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8 insider tips to keep your kids happy at school

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Emma Goldsmith is Head of Winchester House School, a leading pre-prep and prep school in Brackley on the Bucks/Northants borders. Previously she was deputy Head at Bloxham School (13-18 years old) and she’s a mum herself so what she doesn’t know about how kids work is negligible!  So here, I’ve picked her brains on the best ways to keep your kids engaged, content and happy in school and life.


1. Keep them questioning

The energy of young children is amazing –  their curiosity, enthusiasm and desire to question – and it’s important as children get older to continue that questioning, not only at home, but in school. The focus on exams and grades can create a ‘right/wrong’ culture, when in fact part of the educational process should be to ask questions. As a parent, showing that you sometimes get it wrong or don’t know the answer is an important example to show children. This will also allow your children to admit when they don’t understand something.

2. It’s not all about the classroom

Learning doesn’t start or end with an interactive whiteboard!  Not every child is destined to be an academic genius but that doesn’t mean that they won’t be happy, fulfilled or a ‘success’ (however you define that). I would argue that developing your child’s character in all areas, not just academic, can help learning in general and their sense of well-being and confidence. Activities such as expeditions and den-building teach children to work as part of a team but equally joining a drama group, orchestra, or playing in a sports team all develop vital skills – social, problem solving, decision making, leadership.

3. Don’t over-coach

Having been involved in interviewing and selecting children for scholarships, and as an ISI inspector, you can see an over-coached child a mile off.  Schools are looking for a fresh-faced, sparky child with enthusiasm, not someone with fear in their eye because they’re trying to remember what they’re supposed to say in an interview. Yes, encourage your children to show their manners, and practise looking interviewers in the eye, shaking hands, standing up when others enter the room. Encourage children to know about current affairs by all means, but ultimately schools want children to be themselves. It’s demonstrating a thirst for learning that’s important, and a well-rounded personality rather than robotic answers.

4. Let them play on their computers

Parents may roll their eyes at this and I feel your pain as I have four children myself, but the reality is that as long as time is limited sensibly and you teach them how to use technology safely, it’s no more dangerous for them to play on the computer than it is to walk down the street. A lot of adults are scared of technology because it’s moving so fast and their children seem to know a lot more about it than they do (who hasn’t had to hand their child the Sky remote at some point?). But iPads, phones and X-Boxes are part of modern life. We use Chrome books throughout the school curriculum, and children as young as seven learn programming as they embrace technology. We shouldn’t focus on the negatives of technology – it’s teaching them safe behaviours online that’s important.  As long as it’s not their only hobby, take a deep breath and learn more about it – maybe even join in!

5. Don’t give in to the guilt

Every school has its ‘helicopter parents’ who, with the very best of intentions, try to catch their children before every failure. Sometimes it can come from a place of guilt – we’re very good at beating ourselves up about work-life balance or perceived lack of ‘quality time’ with our children. Schools needs to prepare children for success and failure, and to teach them to see any ‘failure’ as a stepping stone to success in the future. Taking part in lunchtime music concerts, for example, and being cheered on by their peers, is a great opportunity for children to challenge themselves in a supportive environment.  The main thing in my experience is that your children feel loved and secure.

6. Give them a break

Although it’s tempting to enrol children in every available activity and club just because it is on offer,  does not mean the child should do everything – there has to be balance. I think as a rule children don’t get enough ‘down’ time these days. As parents we over-organise them, put expectations on their success and panic if they’re not progressing as quickly as their peers. But children need time to relax. Children are more stimulated now than we ever were with our three television channels, and maybe Brownies or a swimming lesson if we were lucky! We learnt to be bored and from that boredom learnt to play sociably and creatively. Allowing children downtime is actually teaching them that important skill too.

7. Careful with the tutoring
It’s the school’s job to make sure the children are taught what they need to know. However, if children are struggling with certain subjects, I’d be careful about a knee-jerk reaction of employing a tutor, not least because sometimes a style or tutoring syllabus might jar with what the school is trying to teach. Talk to the teacher first, in some detail, follow through if necessary with the headteacher, work out the issues together and create a plan. If that’s not working for you, make sure the school is aware of extra tuition so that it can work in tandem, and not against what your child is already learning.

And though it’s easy to say, try not to be too anxious. Children’s learning often comes in waves and plateaus, so unless they’re obviously struggling significantly, try not to let your anxiety show too much as this will immediately transfer to your child. It is tempting when pursuing a place at senior school to be transfixed and employ a tutor to coach your child to ensure a place. However the head of the School and their staff are best placed to help you choose the best school for your child. Shoe-horning a child into a school where they may only just get in is not going to help your child to thrive.

8. What to look for at a school

Whether it’s a top public school or a local state school, the rule is the same – the best school will be the one with the top quality teachers, those who can relate to and inspire the students. A classroom that’s rough around the edges matters not a jot if the teacher is brilliant; the most gleaming modern teaching space full of state-of-the-art facilities will be useless if the teacher can’t inspire the children. So when you look for the next school for your child, take a close look at how the teachers interact with their pupils.

Winchester House School, Brackley

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7 comments on “8 insider tips to keep your kids happy at school”

  • Georgia Lacey September 25, 2014

    Great article, tweeting to all my friends.

  • KIM at Jigsaw Education September 24, 2014

    ‘If children are struggling with certain subjects, I’d be careful about a knee-jerk reaction of employing a tutor, not least because sometimes a style or tutoring syllabus might jar with what the school is trying to teach’. Wise words indeed from Emma Goldsmith which mirror the Jigsaw philosophy. Your readers might like to see my entry in the Muddy Directory for more info.

    • muddystiletto September 24, 2014

      Hi Kim, good to hear from you. How’s things?

  • Jen September 24, 2014

    This is a really helpful post Hero and couldn’t have come at a better time- I was busy researching music lessons when my phone “binged”- my children having never shown an interest whatsoever and already having a packed schedule of after school clubs, sports and activities- I’ve slapped myself on the wrist and added plenty of downtime to our weekly rota! After all my favourite time of the week is a snuggle on the sofa and family movie time- I’m pretty sure that it’s theirs to! x

    • muddystiletto September 24, 2014

      I’m so pleased, I think we’re all a bit guilty of overloading our kids. Reality checks are important! x

  • Claire September 24, 2014

    This is a really helpful post Hero. Its reassuring to know that some of things you feel you want to be doing for your child (but pressures about what others make think or say prevent you) have the endorsement of someone who really knows what they’re talking about. Thanks x

    • muddystiletto September 24, 2014

      Welcome! xx


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