Tag Archives: kids

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 things they say #6

My youngest son is nearly three now and is by and large a lovely, laid-back little boy. He definitely has his moments (in fact he went to nursery in his pyjamas this morning because after I’d dressed him he undressed himself then persuaded his brothers to help him back into his pyjamas which he then refused POINT BLANK to take off…  but they were new and very stylish so, meh) but mostly he’s easy going. In fact, a lot of the time he’s so deliciously cute – with his squishable huggableness and wonderful toddler language – that I can’t bear the idea of him getting older. I just want to keep my little cuddly mummy’s boy forever.

minions talkingObviously that’s not an option, (and I wouldn’t want it to be, not really… not really, really) but I figure at least I’ve written about a fair few of his lovely (and not so lovely) moments in this blog. I can imagine reading back in years to come and having a fond chuckle.

On that note, here’s what he’s been up to recently:

1. He spent a lot of December singing Christmas songs and carols. His absolute favourite is Jingle Bells but he also likes Away in a Manger.  Here he eschewed the traditional lyrics about ‘Lord Jesus’ and sang enchantingly about ‘Little Old Cheeses.’

2. The other day he was lying on the bed (as I was trying to make it – he’s ‘helpful’ like that) and kept saying “Wrap me up like a goonie!” I had no idea at all what a ‘goonie’ was (although as a child of the eighties I was reminded of the classic film of that name!) but he seemed happy as long as I wrapped the blanket around and around him when he said this. It wasn’t until later when I repeated the story to his brothers that I found out what he meant. ‘Oh, a goonie! ” they exclaimed, “That’s what he calls a genie!” Apparently he’d seen the picture on the front of an Aladdin DVD. Goonies do look exactly like they’re wrapped in a blanket, he’s right.

3. He loves shopping. Seriously I have never known a child love it so much. Every morning after we drop his brothers off at school he asks “Can we go to the shoppings now?” and is most displeased if I say no. His favourite place of all is The Metro Centre – a huge shopping centre near (ish) us. His name for it though is “Dementor centre.” This always makes me think of the dementors from Harry Potter – those creatures who drain “peace, hope, and happiness out of the air around them”. If you’ve ever visited the Metro Centre on a Saturday in December you’d know how apt this name is!

4. All my boys have had a different word for breakfast. My eldest called it ‘Brekkits’, my second-born, “brefkits”. My youngest, though, has the best word of all: “Gretgrits”. We all use this word now and I suspect we’ll be doing so for years to come.

5. Star Wars fever hit our house a few weeks ago (no surprises there) and although the toddler is too little to see the film he still got caught up in the excitement. He’s been running all over the place declaring he’s main baddie Kylo Ren. Only he gets it a bit wrong and shouts “I’m Carolyn!” I’ve nothing against the name but, well…

kylo ren

Does this look like a ‘Carolyn’ to you?

6. He’s had a sense of humour for a while now but more recently has been cracking ‘jokes’. These are possibly the worst jokes I’ve heard, in fact the only reason we know they’re jokes is because he repeats them and laughs manically. The other day he called me ‘Mummy Pig’, I realised this was a joke when he followed it up with “Haha! I said you Mummy Pig! Hahahhhaha.” The same thing happened when his friend was going home after a playdate: “Bye Bye, Daddy!” he shouted, then, “Haha, I said ‘Bye Bye Daddy’ to Luke hahahahhahaha!”. A career as a stand up comedian beckons for sure…

7. I love seeing empathy develop in my boys. Last night my eldest collapsed to the floor complaining of cramp in his foot. The toddler immediately shouted for me: “Mummy! Get Charlie and Lola! (a cold pack we keep in the fridge with their picture on it)” then he patted his big brother on the back and said “Don’t worry, I will keep you better.” My heart melted… until five minutes later when the same thing happened and instead of responding with gentle affection he ran past his brother cackling “Haha! You got crampings! Hahahaha!” Remember that sense of humour I was telling you about…

***

Linking up with From the Mouths of Babes at Little Hearts Big Love.

