor a group of Israeli, Palestinian and Jordanian youngsters working together to clean up the river (one day work camp £50) and ensure it is disposed of safely (septic tanks £55.).
2.   A cherry tree for Japan – give a cherry tree to replace one destroyed by the tsunami. Cherry blossom is a symbol of hope, an integral part of Japanese culture. A gesture of support from us to them. (1 tree for £12.00 or 5 for £60.00)
3.   Christmas Hamper – our hamper crammed with necessities and seasonal treats goes to elderly people in the UK who may receive no other gifts. Pamper with our £25 hamper andbring joy into someone's Christmas Day. (£25.00)
4.   Bowls of rice – 50 bowls of rice for 50 hungry children in Africa. (£5.00)
5.   Trysting trees – a Scottish tradition. Plant two beech saplings together and they will intertwine romantically. These trees are planted around the UK and are great for combating global warming. (£30.00)
        6.   A Medical Sniffer Rat – in Tanzania, rapid diagnosis is required to limit the spread of TB. Conventional lab tests take hours to identify the bug in human sputum, so doctors are turning to a new, low-tech solution: rats. Super-sensitive rodent noses sniff in high definition and pin-point guilty microbes in seconds. (£15.00)
7.   Ducks to the rescue – in rural Orissa, women and girls are not allowed to eat chicken eggs, for cultural reasons. However, this results in large cases of malnourishment. Duck eggs are not banned so supplying duck to the women boosts both income and diet. (£25.00)
8.   Goats for Peace – Revolving goats repair the ravages of war. Well-tethered to protect local vegetation, families are started courtesy of a revolving ram. Kids go to restock families without goats. For communities slowly rebuilding themselves, goats are milk and fertiliser factories, improve local diets and help towards self-sufficiency (£20.00).

9.   Plant a Woodland Everyone agrees, more trees add to the quality of life (and air). Many schools have, often unloved, space around the school. They'd welcome the chance to plant trees to improve their surroundings. Buy them a tree pack - 60 saplings of birch, rowan and cherry, or a hedgerow pack of hawthorn, dog rose, hazel and dogwood. Both kits provide year round colour, and the hedgerow pack, nuts and rosehips that the children can harvest. A bonus for the teacher is that it links into the curriculum (£60.00). Also clubs, housing estates, amenity groups, cricket clubs, allotment societies, hostels, youth clubs and groups of friends can plant trees on any spare land, even on verges (£105.00). Where a large space is available, a 420 tree pack greens an entire acre or grows nearly 100 metres of hedgerow (£420.00).
10. Elderly person's hospital kit - For an elderly person going into hospital can be humiliating if they lack slippers, dressing gown, nightwear and toilet bag. And that's why we prescribe our Hospital Kit to treat the condition. (£25.00)

Sous vide cooking - Minnis Bar & Restaurant in Birchington

Nestling between Kent’s fishing ports of Whitstable and Ramsgate, the
Minnis Bay
Minnis Bar &  Restaurant in Birchington, which offers dinners spectacular
sunsets and a perfect location for watching violent North Sea storms
across Minnis Bay, has announced four new winter menus.

“Sous vide is a professional method of cooking in a vacuum-packed bags
in a water bath cooking at low temperatures for long periods” explained
chef-patron Jason Freedman. “From the molecular school of gastronomy, it
differs from conventional cooking because the raw food is sealed in an
oxygen free environment and cooked using precisely controlled heating at
a variation of only plus or minus a tenth of one degree Centigrade.”

Top-end chefs are increasingly using this innovative cooking method as
the absence of oxidation reactions increases flavour intensity, and
because cooking food at a precise temperature, ensures perfection time
after time.


Parents of two children treat their youngest as the favourite, according to new research. The study of 1,803 parents shows that 59 per cent of the time, parents will subconsciously choose the youngest child over the eldest.

In particular, mums and dads are more likely to side with a younger child in an argument, lavish them with more attention, let them have their own way and spend longer reading with them. Younger children also benefit from more treats and cuddles, and their parents find it hard refusing them anything they want. Fifty three per cent of parents polled openly admitted to feeling closer to their littlest child.

 Lisa Penney, spokesmum for, which commissioned the research said: “Very few parents are willing to admit they have a favourite child, and even though research indicates this is the case, we certainly aren’t suggesting parents love one child more than another. But the fact remains that in the majority of scenarios, parents favour their younger children.

