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We’re Scrapping Premium Extra!

Posted by on 10:15 am in Secret Blog | 6 comments

We’re Scrapping Premium Extra!

We’ve recently done a survey to find out how our customers feel about Classroom Secrets and one thing that’s come through very strongly is unhappiness about the new pricing structure. Listening to our customers and providing a good service is really important to me. One of the reasons why we differentiate as many ways as we possibly can is because we really care about the workload of teachers – I have been there! We have already been making improvements to the navigation (another big issue brought to us by the survey) and there are more improvements to the website and our existing resources in the pipeline. I’d like you to know our reasons for introducing Premium Extra. It was not something I ever wanted to do at Classroom Secrets, but I came around to the idea in September last year as we had many customers saying that we needed to put more resources on each week. With the income and staff we had at the time (only one full-timer and a few part-timers) I felt this was the only way to grow and provide what our teachers needed and wanted. Despite appearances, we are not very well known and do not have a large number of subscribers. We do endeavour to be very professional at all times and perhaps this makes us seem like a big business. This was certainly not about greed but about employing more staff to up the level of resources we provide to you each week. I thought that teachers would be upset if I upped the Premium price again to make ends meet so I thought a choice would be a better option. Clearly I was wrong and I deeply regret it as I never intended to upset our customers. Unfortunately, Classroom Secrets was very cheap for a long time as it was more of a hobby to me, but now I employ staff as two guided reading packs a week were not cutting it. This does mean that we can't afford to provide resources as cheaply as we did before. I know that we don't have as many resources as some other sites, but in our defence, each resource can take quite a bit longer to produce in six levels. Here’s what we are going to do: Remove the Premium Extra level Give all Premium Members access to Premium Extra resources (some have already been done, but you should have access to everything by the end of the day) Add an extra FREE year to all those customers who have a Premium Extra subscription (thank you for upgrading – it meant so much to us). This will be rolled out to all Premium Extra customers by 31st May. Keep the Premium level at £25 until 5th June. There will be one flat fee again. After this period, the flat price will increase to £30 and then to £35 in September. (We have employed new members of staff and since we launched Premium Extra, we’ve been adding double the amount of resources each week). I hope that you are happy with the changes that we have made to reward our loyal customers and understand my reasons for price increases....

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Winter Wonderland

Posted by on 8:33 am in Secret Blog | 0 comments

It's that time of year. Days are shorter and nights are longer, and the weather has finally turned for the worse. Everyone is bundled into coats and hats and scarves and trying to keep themselves warm both inside and out. There are many different ways to extend your child's learning beyond the classroom without getting (too!) cold. Make sure you wrap up well and enjoy the many things you can do together safely, and don't push your child if they aren't interested. Winter is a terrific learning opportunity, and, whatever the weather, you and your child have a whole range of activities and experiences to choose from. For the very young ones: 1. Build on your child's understanding of time and change. Dress a teddy for the weather, or play a simple sorting game with a selection of clothes. Which ones would be good to wear today? Think about how different the days can be in winter, sometimes dry and bright, at other times icy or snowy and cold. Discuss the merits of different clothing. Would you wear shorts and a t-shirt in winter, for example? 2. Look outdoors for signs of winter. Frost on the windowpanes, ice in the puddles, bare trees. Talk about how the seasons change. Encourage your child to explore these changes first hand. Melt ice in a washing up bowl and see what it turns into. 3. Talk about animals and how they find it more difficult to find food in the winter. Make bird-feeders and hang from the trees. For the younger ones: 1. Make seasonal snowman and tree pictures using gummed paper shapes. Stick them on. Talk about the different shapes, e.g a square hat, a triangle nose, a circle head and body. Talk about the differing properties of the shapes. 2. Encourage your child to develop mathematical language by pairing different sizes and shapes of socks and gloves. They can practice their fine motor skills by pegging them on the line. Perhaps they could observe what happens to them if they are wet and icy. 3. Talk about animals and how they find it more difficult to find food in the winter. Make bird-feeders and hang from the trees. Encourage your child to count how many birds they see visiting the bird-feeders and record with tally marks. For the older ones: 1. Design and make paper snowflakes, cutting out different shapes. Ask your child to predict what the finished pattern will look like. Encourage them to think about the shapes they will make by folding the paper before cutting it. 2. Paint winter pictures using a limited palette of colours such as blue and white. Encourage your child to think about how the colours can be used to good effect to make the picture seem cold. 3. Think about ways in which we can stay warm. What foods are good to help us keep warm in winter. Make a tasty winter soup and see if it warms you both up after you have been playing outside in the cold! For the advanced: 1. Talk about how we can help people less well off than ourselves in winter. Encourage your child to think about how they can help someone stay warm and safe at Christmas. Perhaps ask if they would like to...

