Tag Archives: education

illustrating for the Story of Me

cameron's dragons cropYou know the feeling you get when you’re involved in a particularly inspiring project? Something that’s not only fun, interesting and exciting but that bit special too?

I’ve had that feeling recently about an illustration project I’ve been working on. It’s called The Story of Me and is the brainchild of a friend of mine who’s a primary school teacher in Scotland.

Sus – or, as she is generally known by a classroom of children, Mrs Jeffries – is one my oldest friends and someone who never fails to amaze and inspire me. She’s not only a teacher and a mother of two, she also writes for the TES, sits on the boards of creative companies and is studying illustration. I don’t know what powers her (although I suspect creme eggs or party rings might play their part!) but to top it off she’s always full of amazing ideas. The Story of Me is no exception.

The idea is based on a study which found that children were more likely to recall target vocabulary if it was used in sentences where they themselves were the subject of the sentence. In other words, when you’re teaching kids to read, they’re more likely to remember words in stories about them.

Knowing how well children respond to images as well as words, Sus designed a project where the children in her class would work (remotely) alongside illustrators to create stories that they were the subject of. You can read more about the details and expected outcomes here but the basic idea was that the children would provide sentences for the illustrators to work with and by the end of the project, each child would have a short illustrated book about themselves which would help them learn and remember target words. A book that they’d co-created – how cool is that?!

I was one of the twenty illustrators who were a part of this project and I worked with six-year-old Cameron. He wrote a sentence or two a week for me to illustrate and the project evolved as it went along – I was never sure what Cameron would write or how I might respond and was often surprised… by both of us! There was something so lovely about illustrating for a specific child and feeling I was helping to create a story that meant something to him. I’ve heard from Sus that he loved what I did and that means loads to me.

Anyway, as the project draws to a close, I thought I’d share our little story:

Cameron's dragon's 1cameron's dragons page 2Cameron's dragon's page 3Cameron's dragons 4

I have to admit, when I got the first sentence I wasn’t sure how to illustrate it at all and figured all I could do was draw Cameron (I had a photo to work with). After that it became easier; the dragons came to me the moment I read his ‘dun dun duuuuuuuuun’ – I mean, clearly there was something exciting going on so… dragons!

I absolutely loved the way Cameron took the dragon idea and ran with it. Dragons playing hide and seek was loads of fun to draw (and apparently the whole class of kids enjoyed looking for them in the picture) and the idea of a dragon that would trick him with a drawing of itself was brilliant. He really gave them – and the whole story – personality!

The kids are all going to receive their final pictures and finished books after the Easter holidays. I’m looking forward to finding out what Cameron and his classmates think about them! It’s been a fab thing to be involved in! :)

What I learned from the Kids Strike

#THISislearning collage2So, May third has passed – the day of #THISislearning and the Kids Strike has been and gone. It was an epic day all about education and beliefs and passion and fun and learning. My boys learned masses. Here’s what the experience taught me:

Standing up for your beliefs feels fantastic.

I’ve always shied away from controversy – in life in general and especially on my blog. Except with close friends, I generally keep quiet about my beliefs (especially on ‘hot topics’ like politics and religion) so when I published a passionate post about education six weeks ago it was a huge leap into the unknown. The fantastic, supportive, heartfelt response I had was impossible to ignore though, and I had to follow-through, both with taking part in the Kids Strike and co-running my own parallel #THISislearning campaign. And it felt good – to draw that line in the sand and say ‘something needs to change and I’m going to try my best to make that happen.’ I rediscovered my inner activist, missing since my teenage years. Yes – standing up for your beliefs feels good.

…it also feels scary

Ok, the brave, bold types amongst you might think this is odd, but as an introvert I don’t like drawing attention to myself and as a big-time softy it makes me nervous to place myself in a position where I could get hurt. I’m also a natural law-abider – a bit of a goody two shoes to be honest. But standing up for my beliefs recently has involved deliberately trying to draw attention to myself (running a campaign requires you to say “Hey, look over here! Please join in with this!”), breaking the law (in order to join in the strike) and also putting myself in a position where I could get hurt. The trolls were out in force on the day of the strike. Luckily, I wasn’t targeted but knowing that some of my friends were, and that there were nasty comments being made, put me on high alert. Basically, on all counts I felt out of my comfort zone. It has not been a relaxing six weeks!