“This might be because they are the baby of the family, because they are more demanding, or because they find that children simply need less and less attention as they get older.”

But although eldest children are often side-lined in preference to their younger sibling, more than half of parents polled claimed to have bonded more quickly with their first child. And 64 per cent of parents feel they have more in common with their eldest child, sharing interests and finding it easier to have a conversation.

Indeed, three in five parents say their elder child is more likely to confide in them, and have done since an early age. Older children are also more transparent, with 63 per cent of parents feeling confident they know them inside out.

Being the eldest also tends to mean these children are better behaved – with 53 per cent of parents finding them easier to discipline.  And being second favourite isn’t all bad – as older children tend to have more money spent on them, they’re allowed to rule the roost, they have bigger helpings at dinner and usually decide what the family watches on television.

Lisa Penney continues: “The research shows that there are definitely benefits to being either the youngest or oldest in the family. Whilst two in three parents agreed that their youngest was more likely to get away with murder, 60% found themselves talking about and boasting to friends about their eldest child and their achievements.

“Wherever a child comes in birth order in a family, the most important thing is that they’re loved, cared-for and treated as an individual who may have different needs to their brother or sister.”

Of the 1,803 people questioned, only one in five parents were prepared to admit they DID have a favourite child – of these, 54 per cent chose their youngest child. And when asked about their partner’s preference, 56 per cent of parents felt their partner also preferred the youngest. But one in three people say that every parent has a favourite child, but hates to admit it.

A resounding 76 per cent claim it is possible to have a favourite child simply because you get on with them better, not because you love them any differently or any more.

 By Bounty -

Monday, 14 November 2011

Keeping Up With My Kids reacts to the Prime Ministers call

Claire Coles, the Junior School teacher behind the website, has announced massive price cuts to encourage the widest possible use of her computer courses for parents.

Claire was inspired to this action by the Prime Minister’s speech to the Conservative Party Conference in October 2011.
 “It was wonderful to hear the Prime Ministers personal commitment to the education of our nation’s children, coming on the back of a similar commitment by Michael Gove earlier at the conference, said Claire.

I earnestly believe that a first class education is a child’s right not only for their own future but also as a way to avoid the social issues so visible in the riots in August.  It is vital for our country’s future, as well as for our children’s individual futures, that we re-establish education as the long term best way out of where we are now.

I also believe that parental involvement in a child’s education is critical to the child’s progress at school. Parents should not leave it to the teachers alone.  A parent’s greatest success will be the children they build.”

Claire goes on to explain:
“The action I have taken this week, following the PM’s speech, is to cut the price of my courses by 60% - from £49 to just £20.  I hope this will make the courses available to all parents, regardless of income.
The Prime Minister challenged our citizens to develop a “can do” positive attitude to the challenges we face as a nation. So I decided that, in the case of Junior School education, I was able to take his lead and I hope that my action shows that “I did”.

Claire hopes that the leadership being shown will enable the next generation of British children to be better educated and better prepared for the challenges and opportunities of the 21st Century. 

Jetsetter Massimo - Always one step ahead of the markets!

Handsome young entrepreneur Massimo 7, gets in early with his Christmas list for Santa – and hedges his currency options with typical cunning!
A puppy called Joey

Lego Harry Potter castle

Eight baby rabbits

A free trip to New York for 7 days

Have a spa in our hotel with a swimming pool

Everything in Lego City

One thousand pounds

One thousand euros

And one thousand dollars

Monday, 19 September 2011

Working families helpline

The Working Families helpline team are there to answer your frequently asked maternity questions.

Some common maternity questions are nothing to worry about and some are. The Working Families helpline team is on hand to explain where you stand on all your maternity rights. Below are some typical queries and the answers you will need.

“I haven’t had anything in writing from my employer about maternity leave or pay”.

Don’t worry. Employers are supposed to write to you once you have given notice for maternity leave to let you know when your maternity leave will end, but lots of employers forget. The reason employers are meant to write to you is so you know when your maternity leave ends, so if you come back a day late they can discipline or dismiss you. If they don’t write then you may have protection from dismissal if you do get the return date wrong. Your employers do not have to write to confirm that you will get Statutory Maternity Pay, although it is good practice to do so. They do, however, have to write to you if you are not entitled to SMP.

