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5 ways to ace early years parenting

It's all about relaxed outdoor learning through play, according to Thorpe House school's Natasha Doran. Which means stand down all you tiger mums!

This one’s for parents of little ‘uns, following a very interesting chat I had recently with Natasha Doran, Head of Thorpe House Pre-Prep Department in Gerrards Cross (I reviewed the school here). We live in an alarming age of tiger mums, helicopter parenting (er, mea culpa) and child mental health issues, but it’s not all doom and gloom – here are Natasha’s insider tips on how to set up those little people for a happy life.


Don’t fixate on literacy and maths

We have huge expectations of our small children in this country and put a big emphasis on reading, writing and arithmetic from a very early age. But there has to be a balance, especially with little ones. Allowing children the time to play is incredibly important – especially with little boys. You often have to lure them into learning by making it hands-on, interactive and fun. This is where learning through play comes in.


Let them take risks

Our children are meant to play outside but often we’re so concerned about exposing them to risks –  we might worry about them falling into nettles, for example – that we limit their exposure to nature. But children learn and build resilience through taking (reasonable) risks and exploring different paths. We know as adults that we have to be able to cope with change – our careers and lives are full of twists, turns and unexpected events. So we need to make our children as robust as possible so that they can go forward with confidence and adapt to different challenges.


Boot them outdoors

I’m a keen proponent of outdoor learning – children feel they can speak and think much more freely when outside compared to the limiting, box-shaped classroom. We’ve seen fewer anxieties and altercations between children in this environment and, because there are no set objectives outside, they learn as they go, setting their own goals and targets with everything becoming a learning opportunity. I often hear little boys saying to themselves, as they roam around, “I can do this”. As adults we know that looking out at the sea or across fields, we feel a greater sense of perspective on life and it’s the same for children.


Remember they’re not your mini-me

This can be a hard parental lesson to learn but remember that your child is an individual not just a product of you. You don’t own them, your job is to watch, observe and guide, and give them as many opportunities as you can. Be beware of forcing learning opportunities on them. While learning an instrument or a new language are amazing for the brain and children learn from the discipline involved in applying oneself, the main benefit for small children should be enjoyment. Essentially, they’ll respond best to a learning opportunity that’s conveyed with sparkle and a sense of fun.


Don’t panic – do what you can

Our lives are endlessly busy now, with many parents working long hours. If your time with your child is limited I’d suggest you just curl up and read to them, go for a walk together and reconnect with nature or play ball. Anything that involves lots of eye contact, laughter, fun and you re-discovering your inner child. Children love to see their parents having a laugh. You don’t need to spend the whole day with them, just quality time.


Thorpe House Pre-Prep School, Oval Way, Gerrards Cross, Bucks, SL9 8QA

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