Back To School Toolkit

Back To School Toolkit

There are some things that I can’t do without, whether it’s at home or at work in the classroom.  These objects have either made my life much easier or have provided fun and inspirational ways of approaching learning.  All the items on my list have been tried and tested over the years.

A Decent Dictionary

For many years I used to have a tiny pocket dictionary in the house which was actually a free gift when I opened my first bank account.  It was well used and handy as it was small enough to carry around.  However, it was just a dictionary and not dictionary/thesaurus, the writing was too small and even after looking up the meaning of a word, I often found it difficult to comprehend.
Things have changed a bit since then.  I would definitely recommend getting a dictionary which is also a thesaurus.  The ones we use at our centre are by Collins and are available to buy here.

100 Square

We use these daily to help children who need help with number work. What I love about this one is that you can draw all over it with a dry wipe pen and wipe off again. Every home should have one if they have young children and every primary school should have one too.  There are hundreds of ways of using this as a teaching and learning tool.  Click here for ideas.

A World Atlas

With the development of “Google Earth”, atlases seem to be going into extinction.  But I think that nothing beats turning the pages in an atlas, and looking for places of interest.  At our centre, we have a map of the world on the wall, and both children and parents never tire of looking at it.  I have this one at home, and its simple and easy to use.

Pictionary Game

Pictionary is a board game where you have to draw a picture of a word shown on a card.  the other players have to guess what it is.  But I use it in a different way.  I use it to develop vocabulary and thinking skills.  Children have to tell me things about the object without saying what it is.  It’s not as easy as it sounds, but excellent for getting kids to think.  Try this word: engine.

Playing Cards

I use playing cards as a visual and kinesthetic stimulus for children doing maths.  Here are some great ideas on how to use playing cards to help your child with maths.

4 Games to Help With Verbal Reasoning

If you are helping your child prepare for the 11+ verbal reasoning tests, then try the following games to put in a bit of fun into your schedule.  Your child won’t even realise that they are learning skills to pass the 11+ exam.

1. Challenging crosswords – give children exposure to lots of words and therefore can improve spellings.  They encourage children to use dictionaries and encyclopaedia’s but with the added benefit of being fun.  You can play online here.

2. Suduko is a number puzzle game that children as young as 5 can do.  For younger children you can make up grids similar to these.  Sudoku improves analytical thinking in children, it teaches them elimination and logical thinking.

3. Scrabble – increases the vocabulary of a child. It teaches spelling skills to children.  It enhances the mathematical skills in a child and shows us how adding one new letter can change a word or the entire meaning of a word.  It helps develop critical thinking and teaches problem solving skills.  It helps in developing an improved memory and concentration.  Here’s a great website for playing Scrabble online.

I use scrabble tiles to help children with anagram type questions.  Start with giving the child just 3 tiles (one must be a vowel) and ask to make as many words as possible.  Then move up to 4 tiles and so on.  Children need to be taught how to work out new words in a systematic way rather than just randomly putting the letters in order to see if they make sense.  This skill of doing things logically and in sequence is a fundamental skill for verbal reasoning questions.

4. Chess – Chess is one of the best games that will make children  think of different strategies to achieve victory.  It improves concentration and memory and teaches children how to solve problems.  Research has shown that it significantly improve mathematical ability.  Please read this article for more benefits.

But if you haven’t got the time or struggle to explain things simply to your child, let us do the work for you.  Book your child for a free assessment and let us take care of things.

What Reasons Would You Need to Justify Changing Your Child’s School?

What are the top reasons for changing a child’s school?

If you are thinking about changing your child’s school, then the hardest part will be knowing if you are doing the right thing or not. Will it affect your child’s self-esteem or school progress? What if the new school doesn’t live up to your expectations? What information will be shared between the old and the new school? All these questions will be going through your mind and it’s perfectly natural to worry.

But don’t think you are alone in all this. Through my job, parents tell me that they are unhappy with their child’s school and below is a list (and some anecdotes) of some of the reasons for changing schools. For confidentiality, I have used initials of the parents and children.