The mere act of the kids strike was a fantastic learning opportunity

Ok, with kids, everything is a useful learning opportunity but this point feels important to me because one of the criticisms levelled at strikers was a notion of it being wrong to include kids. I very much disagree – it was an awesome opportunity to teach them about politics, values, beliefs and the ways society works. On the morning of the strike, I took my boys to a nearby school where one of the parents had organised a friendly picket line. I say ‘friendly’ because the head teacher knew all about it and was fine about it, and the purpose was to ask parents for signatures to a letter that was being sent to our MP about the whole thing.

My eight-year-old in particular was so interested in the whole experience of being there and asked loads of questions about strikes and political action. We ended up taking about the junior doctor strikes too. I’ve never known him so interested in politics before. As a parent it felt so important to talk to him about what we value (as his parents) at a time when he was totally engaged.

Doing educational things with kids can be a huge source of joy and excitement.

I suppose this wasn’t really a surprise but the extent of the joy perhaps was. I got together with a friend and with our five kids (two eight-year-olds, two six-year-olds and a three-year-old) we did masses of activities. We looked at a real, disused mill, rambled through the forest following the pipeline to see where it had been dammed, researched hydroelectricity, designed and made our own water wheels (and tried them out in a river), made paper chromatography flowers, read the wonderful Rosie Revere and Iggy Peck books by Andrea Beaty and discussed them, wrote stories and did explosive science experiments. The older two kids took notes throughout. My eight-year-old was really enthused by everything and all the kids were so happy.

There was one point where they were all experimenting with oil, baking soda, vinegar and various other things and as I watched them work together, cooperating, trying out more and more ideas and squealing with joy and excitement, I felt so happy I thought my heart might burst. Ok, they did get a little out of control with food colouring, baking soda, leaves, ramps and bicycles (!?!) but we were outside and it was after 3’o clock so I figured, ‘whatever, let them get on with it’. At the end of the day my boys fell into bed with huge grins on their faces saying it was the best day ever. My six year old said “I give it 100%!”

I did, however, gain:

A whole new level of respect for teachers

We had five kids to keep engaged and focussed. How they cope with classes of thirty kids, impresses the socks off me. Hats off to them.

And a whole new level of respect for homeschoolers

You do this everyday?! I mean, it must be amazing in some ways but surely exhausting in others! Such a big responsibility to have to think up all the activities and keep the kids on point and also to get the balance between being totally child-led and making sure you get enough done… well done, seriously.

All sorts of random stuff that I wouldn’t otherwise have done

When you spend time with kids engaging in their learning, you learn so much too! They ask questions and together you find the answers, you create things you otherwise wouldn’t have created and think in ways you otherwise wouldn’t have thought. It’s really inspirational.

That my friends are awesome

Again, I knew this already but man… from my best mate who was a fab cheerleader the whole time, drew loads of #THISislearning pictures and provided lots of inspiration for a post about activities for kids, to the friend who I spent the day with (which made striking a million times easier as I would have been on my own otherwise), to the friend who read my No, Mr Cameron, No. post and told me how proud she was of me with such enthusiasm that my face ached from smiling by the end of her email, to the blogging friends who joined in on the day and sent amazing messages of support, and the friends who’ve chatted with me and put the world (and my head) to rights over the last couple of days. Not to forget Sophie who, despite juggling a million different things, was a fantastic, eloquent, supportive co-campaigner for #THISislearning. Oh, and my husband who always has my back (I’ll start coming to bed before midnight now, promise!) I felt surrounded by a huge raft of emotional support, I really did. You guys rock.

That people are awesome

At the end of the day on May 3rd and on the following morning I looked though my social media feeds at the #THISislearning hashtag. Wow. The different activities that people had been doing with their kids, the happy faces, the brilliant blog posts, the enthusiasm and dedication to showing Nicky Morgan what real learning looks like… well it was just amazing. Again, my heart kind of exploded (remember how I said I was a softy – I wasn’t lying!) It was just wonderful to see.

And I think I’m going to end this post on that note. An enormous thank you goes to you all.

xxx

mumturnedmom

Linking to The Prompt which, this week, is ‘choice’. This whole experience came from the choice to hit ‘publish on that blog post.

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standing up for what you believe in

So, tomorrow’s the big day! #KidsStrike3rdMay, and mine and Sophie’s parallel campaign, #THISislearning (which you don’t have to be striking to join in with!).