Little Hearts, Big Love

halloween limerick

I’ve always enjoyed pumpkin carving – I used to do it as a child and loved that moment when the candles were lit, the lights went out and your artwork came to life!

My sons now love making them too. The first year we tried them we cut the classic grinning faces but then a couple of years ago I bought a pumpkin carving kit from the supermarket (it came with special little tools and a booklet of designs) and we’ve never looked back.

halloween pumpkins

I have to admit I love these ones and they look much more complicated than they actually were to make- the kits are so easy to use! My 8-year-old carved the witch one mostly by himself with only a little help, my 6-year-old made the grinning bat one (although he mostly did some rather over-zealous scraping out of innards rather than the actual cut out) and my toddler carved the spider himself. I didn’t help at all *ahem*. We had great fun doing it and we even made a rather tasty pumpkin soup afterwards, so I felt super-halloween-smug.

Limerick addict that I am, I then felt compelled to write a little something:

Pumpkins look great on a ledge
But ensure they’re away from the edge
Lest a nudge from a breeze
A cough or a sneeze
Turns your art into – SPLAT – roasted veg.

Happy Halloween!

Prose for Thought

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magical zebras – things they say #5

When I was pregnant with my third child I looked forward to lots of things: baby snuggles – of course, gazing into my newborn’s eyes – naturally… having to change my bed sheets at 3am because the baby had vomited milk everywhere and obviously he was in my bed because it’s not like he’d sleep anywhere else – er, not so much.

But what I really couldn’t wait for was hearing him learn to talk. I’d been through this stage twice before with his older brothers and knew what fun it could bring.

dancing minions

And I’m pleased to say it’s lived up to expectations – my toddler is 2 1/2 now and makes me smile and laugh on a daily, if not hourly, basis with the things he comes out with.

A particular favourite of mine is his use of the word “awollawong” when requesting ‘another one’ of anything. Because he tends to want more of, well, most things this is something he says a lot! “Can have awollawong drink?”, “Peese have awollagwong Lego?” or just, “Mummy, I want awollawong!”. It’s one of those words I find myself using too – it rolls off the tongue nicely, try it!

Another of his toddlerisms regularly occurs when he tries to join in his older brothers’ games. Aged 8 and 6, they both love Harry Potter and often enact magical duels where they stand pointing wands (or pencils) at each other shouting various spells in ringing tones: “Stupify!” “Imperious!” “Avada Kedavra!”

Given his awe of his big bro’s, the toddler obviously joins in these duels too, to the best of his ability. He’s all wild enthusiasm and very little accuracy so he tends to charge into the fray bellowing spells at the top of his lungs. Maybe it’s because “Avada Kedavra” sounds so much like ‘abracadabra’ that it appeals to him, but that’s definitely his spell of choice. Only he gets it a bit wrong… off he rushes towards his brothers, pencil in hand, little voice exclaiming:

“I got it – a zebra!”

Who could resist a spell like that?

The good thing is, such linguistic silliness doesn’t end with the toddler years, as a recent conversation with my six-year-old showed me. We were discussing his school’s ‘no jewellery’ policy and his remark on the subject was:

“It doesn’t matter – I don’t really like jewellery anyway, I just like spare diamonds lying around.”

Well, I mean… don’t we all?!

Meanwhile, my eight-year-old obviously has talking down to a complex art (honestly, sometimes he just won’t STOP talking!) but even he is not immune to the odd mishearing:

8yo: “Today was brilliant!”

Me: “That’s great to hear!”

8yo: “Yes, I was so excited to see my friends that I got a dolphin mouth!”

Me: “Um… you got a… what?”

8yo: “You know… like you had after giving birth?”

Me: “Ummm…” *realisation dawns* “Oh! you mean an endorphin rush!”

Possibly my favourite mishearing ever – the idea of him running round with an enormous, bouncy dolphin nose really made me laugh… not to mention the image it created in my mind of me gazing fondly at a newborn baby, with a dolphin snout in the middle of my face. I mean, would I be nuzzling  the baby with my nose? Would I be making dolphin clicking noises as I did so? The mind boggles.