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Go outside in Autumn

Posted by on 8:30 am in Secret Blog | 0 comments

Go outside in Autumn The wonderful thing about learning opportunities is that they happen anywhere. They aren't limited to times or places, but just occur naturally while you are out and about. And one of the most natural of learning environments is outdoors. Whether it's muddy treks with the dog or playing in the front garden, or even the short walk to school, the outdoors is the perfect place to explore and develop so many different concepts, and bring to life knowledge and skills from the classroom. In effect, any outdoor play or activity is a blank canvas, waiting for you to add the colour. It's worthwhile remembering once in a while that learning is an ongoing process, and that the natural world around us makes for a powerful and memorable learning experience. Share your child's discoveries and explorations and unleash their imagination.   For the very young ones: 1. Embed their understanding of time and change by taking them out in different weathers. Talk about how they are dressed and whether their clothes are right for the weather. Look at the sky from indoors and see if they can predict what the weather will be or decide what they will need to wear e.g. taking an umbrella if it looks as though it might rain. 2. Foster care for their environment and for living things. Look closely at plants, and talk about different shapes and colours. Collect seasonal objects and get creative making collages or treasure baskets, make bark rubbings, or even count them. Your child will love exploring with all their senses. 3. Use your child's toys and investigate. Fly kites or hold windmills so your child can experiment with the weather. Encourage them to splash in puddles or collect rainwater in a bucket or bottle. This will help develop their scientific and investigative skills.   For the younger ones 1. Explore number and shape and colour with more focus. Support your child in number recognition by asking them to identify numbers they see in the environment (bus stops and front doors are good starting points). Ask your child to collect and count the same number of objects such as leaves or conkers. Encourage them to place objects in a straight line and point at each object as they count. They could also practice writing numbers with chalk. 2. Help develop your little one's vocabulary. Children take in and learn so much more from their immediate experience, so have fun with the autumnal environment. As, for example, your child kicks the autumn leaves, encourage them to think of as many words as they can to describe them. Rustling, crackly, falling, swirling, swishy...to name a few. 3. Enjoy printing with leaves. Choose two or three different colours and make a repeating pattern of the leaf prints. Discuss with your child which colour would come next in the pattern, and encourage them to build it independently. Why not cut out the finished pattern and hang it up on the window or use it for decoration?   For the older ones 1. After collecting different coloured leaves or various autumnal found objects, help your child to handle data, e.g. by counting 7 red leaves, 4 brown leaves, 8 conkers etc. You can ask your child simple questions about the data,...