1. Your child is unhappy.

This was the reason why I changed my son’s school. During his reception year he cried every single day and hated it. It wasn’t one thing that I could pin-point, it was a combination of horrible dinner ladies, teachers shouting, large classes and unruly children. School was a nightmare for him and he preferred to forget about it once he was out the school gate. The day I picked him up from his new school he had a big smile on his face and talked about school all the way home.

2. Your child’s needs are not being met.

This happened with A’s daughter K. K was going to one of the top schools in Luton, which boasted top place in the OFSTED league tables and scored “outstanding” in all reports. But K’s needs were not being met. K suffered from epilepsy and missed many days of school due to this. Also when she was in school she would have mild seizures called “absences” During an absence seizure, the child appears to be daydreaming or switching off. Because most children tend to daydream at times, absences can be very hard to spot. These children are missing out on tiny pieces of information. For example, they might hear the first part of a sentence but not the end. But unfortunately, however many times K’s mother tried to explain this to her teachers, they would not listen. She was falling behind at school and also being bullied because she had a slight speech defect due to her epilepsy. Every time her mother had a meeting with the teachers, she was made to feel as if she was asking too much. They would not listen to her, when she approached them about the bullying, again it was brushed under the carpet. She suffered at the hands of this school until K was in year 4. Then she changed to a smaller school, which felt right for K. And that is where K is right now and I am glad to say, very happy.

3. Your child has been treated inappropriately/unfairly.

A is a bright little 3-year-old and goes to nursery happily. He enjoys the school environment and his teachers say that he has an aptitude for numbers. But yesterday, when his mother went to pick him up from school she was told he got sent to the head. She asked what he did and the teacher said she asked him to put his coat on several times and he didn’t. He wasn’t rude or answering back and was giggling because he thought it was a game. Anyway, A’s mother replied that she did think that he deserved a punishment of some kind, but thought it was a naughty chair level offence and save the head for if it happens again. Then today, another boy who has a past record of aggressive behaviour hit another child on the head deliberately and the boy was crying but he only got a telling off. It’s not the first time this has happened either. A’s mother has decided to change schools now because she didn’t want him to be labelled as a naughty child. She was not happy about the way he was handled.

These are all true stories, and I have heard variations of these from many worried parents. Sometimes it could be that the school has not recognised a learning difficulty in a child. Or it could be that the child is not getting the help they need if they do have special needs. The most extreme case was of a year 6 boy who I tested and found that he had a reading age 5 years below his actual age. And yet the school had failed to give him the necessary support. But by then, it was too late to move school because the boy would be leaving for high school anyway.

I am not against teachers and schools because I think that they do have a tough job. The point I am trying to make in this blog is that changing schools, for any of the above reasons is fully justified. I would love to hear about your experiences, if you have done something similar.

Using Lists as a Teaching Tool

I am constantly bombarded by busy parents complaining that they never have enough time to sit down and help their kids with whatever they are struggling with at school.  Out of all the activities you can do with your kids, I have chosen making lists as one of the easiest to do.  Below are ways in which you can use lists as a teaching and learning opportunity:

Make lists.  Making lists is easy because you dont have to write in sentences, and you can choose the number of items on the list.


  1. If your child needs to improve vocabulary, ask her to make a list of words she could use instead of “nice” or “big” or “said”.

  2. List 10 questions you would ask your favourite cartoon character/TV personality/pop star.

  3. List the top 5 things you would take with you if you went to live on your own on the other side of the world.

  4. List words belonging to the same “family”.  For example list words with “igh” or “ea” or “tion” in them.

  5. Read a book and list the first ten nouns/verbs/adjectives/adverbs that you come across.


  1. Make a list of all the objects in the house which are cylinders, or cubes or spheres.

  2. Collect 10 random items from around the house, weigh each one using electric kitchen scales and list them in order of weight.

  3. Grab a handful of coins and make up 10 different combinations of the coins.  Add them up.  List the coins you add up and the answer.  You might need to vary the coins here depending on the child’s age.  The simplest combination is to use only 1p and 10p coins.


  1. List all the items in the house that are made of cotton, or list all the different types of materials things can be made of.

