Sunday, 13 July 2014

Just out on Tesco Living

Camping this summer? Make the evenings fun and interactive with these games courtesy of blogger Phoebe Doyle

1. Name that tune
A campfire just isn’t a campfire without a little music! Hopefully you’ll have a musician in your midst and they can play some instrumental versions of songs to name. If not, stick to humming! Try having a theme; this will depend on the ages of your campers. Nursery rhymes are a good one for little ones, songs of a particular decade for the grown-ups!

2. Alphabet backwards!
This makes for more confusion and fun than you might think! Players are timed to see how long it takes them to say the alphabet backwards. The winner is the person who gets from Z to A in the shortest time! Treat them with an extra marshmallow or two, toasted on the campfire of course.

3. Group Story telling
Tell a story… but as a group! Mutual storytelling is a fun twist to the usual campfire ‘story time’ and really ensures everyone is fully engaged. One person starts the story with one line that serves to set the scene. Then the next person will add a line. See where it takes you!

4. Sing a song!
Let’s face it, singing just makes you feel good! Your young little campers are bound to be bursting with songs from pre-schools and no doubt they’ll love teaching the adults some rhyming action. This one has some different versions, but most young children will know it and will readily show you how it’s done:

I’m a dingle dangle scarecrow with a flippy floppy hat,
I can shake my hands like this, and shake my feet like that.
When all the hens were roosting and the moon’s behind the cloud,
Up jumped the scarecrow and shouted very loud…

5. The letter game
One person says a letter and another has to say as many words that begin with that letter within 30 seconds! Go around the circle doing the same but with different letters. Keep a tally, and the winner is the person who says the most words.

6. Wink ‘murder’
One member of the group has to close their eyes or leave the circle. The others silently decide on a ‘murderer’. Once the person who doesn’t know who the murderer is returns, the ‘murders’ commence. Through winking at others who can die (dramatically!) the ‘murderer’ kills them whilst trying not to get caught as the culprit.

7. Insect biters
Give each player a sheet of red dot stickers, like mosquito bites! During the evening they have to try to get rid of their stickers by giving the others “mosquito bites”. They do this by secretly placing stickers onto the clothing of the other campers. If they get spotted (excuse the pun!) they have to stick that sticker onto them instead! At the end of the evening count ‘em up to see who wins with the least bites. This one’s best played at dusk.

8. Sleeping bag race
Take some inspiration from the kids’ sports day and try the traditional sack race! Campers grab their sleeping bags, hop inside and race one another! Have a stick laid as the finish line and watch the most sensible of ‘adults’ falling and wriggling like worms to cross the line!

9. Eye-spy clouds
Squeeze in a spot of cloud-gazing by all lying back and looking up at the sky. Take a few moments for everyone to decide what they can see, then play eye-spy using the shapes in the clouds… Perhaps you see a dog, a man, a sausage! It may take some time to guess what others see, but it’ll certainly be a great discussion starter!

10. Famous names
A good one for teens and adults to play together. Choose a popular first name, e.g. John. Go around the circle thinking of famous people with that name, e.g. John Lennon, John Travolta etc. When someone gets stuck and can’t think of another, they’re out.

Happy camping!

Monday, 7 July 2014

My new one for Tesco Living

Check it out on the Tesco site here

A successful family picnic needs more than delicious food and drink – the best ones are social gatherings with plenty of fun activities for all ages. Here are some great games to play before or after your alfresco feast.  

1. Frisbee rounders

Replace the traditional bat and ball with a Frisbee! Aim the Frisbee at the bases and play just the same. You can use this approach with other field games such as cricket, too. 

2. Clap and catch 

Players stand in a circle and someone stands in the middle with a ball. The person in the middle throws the ball out to someone in the circle who has to clap once before catching. If they don’t manage this they then have to put one hand behind their back until their turn comes around again. They can earn their hand back by catching the ball successfully next time. If they don’t catch it the second time they’re out. 

3. Treasure hunt

This one requires a little pre-planning. Take some photos of things that will be at the picnic location – or simply take along these printables. For example, if you’re going to the woods, you could photograph some leaves, acorns, twigs, a feather and so on. Give each player three different photos and send them off to look for the items. The one who returns with all three items first is the winner. To make it slightly more complicated, you can try six different types of leaves to find, or two types of feathers. 

