As featured in Parentdish

Tuesday, 30 November 2010

Alcohol education

Last week I attended an alcohol and mental health conference in Glasgow. It was a
fascinating day and although I already knew the statistics for Scotland with regards alcohol, mental health and suicide, even I was shocked at the extent of the problem and the contrast to other European countries and even England.

But I would also say that this conference had a lasting effect on me and my opinions on alcohol education in schools. The speaker pointed out that for a small group of children, particularly when the education sessions are delivered in primary schools, these sessions are not educational, they are terrifying.

Think of the ten year old who, on hearing about the health risks of alcohol thinks “That’s my mum”. As one social worker said to me afterwards, “These children have to go through the rest of the school say, feeling sick and worried because it has just been pointed out to them that their parents who are heavy drinkers are likely to develop cirrhosis of the liver”.

These education sessions are well meaning, but perhaps we need to remember that in any one class there is likely going to be at least one child who is already living with the effects. Terrifying these children is not the answer.

Sunday, 28 November 2010

Do you wish you lived in England?

Sitting on Avril’s bed last night she asked me “Do you ever wish you lived in England?” A bit taken aback I asked why. “Because the queen lives there” she replied.

Well, okay, for an eight year old I suppose that is a good enough reason.

Neither a republican, nor a royalist, I have no strong opinions on the Queen either way. But I do think it is nice to enter a little girl’s world where kings, queens, princes and princess represent a fairytale world. While the papers may be full of reports on Kate and William’s forthcoming marriage and there are many people voicing their opinion on the cost, whether it will last, and whether the extra bank holiday is a good thing or not, to Avril this is simply a case of pretty girl meets her prince.

Anyway back to the Queen. Avril jumped for joy (literally) when  I told her that the Queen speaks on television on Christmas Day. So this year for the first time in a number of years we will be sitting down to listen to the Queen’s speech on Christmas Day, with at least one child listening quietly.

Sunday, 21 November 2010

Poor punctuation

I’m writing a book on grammar and punctuation at the moment. It will be a homework guide for parents which parents will be able to use to help their primary aged children with their homework. It will be published in the spring by The Schoolrun website and will be available as an ebook.

As a writer, poor punctuation in particular really annoys me. The rules are pretty simple and it’s not hard to remember what an apostrophe is for and when to capitalise a word.

Spelling in English is different. The English language is a complicated one to learn as there are so many spellings which break the rules. There are countries in Europe which have virtually no recorded incidents of dyslexia. Granted this could be due to lack of diagnosis but it is also likely to be due to a simpler spelling system. Think of the words fought and got. Both rhyme but the spellings are totally different.

But while the vast majority of the general public are not bothered by the grocer’s apostrophe, I am sure there would be an outcry if local councils put up signs which were full of spelling errors.

We do appear to have become somewhat lackadaisical about grammar and punctuation in this country and it is getting to the point that some people now question whether it actually matters.

People will often say that grammar and punctuation are getting worse and that young people nowadays barely know what a noun is. As a writing tutor I can honestly say I haven’t found this. I have had some older students whose punctuation was awful.

In the book I will also be looking at how knowledge of the subject has changed, particularly since the introduction of the National Curriculum and the equivalent in Scotland. That will be interesting to say the least.

Monday, 15 November 2010

The junkies we won't have in this house

For various reasons Alan and I have been really proud of the four children this week. In different ways they have really excelled at school and nursery. We of course praised them, told them we were proud of them and basically left it at that. We did not buy them new bikes/hand them twenty pounds/run out to buy them each an Ipad. The reason is my dislike of star chart junkies.

Now I don’t know if many teachers call this syndrome by this name, but I do know many dislike it, whatever they want to call it.

A while back I read an article written by a secondary teacher. He despaired of parents who give their children so many rewards that the rewards soon become meaningless. He wrote of one parent who couldn’t understand why her little darling wasn’t doing well at school. “But I just bought him a new DS six months ago” she complained.

The DS had been bought as a reward for doing well in school, obviously the latest in a long line of expensive rewards given which were no longer having the desired effect.

Like star charts they have their place, but they do appear to be overused nowadays. We are always careful not to barter with the children. They may try their luck. “If I do my homework will I get a biscuit?” “No, you’ll do your homework because you have to do it”.

One of the loveliest comments I received about my daughter was when a teacher said that Avril wasn’t competitive like many of the children; she loved learning for the sake of it. That is what I want my children to do – to love learning.

For those of you who think I am talking rubbish, read this study which confirms what that secondary teacher had found, and which I totally agree with -

Tuesday, 9 November 2010

Playing the game

Avril and I have decided to start a new sport together. Or rather I decided, put the idea to her, and Avril being her adorable self thought it was a great idea. Let’s hope she still thinks it is a good idea a few weeks down the line.

