I don’t quite know when or how it happened, but somewhere over the last few years, football has truly cemented itself in as a rock solid part of our family life.

At 7 and 4 years old, my older two boys are football obsessed. They have a season ticket for our local team (Crystal Palace), at home they are only interested in playing FIFA or having a kickabout in the garden. On the playground, they both head straight for the football pitch. Most of our conversations centre around footballers, stats, and match reports. Match of the day is compulsory viewing.

It’s fair to say that they eat, sleep and breathe football.

Last week, I was invited along to hear all about the Premier League’s primary school educational programme.

What is Premier League Primary Stars?

Premier League Primary Stars is a national curriculum-linked education programme which uses the appeal of the Premier League and professional football clubs to inspire children to learn, be active and develop important life skills. There are two parts to the programme:

1) The in-school support provided by Premier League and professional football clubs
2) Bespoke free-to-download teaching resources created specifically for primary schools, available on PLprimarystars.com

Having experienced first hand just how utterly and completely the football obsession can take hold in young children, I was really keen to find out how the Premier League Primary Stars programme was harnessing this passion and turning it into an educational tool. I was also interested to see what methods would be used to engage and include those children who just aren’t that into football.

Premier League Primary Stars was launched in March 2017, with the ambition to engage 10,000 schools by 2019. In just one year, the programme has already engaged more than 15,000 primary schools in England and Wales.

Premier League Primary Stars has had proven success for reluctant readers and learners. I know from personal experience; package a maths problem or a bit of reading into a football-related task, and my boys are far more likely to approach the task with eagerness.

But what about those that don’t care for football? I am well aware that although my boys are football fans, there are plenty of children who just aren’t interested. Can Primary Stars benefit them too? I was very interested to find out how and if they are able to include and encourage the non-football fanatics, too.

This is why I was so pleased to see that the focus of the evening wasn’t really about football at all. It was about nurturing and encouraging a love of writing.

The absolute highlight of the evening for me was hearing the two winning poems from the Writing Stars poetry competition. Judged by Frank Lampard, Lauren Child, Yannick Bolasie, and Caleb Femi, it was a nationwide competition that had more than 25,000 entries from five to eleven-year-olds, the brief being to write a poem about what resilience means to you.

The two competition winners were there at the event. A girl of just six years old, who had written a fantastic poem about her journey to conquering the monkey bars. And a girl of ten years old, who had written an astoundingly impactful and cleverly structured poem about her mum’s battle with cancer. The talent from both girls was staggering. And neither poem had anything to do with football.

I felt totally inspired and very pleased at the goals of the Primary Stars programme. Primary Stars encourages such talented, thought provoking creative writing that is not at all exclusive to football – the heart of the programme is simply to instill a love of writing and learning.

Championing the Primary Stars programme are writers Lauren Childs (of Charlie and Lola fame), and Cressida Howell (of How To Train Your Dragon fame). Both writers were in attendance at the event and us bloggers had the pleasure of sitting down with them for a chat.

It’s clear that they are both very involved and passionate about Primary Stars, and about encouraging a love of reading and writing from a young age. Cressida Howell, who helped create Primary Star’s English resources, proudly told us about one of Primary Stars newest schemes, Free Fridays.

Devised as a direct action against test and results focussed learning in primary schools. Free Fridays are a weekly chance to focus on creative writing. Children can write whatever they want – any subject, any idea, with no focus on how it ‘should’ be done in an exam situation. There are no strings attached, no test-basd ulterior motives. Primary Stars will be championing this to any school signed up to the programme and I think something like this is so vital in schools. My favourite sessions at school were always the creative writing ones. Writing and learning should always be fun, and children should always be given the opportunity to flex their imaginations.

Another example of how the Primary Stars programme is striving to make a difference for children is very close to both our home and our personal family experience, within Crystal Palace Football Club’s community outreach programme: Palace for Life. Palace for Life’s Team Mates initiative helps children improve their social skills and attempting to improve their mental health and emotional wellbeing. Check out Joseph’s story for more info on Team Mates. The Palace for Life Foundation is currently delivering the Premier League Primary Stars programme in 24 schools across south London.

The two main conclusions I drew from my evening with Premier League Primary Stars are:

1) The football aspect is BRILLIANT for reluctant readers, many of whom happen to be boys and / or into football in a BIG way.  2) Primary Stars has creative writing and imagination at the heart of their programme, and is doing some really great work of instilling a love of learning from a young, and such a crucial age.

If you would like your school to sign up to the Premier League Primary Stars programme, visit this page on the website, where there is a form in which you can input your school’s details and Primary Stars will send them an information pack.

In addition to the in-school resources, Premier League Primary Stars now offers activity packs and games for parents and children to use at home – all available for free on www.PLPrimaryStars.com

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*Disclosure: I was paid a fee to attend and write about the event

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