4. Blanket volleyball 

When the eating’s all done, make use of those picnic blankets. Set up two teams of four or two people, each with their own blanket, and with one team member holding one or two corners of their team's blanket. Have one team serve the volleyball by placing the ball in the middle of the blanket, lowering it then raising it quickly as a team, to allow the ball to become airborne. The opposing team must catch the volleyball in their blanket and toss it back again. 

5. I'm going on a picnic 

A nice, calming game requiring concentration and a little peace. Seat everyone in a circle and begin with the first player, who says the phrase, “I'm going on a picnic and I am bringing ______.” The next player repeats what the first person is bringing and adds an item beginning with the next letter of the alphabet. Players are out when they forget an item in the picnic basket. 

6. Water chaos

Who can resist a water game that’s bound to end in mayhem of the best kind? On a sweltering summer’s day nothing beats a good old-fashioned water fight. Kids will do it anyway, so the adults may as well join in. Just remember to rub on plenty of sun cream, and always repeat after drying off. 
Divide the party into teams or into pairs if there aren’t many people. Using water balloons, water pistols, bottles or buckets, each team member must try to drench the other team. After a couple of minutes, the game stops (with a whistle if you have one). A grown-up judge gets to decide on the winning team – basically the one that's the driest! 

7. Partnered sack race 

Great for little ones, not so much for adults, spice up this age-old race by insisting that racers travel in pairs. Introduce obstacles such as dodging items on the grass or making the route weave about. 

8. Two truths, one lie 

Get to know your fellow picnic friends further by asking them to tell two truths and one lie about themselves. Other players have to guess which was the lie. The winner is the person who told the lie so convincingly that nobody guessed it wasn’t the truth. A great game to play while you’re munching on picnic delicious food. 

9. Hot potato hide and seek 

A cool twist on a timeless classic. All but one player goes and hides while the other counts to 50. The seeker holds a ball and once they’ve found the first hider that person then has the ball and then it’s their turn to seek someone out. Continue in this way until all players are found. 

10. Fruit bowl

All players (as many as possible) stand in a circle and each person is labeled as a fruit – choose four fruits and go around the circle naming players, so you might end up with three oranges, three apples, three bananas, and three pears, for instance. Shout out names of fruit, and those who are labeled that fruit have to run around and switch places with another. If you shout out ‘fruit bowl’ everyone has to run and find a new place. There’s no winner, it’s just a fun and friendly way to get everyone up and active. 
Phoebe Doyle blogs at 

Tuesday, 3 June 2014

My latest for Tesco

10 alternatives to the TV

Need just 10 minutes to yourself? You don’t need to always look for the remote when you’re pushed for time… blogger Phoebe Doyle offers 10 good reasons why!

We’ve all used cBeebies as a baby-sitter whilst we hoover or take that call; there’s no harm in it of course, but it’s great to have a few other weapons in your armoury when you need some fast- to-organise ‘time out’! Here are our top 10 ideas…
The tiny babies

      Song time! Research has found that singing rhymes and songs to your young baby can not only help with bonding but also improve their future speech and language skills. When you’re just too busy for this one to one time find a CD that they love. Remember babies don’t necessarily want to hear lots and lots of different music, they actually love repetition!

Get creative with collage! Children love to make pictures from tissue and scraps of paper. Indulge them by presenting them with a selection of fabrics and papers, some safety scissors and a stick glue and they’ll be away!

     Painting with water. Plonk them in the garden with a bucket of water and a decorator’s paint brush and they’ll be truly happy, trust me I’ve done this plenty of times! If they’ve got a waterproof apron this is a truly mess-free activity, but one which involves creativity and heaps of fun and satisfaction.

      Playdough. This malleable material helps children to get creative and the possibilities are endless so they can really let their imagination flow. Invest in plenty of tools for them to use; rolling pins, biscuit cutters, plastic knives and forks are all amongst the most popular. Make your own to save money, there are loads of recipes online to choose from (like here )    and it’s really simple and fun to make – this way you can get creative with colours, smells (e.g. try adding almond or orange oil) and textures (e.g. add in some glitter or sequins).

Construction kits. Toys like Lego have been a firm favourite for generations, but did you know that using them can actually help your child to develop their fine motor skills? Fine motor skills are what’s needed when they start to learn to write.