  2. List fruits and vegetables that grow only tropical climates.

  3. Write down all the things you find in the house which are neither pure solid, liquid or gas.  (you will need to explain what these could be, for example, gels, foams, emulsions, pastes).


  1. How many capital cities do you know, how many rivers do you know, how many mountain ranges or mountains do you know the names of.

  2. Name as many people as you can in your extended family.

  3. List names of famous scientists, famous artists, famous composers, famous writers, famous inventors etc.

  4. Find and list the top 3 news stories of the day on the internet.

  5. Take a walk and list the different types of houses and buildings that you come across.

The lists are endless and it’s up to you which topic you choose, how difficult you make it and how many items you want in the list.   You can even make mental lists whilst on long car journeys.  Lists can be useful for revision and general organisation purposes as well.  Sit down together and make a list of chores your teen has to do, or organise a revision timetable in the form of a list.  Teach your child how to use lists as a means of checking their work or targets.

The list of things you can do with lists are endless.

Spend Quality Time With Your Child – Watch TV Together!

This year I have decided to spend more quality time with my family.  And do you know what I will be doing – sitting on the sofa watching TV most evenings and weekends. 

There used to be a time when I would schedule outings and activities every weekend to the extent that it took up most of the week arguing about where to go and what to do.  We went on regular trips to London, museums, parks, ice-skating, picnics and clocked miles and miles on the car milometer. 

All this was in aid of spending “quality time” with the family.  But as I look back on the best of these times, then they were the ones which were spontaneous and natural.  Like the time we ended up going to Namco’s and playing on the games and slot machines.  We only did it because the movie we wanted to see was sold out. 

The most natural thing we do as a family is watch TV together.  When I say watch then I mean as they watch TV in the BBC programme “The Royle Family“.  The TV is on, but we aren’t really watching anything. It is the only time in the day that we actually talk.  The TV just provides a familiar background noise.  And if the whole point of quality time is to get talking, then why not do it in the comfort of one’s own home.

Your Game is Loading……

“Your game is loading….” These were the first words my three year old learnt to read.  It’s because he became obsessed with the free games you could get on “Sky TV” and recognised the words before he knew his alphabet. 

My 5 year old niece can read “B&Q”, “TESCO” and “Disneyland”, yet she can’t read the word “the” yet.  She sings the alphabet song beautifully, but can’t recognise all of the letters yet. “B&Q” is bright orange, it’s in your face and you can’t miss it and I know that she has no interest in DIY whatsoever.  “TESCO” is everywhere, on TV, on billboards, in magazines and newspapers and on the internet.  She is the target audience for “Disneyland” , so it doesn’t surprise me that she can recognise it.

The point I am trying to make is that children pick up a lot from their sensory memory, which is what they see, hear and do and through repetition. I know that if I wanted to make my niece learn to read and write the word “the” I could make dozens of flash cards with this word and stick them all over the house.  I could make them in different colours and decorate them with cartoons of her favourite TV characters so that she notices the pictures and then subconsciously sees the word as well.  It’s all about familiarity.

The other point is that children are more likely to learn if it is enjoyable.  Making learning fun is the key to success.  It also has to be targeted at the right level.  Too hard and she’ll lose interest and get frustrated and too easy and she’ll get bored. 

So learn from the marketing guru’s who advertise their products heavily and use their techniques to help your child to learn.

When Kids Give Up Too Easily

Our culture does not encourage perseverance. If we don’t enjoy something then we give up and try something else.  If something takes a little more effort, it’s easier to stop, rather than stick to it.  There are thousands of people who have signed up for a years contract at the gym and have given up within the first three months.  And this applies to children as well.  Parents give in too easily to their children’s requests like: “I don’t want to do football anymore – it’s too cold” “Whats the point of practising my guitar, I hate it, it’s boring” “Tuition is boring, I don’t want to go anymore” And then as parents, we become confused because on the one hand we want to give our children freedom to express themselves, to make their own choices but on the other we want them to learn to see things through for their own good. So how do we tread this difficult line?