How am I feeling? Excited, nervous and frazzled. I have all of the feels at the moment. Sometimes I think my heart might burst out of my chest. I’m like some hopeless romantic or desperate optimist or frightened radical or, I don’t know… it’s exhausting. clouds

The last few weeks have been manic. Actually, ever since I published my ‘No Mr Cameron, No.’ blog post back in March (which ten thousand people read in a week – a number so hugely vast, in terms of this blog, that I still haven’t got my head round it!) things have been feeling slightly out of control. There’s nothing quite like writing a passionate, heartfelt post and having people respond to it in an equally passionate, heartfelt way. To be a bit navel-gazy and pretentious for a moment, I feel like I’ve been on a bit of a journey. I’ve been inspired and enthused, I’ve learned masses and I’ve ended up way out of my comfort zone launching a whole campaign of my own. When people responded the way they did, I couldn’t ignore it. I had to act.

So a month ago I decided to keep my boys off school for the Kids Strike. I wrote a personal letter to their school explaining how happy they have been at their school and that the action isn’t against the school or teachers (who are fab) but against educational policy which NEEDS to change for the sake of all our kids. Some headteachers across the country are marking absences for the strike as ‘educational’ in recognition of that – how wonderful, eh? Totally in the spirit of parents and teachers working together! Still, it’s officially against the law so little goody-two-shoes, rule-abiding me is having to take a deep breath over it all…

… A deep breath while also shouting “Upon St Cripsin’s day!” a la Kenneth Branagh in Henry V (quietly to myself, I’m not THAT weird) and marching onwards.#THISislearning badge final

As for #THISislearning – our parallel campaign to spread positive images, messages and stories about real learning across social media on May 3rd – well, there’s been so much good stuff come from that already. People sharing stories, doing fabulous drawings and really wanting to make it clear to our government that current educational policy is wrong, not just by striking (although hooray for that!) but also by sharing examples of what real learning looks like. That’s what tomorrow is all about for me –  real learning and positive action. Together, a friend and I have all sorts of activities planned, albeit with enough flexibility to follow our kids’ lead. We want the day to be fun, we want them to learn and we want them to see that when it’s important, you have to stand up for what you believe in.

I would love lots of people to join in with #THISislearning. I hope they do. It means so much to me.

Ooh and by the way, another reason April was full-on:

campnano 16 winner banner

Yep. I wrote enough words last month to win CampNanoWriMo.

Phew.

Today nerves, tomorrow the world, after that a nice long nap.

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And then the fun began...
Writing Bubble

don’t doubt, just draw.

I started an illustration course in January and, with a ‘New Year – Raaaah’ sort of energy, immediately threw myself in to a daily drawing practice. I joined in with #ShapeChallenge on Twitter, drew picture after picture and between January and March I noticed a definite improvement in my ability. I really can’t speak highly enough of doing something creative every day. No matter how limited your abilities at the beginning (or, more to the point, how limited you THINK they are because we all seem to doubt ourselves massively!), you WILL improve and seeing that improvement spurs you on to do more and get better!

So there I was, feeling quite chuffed with myself (‘New Year Raaah’ with a tangible outcome has to be something to be proud of), when in Mid-March I was hit by a whole heap of stuff that totally derailed me from my drawing. I couldn’t find time and, because I was drawing so infrequently, everything I produced on the odd occasion I tried, was rubbish. Honestly, it made me cringe. I totally lost confidence and felt quite fed up about it all.

Then last week I gave myself a huge mental shove. I’d felt like I had no time for drawing because so much of my energy was going into blogging and running the #THISislearning campaign, so I decided to combine the two. I started doing tiny daily cartoons about the sort of activities kids love. The sort where they learn masses without even realising it. Where they experiment and persevere and imagine and create. I shared my first two in my last blog post. Here are my next three:

#THISislearning maths buns

I love maths with a positive outcome. Admittedly, “0+effort = lots” is maths only in a very general sense but still…

creative #THISislearning

I had no idea what this kid was making until I’d drawn it!

puddle fun #THISislearning

This was inspired by this post from Luisa at Teaching Tiny Minds: https://teachingtinyminds.wordpress.com/2016/04/27/making-a-river/

I did tiny pictures because somehow it helped my confidence. I’m not sure why… maybe because drawing big feels more risky (if it’s rubbish it’s a big pile of rubbish) and drawing small feels more safe (less of a potential mess)? Who knows, but I’ve enjoyed doing it.

And then a really fab thing happened – an awesome friend of mine –  Sus @MrsJTeaches – started drawing some #THISislearning pictures too. I LOVE them:

#THISislearning @MrsJTeaches
Since then, a couple of other people have expressed an interest in drawing something for the campaign too (thanks guys!) and it got me thinking that I’d love to put together a gallery of #THISislearning pictures on my blog (and share them on social media of course). And I would love you to join in!

