Beaming Kate shows off her playful side as she tickles tummies and chats about Prince Louis during visit to centre for children with special needs

2 months ago
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There was plenty of messy fun as the Princess of Wales joined a children’s sensory development play session today.

Kate’s maternal side was most definitely in evidence - from rubbing toddlers’ backs and tickling their tummies, to helping them to daub toys with foam and throw tinsel and shredded paper around.

There was a serious point to her visit to the Orchards Centre in Sittingbourne, Kent, which was to highlight the importance of supporting children with special educational needs and disabilities and their families.

The National Portage Association is a council-run, home-visiting service for children from birth to pre-school age across England and Wales that provides trained practitioners to help with their development

But Kate, 41, wearing a red Zara boucle jacket, skinny trousers and flat pumps with her swept back in an elegant bun, enhanced her reputation as the children’s princess as she got stuck in.

Kate appeared particularly taken with one little girl, who she joined to play with a large plastic red dog 

A playful Kate was beaming with joy as she had fun with a group of youngsters during a sensory development class in Kent earlier today

Kate Middleton, 41, showed off her motherly nature as she joined the class at the centre in Kent 

The royal offered a lesson in business casual as she joined a sensory development class in Kent earlier today

‘She is very sweet!’ she gushed over a little girl called Skylar, who is almost two and was enjoying spreading foam over herself and others, but fortunately avoided getting the Princess in a mess.

She laughed as Beatrice, three, screamed with delight at the sight of shredded paper going everywhere.

And she applauded Darcie, a three-year-old girl with Down Syndrome carefully pouring brightly coloured squares of paper into a cup. ‘Well done,’ the Princess said, telling her: ‘Louis’ got a Darcie in his class.’

The Princess was visiting the session as part of her Shaping Us campaign to highlight how every child in Britain can be given a better start in life.

Kate’s session, attended by seven children with a range of needs and conditions, including social communications difficulties, autism, complex needs and Down Syndrome, is run by Kent County Council at the Orchards Centre in Sittingbourne.

Practitioners trained by the National Portage Association, which is celebrating its 40th anniversary in Britain this year and oversees 110 services around the country, were also on hand to help.

The Princess, who flew to Sittingbourne by helicopter, played with the children and chatted to staff and parents.

She met father-of-four Steve Ikebuwa from Gravesend, whose youngest child Nathan, 11 months, has profound learning difficulties. He told her how the Kent Portage Service has helped with Nathan’s development.

Mr Ikebuwa told the Princess that - like her - his wife had suffered the severe morning sickness, hyperemesis gravidarum, which causes severe vomiting during pregnancy.

Far from Kate's sweeping bouncy blow dry, which has become her signature look, the Princess opted for a plaited up do 

The Princess waved to waiting royal fans who had gathered outside as she left the centre this afternoon after the visit 

‘I went through that. I know what that feels like,’ Kate told him.

Kate kicked off her new 'Shaping Us' initiative, which she described as her 'life's work' with a glitzy reception in London earlier this year.

Arriving at the outing, she opted for her smart Zara blazer, which she has previously worn while supporting the England men's football team during the Euro 2020 final at Wembley.

She paired the statement tweed jacket with a camel jumper and a pair of dark trousers, finishing her look with a pair of practical Boden pumps. 

Instead of her usual bouncy blow dry style, the Princess swept her hair into a neat up do, allowing her trendy fringe to hand loose around her face.  

Later today, she will meet parents and their children, as well as some of the front-line practitioners delivering the service to understand more about portage and how it supports families on a day-to-day basis. 

It's all part of Kate's Shaping Us campaign, which the Princess launched in February this year. The project is a long-term project for the princess, beginning with how a child develops and the importance of the formative years. 

Playful Princess! Kate was quick to get into the sensory class and appeared in high spirits as she joined in with activities 

The Princess, who is known for her down-to-earth and motherly nature, appeared right at home during the sensory development workshop 

The mother-of-three beamed as she joined the parents and young people in the class this afternoon 

The royal, who has made Early Years Development one of the cornerstones of her royal work, was animated as she spoke to children 

The beaming mother-of-three was beaming as she spoke to children and parents during the workshop this afternoon 

It will 'explore in more depth the importance of a child's social and emotional world' and the significance of relationships, surroundings and experiences.    

