Getting Your Groove Back – From Non-Runner to Half Marathon

Last week I joined Kate on Thin Ice for her Getting Your Groove Back Blog Hop.  This is a way for mums to share stories about how they are reclaiming themselves after having children. My life is full of such stories, some successful, some not, but I’m working on finding a new me.

This week Kate has asked us to suggest a song that inspires you to make changes and to talk about ways of making your body feel better.

I took up running 5 months ago.  I had run a little bit after the birth of my 2nd child but never managed more than 2 miles.  However, after my third I was determined to get fit again and reclaim the body I had before the children.  My husband suggested a 4 mile route, I reluctantly agreed, expecting to walk the last mile.  I played gentle music and took it slowly and was amazed that I managed to run 4 miles and it didn’t seem that difficult.

My 4 mile route involves running downhill with views of the sea and then climbing back up to home.  I love being outside and seeing the beautiful scenery, with music and my thoughts for company.  I sometimes pass cyclists or other runners and they always smile.  I feel healthy, free and able to conquer the world when I run.  My usual music is Adele 21, not only is it good for keeping a steady pace but also the lyrics help me to feel that whatever life throws at me, I am important and strong. Sometimes I feel compelled to let rip and sing along at the top of my voice, but haven’t yet been brave enough.

The 4 miles soon progressed to 5 and 6 and I still wasn’t finding it particularly difficult.  Couple that with the ability to get out in the sunshine with quiet time to think and the feeling that I could conquer the world and I was soon hooked.  At this point I decided to enter the Bristol Half Marathon.

Training continued until I was able to run 9 miles.  I had no idea if I would be able to run the half marathon distance, but I wasn’t worried as I was happy to walk a few miles if necessary.  I started the half marathon at a slow pace, letting lots of people overtake me, secure in the knowledge that if I kept a steady pace I wouldn’t burn out before the end. After 4 miles I felt good and was still comfortable at 6 and 7 miles.  From 8 miles I kept looking out for my family, I knew they were coming but wasn’t sure where they would be. Before I reached 10 miles I had a message to say that they were near the finish, this spurred me on. The 10 mile point started to climb a hill.  My usual route is very hilly so I knew that I could tackle it and picked up pace.  Also by this point I knew that I would make it and that I would get to see my family cheering me on at the end.  I made it to the end it wasn’t easy but I would certainly do it again.  I have already booked in for my next one in the Spring.

Running has given me a new lease of life.  I have never seen myself as a sporty person but this is something I can do.  My figure isn’t quite what it was before children but it is certainly getting there.  After I have been running I feel really good about my body and in the summer I got a tan to boot.

So how does going running fit in with looking after young children?  Ideally I would like to start the day with a run every morning but I will have to wait until the children are older for that. I don’t run as often as I would like, but I can usually manage at least twice a week and try to use the cross trainer when I can’t get out.  After reading an article in my women’s running magazine about how mums find time to run, I am seriously considering trading in one of my buggies for a running buggy.  My middle daughter starts pre-school soon and I will have more time with just one child, so this could be the answer to not getting out enough.

I’ve tried lots of types of fitness and never really stuck to anything.  What I love about running is that it gets me outside and away from my life as a mum.  It won’t suit everyone but it’s right for me.  I’m just sorry it took me until I was 40 to discover it.

TEDx London 2011 The Education Revolution

I was fortunate to attend TEDx London this weekend. This event was born from issues raised in Sir Ken Robinson’s 2010 TED talk and was designed to raise the question ‘ How can we bring on the Education Revolution?’

What can all those involved ACTUALLY  DO to ensure that the old and irrelevant in education is thrown out and  that we can build a new model of constant reinvention to ensure that  education provides what industry requires and more importantly what   young people need to flourish in today’s world.

I returned from TEDx London, my head buzzing with ideas, questions and things to explore.  Many of the underlying concepts were not new but were reiterated by passionate individuals and illustrated by exciting examples from the world of education. These were some of my highlights:-

The talks were split into 3 sections

  1. What’s Wrong / What’s Happening
  2. What’s Right
  3. What’s Next.

The first session began with a live feed from Sir Ken Robinson.  He discussed his views on the purpose of education

Economic – Education underpins the modern economy and for a modern economy there is a need for creativity and innovation.

 Cultural – Helping to understand each others cultures and relieve the problems of cultural mistrust.