It DEFINITELY isn’t a talent competition it’s really about having a go at something creative and having some fun. In fact, you don’t have to draw, you could paint or glue or photograph a tower of creatively poised bananas or something…

If you’d like to join in just tweet your image @writingbubble using the #THISislearning hashtag. Go on, don’t doubt yourself, create.

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#THISislearning FAQ

#THISislearning badge finalJust over a week ago, my fellow-blogger Sophie and I launched our #THISislearning campaign which aims to spread positive images, messages and stories about learning across social media on May 3rd – the day of the national Kids Strike. So far, we’ve loved the response we’ve had: the messages of support, the shared posts and stories, and the conversations in our Facebook group have all been inspirational and reaffirming. Sophie has written a great post summarising the progress so far, which really emphasised to me that together we can make a difference.

Along the way, we’ve noticed a few questions arising about the campaign from potential supporters and I thought I’d answer them here as it might make our aims a little clearer:

  • #THISislearning runs in parallel to the Kids Strike… but what is the Kids Strike about?

The kids Strike has been organised by Let Our Kids Be Kids, a group of concerned parents who feel our kids are “over tested, overworked and in a school system that places more importance on test results and league tables than it does on children’s happiness and joy of learning”. The National Union of teachers has already called for the SATs to be cancelled in 2016 and the plan is to show that parents are behind teachers in this, by keeping kids off school on May 3rd (before the SATs begin) for a day of educational fun learning instead. They also have a petition here which has already been signed by over 24,000 people.

  • Is it just about Year 2 SATs? I’m concerned about Year 6 SATs too!

The campaign started in opposition to year 2 SATs but many parents are also concerned about year 6 SATs and the pressures facing our kids in education in general. The response overall has been so great it has been widened to include all primary school-aged children.

  • I’m worried about taking my kids out of school on May 3rd – I don’t want them to miss SATs (and potentially have to re-sit them at another time).

It’s ok – 3RD MAY is NOT a test day! Your child will not miss any tests. It was chosen as a strike day because it is shortly before the SATs begin and has the aim of putting pressure on government to scrap the SATs this year. The NUT has already called for this and the hope was that by striking, parents can show teachers and schools that we are behind them should they choose to boycott SATs.

  • My child has such a lovely teacher – I don’t want them to think that this is against them.

There are many wonderful teachers in this country (hooray!). The strike is absolutely not against our teachers but rather against governmental policy. We want to support teachers who are trying to give the government the message that current educational policy is wrong. When I wrote this post in March, speculating about using our parent power to strike, many teachers commented to say thank you and yes, please take action! Many teachers have joined our Facebook group and many more have joined the Let Our Kids be Kids FB group and signed the petition. If you are concerned please speak to your teacher to reassure them, or if you prefer, there are letters on the Let our Kids be Kids website specifically for class teachers to explain the action we are all taking.

  • What If I don’t want to take my kids out of school on May 3rd – can I still join in with #THISislearning?

YES absolutely! We want to spend ALL DAY covering social media with positive messages not just during school hours – so feel free to join in after school. You are also welcome to use the #THISislearning hashtag in the run up to May 3rd.

If you’re at all on the fence about joining in the strike (or supporting it in any other way, for that matter) then I urge you to read this post by Sophie of Sophie is… which highlights some of the reasons why it’s important to take a stand regardless of the age of your children, whether they are doing SATs this year and however they feel about school.

  • I love the idea of spreading positive learning ideas, but my kids are not yet at school – can I still get involved?

YES, we’d love you to! This is very relevant to preschool kids because changes that are made to educational policy now will have a direct impact on toddlers and preschoolers in a few short years. Younger kids also love learning so please, have fun making mud pies together, or baking, making sock puppets, or building with LEGO… or whatever you wish! Kids learn so much doing these sorts of activities and we’d love you to share what you get up to!

  • My kids are homeschooled – can we get involved too?

Please do! As homeschoolers you may well have all sorts of ideas for fun educational activities people could do with kids on May 3rd. If you have blog posts about these we’d love you to link them up with our #THISislearning linky. And please join in the general sharing of positive learning messages on May 3rd!

  • What is your linky for? I have a post about what’s wrong with education – can I link it up? Can I link up a post about crafting with kids?