The launch event was attended by newly appointed 'champions' from the world of music, science, sport, celebrity and academia including presenter Rochelle Humes, England women football captain Leah Williamson and broadcaster Fearne Cotton.

The multi-media campaign is part of a major push by the Royal Foundation Centre for Early Childhood, set up by the princess in June 2021, to raise awareness of how our early years mould our lives. 

It is set to run for at least five years, and has been described by a Kensington Palace spokesman as the princess's 'life's work'. 

The Princess spoke passionately about the campaign in an open letter published in yesterday's Mail on Sunday, in which she set out her plan for 'Shaping Us'.

She wrote the impassioned plea on her laptop as she was preparing for the campaign launch, which starts with a week-long publicity blitz, including last night's event at BAFTA. 

Reports produced by the Early Childhood centre have revealed that the first five years shape future wellbeing more than any other stage of development, with our brains growing faster than at this time then any other. 

It also hopes to 'break the cycle' for parents who experienced difficult childhoods themselves.

Palace aides say the idea for the project began even before Kate became a mother. 

It's far from the first engagement for Kate in recent days - the Princess has started the new term off with a number of royal visits. 

Just yesterday, she was given a tour of a textile mill in Leeds as she learnt more about the British industry. 

The Princess said she 'loves the feel and smell' of freshly woven fabric as she visited a leading Yorkshire mill that bought out her own family manufacturing firm 65 years ago. 

In 1958 her paternal great-grandfather, Noel Middleton, helped to sell the family business, William Lupton & Co, to A W Hainsworth in Pudsey, West Yorkshire after more than 160 years in business.

The Princess of Wales with Beatrice, 3, during a family portage session at the Orchards Centre in Milton Regis, Sittingbourne 

Kate couldn't contain her delight as she howled in laughter with the youngster during the outing this afternoon 

The Princess joined a number of children on the mat today during the session at the centre, tossing paper into the air 

Kate, herself a mother-of-three, chatted with one parent as she attended the session earlier today 

The Princess, who has long been passionate Early Years development, appeared quick to get involved at the session in Kent at the centre this morning 

So when the princess decided she wanted to undertake a visit to highlight the thriving nature of the British textile industry, their busy factory was the obvious choice.

Wearing a green suit by British brand Burberry and matching heels with eye-catching gold jewellery, Kate grabbed handfuls of freshly-woven Merino wool fabric and declared: ‘ I love the feel of it and the smell of it!’ 

Earlier this month, a source close to Kate and William claimed the pair are 'laser-focused' and 'know what they want from royal life'.

As they mark the first year of being the Prince and Princess of Wales, the couple have discovered what they want from the role and set a clear path to be the future of the monarchy, those around them say.

The royal couple have made sure their presence is seen in Wales and are supporting the King in his duties, while William is keen to 'continue the great work that his father did' with the Duchy of Cornwall.

The Princess has dedicated much of her work to understanding the Early Years and was chatty as she spoke to staff at the centre today 

The royal mother-of-three, who has made Early Years development a cornerstone of her royal work, was animated as she chatted to staff 

Today's engagement is all part of Kate's Shaping Us campaign, which the Princess launched in February this year

She was in high spirits as she arrived at a local specialist centre to attend a family portage session in Sittingbourne, Kent this morning

It's all part of Kate's Shaping Us campaign, which the Princess launched in February this year

The Princess, who appeared excited to be attending the session at the centre today, reached out a hand to greet staff with a handshake 

During today's visit, the Princess is set to join a sensory development class with a group of children with a range of needs and conditions

The Princess, who usually wears her hair in a bouncy blow dry style, swept her locks into a neat bun for the outing today 

Kate opted for a camel coloured jumper beneath her trendy red Zara  blazer, finishing her look with a pair of Boden shoes 

Speaking to the Telegraph, a source said the pair 'know what they want' when it comes to their working lives, adding that they are 'editing their own speeches and peppering aides with questions about every brief'.

William and Kate, alongside their children Prince George, ten, Princess Charlotte, eight, and five-year-old Prince Louis are setting out to be 'the future of the monarchy' the source added.

'There's a lot for him to get his head around, and although he and his father worked closely together, there will have been a lot of "listening and discussing" his future path,' the source said.

'He has this unwavering commitment to duty and service. He takes the role extremely seriously and is incredibly focused on working hard but also supporting his father as King,' they added.

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