Personal – Education is about individuals, it cannot be mechanistic and should encourage students to become engaged.  For this reason education should be personalised.

Sir Ken Robinson’s vision for change includes

  • Education that is personalised
  • Improvements in the motivation of both students and teachers
  • Education that is customised to the needs of the particular community or individual school
  • Education is about diversity and standardisation offends diversity.
  • Education is about partnership with great institutions and the community.

A number of these points were a common thread throughout the talks.  The importance of recognising children as individuals and encouraging, rather than stifling their talents and interests, came time and again. The need to motivate children and encourage them to think for themselves and the many possibilities that technology offers  also kept reappearing.

I consider myself fortunate to work in Early Education.  Active learning, teaching that stems from children’s interests and strengths and listening to the child’s voice are fairly widespread.  Learning is fun in the early years and it would be unusual to find a pre-school child who grumbled that school was boring. I hope that all education can take lessons from early education at its best.

Adam Roberts an 18 year old human rights campaigner talked about  critical thinking and how his mother’s encouragement to ask questions set him up for life. As young children we instinctively ask questions, but as we grow older children are often discouraged from questioning. This point was made even more strongly in Ewan McIntosh’s talk. Ewan explained the need for children to be problem finders rather than problem solvers.  He showed a group of 7 and 8 year olds who were asked to put on their own TEDx event.  The children were inspired to come up with their own questions, prompted by ‘have you ever wondered?’ The children came up with wonderful philosophical questions and the excitement and animation shown by the children was truly infectious.

Another common thread was the potential for  embracing social media and technology in the classroom.  By doing this we are bringing the real world into the classroom rather than viewing education and school as separate to other aspects of life. Dan Roberts  believes strongly in education through technology and demonstrated some of the things his students at Community School are doing.

The What’s Right sessions showed a number of inspirational projects including:

History pin – building a history of real people and places using photographs and video footage.

A workshop from Seeper with a school for children on the autistic spectrum, showing how technology can motivate and engage children.

Dr Matt Whitby  showing how awe-inspiring science can be, through his off the wall science experiments.

Tim Exile – a musician who has invented a machine to create spontaneous electronic music using a variety of sounds.

The Final session involved speakers who are thinking in a new way and their pleas for like-minded individuals to join them in this journey.

Dougald Hine was inspirational.  He talked about change  with determination and self belief, a firm believer in making things  happen.

Emily Cummings the 24 year old inventor has been named Barclays woman of the year in 2009 and one of the top ten outstanding young people in the world in 2010.  She explained how her passion for designing began when her grandfather taught her to make things in his workshop. Teachers recognised her talent and entered her for competitions, harnessing her enthusiasm and giving her new goals.

Sir Ken Robinson closed the day with a plea to make alternatives a part of the mainstream.  A new vision for education including personalised learning, group activity, the closeness of the community and using and sharing talents.  Many of the case studies from young people at the conference showed that talents were often discovered and utilised outside of school.The community then has an important role to play in educating children.

The closing lines resonated with me

New technologies will make change possible.

Technology alone doesn’t do much, it’s what we do with it that matters.

There were some wonderful examples of what we do with technology and creative thinking.  I came away with lots of ideas and things that I wanted to share but also a feeling of uncertainty about what I can do to make a difference.  I want to share inspirational ideas and inspire others to try new ways of teaching.  Why?  I believe that we need to be able to use the tools that children are used to at home and that will form a large part of their future rather than sweeping them under the carpet .  Technology will not replace traditional play but will enhance it if we use it creatively. It gives opportunities for awe and wonder, for raising questions, self discovery and creative expression. My endeavour is to show this in practice and inspire others to do the same.

You can join the discussion here. Further videos of the conference can be viewed here

Meet Mums Now

Have you ever wondered where would be a good place to take your children to play, eat, spend a day out or meet friends for coffee? Are you a new mum who is finding it difficult to meet other mums?

According to a recent survey a growing number of new mothers feel isolated and find it difficult to meet other mums.   Toddler groups are often very busy and noisy, this is not always the ideal place to meet other parents. I was lucky to find a small friendly NCT group where I made some good friends, but these are not always available. Even with friends I  remember as a new mum trawling my local town looking for venues big enough to accomodate a number of prams and with good baby changing facilities. This new app could be very useful to mums in a similar situation.

Meet Mums Now is a new app available free from app stores which takes the mystery out of choosing kid-friendly venues and offers social networking for mums who want to meet others.