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Keeping time, time, time

Posted by on 8:00 am in Secret Blog | 1 comment

Unfortunately, teaching children how to tell the time is one of the most difficult things to do. Because time doesn’t fit into the standard 10 / 100 pattern, it doesn’t seem natural, somehow. And yet, if we can’t tell the time, we really struggle in daily life. Telling the time is an essential skill. And this doesn’t just mean reading the numbers on a clock face! Children need to be able to work out the difference between times. They need to be able to work out how long things take, and what time it will be when things finish. Eventually, they need to be able to read timetables, create timelines and put dates and times into order. Fortunately, there are loads of simple things you can do every day that will help your children build up their confidence…   For the very young ones: 1. Recognise the days of the week, and order them. Have a simple chart on the bedroom or bathroom door where the day can be changed every morning. Make sure that you say the words out loud as often as possible. Try routines such as ‘Today is Saturday. We always go shopping on a Saturday, don’t we?’ and ‘What day is it tomorrow? Yes – it’s Sunday. What do we always do on Sunday? That’s right – we always play football in the park on Sunday.’ PS: I love the Chris Evans Breakfast Show jingle on Radio 2 – it’s brilliant to sing along with in the car. “Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday…” 2. Recognise the numbers on a clock face. Just counting around the numbers is absolutely fine to start with. Later on, you can take away some numbers leaving just 3, 6, 9 and 12 and get children to fill in the gaps. And then take away 3, 6, 9 and 12 and fill in the gaps. Get children to draw you a clock face, but make sure that 3, 6, 9 and 12 are always in the right places. 3. Talk about your daily routine. Make up some flashcards or pictures with simple events on them such as cleaning teeth, getting dressed, going to nursery, watching TV and going to bed. Practice putting them into order – what do we do first? Talk about the events, and use words like ‘first, second, next’. Get children to draw pictures showing – in order - what they do during the day, and find story books that talk about routines.   For the younger ones: 1. Start learning o’clock and half past. Talk about big hands and little hands, just the way you were taught! Remember, when the big hand points to 12, we say it’s something o’clock. And the something is whatever number the little hand is pointing to. So this would be 6 o’clock: Now, make it relevant. This is six o’clock– which is the time that Dad gets home from work. Teach the half hour in exactly the same way: remember when the big hand points to 6, we say it’s half past something. And the something is whatever number the little hand is pointing past. So this would be half past ten: Again remember to make it relevant. Is half past ten when we have a cup of tea, or a...

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Building Vocabulary 2

Posted by on 10:22 am in Secret Blog | 0 comments

If you've been following our blogs for a while, then you may have already read our first post on Building Vocabulary.  If you haven't, head on over to read the nitty-gritty first.  Here are some more great ideas that require little or no writing to improve vocabulary - essential for good writing.   1.  Get a magpie book - Magpies steal... so encourage your child to steal good words.  I usually buy supermarket shopping list books and collect words in there.  When you are reading a book or having a conversation, if you spot a good word - put it in the magpie book.  I just put them all in a list, in no particular order at all - there's something about the process of writing it down to help us remember.  If you're really organised, you might split it into sections for different types of word or theme.   2.  DO synonyms - Choose a boring doing word - like walked.  You could look in a thesaurus to find lots of different words for walked such as, ambled, trudged, shuffled, meandered and strolled.  You can then perform the different types of walk and get them to guess or give them a word that they have to perform.  It really helps when they are writing if they know what each verb actually looks like instead of writing it because 'it's a good word'.  This way, they are more likely to write sentences that make overall sense, rather than something like - The frail, old man galloped down the winding, steep road.   3.  1 Minute synonyms - Give your child a boring verb - like said.  Then let them have one minute to write down as many synonyms for that word that they can remember.  The first time they might get something like 7.  Look some more up just after and add them to the list and then do it again a few days later.  Give them a higher target than last time, encouraging them to beat their score each time.  When you feel you have exhausted one word, move onto the next.   4.  Word of the week - If you are a wordy person yourself, you may like this one.  Set a challenge to get a new, interesting word into conversation and/or writing - it might be something like 'inspiring'.  You could talk about all the different variations that could be accepted - inspire, inspired, inspiration etc.  Ask them if they managed to slip it into their writing at school in a sentence that made sense.   5.  Change the word endings - Think of a word and see how many endings you can think of.  You could start with adore.  The next person has to give it a suitable ending - adoringly, the next does the same - adored and so on.  When there are no more that are true, that person can think of a new word - but it must have a least one other ending.   6.  Is it a word? - Throw out some words and ask if they are words or not.  Is brillainted a word?  How about brilliantly?  What does it mean?   7.  Lastly, it sounds a little cheesy, but to cover those common expressions that they find difficult...

