Developing numeracy skills through play

Leave a comment



Play is important for developing children’s mathematical abilities and spatial awareness. Piaget suggested that children can develop the ability to conserve through discovery play. For example, when children play with water, they begin to understand that if they pour water from a wide beaker into a long thin beaker, there is still the same amount of water there and when they roll out a ball of playdough into a pancake and then screw it up again, there is the still the same amount of playdough there. Piaget believed the ability to conserve number and volume develops at around 7-years-old.


Parents of young children can also develop  numeracy skills through play. They can develop their children’s number sense through talking to them about numbers, money and quantities in everyday life and in play. For example, young children can be encouraged to use scales to understand weight or you can buy games such as ‘The wobbly chef’, which enable children to think about balancing objects. Playing games with numbers such as snakes and ladders gets children to think about the differences between big and small numbers. Even everyday situations can be used to develop an understanding of numbers. Counting sweets out helps children to understand less and more and can lead to an understanding of addition and subtraction. At a higher level, a sandwich can be divided into half and then quarters to develop the concept of fractions. Older children can be encouraged to count their pocket money to work out how much they have to save to buy a certain toy.


Construction toys such as Lego and Megablocks can improve mathematical skills and spatial skills. For example, one study found that children who use toy blocks to construct complex structures at 4-years-old achieved higher scores in mathematics at secondary school (Wolfgang et al., 2001). Parents can build towers with their child and ask them what happens if we put a large block on top of a small block? They can also use the blocks to build castles or ships and incorporate this into pretend play.


Want to read more about parenting? Download my free parenting ebook at

Want to encourage your child to read more? Get ‘The Fortress’, a fantasy easy reader aimed at 7-10 yrs.



Should gifted children be accelerated at school?

Leave a comment


Should gifted children be accelerated?

The commonly held view is that it is not good to accelerate gifted children and that they will suffer emotionally and socially if they are put with older children. However, research suggests that gifted children report more dissatisfaction if they are held back than if they have experienced some kind of acceleration. In ‘A Nation Deceived’ many studies are cited that show that accelerated children do better than non-accelerated children matched in terms of ability.

Potential Plus, a UK charity which helps families with children with high learning potential, endorses the acceleration of gifted children at every age if the child is ready. They say this avoids the child becoming bored with repetitious learning and challenges them more. They also say that acceleration works better if the teachers have a positive attitude to it and if the parents are supportive.

Deborah Ruf (2005) identifies five levels of giftedness and says that the difference between children at the different levels is great. Some children may be up to six years ahead of other children whereas others are only advanced amongst their peer group. A level 5 gifted child would be able to read child and adult fiction and nonfiction by 4- to 5-years-old, understand abstract maths concepts and be able to play adult level games by the time they were 3- to 4-years-old. There are less that 0.1% of children at this level. In contrast, a level 1 gifted child, although very able, does not have the same advanced abilities. A level 1 gifted child is able to read two to three years beyond grade level by age seven. 10%-20% of children are gifted at level 1 (information taken from NAGC website). Therefore, it may not be a problem to hold back a level 1 gifted child but a level 5 gifted child may be particularly frustrated.


The research suggests that even very young children should be accelerated. A parent needs to consider their child’s abilities as a whole before making the decision whether to accelerate them or not. If your child is highly gifted and does not fit in with his peers socially then the best decision would be to accelerate them. However, if your child is moderately gifted and finds it easy to interact with peers then a decision about acceleration could be delayed. Young children can benefit from play even if they are gifted and they may become more anxious if they have too much pressure from parents. Children can be intellectually advanced but still emotionally immature.



However, gifted children should have the opportunity, even if they are accelerated, to play sport with children of their own age. Otherwise, they may not be picked for school sports teams.

Gifted children can also be advanced in only one area such as mathematics and it may be better for them to have other lessons such as Art or English with same-age peers. Schools may need to be particularly flexible in catering for the needs of gifted children.


Want to read more about parenting? Download my free ebook at

Looking for an exciting first chapter book for your young child. Read ‘The Fortress’ by Faye Carlisle. For sale on Amazon.




Encouraging boys to read

Leave a comment



A National Literacy Trust report shows that boys are far less likely to read in their spare time than girls in the UK. They are also behind in terms of their reading ability and this impacts on GCSE results not only in English but in other subjects too.