      Cornflour and water. If you haven’t ever done this before prepare to be amazed! Mix a little water into some cornflour (you’ll need at least twice as much cornflour as water), perhaps some food colouring too. Then using your finger and note the texture. It turns into a magical paste that they won’t be able to resist playing and experimenting with.
The over 5s

 Reading. Just 10 minutes reading a day can really help to significantly improve their reading skills. As their reading capabilities develop, continue to give them time to read aloud, practising expressing and having fun with words. In addition to this make sure you still read stories to them, even when they themselves can read. This will have the effect of encouraging them to actually want to read during their own independent time.

    Beads. Putting beads on a string can help fine motor skills and also with patterning which is great for early numeracy development. You can do this activity in the guise of ‘making a necklace’… they’ll love it!

     Perfect Pizza. You may as well put your offspring to good use! Buy some pizza bases and teach them how to top a pizza, with plenty of fresh ingredients like vegetables and cheeses. You’ll need to assist the first time but after a while they’ll be able to do this un-supported.

     Let’s get outside! Fresh air and sunshine really are essential for children to grow, learn and develop well.  As is being active: Experts say that children should get at least 30 minutes off exercise each day, be it kicking a football around, riding a bike or walking to school – combining exercise with the big outdoors is one of the best ways to ensure your child is fit and healthy.  Now they’re a little older you can allow them more independence to play in the garden alone, teach them safety skills now (e.g. doing the zip on the trampoline, coming to ask you if unsure of anything) and they’ll be set up for accident-minimised play for the rest of their child-hood.

Wednesday, 14 May 2014

Absolute Beginners in Body Fit

Absolute Beginners

Running is the quickest and cheapest way of getting fit fast. Phoebe Doyle asks the experts for advice on taking those first steps.

If your last running experience involved PE pants and a faltering jog around your home-town doing what was optimistically named “cross-country”, it’s not surprising that the mere thought of donning some running shoes and getting ‘out there’ fills your heart with dread.
Yet you’re aware of the benefits of running; no hefty gym fee, you can do it anytime, anyplace. But it can seem like there’s so much to learn; there’s gear for starters – thankfully no PE pants but what kit do you need? Then there’s the length of the run – how will you know how to build on this without risking injury or pure exhaustion? And what in heaven’s name is fartlek?

Get your nerves in check…

Gareth Thomas, lead instructor at Liberte Finess (, believes that getting your mind in the right place is one of the most challenging aspects of beginning to run;  “When working with clients I find the only way to combat their initial nerves is to set them very small, achievable goals. So, depending on their fitness level, it may be that they have a goal to run for 5 minutes at a time and then rest or walk. Then do another 5 minute run and so on. This allows them a feeling of success and confidence right from the outset.”
All good experts advise beginners to go steady; over exertion can leave you drained and injured, Gareth says; “To start with I’d recommend a max of 3 runs a week. Rest days are imperative to allow the body to recover and adapt.”

Getting Kitted Up

Kit doesn’t have to cost the earth but decent gear can have a huge impact. PT Aimee Rogers ( explains, “Whilst strictly speaking you don't need any special equipment, finding what you are comfortable running in can make a huge difference both to enjoyment levels and performance.  Try out different fabrics and styles – you may like vests with support for instance, and you’ll probably find that technical fabrics designed specifically for high impact activity keep you cooler for longer. Make sure you get a well-fitted sports bra too.”
When it comes to finding the all-important running shoes, many decent specialist running shops offer gait analysis when fitting, Aimee explains; “this means you’ll be carefully measured and assessed and your running shoes will be selected accordingly.”

Making Time

Today we all seem to have ‘rush, rush, rush’ as our default setting. At times it can seem like we hardly have a minute to grab a sandwich at lunch, never mind squeeze in a run before breakfast. But, for people who’ve been committed to their exercise regime for years, hearing the excuse, “I’ve just not got the time” doesn’t wash. You have to make the time; put it in your diary, think of it as the most important appointment in there – not an inconvenience.
Ronnie Burgess, Fitness Expert ( ) has another tip, “finding yourself a friend to start out with can really help if you’re feeling a little commitment-shy about your training. Arranging a time and a place with someone else will mean it’s a bigger deal to cancel and chances are you won’t!”

So what is fartlek?