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Better Sentences

Posted by on 2:39 pm in Secret Blog | 0 comments

Knowing how to start improving sentences can be the hardest part.  There are different ways to form a sentence... so where do you begin? Not all sentences can be structured in the same way or it will make for very boring reading.  Some children do not find structuring better sentences easy at all.  I always imagine it like a rhythm - and usually you either get the rhythm naturally or you have to learn its ins and outs. It can really help to know word types to help in the quest for better sentences.  In case you've forgotten or, like me, never had much emphasis on word types when you were at school, here are the main ones for making better sentences: Adjective - describing word (blue, happy, dreadful, robust) Adverb - ('ly' word - we say this because many of them end in 'ly') describes how something happened (beautifully, wonderfully, terribly, gently, drastically) Verbs - doing words (These are in most boring sentences too, so the challenge is to change them to more specific, interesting ones) (vaulted, meandered, concluded, devoured, reclined)   For the younger ones: Think of a sentence.  It should be simple, here are some examples: The boy walked. The dog jumped. The lady fell. Let's use The boy walked.  (This is not a writing exercise.  It can be carried out verbally whilst on a walk, at the park, in the car, at the dinner table etc.) Say something like:  I've got a sentence in my head and I need to make it more interesting.  Can you help?  (When you first start doing the exercise - give clues to what kind of word should go where.  Improve the sentence together using these steps.  I always say the sentence and use the word 'something' where I want a word inserting. 1.  The something boy walked.  (If you need to, explain that 'something' is a word to describe the boy.)  Hopefully, you'll get something brilliant, like - The smart boy walked.  (They'll probably try to use 'fat' or something similar most of the time, so it's a good idea to suggest examples.  I usually say, 'I've got some ideas - The thin boy, the intelligent boy, the scruffy boy - which should we use?  You choose.) 2.  Now you have the adjective, improve the sentence again (remember not to be the only one saying the sentence - as it gets longer, it will be hard to remember - and for many children, that is half of the battle).  The smart boy walked something.   In this step, you are adding extra information to the end of the sentence.  Where did he walk?  Hopefully, you'll get something like - The smart boy walked down the lane. 3.  How did he walk?  The smart boy walked somethingly down the lane.  (Using the 'ly' on the end will point out the fact that you are looking for an adverb.  Don't forget to suggest three or so ideas if they are struggling and have them choose one.)  You could end up with something like - The smart boy walked sensibly down the lane. 4.  Now it's time to change the boring verb.  How do you imagine him walking?  Slowly?  Quickly?  You could even demonstrate some walks (shuffling, strolling, meandering - if you feel...

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Improving Comprehension

Posted by on 7:13 pm in Secret Blog | 0 comments

Comprehension can be a bit of a battle.  It's a tricky business and there's a whole SATs paper dedicated to it.  As a teacher, I've been told many times - "Little Jimmy is good at reading" and that's supposed to have somehow magically enabled the understanding required.  It's bigger than that. At school, we do guided reading in groups - which does not usually give every child the opportunity to answer every question that is posed to the seven or so children reading the particular book.  They NEED that practice and that's where you come in. The reading part is only a small part of it, the questions are the tricky bit.  We don't just ask questions about what happened in the story, in fact, there are six different types of question we ask.  These are called the AFs (Assessment Focus).   AF2 - Understand, describe, select or retrieve information, events or ideas from texts and use quotation and reference to text. AF3 - Deduce, infer or interpret information, events or ideas from texts. AF4 - Identify and comment on the structure and organisation of texts, including grammatical and presentational features at text level. AF5 - Explain and comment on writers' uses of language, including grammatical and literary features at word and sentence level. AF6 - Identify and comment on writers' purposes and viewpoints and the overall effect of the text on the reader. AF7 - Relate texts to their social, cultural and historical contexts and literary traditions.   It's about much more than just reading and giving a word for word account of what happened in the story, it's about knowing about the world and how people communicate.  (Our comprehensions and guided reading packs have all the questions in already and show which AF they are linked to.  You can find them here.)   How to do it! Here are some ideas to try out at home to improve your child's comprehension skills. 1. When listening to them read, don't allow them to be lazy.  If they stop on a word because they don't know it, don't just tell them the word, make them sound it out.  If they get it wrong, ask them what the word could be.  Ask them of if it is actually a word or what it sounds like - this way they'll be more likely to learn it for next time, instead of relying on you to say it for them again. 2. Try reading to them.  Read a book that would be too hard for them to read.  Do the voices for the characters and vary your intonation so they will be able to follow your good example.  Stop at certain points and ask questions. 3. Encourage them to listen to adult conversation/involve them with adult conversation to promote a better understanding of the world. 4. Watch the news and discuss it.  Ask them questions about what has been reported. 5. Watch soaps/drama /comedies - they are all stories where we learn about actions and reactions and the world around us. 6. Ask questions.  The right questions.  Use the AFs to help you think of them.  This is how I do it: When a child is reading a book, I read with them (over their shoulder) and every time I see a...