So how can parents encourage boys to read more?

1) Take your son to the library more frequently. Research shows that girls are more likely to be taken to the library than boys.

2) Question your son about their gender stereotypes. Some boys will say that boys that read are geeky, nerdy or boring.

3) Address your own beliefs about why there is a gender gap in reading ability. No evidence has been found to support biological differences between boys and girls in terms of reading. In some countries such as Chile and the Netherlands, there is no gender gap.

4) Make sure your son has a male role model who reads. If dad doesn’t like reading fiction, maybe he can demonstrate a love of non-fiction books.

5) Encourage reading for enjoyment and stock your house with exciting books to read either from the library, charity shop or bookshop.

6) Download the Kindle app and get your child reading cheap ebooks on a tablet.

7) Get a magazine subscription for a Minecraft magazine or National Geographic.










Here is a list of fiction books my 8-year-old son has enjoyed reading himself:

  • Horrid Henry by Francesca Williams
  • Beast Quest by Adam Blade
  • Diary of a Wimpy Kid by Jeff Kinney
  • Billionaire Boy by David Walliams
  • Big Nate by Lincoln Peirce
  • Yuck by Matt and Dave
  • World War I and II tales by Terry Deary. For example, The Bike Escape.
  • The DK Star Wars books

Here is a list of my son’s favourite non-fiction books

  • Minecraft books
  • Usborne See Inside Space book, See Inside Castles book
  • 100 Facts books: Space, Planet Earth, Oceans etc.
  • The Dangerous Book for Boys by Hal Ilguden

Here is a list of books my son has enjoyed me reading to him:

  • Harry Potter by J K Rowling
  • Just William by Richmal Crompton
  • Five Children and It by E Nesbitt
  • Little Lord Fauntleroy by Frances Hodgson Burnett
  • The Sheep-Pig by Dick King-Smith
  • The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C S Lewis
  • Treasure Island by R L Stevenson

Finding easy-reader books for my son with appealing story lines has not been easy. This is what inspired me to write ‘The Fortress’, a fantasy adventure tale aimed at 7- to 10-year-olds. The story is about a boy who has special powers that allow him to manipulate earth, fire, air and water. He is sent on a mission to find the evil Sinisters with his two friends Anna and Sam.  Anna is able to see visions of the future, and Sam has navigating powers.

The children’s search for the Sinisters leads them to a fortress where they meet Electro. Can they win against his lightning powers?



Buy the Fortress





Other websites with suggestions for boys reading are:


How playing can reduce anxiety in children




Research suggests that children can become anxious if they have too little time for free play. Barnett (1984) assessed children on their anxiety levels on their first day at nursery school. It was found that the children who were able to play freely had lower levels of anxiety than those who had to listen to stories. This supports the view that play allows children to work through their conflicts and anxiety.

The case of Dibs, a 5-year old boy who showed very disturbed behaviour shows the importance of play for dealing with issues (Axline, 1947). Dibs was referred to Axline, a clinical psychologist specialising in play therapy, for very disturbed behaviour. His parents thought he might be brain damaged. Axline watched Dibs’ play carefully to look for emotional reasons for his disturbed behaviour. Dibs often played with dolls that represented his family and in one instance, he buried a doll representing his father in the sand. This was interpreted as hostility towards his father. Axline was able to uncover Dibs’ conflicts and problems through the therapy. Dibs’ relationship with his parents improved as did his behaviour at school. Dibs IQ was tested after the therapy and he scored in the top 1% of the population. By then he had no emotional difficulties.

Sloan (1999) examined whether play therapy could be used to reduce aggressive behaviour in children in New York. The study found that play therapy is effective for reducing aggressive behaviour.


How can a parent use play at home to deal with anxiety?

Parents can use toy figures and role play to work through fears and other issues with their children. For example, if your child is worried about going to the doctors, you can role play doctors with them or encourage them to play doctors with their dolls or teddies. If your child is frightened of the dark, you can pretend that a toy figure is being put to bed in the dark and your child can talk about their fears. Another toy figure can be used to dispel fears. Any monsters or ghosts that turn up in the role play can be changed into something non-threatening. You can get your child to imagine what the toy figures/dolls would do if they were very brave (Jay et al., 1987).


Want to read more about parenting? Download my free parenting ebook at

Want your child to read more? Read ‘The Fortress’, a fantasy  adventure story aimed at 7- to 10-year-olds.