‘Fartlek’ may sound odd but it’s simply the Swedish term for ‘speed play’ and is basically interval training. It can be extremely effective in improving fitness and overall running times. Gareth says; “Start with a 1:3 ratio;  30 seconds of effort (faster running pace) followed by 90 seconds rest (walk or gentle jog).  As you improve this ratio can be reduced to 1:2 then 1:1.”
PT Aimee sees huge advantages of using this technique; “building in some fartlek training to your programme will definitely improve your running and cardiovascular fitness. You can start really easily by using lamp posts to control your intervals. Sprint to one lamp post then jog/walk for the next two, then sprint to the next. Keep this up throughout your run or just for a short section of it.”

Jennifer Harvey from Marathoning for Real Women advises us on entering that first race.

Entering a race for the first time can be a frightening prospect. Not only is there the fear that you'll come last (you won't!), but there's a myriad other things to fret about, such as how early to arrive, the "correct" way to pin on your race number, what to carry with you, what to wear, what to eat beforehand - the list is endless.
But after completing numerous races, from 5k to marathon, the one thing I am sure of is that you'll never regret it. Once the starting gun goes, all previous worries cease to exist and the feeling of crossing the finish line - even on a 5k - is far superior to any feeling you'll ever get when turning the key in your own front door.
However long you've been running, it's never too early to sign up for a race. In fact, it's one of the very best things you can do to motivate yourself and develop a real passion for running. I put my application in for the Great Manchester Run in 2007 - my very first event - when I was incapable of even jogging a mile. I then steadily built up the distance using a walk/run training programme and, between January and May that yea, I went from being able to run for only five minutes at a time to being able to run a full 10k in just over an hour.
The most important thing when training for a race is to follow a training plan suitable to your abilities. Pushing yourself too hard at the beginning will only lead to injury, frustration and missing out on a finisher's medal. Instead, it's vital to build up slowly over a period of time, on three or four runs a week with rest days in between. Don't worry too much about running the full distance before race day, as if you can run five miles in training you can definitely do a 10k on the day due to the excitement, the adrenaline and the crowds around you.  

Beginner Runner Wish-list

ü  Sports-bra specifically designed for high impact exercise
ü  Running shoes, properly fitted at a specialist shop
ü  Sport socks – they are designed to not rub and to cope with sweat
ü  Tights, shorts and a top made from technical fabrics – cotton can stick to you 