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A True ICT Whizz

Posted by on 1:03 pm in Secret Blog | 0 comments

It is very obvious when a child comes into school at four, who does and who does not use technology at home. Children who use Xboxes, playstations, iPads, etc. display a confidence that far exceeds the children who have never had the chance to use technology at home. However, often they are confident with gaming and are happy to experiment to find out how things work but lack a few essential skills that will help them tremendously. These skills are often transferable from one piece of software to another. So having a basic skill level will give them a good starting point. This is also one of the issues - transferring skills - Example, knowing that some of the same actions can be performed in Word and Powerpoint.   For the younger ones By the end of key stage 1 I would recommend: 1. Know how to use a drawing program such as paint. 2. Type and understand that the computer will take them to a new line when ready. 3. How to use the return key correctly, Example, under a title. 4. How to use the shift key for capital letters (not the caps lock key for everything). 5. How to change the font and font size. 6. How to insert a picture from clip art. 7. How to open and save their work. 8. How to use the internet safely (especially the difference between a web address and using a search engine). Project Ideas: 1. Write a letter to Santa Claus/a family member. 2. Make a seasonal picture for the weather today. 3. Make a three slide Powerpoint about an animal or a hobby.   For the older ones In key stage 2 they will be expected to: 1. Use a database 2. Insert a table 3. Insert photographs 4. Crop photographs 5. Centre, left align and right align text 6. Underline 7. Make bold 8. Use a spreadsheet 9. Understand how to use the internet safely 10. Use bullet points 11. Cut, copy and paste 12. Think about colour schemes and layout by looking at professional posters and leaflets Project Ideas: 1. Create a leaflet for somewhere you have visited in the holidays - zoo, theme park, a museum or the park. 2. Write a letter to a famous person that they admire (they may be lucky and get a reply). 3. Collate data in a spreadsheet such as sports results, types of animals found in the garden/park, how many different cars seen in a 15 minute period, etc. 4. Make a Powerpoint about a holiday to email to the extended family. Fill it with pictures and captions.   The new computing curriculum is changing. There will be more focus on creating games, coding and control. This means that more of the basic skills will be done through other lessons in the classroom rather than in the computer room (where usually there are not enough for everyone). It is more important than ever that your child has the basic skills they need for the future. Have a question? Could you share your experiences to help others? Please comment below.  ...

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It’s all about the Money… Money… Money…