What type of parent are you? Take the Quiz

Leave a comment


Find out what type of parent you are by taking the quiz.

  1. You go to parents’ evening and the teacher complains about your child’s behaviour. What do you do?

a) You ask the teacher what they’re doing wrong.

b) As soon as you get home, you shout at your child and take away TV privileges for a month

c) When you get home, you talk to your child about their behaviour, plan with them how to change it and take away TV privileges for the weekend.



2. The living room is a mess after your child has had their friend round. What do you do?

a) Tidy up yourself.

b) Shout at them and make them tidy up.

c) Ask them to tidy up with you helping.


3. Your child hits another child in the playground. What do you do?

a) Ignore it and let them sort it out themselves.

b) Shout at your child and drag them home immediately.

c) Make your child say sorry and take away a privilege when you get home.


4. You go to the toy shop to buy a birthday present for a friend’s child and your child says that they want one too. What would you do?

a) Buy it to keep the peace.

b) Lecture them about not expecting things every time you go shopping.

c) Tell them no but say that can save up for the toy with their pocket money or say they can put it on their birthday or Christmas list.


5. The main job of a parent is to do what?

a) Make your child feel happy.

b) Teach them to have manners and behave well.

c) Teach them to manage their emotions and make good choices.


If you chose mainly As, then you are a permissive parent.

If you chose mainly Bs, then you are an authoritarian parent.

If you chose mainly Cs, then you are an authoritative parent.

There are three main parenting styles: authoritarian, authoritative and permissive.

Authoritarian parents expect their instructions and orders to be obeyed without question. They are more likely to punish their children for misdemeanours than other parents and offer fewer explanations. Children whose parents adopt an authoritarian approach are more likely to rebel or distance themselves from their parents as they grow older (Thomson et al. 2003).

Authoritative parents set clear boundaries for their children but are less likely to use punishment as a form of discipline. They are also more likely to use praise and rewards. They are responsive to their children but also have high expectations for behaviour. This type of parenting is related to children feeling a sense of responsibility for their actions and the children are less likely to rebel when they are older (Baumrind, 1971).

Permissive parents find it difficult to say no to their children and do not reprimand their children for inappropriate behaviour. Children of permissive parents are more likely to engage in risky behaviours that put themselves in danger and are more likely to take illegal drugs or drink heavily and behave badly a school (Lamborn et al., 1991). Therefore, it is important to strike a balance between being understanding and kind and setting clear boundaries.

The key characteristics of an effective parent are: warmth and involvement, clear communication of expectations, reasoning, allowing your child to voice their opinion and general pleasantness (Robinson et al., 1995). Some parents can be too controlling, critical, restrictive or punitive. At the other extreme, parents can be too relaxed and ignore their child’s misbehaviour (Robinson et al. 1995).

Research suggests that taking the middle ground in terms of discipline is best.

Want to get a free parenting ebook? Go to

Want your child to read more? Read the Fortress, a fantasy adventure story aimed at 7-10 year olds.





How do you deal with a competitive child?

Leave a comment


My 8-year-old son is naturally competitive. I can relate to this as I’ve always been pretty competitive myself although I try to hide it!

I have often told my son that it doesn’t matter whether he wins or loses and that it’s the taking part that counts but I know that this statement goes in one ear and out the other.

Recently, he said to me that he didn’t want to go to a football party because he was afraid how he would react if he was on the losing team. He said that some of the other boys taunt him when they win and he finds this difficult to handle. When he told me this, we talked about strategies to deal with his emotions.


Rather than tell him what to do, I asked him to think about ways he could deal with the situation himself. He said that he had tried in the past to say that it didn’t matter when he was being taunted but it hadn’t helped. We went through a few scenarios, which involved more conflict so in the end, I suggested that he make an excuse to go to the toilet if he started feeling angry.