We’ve opted for badminton, partly because it is an easy sport to get into, but also because I would like a sport we can do together, and which she can pick up at any time of her life. I am more than happy for her to do other sports, but like the idea of us leaning something new together.

But I also want her to have the right attitude to sports and to exercise – that it’s fun. Last year I went to a CPD session run by Positive Coaching Scotland. I was reporting on it as part of my job. They gave some interesting statistics. By the age of 13, between 70 and 80 per cent of children in Scotland drop out of sports. Of all these kids that are winning medals, many will give up sport all together.

The idea of the session was to educate teachers on Positive Coaching Scotland’s campaign to make sports more about enjoyment and less about winning. It’s not that winning shouldn’t be on the agenda, it’s that it shouldn’t be the only thing on the agenda.

A lot of what they said made sense, particularly when I think of people I know who were very in to sports when they were young, but who as adults do absolutely no exercise whatsoever. The desire to win can take over so much that people don’t see the point of playing for the fun of it.

I was pleased to see teachers being educated on this. A variant of this theory has been around for a long time, but appears to have been misunderstood in press reports are to be believed. There really isn’t anything wrong with a child being congratulated for winning the egg and spoon race. That is not what this is all about. What Positive Scotland Coaching are saying is – play football because you like playing the game, not because it is something to win at; take up a sport for the enjoyment it brings.

We may enjoy badminton. We may not and I may be posting about another sport in a few weeks time. But we will enjoy giving it a go.

Sunday, 7 November 2010

A Grand Day Out

On Saturday I had a day on my own with the children. Alan hadn’t been out with the camera for a bit so I said to him to head off and that we would amuse ourselves. Getting around on public transport with four children is getting easier, probably because the older two are now in school and old enough to help a bit. But I still won’t venture on the tube with them all. I made the mistake of taking the buggie on the tube once before. I won’t repeat that experience.

We even went out for lunch, and amazingly it all went like a dream. Usually Alan and I spend a few minutes retrieving food from underneath the high chair, but we left the café as clean as it was when we entered.

Our destination for the day was Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum. My children love art galleries, museums and castles. Take them to any place like that and they’re delighted.

With Alan and I both loving history it is probably no surprise. And I do love that my six year old gets his King James’ mixed up – “Was that James I or James IV Mummy?”

But yesterday was as much about science as it was about history. On our way out, a girl stopped us to tell us about the children’s events downstairs for National Pathology Week.

Hayden donned a lab coat, and did some stuff with a test tube; Avril looked through a microscope and learnt about DNA; and Darrell impressed me with his knowledge of chess, and built a lego castle.

History I love, science I don’t, although even I learnt something new on Saturday – we have 46 chromosomes in our body. But even though I don’t have any interest in science, I encourage my children to have an interest in it. I want their education to be wide and for them to find their own niche in life.

For some, our day at the museum would have been a no-go area. A few weeks ago we bumped into a lady we knew, when we were heading for the train through to the Impressionists Exhibition at the National Gallery in Edinburgh. “Oh my children would have hated that” she said to me.

Mine loved it, and we ended up going into the main exhibition.

By the time my children reach adulthood they will be able to read and write well, whether they can respond to a times table question within five seconds will not matter. But they will have something more important – a love of learning, and a well rounded education which is the parents’ responsibility to give, not the school’s.

Monday, 1 November 2010

My children aren't clever

From what I have seen, the thing to do these days is to tell your kids they are clever. More than clever, they are brilliant, and can do anything they want and become anything they want. Secondary teachers tell stories of parents, who, on hearing that their little darling hasn’t passed the exam they sat, blame the teacher. At no point does it enter their heads that it could be said darling’s fault.

Every so often the newspapers will publish details on some latest piece of research that has found that this is having a detrimental effect. Children are growing up expecting the world to fall at their feet and that everything is within their grasp. When they grow up, reality hits them. Hard.

While I am all for positive reinforcement, I am more a follower of Professor Carol Dweck’s philosophy. While Dweck, like several other social psychologists believes that IQ is not fixed, what makes her different is the focus on fixed and growth mindsets. People with a fixed mindset believe success comes from talent alone, so someone who does well in a maths exam, does so because they are good at maths, With a growth mindset, someone does well because they studied hard.

There is research to back this theory up. I won’t go into detail here but basically it involved one group being told they were clever when they did well, another group being told they worked really hard. The ones who were told they worked really hard consistently performed better.

We shouldn’t put our children down. And I do think children need confidence. But I think I agree with Dweck. My children aren’t clever, they work hard.