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Confidence is the key to lifelong learning

To coincide with Mental Health Week (October 9-15), Frieda Fraser describes how to nurture pupil potential

In 31 years as an educationist, I have come to the conclusion that there is one key factor which helps children achieve their potential and make a positive contribution to society: confidence.

I also believe, however, that children today are less confident and less able to make choices than previous generations, because their parents are more frightened of allowing them to be independent, play unsupervised, make their own choices and live with the consequences.

It is understandable that parents feel this way, but it has a significant impact on young people. With this in mind, my colleagues and I began to transform the way children at Crosshouse Primary start school, or make the transition from nursery to P1. We wanted to enable them to develop confidence which would lead to optimum learning - not just the academic stuff such as reading, writing and maths - but learning about, and for, life as well.

First, we changed the P1 classrooms to make the environment as much as possible like the nurseries they had just left, with coloured cushions instead of desks and chairs.

Play activities were created where children had a degree of free choice.

But for the first two weeks, the learning emphasis was all about the school environment: what you do and where you go.

Young children never cease to amaze in their capacity to understand the need for rules, if they know why we do what we do. So, ensuring that the children were confident in the routines of the school was the aim for the first two weeks.

We developed a Ladder of Success, where children were given bronze, silver and gold stickers for their ladder, if they achieved that day's goals. The target sheets were taken home for parents to see, and teachers discussed them with the children, praising them on what they had achieved, what was expected of them and why.

Then, after about two weeks, the children were introduced to more formal learning. The staff who took part agreed there was a significant difference in the children's confidence and ability to articulate their thoughts and to develop an opinion - and this, in turn, impacted on their learning.

Children are not born knowing how to behave, any more than they are born knowing how to read. Learning how to behave and respond in any given situation is lifelong work.

At Crosshouse Primary we just don't expect children of 5 to have cracked it. Like all of us, they need guidance and support to nurture their potential.

Frieda Fraser is headteacher of Crosshouse Primary in South Lanarkshire

This article first appeared in Well? magazine, published by the Scottish Executive mental health division

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