Wednesday, 7 May 2014

Could We Wave Goodbye to Reading Schemes? Feature in EYE Magazine

Could you envisage teaching the children in your setting to read without the help of Kipper, Biff and Chip? Phoebe Doyle knows of one school that made the leap from reading schemes to ‘real’ books and have never looked back.
How we teach children to read has changed fairly dramatically in the last decade or so. In Reception most schools now have regular, usually daily, phonics sessions, designed to explicitly teach children how to ‘sound out’ and ‘blend’ and fundamentally how to decode. Phonics teaching in this format has been largely considered a success, part of the initial Literacy Hour that’s stood the test of time when other aspects of it have faced harsh criticism. Yet alongside this relatively recent development in how we teach reading, the tradition of using reading schemes has remained. We may have moved from the 1980s favourite The Village of Three Corners to the now most popular Oxford Reading Tree but the principle of children progressing through levels and stages of books with the same characters (and often indistinguishable plots) remains.
Whilst reading schemes offer nurseries and schools an affordable and convenient way to manage children’s reading progression, not everyone’s a fan; “the great problem with reading schemes is that they're dull. Why are they dull? Because at the moment when someone is writing a reading scheme he or she is not interested in writing, they are only interested in it doing a teaching job”, says former Children’s Laureate Michael Rosen. He believes children’s authors should be writing to inspire; “writing for children is about conjuring up in one's mind a child and imagining what might interest, excite, intrigue, amaze, and surprise that child.” Michael is also concerned about the anxiety that the structure of reading schemes can provoke; “what is peculiar is that schools have become places where this whole effort has been supplanted by reading schemes and worksheets. This turns everyone - children, teachers and parents into anxiety-machines hovering over every letter, every word and every sentence hoping that the child reading it will cough out the right word. Small wonder that thousands of children find the whole exercise tedious and off-putting.”
One School Doing It Their Own Way
Set in the heart of a Nottinghamshire ex-mining community is Maun Infant and Nursery School.  Headteacher Mary replaced schemes with ‘real’ books during her first few years there. “It was 17 years ago when I became a Headteacher and they were predominately using Through the Rainbow with some of the Breakthrough scheme added in”.
It was several years prior to her current headship that Mary had become interested and involved in the promotion of ‘real’ books.  On courses she had heard speakers debate the issue; “during the 1980s there had been a lot of debate relating to schemes v’s ‘real’ books. Along with other colleagues I had attended many training courses and conferences linked to this subject.”
“I tried to listen with an open mind but felt that as more quality picture books became available there seemed less and less reason to continue rigidly with reading schemes”, Mary says. After a great deal of contemplation she felt the answer to what books young children should be experiencing was clear;  “I think it dawned on me and others, that schemes were not always written by actual authors and did not offer children the opportunities that ‘real’ books could. There were even books that could be read backwards! I had been using at this time The Village with 3 Corners scheme which certainly wasn’t the worst and at least presented children with characters. I know though that many of the books were awash with stereotypes, and this is something I always felt uncomfortable with.”
“The other thing I began questioning was why did this ‘learning to read’ business have to be focused on moving up ladders and getting to the next stage? Shouldn’t there be time for consolidation, practicing and even enjoying the current book?”
In a previous school, when Mary was a class teacher, she had played a part in making the switch; “it was about 1987 and the nursery and infant school I was teaching in at that time was situated in the same coalfield area as my current school. The change was carefully discussed and planned for and parents were kept very much in the picture, which was crucial to the success. We certainly knew that presenting children with wonderful picture books would not mean they’d become confident readers by osmosis! This was before the literacy strategies and even before the National Curriculum so I suppose in hindsight there was more freedom, but this didn’t mean we left children to it, we had a lot to prove and we were desperate, for the children’s sake, to see hugely positive outcomes.”
Scheme-less Results
When at Maun Mary made the change gradually at first; “I initially replaced Through the Rainbow with The Oxford Reading Tree and beautiful picture books used alongside, but it was the few remaining staff, together with new colleagues who made the decision that there was no need for the purchased scheme.”
Mary remembers some outcomes as instantaneous; “the most immediate result was excitement and enthusiasm from the children, this actually made us feel a little sad about what we had been doing, we felt like time had been wasted.
A more gradual result was the positive impact on independent writing and a gradual increase in general knowledge because, of course, so many facts can be learnt through fiction. “Children, from nursery upwards, quickly became critics too having opinions about story, information, authors and illustrations”, Mary recalls.
Mary is keen to address the somewhat ill-conceived idea that schemes are for teaching children to read and ‘real’ books are not; “reading requires a range of skills; use of phonics, picking up on context and graphic cues and understanding inference and levels within story. The wonderful writers like John Burningham and Julia Donaldson all have a range of tricks needed to get children interested.”
Julie Westbury is a Teaching Assistant at Maun and, like all the staff there, she’s fully on board, she says; “real books enable children not only to engage in exciting stories, but they furthermore encourage them to think about what they are listening to and what will happen next in the story, which in turn enriches language!”