“My employer isn’t going to cover my job during maternity leave and I’m worried he won’t want me back”.

Your employer doesn’t have to cover your job while you are away and lots of employers choose to save money by dividing the work among colleagues. This shouldn’t affect your right to go back to your job and if you are dismissed because the employer prefers the way the job was done while you were away then this will be an act of discrimination.

“I just started my maternity leave, my employer sent me a P45 but said that he would re-employ me after I’d had the baby”.

This is wrong. You should not be dismissed for a reason to do with maternity leave. You are still an employee when you are on maternity leave, and still get all your rights under the contract except for pay.

If you have any concerns at all about your maternity rights, call the Working Families team on the confidential freephone legal helpline 0800 013 0313.

Working Families is a work-life charity.
Visit for further information. 

Grandparents give £33 billion of free childcare

Millions of grandparents are taking on the role of 'second mum and dad' to their grandchildren, helping out with everything from childcare to cooking family meals.

New research from Aviva suggests that around half of all UK grandparents now look after their grandchildren and help around the house while mums and dads work. Of these, 99.5% do so without pay. The study shows that on average, each grandparent will care for two children for around thirteen hours a week. This amounts to an estimated saving of more than £33 billion for UK parents each year.

However, these grandparents are feeling the pressure as a result of their kindness:
• 32% feel guilty if they ever say "no" to looking after their grandchildren.
• 30% actually cancel their own plans to mind their young charges.
• 23% feel taken for granted at times.
• One in eight feel financially worse-off as a result of looking after their grandchildren.
• One in twenty say they would like to do more paid work but can't because of childminding duties.

On a more positive note the vast majority of grandparents see clear emotional benefits to helping out their families:
  88% feel closer to their grandchildren because of the time they spend with them.
• 59% say they are more patient with their grandchildren than they were with their own children.

Many of us would find life far more difficult without our parents to help us out, so buy them a bottle of wine or some flowers today to show your appreciation!

Friday, 16 September 2011

Recognising a stroke

Sometimes symptoms of a stroke are difficult to identify. Unfortunately, the lack of awareness spells disaster. The stroke victim may suffer severe brain damage when people nearby fail to recognise the symptoms of a stroke.

Now doctors say a bystander can recognise a stroke by asking three
simple questions:

S Ask the individual to smile.
T Ask the person to talk and speak a simple sentence (coherently).
R Ask him or her to raise both arms.

If he or she has trouble with any one of these tasks, call the emergency services immediately and describe the symptoms to the dispatcher.

Another sign of a stroke is a crooked tongue. Ask the person to stick
out his tongue... if the tongue is crooked, if it goes to one side
or the other, that can also be an indication of a stroke.

Ten quick reading tips

 1. Read to your child every night, even if it's only a couple of pages. This is probably the most important way you can help your child get into reading. And they love it!
2. Follow the words with your finger or corner of a bookmark as you read. Over time you can deliberately not say a word and wait for your child to say it. Pick easy words at first.
3. Ask your child to read to you at breakfast time. This could be homework reading or their chosen book. Children are fresher in the morning. This can be difficult but if you work five to ten minutes reading into your routine at breakfast your child will benefit.
4. Have a chart to tick each time the reading is completed. Give lots of positive comments and feedback. Smile and be calm. If you are frustrated, image how your child feels. Remember it will get easier. Reward the reading at the end of each week.
5. Variety is the spice of life - find your nearest second-hand book shop or visit car boot sales. Choosing a new book every week (which probably won't set you back more than 30p or so) is a wonderful reward, a great trip out and all part of the reading experience.
6. A personalized bookmark can make the book you are reading very special.
7. Read your own books and magazines while your children read. Children learn by example. Curl up on the sofa with the paper, a magazine or a book and encourage your child to do the same with their book, even if it is just for five or ten minutes.
8. Cut out interesting articles from the newspaper that would be of interest to your child - funny or serious - football, animals, local people or places they know. Read them out loud, pointing to the words. Pursue any discussion that follows - this is a great vocabulary builder.
9. Talk with your child's teacher. If you are concerned that your child is not reading as competently as you would expect, discuss this with their teacher. Agree a way forward with objectives and time frames.
10. Play word games on the go - in the car, restaurants, waiting rooms... I spy; word association (first word you think of when I say 'cat'); make a sentence using each letter in turn of the car registration plate in front.
supplied by

The heartbeats of a mother and foetus synchronise

This previously unknown connection - discovered by scientists at the University of Aberdeen and Witten/Herdenke University in Germany - has paved the way for a new technique to detect development problems during pregnancy.