One of the things I do with my son when he gets worked up is practise mindfulness. Here are a few techniques I have used:

  • Lie down and imagine all the things you are happy about. Now imagine them coming down on you like a shower of happiness.
  • Visualisation: Softly close your eyes. Allow the picture in your mind to become blank. You are going to imagine a place that feels comfortable, safe, and relaxing. Think of your place. It might be the beach, a lake, or even your own bed. Imagine it slowly appearing before you, becoming more and more clear. Look to your left. What do you see? Look to your right. What is over there? Look closer. Breathe in. What do you smell? Walk around your place. Look closer at certain things. Stay focused on your place. How are you feeling? If you find your thoughts wandering, observe them, and then focus on bringing the image of your place back into focus in front of you. (Allow some time.) When you are ready, put your hand in front of your eyes. Open your eyes. Slowly spread your fingers to allow light in. When you are ready, slowly remove your hand.
  • Bubble meditation: Begin by sitting in a comfortable position, with your back straight and shoulders relaxed. Softly close your eyes. Imagine bubbles slowly rising up in front of you. Each bubble contains a thought, feeling, or perception.See the first bubble rise up. What is inside? See the thought, observe it, and watch it slowly float away. Try not to judge, evaluate, or think about it more deeply. Once it has floated out of sight, watch the next bubble appear. What is inside? Observe it, and watch it slowly float away. If your mind goes blank, then watch the bubble rise up with “blank” inside and slowly float away.


Another technique I try at bedtime when he finds it difficult to sleep is a body scan. This involves asking him to focus us on different parts of his body at a time starting at the feet and working up the body to the head.

I’m pleased to say that my son enjoyed the football party he went to and there were no arguments.

In addition to teaching my son relaxation techniques, I make sure that I don’t ask him about the outcome of any football, rugby or chess game too much. He recently went to a chess tournament and instead of asking him whether he won or lost the game after each match, I asked him whether he enjoyed it and whether it was a good game. The focus on the process of the game rather than winning or losing hopefully takes the pressure off him.


Want to get a free parenting ebook? Subscribe to

Want to get your child to read more? Read ‘The Fortress’, a fantasy adventure story aimed at 7-10 year olds.

How do you deal with a difficult child?

Leave a comment


So your child is being difficult? You’ve tried everything but their behaviour just seems to be getting worse. You’ve banned computer games, you’ve taken away prized possessions, you’ve lectured them, you’ve shouted at them, you’ve offered rewards but still your child isn’t doing what you want. You’re at the end of your tether and you just don’t know what to do.

Sometimes just connecting with a difficult child can improve things.  So how do you connect with your child if their defiant, aggressive and uncooperative?

Instead of seeing yourself as a parent that needs to control your child’s behaviour, see yourself as person who is helping your child to manage their emotions. Shifting your mindset to see yourself as an emotion coach rather than a disciplinarian can change the dynamic.

When children are being defiant, aggressive and uncooperative, it’s probably because they’re feeling angry and unloved. You might say, ‘How can my child possibly feel unloved? I adore them.’ However, if you’re not connecting with your child, they may certainly feel misunderstood.

Mirroring your child’s emotions can help you feel connected. This means that when they’re angry, happy or sad about something, you show understanding and empathy.


Recently, my son seemed angrier and more defiant than usual. It was the end of the half-term at his new school and he was tired. I had also started a new job and was stressed. I decided I needed to spend more time connecting with him. So when he said he was angry that his friends had messed up the Minecraft Lego models that he built, instead of playing it down, I showed him that I understood his feelings. The conversation went like this:

‘Last time my friends came round, they messed up my Minecraft Lego.’

‘That’s really annoying.’

‘Yes, and they took this bit off and I can’t find the piece to it back together again.’

‘How annoying is that.’

‘And now some of my Lego is mixed up,’

‘They mixed your Lego up.’

‘Yes, it was the worst day of my life.’

‘It must have felt like the worst day of your life if all your Lego got messed up.’

‘Yes, I never want my friends to do that again.’

‘Next time your friends come, we’ll have to put any  Lego sets away that you don’t want them to touch.’

‘Yes, we could do that.’


At the end of the conversation, my son seemed satisfied that he’d been understood. Sometimes, when I have tried to minimise any anger or upset he feels, it has fueled his negative feelings rather than diminishing them. Mirroring his feelings helped him to reflect on what he was actually saying and showed him that I understood how he felt.

It is also important to mirror positive feelings. For example, when he said he was excited about going to a restaurant, I showed that I felt excited too. When he talked to me about a computer game, I listened to what he felt about the different characters and tried to connect with what he was saying.

After just a few days, I noticed that he seems more cooperative and happy.

Subscribe to my new website and get a free parenting ebook.






Older Entries