Our linky is for any post about education or fun learning activities. If you’ve written about what you would like to see change about the current education system, by all means link it up. similarly, if you’ve published a post on something creative or fun or inspiring that you think captures a fun way that kids can learn, then that is very welcome too! The linky already has both types of posts on it and we’d love more!

  • I’m not on Twitter – can I still take part?

YES! We’re also on Instagram and Facebook!

If you have any more questions please send them my way and in the meantime, thanks for all the support!

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#THISislearning – join us!

On Tuesday 3rd May, thousands of parents are planning to take a stand against a school system which is more interested in testing our children than it is in nurturing in them a love of learning. They will be adding their voices to the growing unrest that already permeates the teaching profession, and joining the call from the National Union of Teachers to cancel the SATs for 2016. By keeping their children home from school on that day, they want to send a clear message to the government that enough is enough, and that their children – all children – deserve more.

We want to take things one step further.#THISislearning badge final

As well as fully supporting the kids’ strike on 3rd May, we want to use that day and the run up to it to flood the internet with inspirational learning moments: images, stories and activities that show just how much more there is to learning than the narrow focus of the SATs allows. Whatever the age of your child, whether they are at school or nursery or educated at home, we would like you to help us show the government what learning really looks like, using the hashtag #THISislearning.

If you’re a teacher, we would love to hear your thoughts too: this government has marginalised the expertise of education professionals for far too long.

If you have a blog, you can link up your posts below to create a hub of inspiration in the run up to 3rd May and share what you and your child(ren) get up to on the day itself. If you are not a blogger then don’t worry – you can share your ideas and activities on your social media accounts, using #THISislearning on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

You can find out more about why we’re taking this action by reading Maddy’s post No, Mr Cameron, No, which inspired us with the fantastic response it received from parents and teachers alike, and the follow up, This is learning, Mr Cameron, as well as Sophie’s post Why SATs are Bad for our Children, reflecting on the current situation from the perspective of ten years of teaching as well as life with a three year old.

You can also join our Facebook group to keep up to date with latest developments, and please comment below or contact either of us directly if there is anything else you want to know.

Maddy: Writing Bubble
Sophie: Sophie is…

#THISislearning

We would love as many bloggers as possible to join in! Here are just a few suggestions for taking part:

  • Link up any post (old or new) about inspiring children to learn, including fun activities people might like to try on May 3rd.
  • Please use the badge below on your post to spread awareness of the campaign (copy and paste the HTML code to add it to your site). We will share your posts on Twitter in return.
  • If you share your post on social media please use the hashtag #THISislearning. If you tweet us a link to your post @writingbubble and @sophieblovett then we will RT.
  • Link up your post below – just click on the blue button that says ‘add your link’ and follow the instructions. We look forward to reading your posts. :)
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Post Comment Love

THIS is learning, Mr Cameron.

#THISislearning kidsA couple of weeks ago I wrote a post about education called ‘No, Mr Cameron, No‘. It was my reaction to the growing feeling amongst parents, teachers and education experts that governmental educational policy is WRONG. That our kids are put under too much pressure, expectations are too high and they are tested too young, in a way that is making it harder and harder for our teachers to teach the way they know is best. The fun and the joy is being stripped out of learning and the long-term negative consequences of this could be vast.

I wanted to support our schools and our fabulous teachers and suggested we use our power as parents and not send our kids into school on SATs day in favour of a ‘learning is fun’ day where we would collectively show the government what real learning looks like.

The response the post received was amazing. Support flooded in from teachers and parents alike. It was amazing and moving and just, WOW!

“Yes!” I thought “Let’s do this! Let’s start a revolution!”

A couple of days later a new campaign was launched by a group of concerned Year Two parents, called ‘Let Our Kids Be Kids‘. They are proposing a kids strike on May 3rd (which is not a test day) in favour of a day of fun learning to show the government that parents want an end to year 2 SATs and the current educational pressures.

“Yes!” I thought “the revolution has begun!”

So I got my thinking cap on and I had conversations with other online friends. We all felt there was more we could do as bloggers to help the ‘Let Our Kids Be Kids’ campaign and to really make a difference.

Now, I’ll admit, I had a wobble. As a naturally non-revolutionary, law-abiding type who doesn’t like to draw much attention to myself, I wondered if I could really do it. Could I break the rules, keep my kids off school and encourage others to do so? Could I really? Really?

One (self-inflicted) big kick in the rear later and the answer is YES, ARE YOU KIDDING?! OF COURSE I CAN!

More importantly of course WE can!