The findings show that synchronisation between the heartbeats of a mother and foetus only occurs when the mother breathes rhythmically. If this synchronisation does not occur, it signals that something may be wrong with the development of the foetus.

This opens up the potential for early medical intervention to be taken whilst the child is still in the womb.

Dr Marco Thiel - one of a team of physicists from the University of Aberdeen who worked on the study said: "Pregnant mothers often report an awareness of a bond with their child, but until now there has been no hard evidence to suggest this bond is reflected in the interaction of their heartbeats. Our findings reveal that synchronisation between the heartbeat of a mother and foetus does actually occur - but only when the mother is breathing in a rhythmical fashion. The foetus can sense the rhythmical shift in the mother's heartbeat and adapts its own heartbeat accordingly."

Bladder weakness- time to break the taboo

It affects five million women in the UK, a quarter of all women over the age of thirty five have experienced it and high-profile celebrities from Helena Bonham Carter to Ulrika Jonsson, to Carol Thatcher, have spoken out about their experiences of it. So why is bladder weakness still considered taboo?

Bladder weakness is the accidental or involuntary leaking of the bladder. It can occur for a number of reasons, including pregnancy and childbirth, menopause, obesity, constipation or nerve damage.
Despite being so common, bladder weakness is a subject that people tend to avoid talking about, including those who suffer. Research has shown that only 46% of adults who suffer from bladder problems talk to their GP about it, and as many as 42% of all women who are incontinent in the UK wait an astonishing fifteen years before seeking treatment.

Janice Rymer, Professor of Obstetrics and Gynaecology at King's College London School of Medicine and at Guy's & St Thomas' Hospitals, says: "Those who suffer from bladder weakness are often embarrassed by the condition, and worryingly many women still suffer in silence. It is not until women accept and understand the problem that they are able to take steps to control it."

Janice's top tips to combat bladder weakness:
• Try pelvic floor exercises to help strengthen the muscles
• Try holding on for longer between toilet visits as continually emptying the bladder can reduce the bladder size, meaning it will hold less
• Drink plenty of fluids to avoid urinary infections and ensure the urethra is constantly being flushed out
• Be prepared by carrying a bag of essentials - spare underwear and pads along with some cleansing wipes to help you freshen up on the go.
• Try to maintain a healthy weight as being overweight can put pressure on the bladder
• Eat healthily and avoid alcohol and caffeine in your diet
• Don't suffer in silence! Be sure to visit your GP to discuss treatment options as infection should be ruled out.

Information supplied by 

Looking after mum-to-be

Giving birth makes many women feel apprehensive, particularly after you listen to all those scary birth stories that mums seem to be compelled to tell you when they know you are pregnant. You often just yearn for a calming influence and for unbiased advice based on knowledge.
There are of course a multitude of books, web pages and magazines to wade your way through. These do provide lots of information and have their place in your pool of knowledge. However, you may want to talk personally to someone who is a professional, who can offer you support and most importantly can tailor that support specifically to you. This is what your midwife or doula should be able to provide.

There are some wonderful midwifes in the NHS. However,  in some areas you can't be guaranteed to see the same midwife at each appointment, or at your actual birth. For this reason some women choose to book a private midwife or a doula. A private or independent midwife is a fully qualified midwife who has chosen to work outside the NHS on a self-employed basis. Independent Midwives UK represents the majority of independent midwives in the UK. Their website,, has lots of useful information for parents-to-be and a search facility to find your nearest independent midwife. The key belief of the association is that women should have continuity of care from a midwife who will support them throughout their pregnancy, birth and the early weeks of motherhood. Your midwife should get to know you and your family during your pregnancy, providing support and advice. By the time the birth comes along you should have a happy and trusting relationship which will make the birth much easier for you.