With over 400 locations in London already listed, users can find child-friendly cafes, restaurants, pubs and attractions near them which have been endorsed by other mums. I notice that the app has also recently updated to include venues in and around my local area of Bristol and Bath.

The app not only identifies locations, but also allows registered users to contact other mums who have recommended a local venue. It’s a great way to share information and meet other mums, especially for those without the luxury of a group of NCT friends in the area.

It’s an idea that was born out of necessity when Nik Dewar, the man behind the app was on holiday with his wife and two young children. Searching for an app which would show them child-friendly locations for lunch in an unfamiliar area, they were surprised to see that what they were looking for didn’t exist, and set out to fill the gap in the market.

At the moment, most venues in Meet Mums Now app are in London, but it’s an idea designed to grow as more destinations in the UK are added. Future versions will allow users to add location of their own, but if you know a great kid-friendly locations now you can email meetmumsnow@gmail.comor send your tip off to twitter

* this is not a sponsored post

Daily Worship in Schools – To Opt Out or Not?

There was a discussion in yesterday’s news regarding daily collective worship in schools. This was as a result of a BBC survey which showed that 64% of school children do not attend Christian daily worship.  Many schools are not honouring the statutory requirement to provide daily Christian worship but are instead using assemblies to talk about moral values, community and responsibility.  64% of the adults questioned in the survey believed that the legislation should not be enforced.

This encouraged me to re-evaluate a discussion that we had when our daughter started school.  We are not religious and before our daughter started school she had no concept of religion, God or Jesus . The only time she had attended church was for a wedding  and she  knew nothing about prayers or hymns.  We felt that when she went to school it would be wrong to force her to pray, sing hymns and immerse her in Christian culture, as this did not reflect our beliefs.  We were however, happy for her to learn about all kinds of cultures and religions in R.E lessons so that she could understand that there were an array of beliefs in the world.

We were quite surprised that worship would form a part of her daily school life in a secular school.  Parents of particular faiths had the opportunity to choose faith schools for their children that would reflect their religious culture, but as secular parents we were not given the same options.  Our first reaction therefore was to opt out of collective worship.  The school fought hard to persuade us otherwise.   Eventually we decided to allow her to attend ‘service’ for a number of reasons:

  1. If she didn’t go what would she do instead and who would supervise her?
  2.  We didn’t want her to appear different to the other children in her early days at school.
  3. The content of the service was largely based on non-religious stories, they sang very few hymns and though prayers were said actual praying was optional.

Towards the end of last term my daughter came home a number of times saying that service was boring and I began to question again our decision to let her attend.

She has just entered Junior School so the opportunity to opt out presents itself again. I no longer have the worry about what she will do while assembly is on, she is an avid reader so could occupy herself reading during this time.  Now that she is older and settled with her peers I do not think that she would feel excluded.  I am unsure about the content of assemblies is in her new school so have been unable to make a judgement on this.

I asked my daughter what they did in assembly.  She said that they didn’t pray, they were told stories but they weren’t about God and stuff.  She said that they had a story about Narnia and had talked about School Rules.  I asked her if they sang hymns, ‘What is a hymn?’ she replied.  I explained that it was a song about God or Jesus, she told me that they didn’t.

Is assembly still boring?

It’s ok it’s very short.

If you wanted you could choose not to go to assembly and do something else like read instead.

Her face lit up at this suggestion.

Have a think about it, if you like you can go for a few weeks and see what you think. If you think it is boring or they talk too much about God you could choose not to go.

I have left the final decision with her, she is old enough now to see it for what it is and to make a choice.

I do wonder however how many parents who don’t hold religious beliefs just go along with allowing their children to attend assembly as it is the easy option.  I feel that if we all made a stand in the belief that our children could be doing something more constructive with their time, then schools would begin to challenge the legal requirement.  If schools were faced with a large proportion of children who do not attend assembly and had to work out what to do with those children, then maybe they would make a stand?

I have left the decision with my daughter but am still undecided  as to whether we should make a stand.

Review of ‘Your Baby Can Read’

Some time ago I was asked to review ‘Your Baby Can Read’, a system for teaching babies from 3 months old to read. The system aims to introduce the written word at the same time as a baby is developing a verbal vocabulary. As today is International Literacy Day I felt I should bite the bullet and go for it.

