As featured in Parentdish

Wednesday, 29 September 2010

Penny the Postie book review

Book review of Penny the Postie

We have a house full of books, and shelves full of books for all ages. But we are always happy to add to them, which is why when Guernsey Post asked me to review Penny the Postie by Keith Robinson I was more than happy.

I was sent this book to read with Hayden who will shortly be six. Hayden is now at the age where he is looking for a bit more from a book – more excitement and more emphasis on a storyline.

So, this is a book about Penny (a postie obviously) who one day notices a strange looking postbox. Checking it out, she falls inside where she lands on a desert island and has all sorts of adventures (think Mr Ben). Pirates, crocodiles, haunted caves, and a treasure map all feature.

Hayden loved this book. It has all the ingredients to capture the imagination of a child his age, the illustrations kept him amused, and he quickly became engrossed in the story.

Educationally, there were several things I liked about it. Ages ago I read about the importance of having pictures in books written for children who were old enough to read. Too often once the children can read, the pictures go, and his can be offputting for children. Why not have both?

The level of language was appropriate for Hayden’s age. He knew some of the words, but not all of them – not a bad thing for a five year old. 

I liked the fact Penny was a girl. The adventures she has challenge stereotypes in a very non-confrontational way.

Free with the book is a set of stamps worth £2.95 set out to look like a treasure map. I can confirm that this had the desired effect. Before sitting down to write this review I discovered that they were missing. So with Hayden I had to search the house for the treasure map as he tried to remember where he had put it.

If you would like to win a copy of Penny the Postie leave a comment below. All names will be put into a hat and Hayden will personally pick the winner out on Sunday 10th October.
Penny the Postie

Monday, 27 September 2010


My daughter was initially not so keen on her new teacher. “She shouts a lot” she would tell me. “We could hear her shouting last year from our classroom” I was told. Now Avril is not a child teachers tend to shout at much. She tends to be well behaved, but not as much as her brother who has come home with so many behaviour awards lately that as well as asking him for his lunchbox when he comes in, we ask him where today’s awards are. But like me she daydreams a lot and I imagine the odd shout to bring her back is required.

When we first got word of this new teacher I would tell people (jokingly) that it is because we never shout at our four. Whether they think it’s because they are so well behaved, or because we are bad parents so laid back, I don’t know. But it set me thinking on how much we shout at our children.

I often make a concerted effort not to shout. I walk to the bottom of the stairs and call up instead of shouting from the living room. I speak to them calmly instead of shouting at them to do something.

From my own childhood experiences I believe shouting should be used sparingly. If you always shout, it no longer becomes shouting, it simply becomes your normal tone.

But then there are times when I have seen parents act calm when I want to shout at their children. If little Tommy is still kicking the waitress after being asked not to, then will somebody PLEASE take the child and shout at him to stop. PLEASE!! Asking nicely sure isn’t working.

Do you shout more than you would like to? Or do you successfully parent without shouting?

Wednesday, 15 September 2010

Educate the Parents: Different strokes

Educate the Parents: Different strokes: "

Different strokes

Recently I visited a primary school in what some would classify as a bad area. The headteacher spoke of a boy he once had, who he thought was clever. Giving him that year’s Standard Grade paper to sit in primary seven (unofficially) he was not too surprised that he passed.

So far, so good. Role on a few years and here’s the sad part. The boy left school with no qualifications. Not one Standard Grade. We discussed this and voiced the same opinions – disappointing – yes, surprising – no.

I have many other stories of the same ilk which I could recount. Many of the bright sparks from my primary days quickly burnt out. Many of the slow burners are now shining brightly.

With the introduction of the new Curriculum for Excellence many teachers think that the increase in cross-curricular work in secondary schools will help them retain the pupils they ‘lose’. They hope these kids will continue to do well. But I think this ignores the fact that learning is not linear and some kids will simply do well at different stages of their education. It also overlooks the fact that some children do well early on because they are being pushed by their parents. At some point these children will get fed up of being pushed. And often the parents also get fed up of the pushing. In countries where they don’t start learning to read or write until seven, the children simply take less time learning to read, and they very quickly outperform countries were they send them to school early.

Will making secondary teaching more like primary teaching, with less rigid subject, be the answer? I just don’t think so.

Sunday, 12 September 2010

Bedtime Stories

Bedtime stories in our house take a while. I have four children, three of whom are old enough to voice a request for their own story. Having read research some time ago that you should read to children even after they can read, the fact that my eight year old is a competent reader does not get me off the hook there.

But one thing I have never done is replace this with a taped story. It has always struck me as a bit of a cop out – the microwave meal version of bedtime stories. I like to sit down and look at the pictures and read together with said child. Isn’t that what bedtime stories are all about?

Recently my job as a journalist took me to a primary school which has had great success with Storyphones, a digital audio system which allows children to walk around listening to recorded stories. What I found interesting was the impact it has on children’s literacy, helping them with structure, characters, and the retelling of stories, generally improving their reading. It changed my thinking a bit and I was impressed by the benefits it had.

So will I now be going down the express route with regards bedtime stories? Certainly not. I don’t think my children would allow it. But I am now checking out CD players for number one son’s birthday in October. I don’t think taped stories should replace adults reading to children, but I do think it is a good additional extra.