You may not have known about doulas until you were pregnant but they are the answer to many women's prayers. Doula is a Greek word meaning 'woman servant or caregiver'. Today, it has come to mean a woman who offers emotional and practical support to a woman, before, during and after the birth. Many people understand it as 'mothering the mother'. A doula does not have clinical experience but has a great understanding and knowledge of the needs of a mum-to-be and a new mum. A doula's role will vary from family to family, as they aim to fit in with any given situation. Generally, the doula will meet with the mum or mum and partner at least once before the birth, and will provide continuous support and reassurance during the labour. Many doulas also provide post natal support to the whole family so that they can concentrate on enjoying their new baby rather than worrying about practicalities once they return home. Post natal doulas will also provide emotional and practical support to the new mum, which can be very reassuring particularly if you don't have close family nearby. Not all doulas provide post natal support, whilst others specialise in this area. If you interesting in using a doula take a look at (the non-profit association of doulas) which should provide answers to many of your questions and allows you to search for doulas in your area.

Thursday, 26 May 2011

Children’s health in a computer age

Children today face far more alternatives to playing outdoors than we ever did as children. It has been well documented that the number of hours children spend playing computer games and watching television has rapidly increased from just ten years ago. Children between the ages of eleven and fifteen now spend more than 55% of their waking lives in front of televisions and computers, and half of three year olds have a television in their bedroom (The Telegraph, Feb ‘08). Whilst this development may give parents a useful outlet to get some well earned peace it is also storing up problems for children’s physical, social and emotional growth and development.

The big question is how to entice our children out of their rooms and into the parks and outdoor spaces that become even more useful as summer approaches. The best way to do this is for parents to get involved themselves, introducing your child to the outdoors from as early an age as possible. Children who grow up walking and playing in parks, woodland and our beautiful National Parks are far more likely to continue doing so as they get older. Added benefits of outdoor play include getting more vitamin D (a lack of which is currently causing the alarming return of the bone disease rickets) and that children tire themselves out and sleep better at night (The Chartered Society of Physiotherapy). Surely reason enough for parents to get their trainers on!

In this era of frenzied media coverage of child related crimes, parents have become more nervous about letting their children play out in the way we would have done as children. However, with a small number of precautions and parent participation, this perceived risk can be lowered, allowing children to be more active and develop their social skills. These perceived risks can be reduced by parents taking turns to supervise a local group of children, attending group activities at a secure location such as a tennis club or leisure centre, or putting your child on one of many locally available holiday activity camps.

Structured sport is also on the wane, especially among the traditional team sports such as football and rugby. The reasons for this are numerous and relate to some of the issues discussed above. A typical problem occurs with many children feeling disheartened where they don’t make the school football or netball team. The danger here being that they come to associate sport negatively and this mind-set becomes more entrenched, as they get older. In this scenario it is up to parents and schools to develop alternative play and sport options.

Many schools offer a wide variety of after school clubs, ranging from fencing to street dance. Such clubs offer children a route back to sporting enjoyment and may help them discover talents they weren’t previously aware of.

Where lengthy direct involvement is difficult due to busy work schedules, there are a number of alternatives available. Schools and local authorities offer a wide variety of sports and activities which children can benefit from hugely. All that is required is a small time commitment from parents. The results will mean healthier children, who gain vital experience of how to interact with others and learn the vital lessons that both winning and losing
can provide.

As the London Olympic Games approach in 2012, we face a great opportunity to re-engage our children with sport and play. Children can learn that sport isn’t just running around chasing a ball in the cold and the mud. The full array of sports will be on show for all to see. It is up to us as parents to give our children the opportunity to try new sports and get active, the benefits of which will continue to be felt throughout their young lives and into adulthood.

Mathew Burns, Sports Xtra

What's in it for the parents?

When I was nine, our teacher wore dark glasses, grey nylon trousers and the smell of stale cigarettes. Every morning she instructed us to curtsey to a photograph of the queen and stand alone to recite our times tables. I remember the feeling of pointless repetition and disengagement. This was such a bleak contrast to the quiet embrace of the catholic nuns who had founded our convent. From then on I committed only to my friends and to my duty. I scraped by, doodling and dreaming until the year I went to tutorial college to re-take my A levels. There I discovered the poetry of Hopkins and became alive again to that 'dearest freshness deep down things'.

So when a friend asked me recently, 'what makes us choose the education we give our children? What's in it for the parents?' I sat down to unravel my memories and unpick the fabric of the different types of education I have offered my four children.