I got a call from a young mum yesterday whose 6-year-old daughter has been attending my centre for 6 weeks.  She said she wanted to stop the tuition because her daughter didn’t want to do it anymore and was throwing a tantrum in the background 5 minutes before her lesson.  The mother, who also has 2 other children was “fed up” and I think that she had given up.  So who’s in charge here? I asked her.

1.  You need to explain to your daughter that not all education is fun.  When your daughter struggles with a maths problem and then gets the answer correct, it gives her an enormous sense of achievement.  If our children never struggle, they will miss out on knowing what it’s like to achieve.

2.  You need to finish what you start.  Leaving a course half way is like abandoning a vegetable patch in the middle of summer.  It will take hard work on your part because you will be the one bringing her to lessons.

3.  There is a purpose to having this extra tuition.  Your daughter will become more confident in class and will have a better understanding of the work at school.  She has gotten used to the teacher and is making good progress.  This will make your life easier because she will not struggle as much with homework.

4.  Given the choice of having tuition or playing with siblings at home, ALL children will choose to stay at home.  So it’s not just your daughter.  My son does this as well.  Children pick up signals from their parents and your daughter probably knows that if she cries and has makes a fuss she can get away with doing anything.

So my advice is, to carry on regardless of how many tantrums and fights you have to put up with.  In the end you are the parent and you are in charge. Perseverence is a life skill that everybody needs to develop and maintain.

I’ll finish with some inspiration from the great Mohammed Ali.

When Kids Don’t Listen…..

As a teacher of more than 16 years standing, I have had to learn how to engage kids in order to get them to respond to what I am teaching them. Parents often use the same techniques to communicate with their children. Some of these techniques are:

1. Try not to communicate with your children from afar. Don’t shout instructions  from the kitchen while the children are in their bedroom. Speak in a calm and gentle voice.

2. Walk up to the child and make eye contact before giving a command. Some children need an arm around the shoulder before they respond.

3. Ask them to repeat instructions back to you. This will tell you if they have understood your instructions. It will also reinforce their learning.

4. Say please and thank you. This will make the child respond more politely.

5. Use a reward system to motivate the child. For younger children this could be stickers and stars. For older children this could be gifts like mobile phone credits etc.

3 Easy Ways To help With Homework

As we get closer to yet another school year, we start to think about how our children will do at school. Worried parents frantically start looking through the classifieds in their local newspapers for tutors. Six weeks of inactivity has resulted in your little angels forgetting some of the stuff they learned at school. So how do you ensure a trouble free school year, with good results and more improvement. Here are some useful tips for study and homework:

1. Take an interest

Take an active interest in your childs homework. encourage them to take resposibilty for their work. As tempting as it seems, do not do work for them, rather, point them in the right direction and allow them to work things out for themselves.

2. Time and Place

Setting the right environment for study is vitally important. There should be no distractions like TV, computers and laptops, games consoles etc. The kitchen table or library might not seem very comfortable but for learning they provide a place away from the above distractions, and are infinitely better than lounging on a sofa. Also there is little point in trying do the work late in the evening. The childs brain is likely to still be in a learning mode earlier on in the evening, than later at night.

3. Organise

Ensure that once a suitable place has been found, everything for the study is also in place. Do not waste time on looking for pens, pencils, erasers etc. Keep a supply of all these available to avoid time wasting.

Could I give up teaching for a year?

If I had to give up work for a year, could I do it?  Well, my work as a teacher never stops, and I see it as a part of my everyday life.  I teach my son all the time without realising it and not like the average mother would.  I will make any fun or new experience into a learning opportunity.  Today writing a thank you card to his teacher turned out to be a lesson on letter writing and giving him spending money for the tuck shop became a maths lesson. 

It stems from my obsession with explaining things in the simplest possible way and my annoyance when I see someone else get it wrong.  Take today for example, I had an appointment at the hairdresser’s and I ended up teaching her how to use Linkedin as a business tool.  But I don’t see it as teaching because it’s really knowledge sharing.  Isn’t that what teachers do?

But you know if I did have to give up my job for a year, I would still end up teaching someone somewhere without realising it.  And if I don’t get the opportunity to do that, then I’ll probably end up blogging and teaching all the people who read my blogs.