So, having chatted to Let Our Kids Be Kids, my friend and fellow blogger Sophie and I have decided to launch a parallel campaign to support theirs. It’s called #THISislearning and is focussed not just on keeping our kids off school on 3rd May but on doing something on that day to show the government what great learning looks like.

We also want to widen the focus beyond Year 2 SATs and make it about over-assessment in schools in general (we know plenty of people feel that Year 6 SATs too, are appalling!). We really want to send a powerful, positive message that we hope our government will listen to, and the more of you who join in (parents of school kids or pre-schoolers, homeschoolers, teachers, bloggers, non-bloggers, social media gurus or newbies, anyone who works with kids in fact, anyone at all who supports our aim!) the louder our voice will be!

Here, in brief, is the plan (more details to follow soon!):

On Tuesday 3rd May we will be keeping our kids off school. For me this means not only my six-year-old (whom the Year 2 SATs directly affect,) but also my eight-year-old. I’ll be downloading letters from the Let Our Kids Be Kids website which I will use to let my boys’ school know our plans and so they know this is action against governmental policy and not them or my sons’ great teachers!

We will be spending the day with our kids (and perhaps other friends with kids too), learning lots about the world in a fun way and sharing it on social media with the hashtag #THISislearning. I haven’t decided quite what I’m going to do yet but watch this space because:

Over the next (nearly) three weeks I will be sharing various ideas with you for fun learning activities. They might be anything – messing with mud, experimenting with liquids, creating, constructing, exploring… the options are endless.

Sophie and I will be setting up a linky (UPDATE: it’s now live!) across both our blogs for people to link up posts about their thoughts and feelings on education and/or about any plans they have for May 3rd – it would be great if it could become a resource for fun learning activities so that we’re all full of inspiration by the day!

Then, on May 3rd we want set social media feeds abuzz with photos, tweets, messages and stories (from as many of you as possible) about children learning in a way that is fun. No formality, no stuffiness, no tests or unreachable targets or overwhelming pressure. We want to shower the government – no, deluge them – with examples of learning that is creative and engaging, learning which sparks childrens’ imaginations and which sets them up for a lifetime of curiosity and passion. Because that’s what education should be about.

Because THIS is learning, Mr Cameron.

#THISislearning

***

Come and join us!

We have set up a facebook group for people to share thoughts, plans and support. Anyone who wants to support #THISislearning in any way is welcome to come and join it!

We also have a badge which we’d love you to display on your blog (if you have one). Just copy and past the code below. Thank you!

Together, we CAN!

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I’m linking this post with The Prompt at Mum Turned Mom. This week the word is ‘jump’ which seems apt since this campaign feels like a leap both into the unknown and out of my comfort zone!

mumturnedmom

Everything Mummy

And then the fun began...

 

on being a revolutionary

road

I’ve never considered myself a revolutionary. To anyone who knows me, that’s hardly surprising. I’m more of a polite petition-signer and pensive ponderer: I respond internally and then talk to my friends about things that matter to me, but I don’t often act. What can I really do? I think, What difference can I make? and, anyway I need to start making that pasta-bake or the kids will have nothing to eat for tea…

You might be nodding your head in recognition at that or you might be wringing your hands in frustration. Really, we should all do more. I get that. Society needs us to do more. The world needs us to do more but… that pasta isn’t going to cook itself… it’s the smallest AND the biggest thoughts that can prompt inaction.

For these reasons, along with a profound fear of saying the ‘wrong thing‘, I’ve basically kept this blog free of political opinion. Even as, over the past year, things have got worse for so many in our society, I’ve kept quiet. The misery of teachers and junior doctors (to name just a few) has been plastered all over the news and my social media feeds and I’ve felt so angry and so sad but, I thought – beyond signing petitions (and please, everyone, do keep signing petitions!) – what could I do? My blog has a tiny readership! Why speak up?

And then last Friday it all got too much. The feelings I’d had about this government’s educational policy finally came pouring out. Who cared if I wrote the wrong thing? And who cared if hardly anyone read it? I had to write about it, HAD to, and the words just fell, rolled, cascaded onto the page. And without really meaning to come up with anything at all, I came up with a plan to use parent power to support our teachers and get the government to listen. I had no idea if it would work. I HAVE no idea if it could work. But…

Wow. Just wow. The response has been immense. In less than a week that post has been viewed over five thousand times. FIVE THOUSAND! That’s more views than my entire blog normally gets in three months (I told you my blog was tiny, right?)!