Eventually I found the red thread woven through my choices - my hope that my children will feel safe enough to remain present, passionate and curious. Dragged through foreign postings, divorce, remarriage and relocation they have attended international, preparatory, independent and public schools. I have tried to balance disruption by sometimes crippling us financially to find coeducational schools that help me to help my children move through their school years with clarity, integrity and vitality.

Faced with my own limitations and inadequacies, I have looked for schools willing to support me in trying to keep the children's bodies and their spirits strong and alive, encourage them to define their unique rhythm, learn to listen to others without losing themselves and be recognized for their inner drive not just their intelligence.

A friend, Linda, puts it simply, "Education needs to help them discover and remain alive to what really gets them out of bed in the morning."

Perhaps, when we consider where to educate our children, many of us are completing our own search and trying to redress imbalance with which we have struggled. Some of us choose to adhere to the safety of a system that is familiar and others make choices in opposing reaction to the education we were offered. We are fortunate to be in a position to choose.

Sarah, a mother at Lewes New School, recalled how, "It was exhausting being a success at school. I wasn't asked to make decisions about who I was, not encouraged to discover what my passions were - just to get the grades. We were driven by the fear of failure. When I came out at eighteen, the only goal I had was to go to university. We were told, 'keep going and the world will be your oyster'. Nobody told us about creative thinking and about how learning is such an amazing buzz. I want my children to have a thirst for knowledge, to experience a complete way of learning."

Our education system is taut with contradiction and cliché. So many schools, state and private, pay lip service to the importance of developing the whole child but their primary drive is to bolster their place on league tables. With glossy brochures and slick PR they subtly invite us to join an intellectual, social or creative elite. I know that I have made choices that have bolstered my ego and fed my desire to belong. If we were honest, we would admit that, sometimes, it is our own insecurities that shape our choices and fuel our fear that our children might not fit into the adult world or be able to adequately compete.

In his book, The Re-enchantment Of Everyday Life, Thomas Moore says, "Imagine a form of education that does not try to change the child or transform it into an adult, but rather provides a place where the child can flourish as a child....Such an education would ask the adults to be full of faith and trust that the child would discover the world and learn its nature and ways over time."

During the time that I was a single parent of three children, I understood the importance of the presence of the other adults in their lives: their grandparents, my siblings and girlfriends, our neighbours, their friends' parents and their teachers. A sense of belonging and of community is invaluable.

Now I am learning to stitch with the red thread. In Lewes New School, I have discovered a place where there is no uncomfortable seam between home and school, where I can place my trust and our two youngest children in a community where both child and parent experience the value of their unique contribution.

Perhaps it is time for us to learn to slow down enough to contemplate our choices, cease the drive to have and start to be; to listen to ourselves and to our children and allow them to live their own lives. We need to acknowledge what's in it for the parents. It's up to us to help our children find the balance between the person they know themselves to be and our hopes for everything that they can or might become.

Louisa Thomsen Brits,

Style and Content

By Charlotte Bates - Factory 55

It’s sad but true that most people’s first consideration when choosing a professional photographer is price. Unfortunately, this can often result in disappointing pictures and a waste of the hard-earned money you were so desperate to save.

Once you’ve decided to have professional pictures of your child or family taken, take your time and look around at what’s on offer. Do your homework, and consider more than just the initial price. Consider value, consider experience, and perhaps most of all, consider style.

Professional photographs can be whatever you want them to be; treasured memories, a bit of fun, or personalised wall art. But if you are going to invest in professional photography, you should think about what it means to you, and how the pictures will fit into your home and your personal style. After all, there’s no point spending money on very contemporary pictures and a modern frame when you live in a traditionally decorated cottage, or likewise paying for very formally posed pictures when your child is a bit of a free spirit. Your photos should capture your child’s personality and quirks. Style should reflect character.

Choosing a style is a hard line to follow. You want something fresh and contemporary, but that won’t look dated this time next year, yet alone in 10 years time. Don’t choose a photographer just because they are offering a free studio session, choose one who will work with you to create pictures that you will love to look at year after year. Photographers tend to have their own distinct style, and these days there is a trend for a more candid, photojournalistic style of photography that captures a moment rather than the more traditional formally posed portraits. Alternatively many portrait photographers are heavily influenced by fashion and beauty photography, but whether it’s romantic, conceptual, classic or contemporary, make sure the photographer’s style works for you and your own personal style.

