Half Term is nearly upon us, and Year 8 are aware that as the summer days grow ever longer, their time with us gets shorter. There are a number of events over the coming weeks that will enable us to celebrate this fine group of young people. The first of these takes place next Thursday, when we hold a church service at St Philip’s for Middle and Upper School, to which parents are warmly invited. Our Summer Term service has traditionally taken its message from the legend of St Christopher, who showed faith and courage making a difficult journey. There is a message for us all here, and one that I will reflect upon further at the service itself. I hope to see many of you there.
A consequence of the Year 8s preparing to move on is that we look to the Year 7s to take on the leadership roles next year. Very soon, I will be asking Year 7 children to apply in writing for positions such as Head of School, House Captain, Sports Captain, Prefect, and a number of new roles next year. This is a process that forms an important part of life, and I feel it is a valuable experience for the children to practise. Such processes come with disappointments for some, but dealing with setbacks using a growth mindset is at the heart of our ethos at St Christopher’s. Those who hesitate to apply for fear of being disappointed should see the importance of making leaps of faith in life. Year 7 parents will have received an email this week explaining the process.
This has been another splendid week for the Arts. Year 3 are in the final rehearsals for their performance of School of Rock next week; our musical soloists have been practising their pieces for church next week; and there was a glorious day on the beach for 8H creating pastel seascapes from life. In a week when exams have loomed for many of our older children, finding time to be creative is more important than ever.
So much of children’s lives these days is carefully managed by adults, whether at home or at school. Our natural instinct, rightly, is to protect them but in doing so we can deny them access to so many opportunities for them to be personally responsible for their own growth and learning. Yes, making sandwiches for them is quicker, easier and perhaps healthier, but how many more benefits would there be if they did it themselves? Perhaps we should worry less about the messy outcomes at first (crumbs everywhere, a deep gouge in the butter and so much missing cheese!) and encourage small activities to foster independence, resilience and a sense of achievement.
Recently I was lucky enough for school to let me spend four days on the beach, training alongside eleven others to become a Wild Beach Leader with Sussex Wildlife Trust. The principles of Wild Beach are to reconnect people with their natural world, using seaside settings to instigate, test and maintain children’s curiosity in the world around them. During my time I went rock-pooling; made beach maps, discussed the geography and geology of the area, beach combed to create artwork, made sundials and found ways of recording, understanding and explaining the tides, talked about sustainable fishing and even had a treasure hunt! The sorts of activities I plan to do with many of your children during Wild Beach sessions in the future.
Having this time outside and looking at the activities we undertook brought into focus the importance of giving children and young people the opportunities to take risks and be responsible for their learning. Through teaching skills and setting limits, Wild Beach offers opportunities to connect with nature, gives many chances to experience and learn how to handle peer interactions, gives important time away from screens, promotes physical activity and offers mental health benefits too. I am fully prepared for the many “learning opportunities” Wild Beach will bring; the youngest children might end up with wellies full of water but they will learn the limits of where to stand when there are waves. The older pupils can enjoy the challenges - and frustrations - of trying to successfully build a shelter on a windy beach. I hope that this might encourage you to think about ways in which you could take a tiny step back and allow your child to develop the skills of responsibility, independence and self-regulation at home.
Children need to be able to experience risk (in a controlled way), they need to be able to make decisions for themselves, make mistakes, fail at something and learn that although it can be frustrating and disappointing, it’s not the end of the world and that life goes on. It is our job as Prep school teachers, and as parents, to prepare children to live their lives independently of us. We can begin this by allowing them to test their own courage and determination; helping children to get a sense of their comfort zone and then what it feels like to stretch it. Giving children the opportunities to make mistakes when the risks are low, to rehearse situations means that when the stakes are higher they know how to cope, what to do and how to succeed.
“Run your own race” is a great metaphor for life and an important message for children. You do YOUR best, not judging yourself against others’ performances or indeed their targets. It is ok if your strategy is unique to you and different from everyone else’s. I was reminded of this by two recent events, House Cross Country and the Brighton Marathon. The House Cross Country races on the very last day of last term saw great determination from all involved, from those who pushed themselves to the limit to win medals, to those who completed the course to show themselves that they could set a goal and achieve it. The Brighton Marathon saw exactly the same range of goals and achievements on display, and I am very proud of the team of parents, staff, and pupils who worked hard to run our Water Station.
It’s nearly time for our Year 8 pupils to run their race - the exams that they have been preparing for which lead them on to the challenges of senior school. Our role at school now is to cheer them on from the sidelines, and yours at home is to keep them well watered and well rested. I am sure that they will run their own races to the best of their abilities, and that we will be proud of every single one of them. Back in September, the prospect of Common Entrance and Scholarship may have seemed as daunting as signing up for a marathon, but they have worked hard and are ready.