But it’s so much more than just the figures (although, as any blogger will tell you, the figures can be kind of exciting in their own right: Ooh look at that graph! Get that referral count!) the comments on the post, on Twitter and on Facebook have been amazing. Teachers and parents have suggested we should really try and put my plan into action. I’ve spent hours chatting on social media about the necessity for action and what it means for our kids and schools and society if we don’t. I’ve felt overwhelmed, moved to tears at times, by the strength of emotion people have shared.

So this post is a thank you to everyone who’s commented, shared and tweeted. And it’s a thank you to all the teachers who work so hard to care for all our kids. ALL our kids. Not just the clever ones, not just the wealthy ones. Because good teachers know how important all our children are. They know what their potential is and how best to achieve that. And that’s why it’s so vital that we listen to them – that we support them when they say that there’s something fundamentally wrong with government policy.

Just before hitting publish on this post I found out that a group of parents has just launched a campaign to boycott year 2 SATs in favour of ‘a day of fun learning out of school’. BOOM. Check out their website and petition!

I still don’t consider myself a revolutionary. But if we work together, all of us – parents and teachers and everyone who sees the urgent need for change – if we’re ALL united?

Maybe that’s precisely what we can be.

mumturnedmom

The Prompt this week is ‘Renewal’. I’m linking this post because the response to my education post has reminded me of how many people out there want change and has given me a renewed sense of hope.

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No, Mr Cameron, No.

No, Mr Cameron, no.
There’s been a post bubbling up inside me about education for a while now, only I’ve not been sure how to articulate what I feel. There’s so much to say.

I keep hearing how changing government standards and expectations are pushing more and more (wonderful) teachers out of the profession. I keep reading about the expectations, targets and tests that are making it harder and harder for teachers to teach in a way that instils a passion for learning into our kids. I’ve read and thought about the impact that these demands could have on the mental health of the next generation; how making school a stressful – or less enjoyable – place to be could damage children’s relationship with education forever. As a parent it worries me. As a member of society it worries me.

We had our school parents’ meetings a few weeks ago and our six-year-old son’s teachers gave us mock SATs papers to look at. I could hardly believe it: five thick test papers covering English and Maths. With a huge emphasis on grammar. With TEST emblazoned on the front and at the back ensuring that any teacher – in the knowledge that telling kids they’re doing ‘tests’ can cause stress – will fail in a mission to pass them off as just ‘some fun’. With one of the maths papers requiring an ability to read and reason before you even get to the actual mathematics. FIVE THICK TEST PAPERS. They’re only six and seven years old!

Then I went into school last week and noticed the handwriting of the kids in my son’s class. I looked and I remembered the papers they were going to be given and my heart sank. How are they all going to manage? These kids aren’t unintelligent or incapable, their handwriting is unrefined because they’re six and seven. They can’t all read perfectly and reason wonderfully yet because they’re six and seven. And the fact that the teachers are unlikely to be able to train them to pass the tests with flying colours isn’t because the teachers are bad – they’re great! But the kids are flippin’ six and seven years old.

The government can’t do this, I thought – they can’t assess all these children’s intelligence and aptitude and potential and possibilities based on these tests. These tests don’t look at how a child’s eyes light up when someone reads them a story or how they can draw a wonderful picture with only a handful of pencils or how they can invent an entire imaginary world with the contents of a recycling bin.

These tests don’t show that that child is awesome at football, that this one can captivate a room with her wicked sense of humour, or that this little boy is really empathetic and kind. Oh, or that this little girl here could one day be a novelist if we don’t teach her, right now aged six, that she can’t write much at all. She can’t write much YET because she’s SIX.

And yet they ARE trying to assess our kids, and these tests necessitate a style of teaching that’s counter to so much research about the best ways that kids learn. A way of teaching that means the rules of grammar take precedence over encouragement to write for the enjoyment of it, or means maths questions must be tackled in a way that no one would ever use in the real world. We have so many talented teachers in this country that are trying so hard to wrestle with the curriculum to make learning as engaging as possible, but the government is making it harder and harder. No wonder they’re resigning in droves. No wonder schools are struggling to recruit staff.

The government can’t do this, I thought.

They can’t do this to our kids.

And then I thought… what if… what if we just don’t let them?

What if on SATs day we parents all agree not to send our kids into school?

Not because we don’t believe in school. Not because we don’t believe in education. But because we DO. We believe, no, dammit, we KNOW it is incredibly important. That it is fundamental to society and that we, as a society, have to get it RIGHT (or heck, right now I’d settle for just ‘not so completely wrong that it makes my eyes bleed’).