You also need to consider display options. Choosing frames or wall art can be confusing and expensive, and can either make or break a photograph. Remember you want something that will work with your interior design if you intend to display the pictures prominently, and something that compliments the style of the picture.

A professional photographer is (or should be) an expert in their field, and can give you lots of advice on what will and won’t work in a picture from the concept right down to what you wear. They can also advise you on how best to display the picture. After all, it’s in the photographer’s interests to make sure your picture looks its best as their work taking pride of place on your wall is great advertising for them.

Lastly, make sure you choose a photographer who puts you at ease, and who takes the time to get to know you a little and what you hope to achieve from your portrait session. If you feel comfortable in front of the camera then you are already halfway to a fabulous photo that will last you a lifetime.

Why an outside learning environment is so important in the early years

by Kim Streeton, Well Place Day Nursery

The outside learning environment is an extension of our inside learning environment.  Having an 'open door' policy allows children to choose when they access either environment.  Providing an experience rich in learning opportunities in both areas is important for the development of young children.
The outside learning environment is of vital importance to the physical and mental development of young children. Playing outdoors give children the freedom to run, shout, jump, climb, hide, be themselves, express themselves and really let off steam!
The obvious benefit of the outside learning environment is the physical activity children are getting by crawling, running, climbing, shouting, rolling and jumping.  Children experience and enjoy the outside environment have a much higher likelihood of becoming adults who enjoy activities such as jogging, hiking or walking. With excessive use of the TV, games and computers and obesity becoming an ever greater concern, the learning in an outside environment is critical to a child’s healthy physical development.
Playing outside teaches toddlers about their own physical abilities. How fast can I ride a tricycle? How high can I climb? Can I roll down the hill? Lots of fresh air re-charges their batteries, gets their heart pumping faster and lets oxygen surge into their brains. Being out in the fresh air also helps to dissipate infections that are often spread quickly indoors. Physical play should be encouraged by providing climbing equipment, tricycles, scooters, hills and grass where toddlers can run, roll, crawl and lie. It should not be too controlled, and should allow for child initiated activities, as well as adult led activities.
Construction activities outside tend to be toddlers’ favourite, as not only are they fun, but the children control it. Playing with sand and water, wheeled toys, outdoor art and craft, shapes, bricks and beanbags, writing letter sounds in the sand or with chalk on the ground and matching numbered cars to numbered parking bays, using natural materials for mark making like sticks for painting, stones for printing, and grasses, twigs and flowers for collage making all help develop their motor skills and should be encouraged.
Outside activities are also important for social interaction. Although it should always be supervised, there is less adult instruction and involvement when children are playing outside.  They are given more freedom as to who to play with and talk to and how loud they can talk! Activities that encourage the engagement of more than one child help develop good basic social skills like having a picnic, pulling each other in a trailer or carrying a watering can or bucket together.
Outside activities give the child the opportunity for discovery, and to learn about the world. They learn about nature , the seasons, the weather, what flowers smell like, how plants grow, how snow feels, when lambs are born, what noises ducks make and how to make a tricycle go faster. Having a sensory garden and growing herbs and salad vegetables helps develop smell, sight, touch and taste.  When children discover something for themselves in the natural world, it is retained effectively as it was real, meaningful and fun!
Dramatic play should also be encouraged. Playhouses or other structures that allow children to pretend and impose their own meaning, help to expand their imagination. Games with rules such as 'Tag' and 'Simon Says' help children learn about following instructions and are much more fun (and practical) outside!
Providing for the needs of children in the outside learning environment can be challenging. A variety of factors must be considered; the different forms of play, the level of supervision but most importantly, their safety. We need to give children the opportunity to explore the outdoor world but their safety whilst doing so is paramount. Equipment needs regular risk assessments, equipment must be suitable for the age of the child, supervision must be constant although not always invasive and children need to be dressed appropriately with sufficient sun protection.  Of course having a good effective 'safe in the sun' policy, allows parents and practitioners confidence that the children are safe.
Even babies who cannot walk yet should be taken out in their buggies every day and allowed to sit and feel the grass, feel textures of natural materials and experience outdoor sounds, weather and colours. Outdoor play is educational and fun and should form a significant part of each child’s day no matter what the age!