Posted by on 3:58 pm in Secret Blog | 0 comments

Believe it or not, many kids are just not as streetwise with money as we used to be.  This probably boils down to the fact that they have little need to handle it anymore.  It's not considered safe to send them on their own to the corner shop in some areas as we used to do and supermarket transactions are generally made with plastic. Knowing how to deal with money inside and out is like the bread and butter of maths - it deals with all kinds of adding and subtracting.  Gone are the days for most of choosing 10 sweets for a 10p mix, 20p if you were really lucky and while you were there, picking up a 25p chocolate bar.  Children who did this had memorised 10 + 25 = 35 and they knew they would be expecting 15p change from their 50p weekly spending money as they made the purchase over and over again and this was all because they linked it to the good stuff... sweets! Children who use money (I'm not talking about just handing it over - I mean those who know to add up the prices to check they have enough money to pay with and can work out the change they will get) are better at maths because they are confident with the basics.  So, how can I re-create this in our day and age I hear you ask?   For the younger ones 1. Recognise - I know it can be hard these days, but get hold of some REAL coins and do lots of touching and feeling them.  Study them together and learn what they are.  Sort them into groups of the same coin. Practise counting in 1s with 1p's, 2s with 2p's and 10s with 10p's.   2. Equals - Make the same amount with different coins.  Example - one 10p = five 2p's.   3. Spending money - Offer to give them some spending money.  Show them some coppers (perhaps 10 coins adding up to less than 50p) and show them a single coin (maybe 50p or £1).  Ask them which they would like.   4. Adding - Add coins together to see what they will make, Example - 50p + 20p + 2p. Perhaps give them some money every week in differing amounts and different coins (something like 15p). Then they could count up how much they have so far each week. Move on to adding the cost of 'things' to get a bit of real life in there.   5. Subtracting - Use the coins to subtract.  Example - If you have two 20p's and three 2p's say: How much do I have here?  They will say 46p (hopefully).  Then say, I need 20p to put in my purse for parking, how much is left now?  NB: Notice at this stage, the amount to be taken away can be done without swapping any coins. You could move on to coin swapping when they are confident. Example - You have one 50p and two 5p's and you try to take 20p.   For the older ones 1. How many in...? - Using the coins, experiment with how many 20p's there are in £1.00.  You can link the pattern with how many 5p's there are in £1.00....

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Building Vocabulary

Posted by on 9:59 pm in Secret Blog | 0 comments

Vocabulary is really important for good writing. Unfortunately, many children just don't know enough words! Putting better words in their writing can dramatically improve it and it doesn't have to take long to see the effects either. Now, you're probably thinking that I'm talking about writing lots of words down every day... nope, I'm not. Why not try some of these...?   For the younger ones: 1. When reading a book - Point out words that they definitely don't use in their writing - example -  The boy speeds down the lane.  Talk about the fact that speeds means run but it's a better word. 2.  In the garden/park - Instead of saying,  "Oh look, a butterfly."  Say, "Look at that beautiful butterfly fluttering.  Can you see the beautiful butterfly flutter?  It's fluttering its wings isn't it?  Can you say the beautiful butterfly is fluttering its wings?"  Notice the repetition?  You'll need to use words many times on different occasions for them to sink in.  Remember at this stage, it's not important to be able to write the words, but knowing them and eventually using them in speech will make a better writer in the future.   For the older ones: 1.  In the car - Can you think of any synonyms (words that mean the same or similar) for....?  Give them a sentence to make it easier and give them context for the word.   Example - The boy walked down the street.  Walked is a boring word.  Be careful that they do not try to change the meaning - e.g.  The boy ran down the street.  You could have The boy traipsed down the street or The boy shuffled down the street.  To extend the activity you could then ask, "Why is the boy traipsing down the street?  What is the situation?"  If they don't know what traipsing looks like, show them (not in the car of course).  Once you have thought of a synonym for the sentence, don't stop there.  Exhaust the sentence with words for walked.  If your child is struggling, suggest some words and get them to say the words.  If they let you do all the work, they are not learning the new vocabulary for themselves.  The next day, try another sentence where a different word will need changing, Example - The girl tried on the ugly mask.  Remember, you will need to keep coming back to the same simple words, using them in a different sentence.  Encourage them to remember the new words they learned for the next time around. 2.  Outside - Say, "Look at that tree, it's so gnarled and twisted.  How would you describe the tree?"  If they are struggling, try this, "Could you describe it as bent? How about smooth?  Pretty?"  When you have established suitable words to use to describe the tree, try using them in a sentence.  Remember - don't do all the work!  It's good to make suggestions, they can't magically know new words, but, they MUST say them and start using them.  Sentence Example - The gnarled and twisted tree is swaying in the wind.    The most important things: Little and often - before school, on the way home from school, driving to Gran's, walking around the supermarket,  before bed, at the dinner table, etc. Repetition - Just like learning times tables, saying it once is not enough.   Have a question? Could you share sentences your children have thought of...

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