What have your kids said that’s made you laugh recently? I’d love to hear!

 

Little Hearts, Big Love

Lego wedding

I’m a big fan of Lego – I love the way it encourages creativity, concentration and imaginative play. My sons and I have whiled away many an hour happily sitting on the floor building, and I’m getting much better at sharing my blocks these days too.

I’ve got three boys and the older two have been getting Lego for birthday and christmas presents for years now so we’ve amassed quite a collection. We haven’t remotely kept all the various kits separate though and now have a messy box-load of the stuff which includes Ninjago (lots of ninjas, flying machines and fighty bits), Chima (weird claws, beaks and flames from what I can gather), City (houses, shops, beach-side diners) Hobbit (creatures and scenery), superhero (vehicles and set pieces) and even a sprinkling of Lego Friends (mostly pink). With all those to chose from, the boys come up with loads of different creations and i never know what they’re going to come up with next. The following is an example:

lego wedding

8yo son: “Look – we’ve made a lego wedding! Bride, husband, guests, person doing the wedding, singer…”
Me: “Great!… And who’s that over there?” (on the left)
8yo: “Oh, that’s just someone having his head chopped off for trying to kill the bride.”
 

Just your average wedding then…

There is, apparently, a proper Lego wedding set available but I bet it’s not a patch on this creation. I wonder what the dress code was?

Little Hearts, Big Love

the truth about writing for kids

Over the last year the vast majority of what I’ve written has been for children. I’ve been working on three picture book manuscripts which I recently had appraised and have now re-written and tweaked to be ready to submit to agents/publishers this autumn. I’ve also been writing limericks for an illustrated poetry book for kids that I’m in the process of compiling.

B is for books

B is for… Books

And it’s been fun – I love writing for kids. But it does have its downsides. Quite apart from the fact that picture books and poems require endless hours of re-working, there’s a lot I write that I just can’t use because, well, it’s simply not appropriate. Maybe it’s just me with my wicked brain but sometimes the words take me down an entirely unsuitable path.

A case in point – one of my picture books is about a magic biscuit baker. I was writing a scene where the main character watches her fellow villagers going to his bakery and the affect it has on them:

 

But as the weeks went past she saw the others popping in

they went in with a frown but always came out with a grin

and everybody said how yummy all his biscuits tasted

‘Is he baking them with weed?’ She thought, ‘they really all look wasted!’

 

Needless to say, this didn’t make the cut!

Sometimes it’s not that the subject matter is risqué, it’s just not very child friendly:

 

There once was a fun-loving antelope

Who went to a dance on a party-boat

But while bustin’ some moves

She slipped on her hooves

Right into the path of a motorboat

 

Poor old antelope eh?  Such a grim ending doesn’t feel very kid-friendly (and to be honest the rhymes were awful anyway). Still, grizzly endings are probably better than inappropriate imagery:

 

There once was a lazy giraffe

Who’d spend hour upon hour in the bath

Till her skin would all shrivel

Top bottom and middle

“I look like a scrotum!” She’d laugh.

 

(no offence meant to scrotums of the world, I was just looking for a more interesting alternative to ‘raisin’)

So you see, in writing for kids I do lose an awful lot in editing. Maybe my next limericks (and picture books?!) will have to be for grownups?

And then the fun began...

Prose for Thought

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celebrity look-alikes?

Waaaaay back in 2010/11 I had another blog. It was part of a babywares business I ran with my husband and when the business closed the blog went with it. We kept the blog posts on a computer somewhere though because we had mostly written about our kids and wanted to keep those memories.

boys at kirkley

My oldest two back in 2011. I think they’re looking at insects (not much has changed, then… )

This summer I decided I would dig that old blog out and share a few old posts. When I found this post it actually made me laugh out loud  – I’d totally forgotten all about these incidents! It’s from back in March 2011 when I my (then) youngest son was eighteen months old:

Like most babies, my toddler recognised the faces of those closest to him when he was very young. As is the norm, his eyes lit up when he saw Mummy and Daddy. Pretty early on he started saying ‘Dada’ to my husband, which soon became ‘Daddy’, and after that he learnt to say ‘Mummy’ when he saw me. So he knows who we are. He knows what we look like. Of that I am sure.

