“Ultimately it really doesn’t matter how many or which activities you do, the real focus is on spending quality time together and having fun, which in itself is a massive confidence booster for children.”
Bringing learning alive for the under fives
An interactive learning initiative conceived in Bradford is receiving national attention for the positive impact it’s having on the personal development of the city’s under fives.
Developed at St Edmunds Nursery School, 50 Things to Do Before You’re 5 in Bradford was created to try and to address the problem of children reaching their first school experience with low literacy levels, language skills, or a lack of day-to-day life experiences.
Deficits in these areas are known to put children at a disadvantage – not just in relation to their attainment, but also their confidence and aspirations. In response, 50 Things provides access to a range of life-changing, fun, low-cost or no-cost experiences across the district that families can enjoy together and which have been specifically chosen to provide confidence-boosting life experiences.
“It’s a very simple idea that’s having a massive impact on the families using it,” explains Janice Stephenson, headteacher at Newby Primary School.
“The real genius, and the reason it is really gaining traction, is that it’s about creating experiences through creativity and accessibility, rather than cost.”
Janice and her colleagues in the BD5 cluster of nine city primary schools have been integrating 50 Things into their parental involvement work and now see it as a crucial tool to engage families in the educational development of their children.
“Our cluster includes Catholic, Church of England and local authority schools, with a wide mix of ethnicities and language skills,” says Janice. “Because of this, there’s a wide variation in the school readiness of children in terms of their language, their vocabulary and the things they’ve seen and done.”
“We were already looking at ways to target certain groups in order to try and up skill them in providing pre-school support to their children. In 50 Things we’ve found a creative set of non-expensive tools and ideas that really help us to reach out and engage families in meaningful ways.”
The activities suggested in 50 Things been carefully developed by education experts and early years practitioners. They include a range of outdoor and indoor activities such as dressing up, looking at the stars, making music, getting the giggles, wondering in the woods and playing with bubbles.
Parents can search out the activities online, get information packs from their school or download a free smartphone app.
“Ultimately it really doesn’t matter how many or which activities you do,” says Janice. “The real focus is on spending quality time together and having fun, which in itself is a massive confidence booster for children.”
Although initially designed for the under fives, Delius Special School in Bradford has found that 50 Things is also having an impact with their pupils (aged 2-11) who have Special Educational Needs (SEN).
Assistant head Charlotte Millea says: “50 Things has become a key part of our curriculum, with each class setting homework half-termly based upon the initiative.
“Most classes also have a focus within their planning. For example, in my Nursery class we are focusing upon thing number eight, called ‘bubbles’. Our recent activities have included using foot spas and blowing real bubbles, but the favorite activity was when our wheelchair-using children had the sensation of riding over sheets of bubble wrap, which was a memorable experience for all involved.”
Charlotte and her team have found that because the activities are so motivating, the children work even harder to communicate with the adults in order to make sure that they get another turn.
Delius Special School has contributed towards the development of the 50 Things app by giving some accessible activity ideas for children with a wide range of SEN. The suggestions have included practical ideas such as which woods are good to visit with a child in a wheelchair or other tips linked to a child’s specific SEN, such as engaging a child with a visual impairment in dressing up or by helping them to explore clothing which varies in texture, such as sequins or feathers.
Charlotte explains: “It can be really hard for families of children who have SEN to know how to play with their children. 50 Things has given us the chance to reach out to them and show them how to do cheap and simple activities at home’’.
Charlotte, who also acts as a Specialist Leader of Education, helping to mentor the next generation of teachers, believes the almost infinite adaptability of the activities within the 50 Things framework is a key strength when it comes to using it with children with SEN.
“You’re really only limited by your imagination in terms of how you use the resource to engage pupils and their families,” she says.
Since June 2018 more than 6,000 children and their families have engaged with the 50 Things initiative.
The Bradford-inspired idea has already been rolled out to schools in Leeds and there are plans for it to be extended to Calderdale and Kirklees in the coming months.
The idea has also attracted national attention from the Department for Education following a showcase launch at the Palace of Westminster.
< Back to all news stories