By the time children reach Year 8 at St Christopher’s, they have several years’ experience of formal assessments and are very familiar with the key skills required to complete an exam successfully: time management, checking the number of marks for each question, and checking their answers to look for mistakes. They know what they need to do and they will have a plan in place for each exam. In lessons, teachers have introduced them to a variety of revision techniques as well, from spider diagrams, to mnemonics, to flash cards, and mind palacing. Once again, it’s about finding the strategy that works for the individual.
Just as people work towards exams in different ways, different members of a group bring different skills to the table, and enable the group as a whole to make progress. The start of term has seen some team building sessions for different year groups in the upper half of the school. After the Half Term break, Years 5 to 8 will be able to use all of their different skills during their residential trips. Many of the activities on the trips, from bushcraft to raft building, will need team efforts in environments a little more challenging than our front playground, and the children will be well prepared to succeed.
Ms Elizabeth Lyle, Head
This morning was Open Morning, a regular event in the school calendar, and I am proud to say that the school was on its usual sparkling form for this occasion. Lots of our visitors remarked on the children’s manners, smart appearance, and the warm feeling of our community. Tomorrow sees us open to the public in an entirely new capacity, and one that I am particularly excited about - our first ever participation in the Brighton Festival Artists’ Open Houses.
This event will take place on our front playground, hopefully with the good weather that traditionally accompanies St Christopher’s events in Summer Term. Art in a variety of media will be on display, representing children from our very youngest in Reception up to the hugely impressive portfolios of our Year 8 Art Scholars. The event runs from 12pm to 3pm, so those of you planning to watch the Children’s Parade in the morning will be able to make both events if you wish. My thanks to all those who have spent a great deal of time in recent weeks making this event possible.
Art, and creativity in general, are such an important part of life at any stage. As 8H made preparations for the Scholarship exams they sat this week, we reminded them of the importance of finding time for creativity. They found time to draw, paint, play musical instruments, sing songs, create animations, dance, cook, and bake amidst all the textbooks and computer screens. We offer the same advice to 8F as their CE assessments begin soon. Creating art, or simply engaging with it, is an opportunity that we should all make time to enjoy in our busy lives, especially when we face challenges or obstacles like exams.
Next Friday is Pyjamarama Day, organised by The Book Trust. The children are encouraged to wear pyjamas and/or onesies, in return for a small donation to the charity. Our children enjoy a welcoming and well stocked School Library, and come from homes with plenty of books; not every child in the UK is so fortunate. We will find lots of opportunities for shared reading on the day, with different year groups discussing their favourite books and reading together. Year 8 are looking forward to spending a morning down at Glebe reading and playing with their Reception Buddies. My single greatest advice to parents, unchanged since I entered the teaching profession, is to read with your child as much as you can.
We have an exciting afternoon ahead of us tomorrow, and I hope to see many of you at our community Art event.
Ms Elizabeth Lyle, Head
Great schools are far more than places of education; they are communities that thrive on teamwork by parents, teachers, and children. I have made teamwork my theme for this week’s Newsletter piece.
I have been very impressed this past week with the efforts of the Parents’ Association to make our first Spring Fair in several years a great success. As ever, the St Christopher’s team spirit comes to the fore, and staff and our older pupils have been queuing up to volunteer their help running stalls and events. My thanks to all who have made this event possible; I will say more on the day itself - hopefully in glorious sunshine.
Yesterday, the school flag flew for our Captain of Netball, Jemima, who has been awarded a Sports Scholarship to Hurst. Jemima did a splendid job leading our U13 team at the IAPS National Finals in Ipswich on Monday. They reached the Quarter Finals, which is a huge achievement for a school of our size compared to some of those we played, and indeed defeated. Superb teamwork from all involved from players to coaches to some very vocal parent supporters!
As this edition is sent out, the curtain will just have fallen on Year 2’s production of Hansel and Gretel, which will feature in next week’s Newsletter. At tomorrow’s Spring Fair, you will be able to hear some of the performers from Tuesday’s Battle of the Bands. Drama and Music productions are a final great example of teamwork at its best, with performers, tech crew, and adults working together to entertain and delight an audience. We have Year 4’s production of The BFG and the live final of Battle of the Bands next week, and our Upper School end of year show, Bugsy Malone, is well into rehearsals.
Community events, sporting success, and the performing arts are at the very heart of St Christopher’s. The secret behind all of these, of course, is teamwork!
Finally, you may have read the sad news about Deepdene, which will be closing at the end of this month. A number of our children began their school careers at nursery there, and will have fond memories. There will be a number of worried parents in our local area without a school place for the Summer Term, and we would like to reach out to them. Please spread the word to friends, neighbours, and work colleagues that we welcome enquiries and visits.
Ms Elizabeth Lyle, Head