And yet…

Last Saturday I was flicking through a magazine while the boys entertained themselves happily around my ankles as they (sometimes) do. I paused for a moment on the celebrity pages, casting my eyes over the latest gossip. My 18mo wandered over to me and looked at the photos there. Suddenly his little face lit up, and with great joy and certainty he pointed and said “Daddy!”

Who had he seen, you might wonder? Bradley Cooper perhaps? Johnny Depp? Dermot O’Leary? Oh no. No one like that.

Jennifer Aniston.

I chuckled to myself as I said “That’s not Daddy it’s Jennifer Aniston” : a phrase I can’t say I ever expected to utter. Ha ha, the idea of my stubbly, bespectacled husband being a dead-ringer for Jen with her glossy mane of hair and perfect Hollywood skin. Oh and her gender, of course.

But that wasn’t the end of my son’s curious misconceptions. A few days later he was messing about with his dad when he suddenly spotted his Cliff Richard calendar*. I believe this month Cliff is depicted wearing a rather garish shirt and stroking a collection of fake parrots. But one look at this image and he pointed, and delightedly declared “Mummy!”

Great. I look like Cliff Richard. Caressing birds. I may need to rethink my beauty regime.

So, what do you think? Do we get his eyes checked? Or his brain?

*For the sake of my husband’s reputation I should probably point out that he only possesses such a calendar as a result of a long running joke with a friend, who has been sending him one every year for the past 15 years!

And now… that toddler is a couple of weeks away from his sixth birthday. When I got dressed up to go to a wedding the other day he told me I looked ‘beautiful’ (a heartmelt moment) so I assume he’s moved on from thinking I look like Sir Cliff. His younger brother recently had some strange ideas about my physical appearance though so perhaps I am odder-looking than I ever thought possible?

Oh, and my husband has now been receiving Cliff Richard Calendars for twenty years as part of that running gag. And in all that time Cliff appears not to have aged a day. Perhaps he’s not such a bad person to resemble after all.

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Little Hearts, Big Love

the things they say #3

I enjoy linking up with ‘From the Mouths of Babes’ over at Little Hearts Big Love as it gives me the opportunity to capture and share some of the things my boys say as their language develops. I know one day when toddlerisms are a dim and distant memory I’ll look back and be glad I did.

kids book

At nearly eight, my eldest no longer comes up with the gems he used to and uses language pretty much like a grownup. We did have a chat this morning though about ‘old fashioned’ language. He’s reading Emil and the Detectives which was published in 1931 and as he sat there absorbed in it, every minute or so he would ask me for definitions of various words like a ‘shilling’, a ‘Sunday Suit’ or – my favourite question – “What’s a prig? Is it kind of like a wazzock?” Well, ummm, is it? I didn’t even know he knew the word ‘wazzock’ – I bet we have Harry Potter to thank for that…

Then there’s my five-year-old. The most obvious thing about his speech at the moment is that, although he can talk completely normally, he often uses a funny little voice where he hardly opens his mouth. It’s really hard to understand (and can be really frustrating to listen to sometimes). I thought it was just his own particular quirk until I heard him talking to a group of his friends in the school yard the other day and they were all talking in the same way! What must it be like being their teacher?!

My youngest is two-and-a-bit and his language is at the totally adorable stage where you just want to bottle it up and keep it forever. He likes to copy everything at the moment and when I read to him he’s always pointing at tiny details in the pictures, saying “What that?” and then imitating my response (with various degrees of accuracy). Last night we were reading a book set in the jungle and he was transfixed by the animals: “Cleelimonim” (chamelon), “Calot” (Parrot), and, when I didn’t recognise the animal in question, “asortimonkeysin” (A sort of monkey thing). For some reason though, snakes are always ‘Daddy!’ Honestly, my husband looks nothing like a snake… not long and skinny… not stripy… doesn’t wriggle along the floor (usually) so this has totally baffled both of us!