What if instead of school that day we have a National ‘Learning Is Fun’ day, where we all teach our kids by giving them exciting, meaningful and memorable experiences?

Where we teach them love of words and stories and literature by reading them great books?

Where we ignite their imaginations with drama and stories and art?

Where we teach them history by visiting interactive museums and talking to people who had real-life experiences?

Where we instil a love of maths or science through practical experiences and experiments?

Where we teach them about the things we love, be they gardening or building or hiking or snorkelling or painting or writing or morris dancing… whatever… in the best way we can?

We do it together, with friends, family or wider communities or we do it on our own, just us and our kids, but everyone does their bit, even if it’s only a tiny bit, to show their children the fun parts of learning and the ways in which it can affect our lives.

And then we share, share, share what we’ve learnt. We share it on social media, on TV, on the radio, in the local paper. We share by drawing pictures and putting up posters… doing pieces of performance art in the street (I don’t know, whatever, just think of something!). We share as much as we can, as widely as we can.

And together we show the government what teachers have been trying to tell them all along if they’d only listen: what really makes children tick, what really ignites their passions, what sets their imaginations free and lets their potential soar.

On that day, we’d do our best to support our country’s wonderful teaching profession. It would be a day when we as parents would say: we will not put our children through this. Our kids deserve better. Teachers and schools deserve better. Society deserves better.

No, Mr Cameron, no.

What if..?

***

UPDATE: I was so overwhelmed by the response to this post that, along with a fellow blogger, I’ve launched a #THISislearning campaign. Please click here to find out more!

*** Since I wrote this post a new petition has been launched at 38 degrees, calling for a SATs boycott on 3rd May. Click here to find out more***

mumturnedmom

This post was inspired by The Prompt which, this week, is ‘Mighty’. I often feel helpless in the face of this government and I got to thinking that although I feel tiny, together we have the potential to be mighty.

You might like to sign these petitions calling for the extension of the Early Years Foundation Stage from “birth to 5″ to “birth to 7″:

This one is on UK Government and Parliament Petitions. If it gets 100,000 signatures it will be considered for debate in parliament.

This one is on Change.org.

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Stopping at two

the ups and downs of the week that was

It’s been a busy week this week – I’ve barely blogged at all. It’s been one of those periods where I’ve done lots and gained plenty of inspiration for posts, but for one reason or another the posts don’t get written. But as it’s a Sunday night and I still have (just) enough energy to wave my fingers in the direction of computer keys in a way that may result in words, I thought I’d do a quick roundup of the most memorable parts of the week:

My boys - a moment of brotherly love on a walk.

My boys – a moment of brotherly love on a walk.

  • Along with lots of other parents and carers, I went in to school to do some cooking with my six-year-old and his class. We made a variety of different things, the kids loved having us there and it’s such a positive thing to get parents/carers engaged with school and learning I think. I do wonder how often the school will be able to hold sessions like this in the future though, given the government’s focus on children being able to give the proper description to grammatical utterances and deduce complicated mathematics from lengthy stories. There’s a ranty blog post about ridiculous educational standards and the potential impact on children’s self-esteem building up in me…
  • I was witness to a horrible bullying incident and ended up – along with another parent – comforting a young boy and talking to all his friends about how the bully had been treating him. So I saw both a horrible display of lack of empathy (from the bully) and a touching display of empathetic concern from a group of boys. It’s stayed with me (the poor kid was so upset) and I’ll be taking further action to try and ensure it doesn’t happen again.
  • I went to my Grandma’s eighty-seventh birthday party. She’s increasingly frail these days so we were all thrilled that she was able to come to what was quite a large family meal in a lovely hotel. There was much talking and laughing over delicious food and wine but the moment that affected me most during the whole evening was a little look I caught between my Grandma and my ninety-two-year-old Grandpa. It was just after my Grandma had said a little ‘thank you’ speech about how happy she was to see us all there, and the look… it was a look of such love. Of long lasting ‘I’ve loved you through the decades and look what we’ve created together’ love. I was quite bowled over. They’ve been married for sixty-six years. Being with the same person for years and years isn’t always easy – I think we all go through our highs and lows – but that look said it all. That’s love, that.
  • I got to spend some time with my brothers. I love my brothers. There is definitely a post I need to write about how having brothers helps me be a mum to boys.

Lots more happened but I’ll leave it at that as I want to watch some telly (from one screen to another, yes I know, it’ll rot my brain!)

Hope you’ve had good weeks!