Dagenham language school helps children ‘know their roots’ while feeling at home in England

PUBLISHED: 13:01 29 October 2014 | UPDATED: 13:17 29 October 2014

Young Roy at the Leaping Toads language centre in Dagenham

Young Roy at the Leaping Toads language centre in Dagenham


Take a walk down Dagenham Heathway or a trip to Central Park and chances are you’ll hear a diverse range of languages spoken in shops, cafés and playgrounds.

Simona StaputieneSimona Staputiene

Children of all nationalities and backgrounds are growing up in the borough. They need to be fluent in English to integrate, but they must understand their native language first.

Enter Lithuanian-born Simona Staputiene, who took it upon herself to set up Leaping Toads – a centre that teaches language and life skills to children who don’t speak English as their mother tongue.

Tucked away in a portacabin next to the playing fields of Eastbrook Comprehensive on Dagenham Road, Simona runs the school she says helps children “know their roots”.

Her concern arose on moving to Dagenham eight years ago when she saw children from different backgrounds learning English in a “very conservative way”.

Students in a martial arts class at the schoolStudents in a martial arts class at the school

She told the Post: “They were losing the connection with their native language, which was not a good thing.

“They need to know their mother tongue in order to learn English well, so I decided I had do something about it.

“When kids and adults know their roots they feel stronger and more confident in this world.

“The mother tongue is very important. Some people are sent to us from mainstream schools because their mother tongue is so poor so it’s stopping them learning English.

“If you strengthen that then the structure of the English language comes easier too.”

Privately funded Leaping Toads opened seven years ago for a handful of students and today more than 100 children age two to 16 attend.

It teaches Lithuanian, Russian and English and is looking to expand to include other languages, particularly those from countries in the former Eastern Bloc.

The children learn according to a “holistic educational philosophy” that aims to boost academic knowledge while developing creativity. “We don’t just teach languages but also arts, dance, drama and martial arts, all with the same holistic philosophy,” said Simona. “This is how it differs from mainstream schools. Of course we concentrate on academia too but we also develop personalities and creativity.

“It’s all very interactive. Encouraging children to play and interact brings out their self-esteem.”

Esol (English for speakers of other languages) classes are also available at the venue, encouraging adults from different backgrounds to learn English for social and work purposes.

Simona said: “We want to encourage all communities and backgrounds to learn so we run adult classes and female-only classes, to respect 
different cultures and beliefs.”

For more information, visit or call 07900 106 971.

Read more: Cruddas’ Dagenham prison petition goes to Number 10

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