Parents as Partners
At Maun, right from the initial meeting with the child, which is on the ‘home visit’, they are committed to sharing their belief in the importance of literature with both the child and the parent, Julie explains; “children are introduced to ‘real books’ straight away as early as when the nursery staff go into the child’s home before entering nursery (they usually start shortly after their 3rd birthday). They are given a zippy bag and storybook and the staff discuss with parents the importance of reading with the child, they offer suggestions for getting into a routine with this, and provide tips for getting the most out of books.”
Once at Maun the school/home communication is hugely important; children are encouraged to take any book home that they would enjoy reading or having an adult share with them. And parents are given the opportunity to both read what the staff say about their child’s progression as well as adding their own comment, Mary explains; “Like at many nurseries and school we have reading message books for each child that are frequently written in by adults, parents, TAs etc. Each child  does guided reading each week, after which the teacher gives very clear information relating to the reading session in the message book, with clear objectives to share with the parents. Over the years we have made sticky labels with the relevant objectives to stick in, as writing out each time would take far too long!”
Money, Money, Money
One concern many nurseries and schools have over making the switch is finance. ‘Real’ books unarguably cost more, but as Mary explains, in the end it’s about prioritising; “books are the resource we have spent the most money on other than ICT and building. We have in the past raised money for books and we hold regular book fairs with the bonus of free books based on our sales. We have a close relationship with a local bookshop that gives us a good discount, so they should, we are their best customer! We also visit book companies as a staff for a ‘big choose’. It’s a fun staff meeting or in-service!”
Leveling The Books
Schemes provide teachers with clear levels and at Maun they’ve spent time assessing which level each ‘real’ book is, Mary explains how they do it; “books for guided reading are hung in packs of 6 in a central library area and are leveled W, low L1, Middle L1 etc up to high 3. They are also divided into fiction and non-fiction with other genre information on the pack e.g. “repetitive rhyming text”.
“At our school we know books and authors well and that, together with our knowledge of pupils reading needs, makes the system manageable.”
“A wide range of books are available in foundation areas and KS1 classes and these are used to take home. They are divided into 2 groups; 1 for those suitable for readers working up to 2c and the other for readers working beyond 2c.”
Proof and Pudding
At Maun you meet teachers proud and passionate about the way they encourage reading, children who devour books of all genres and parents who are involved in their children’s literacy development.  They officially make leaps and bounds with reading skills, as Mary says; “ the children our school serves are acknowledged by Ofsted to begin school below national expectations in communication language and literacy. At the end of KS1 they are generally at or above national average attainment levels.”
Some Final Thoughts
Although reading schemes offer one way to teach a child to read, the staff, teachers and children at Maun Infant and Nursery School have proved it is far from the only way. Michael Rosen has some positive words for those at Maun; “I'm delighted to hear of a school that is looking hard at what books they can give to teachers, children and parents so that all three sides of the learning-to-read equation can enjoy the process. That way lies success and a real start on the road to turning us all into thoughtful, discerning readers.”
Surely, as with all aspects of education, it’s our role as practitioners to continuously question our methods and review our practise. Specific to reading we need to ask; is this the best way? Are the children inspired? Are we encouraging a love of literature to take through life? If you were a child, what would you like in your book bag?
·         Most UK nurseries and schools use reading schemes
·         ‘Real’ books can help enthuse children to become readers
·         Getting parents on board is hugely important in teaching children to read
·         ‘Real’ books can be levelled

Maun’s strategies for encouraging reading at home
·         A reading trophy is awarded during assembly to a child who’s done some fantastic reading at home that week
·         Each child has a reading chart sent home with a specific objective on, e.g. to discuss the book cover
·         Parents are encouraged to choose with the child a book to take home
·         Teachers register the children at the local library

See more education features at...

Tuesday, 8 April 2014

Feature for current issue of Irish mag IMAGE

With 300,000 children in Ireland being obese, experts say it’s time for parents to start tackling the problem head on. Phoebe Doyle gets the facts about the fat and seeks solutions.

More worrying even than the number of children obese in Ireland right now, is perhaps the fact that this number is rising… and fast. In fact, it’s estimated that around 10,000 more children become obese, in Ireland alone, each year. What the World Health Organisation (WHO) refer to as an ‘international epidemic’ has certainly hit our shores big time. Around 22% of Irish girls and 19% of Irish boys are either overweight or obese.

Time for Change

At least it’s not gone un-noticed. Schools are now more readily encouraging healthy lunches to be brought in, with some having rules about how many snack/treat-based foods are allowed. The Irish Government announced last year that they’re in discussions about restricting the number of fast food outlets near to schools.

What’s more, those of you who’ve dined in hotels recently may have noticed a disclaimer on the kid’s menu saying that they’ve signed up to a healthy eating initiative, launched by the Irish Hotels Federation (IHF). This is a pledge of commitment to providing food with less salt, more vegetables and less fried food.

Why are our kids getting fatter?

Personal Trainer Scott Marsh says there’s really no simple answer to this one: “One of the many factors is that children (and adults too) are getting more and more sedentary each year; some blame technology, some even blame the recession.”

Speak to most adults and they’ll recall childhoods packed with climbing trees, playing sport and running around in the streets. Scott notes: “Yet today’s children and adolescents spend most of their days cooped up in front of the latest console re-enacting a life of activity they could be having. The reasons behind why kids are spending more time indoors are varied, but with the press reporting on how dangerous the streets are getting day by day and with technology providing a stimulation at the touch of a button, it’s no surprise that many are veering clear of traditional activity and play.”