One of my favourite things about my toddler’s speech right now is the way he makes requests (which is most of the time, come to think of it). He knows a lot of nouns but always says, “I want it” first. So for example,”I want it, a cake,” “I want it, a car,” and, one night when I was (unusually) away at bedtime, “I want it, my Mummy.” Awww. And, yes, “I want it” isn’t very polite so we do say, “Can you ask that nicely?” at which he almost invariably responds, “Yes, I want, it a cake nicey.” He’s getting there.

Little Hearts, Big Love

ageing

I’ve heard people say that having (or being around) children keeps you young, and I suppose in some ways it’s true. After all, we parents do find ourselves playing with toys, drawing silly pictures and making ‘magic potions’. We act like kids at times, doing ridiculous things to make them giggle. Being able to embrace your inner child can certainly help in parenting, I’ve found.

But in terms of physical appearance at least, I think being a parent ages a person. Or it has done with me anyway! When I look back at photos of myself holding my infant firstborn I’d swear I look twenty years younger in the photos, not merely seven. Yes, nearly eight years of nappy changing, toddler tantrums and sleep deprivation have taken the youthful bloom off my skin and put dark shadows under my eyes. As for my body, all those hours I’ve spent on my hands and knees wiping food off the floor, or staggering under the weight of increasingly heavy children as I load them into cars (and hold them under one arm as I charge for the school gates) has done a number on my knees and my back.

What I hadn’t realised until recently though was the ageing effect that parenthood has had on my hands. This became clear to me the other day when I was playing cars with my toddler and he suddenly reached over, pointed at my knuckles and delightedly exclaimed, “Look Mummy! Dinsisaur!”

Old? I’m positively Jurassic!

dinosaur hand

My very own Handasauraus

What do you think? If you’re a parent, has it kept you young or aged you? Anyone else got any Jurassic features? ;)

Little Hearts, Big Love

two!

My littlest guy turned two this weekend. TWO – how on earth did that happen?! Is it me or does it feel like the more kids you have, the faster they age? I’m pretty sure he was only born last week but somehow two years have gone by!

2nd cakeMuch of the last week has been taken up with preparations for the big day. My older two boys made him lots of cards and presents, drew him pictures and generally got really excited about the idea of a party.

My seven-year old has helped me lots with the preparation, coming to choose food and party bag presents with me and spending hours making buns and the cake. He announced on one shopping trip: “It’s lots of work getting ready for a birthday isn’t it? Did you know that? I never knew that before but now I do!” and then on the morning of the birthday, “Today is going to be a lot of work isn’t it Mummy? I really think you’re going to need my support!” Love him.

The day went without a hitch… oh, ok I was up to my elbows in icing, still frantically sticking Peppa Pig toppers to the buns as the guests were arriving and my son was hoovering (did I ever tell you he rocks?) so we weren’t completely on top of the organisation but hey, the birthday boy had a great time. I’m not sure he really knew what it was all about but he was thrilled by the cake, shouting “Canoo, hot!” at the candles and he loved opening all the presents.

It was lovely to see our friends too – we met while pregnant with our firstborns so have been through nearly eight years of parenting side by side and all our kids have pretty much grown up together. The twelve of them made a lot of noise rushing around the house but they were all very happy and the grownups even managed a bit of a chat over the ruckus!

Once songs had been sung, food had been devoured and little feet had danced their socks off, the guests left and our three boys collapsed, exhausted on the sofa for a big cuddle. They almost went to sleep that way – like a heap of contented puppies – before we’d even got them upstairs.

When they were finally all in bed and we had poured ourselves celebratory glasses of wine we heard our (newly) two year old’s little voice over the monitor singing himself to sleep. Guess what he was singing?

“Hatta doofay to you, hatta doofay to you… ”

A sure sign he’d had a ‘happy birthday’ I reckon.

Little Hearts, Big Love