As well as social reasons there is, of course, the hot topic; nutrition. “Our food quality is getting worse by the decade, which certainly doesn’t help matters. But a more pressing issue is the lack of time that everybody has”, says Scott, adding: “Parents are too busy and too stressed to cook appropriately for their kids anymore. We must remember that children are greatly influenced by their parents. If their parents don’t have time to look after themselves by eating a healthy balanced diet as well as taking part in regular activity, where are the children supposed to learn such essential habits?”

Another pressing, and depressing, issue is the stress that many children are increasingly placed under. Scott’s seen the effect of this time and time again: “It’s not uncommon for children to develop binge-type eating from the stress put on them to achieve throughout their school life, and now with the added concern of financial strains many families are in right now. The stress is on for kids in Ireland today and one way of seemingly dealing with such pressure is by turning to food.”

It’s clearly time we took action…                   

Get Moving

The level of physical activity our children do can have an enormous impact on their weight, as well as their overall well-being. Our angst about them going out these days, coupled with the amount of technology we have on offer, sees our kids adopting ‘staring at a screen’ as the default position.

Scott says to try and exercise with your children: “Show them the benefits of working hard and praise them for doing well. Find an activity the whole family will enjoy. Remember you’re their most prominent role model.”

“Set them physical challenges and goals. Things that will stimulate their mind and that they will need to work towards to achieve.” For younger children this might be to run, or skip a bit further, for older ones you might start improving on sprint times – make it fun!

“Let your children try new sports”, says Scott, who firmly believes there’s a sport for everyone. So if they aren’t into the usual football or rugby, seek out what’s going on at the local leisure centre or gym for young people.

Food, Glorious Food

The solution doesn’t stop with exercise; it needs to be in partnership with diet. National statistics show that a whopping 40% of children have excessive levels of fat intake through their food consumption. What’s more over 60% don’t get enough fibre.

But those of us with children know that getting them to eat healthily, it ain’t always easy! Food labelling and advertising is mightily persuasive and, while the government are set to review the rules on this, that which is aimed at kids can be hugely powerful.

Scott says it’s time to get back to basics, using fresh ingredients, cooking from scratch and cooking with the kids: “Getting them involved in making their own food serves to get them interested in produce and also, you’ll find, they’re much more likely to eat something if they’ve made it themselves.”

The key is making healthy eating fun: Think fruit kebabs (pieces of fresh fruit on kebab sticks), think fresh veg sticks with dips, like hummus or guacamole. Think homemade pizzas stacked with veggies.

“It’s all about becoming a healthier, more food-savvy, family together. It’s about helping them realise just how good healthy food can make us feel. Without concentrating on their weight, without laying on stress and pressure (which can lead to binge eating), this well-thought-out approach can really impact the whole family”, says Scott.

Final thoughts…

With almost 1 in 4 children now overweight in Ireland, there’s really only one conclusion: We need to make changes now. Obesity can lead to so many problems in later life, diabetes and heart disease to name just two.

Fortunately, it’s not all doom and gloom. Healthy eating and getting fit can be enormously enjoyable and, done together, can be a fabulous family bonding endeavour.

Ditch the Junk: Have healthy snacks as your weapon!

DITCH the crisps. SWAP for dried apple rings.

DITCH the biscuits. SWAP for flavoured rice cakes.

DITCH the fries. SWAP for sweet potato home-made wedges.

DITCH the sweets. SWAP for raisins and dried apricots.

DITCH the ice-cream. SWAP for frozen yoghurt.

Upping exercise is easy…

ü  Always opt for stairs not lifts when in hotels or stores.

ü  Play with them; what child can resist an offer of a game of football?!

ü  Give them options; have lots of equipment, from hula hoops to hockey sticks.

ü  Instead of driving everywhere, could they walk, scoot or cycle?

ü  Limit TV and computer games.

Writing Analysed

Oooo following on from my recent Stationary Week blog post I just recieved this from a hand-writing analyst. He looked at my writing which was done on a Post-it...

“You enjoy reaching out, speaking to and working with people. If others demonstrate to you that they have noticed how well you are doing, that will be a strong motivator for you, as well as your own strong, practical goals. You live in the present - your thinking is logical and analytical and you move from one job to another with ease.

“You are a very warm person but aren’t scared to speak out if there is an issue.”  

Adam Brand, Post-it® Graphologist

Well, I'm delighted. Not sure if it's all fully true just yet - but certainly covers a few personal goals!

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