So why the procrastination?  My initial thoughts were that such a system goes against my beliefs.  I have seen many parents who focus far too early on reading and writing and become both stressed and competitive about it. A baby has so much to learn in the first years is it really necessary that we add reading to the list?  I also feel that a lot of the time a focus on learning to read and write means that many of the underpinning skills necessary to achieve this are overlooked.  However, I felt that it was important that such products are reviewed by someone with an early education background.  I was interested in seeing the products to help make an informed view.

The materials in the programme include 5 DVD’s, 5 lift the flap books, 5 sets of sliding word cards, music cd, 82 double-sided word cards, a sliding windows board book, word game cards, a parent’s guide and early learning workshop DVD.

To be honest, I liked the materials more than I thought I would.  My biggest reservation about the whole programme is that reading is taught through DVD’s.  There is a firm emphasis on how interactive the DVD’s are but there is no requirement to sit with your baby as you watch them.  I watched the DVD’s with my 10 month old and 2 year old, the 2 year old was mildly interested and the 10 month old paid no attention at all.  Personally I don’t see that there is anything that the children can learn from the DVD’s that they couldn’t learn from sharing the books with an adult. I may be wrong, but I feel that this is an easy way for parents to avoid feeling guilty for not  spending time with their children. The DVD’s themselves are watchable and encourage the children to interact.  It is unfortunate in my opinion that they are American, I think some of the pronunciation of words may be difficult for  young British children when listening to American accents and some words like colour use the American spelling.  I feel to transfer the programme to a UK market it would be beneficial if the DVD’s were remade with British accents and spelling.

I really like the lift the flap books.  These have the word printed on the flap and when the flap is  lifted  there is a photograph to illustrate it and a number of interactive questions and instructions eg. How many dogs are there? Point to your elbow and What is your favourite thing to eat?  My 2 year old particularly liked these and enjoyed focusing on the words, pointing to them and ‘reading’ them with me.  I can imagine that with her interest in books and the written word, having read them a number of times she will begin to read the words in the books.  The same words are used in the sliding word and picture cards and word cards (flashcards).  The word game cards have 2 of each word so that you can play matching pairs games with the words. I can imagine my 2 year old enjoying this, although I haven’t tried it yet.

The programme suggests that you begin by reading the parents’ guide and watching the early learning workshop DVD. The parents’ guide explains how to use the books with your child and gives practical ideas for sharing other literacy related activities   with your child. I thought the DVD was excellent, with a lot of sound advice about early language acquisition and literacy.  My worry is that it is very long and I wonder how many parents would actually sit through it before embarking on the programme.

Dr Robert Titzer the creator of the programme begins by explaining how the programme originated.  He explains that he created the DVD’s to occupy his baby daughter in those times when she was ‘doing nothing’ while he was making dinner or reading the paper.  I found this a strange choice of phrase – I  don’t think I have ever seen a baby ‘doing nothing’.  He also talks about early brain development and the rapidity of brain development in the first few years of life.  This is a perfect reason for interacting with babies, but I’m not sure it is a justification for the need to read at this age.

Having said that there are a number of very positive points about babies and learning that Dr Titzer makes.

  • Parents should be active as the child’s first educator
  • Spend lots of time interacting with your baby
  • Children have receptive language (the ability to understand the meaning of words) before they can speak.
  • Talk to your baby, talking about what they are interested in.
  • Babies learn through movement
  • Play games with babies in the mirror and follow their lead building on the things they instinctively do.
  • Don’t let  children watch too much television, it is far better to read with them.
  • The concept of number needs to be taught in practical situations
  • Children are ready to write when they can master the physical skills – there is no particular age at which this will happen and it should not be introduced too soon.

The children in the case studies shown on the DVD have clearly learned to read both individual words and whole books.  They enjoy reading, are happy and engaged.  I have no doubt that the programme works but I question the appropriateness of teaching young babies to read.

The main argument for teaching babies to read is that the earlier a child learns to read, the more educational advantages they will have later. There is  a wealth of research that shows that the size of a child’s vocabulary at the age of 3 is the biggest predictor of how easily they will learn to read . The programme encourages the development of vocabulary through the introduction of 164 key words. It gives opportunities to introduce other words related to the children’s interests, by providing blank cards and a wipe clean marker pen.   However, surely it would be as beneficial to focus on spoken language and oral/aural skills (such as rhyme, identifying sounds, alliteration) in the first 3 years, accompanied with fostering a love of books, story, song and rhyme? 

Dr Titzer explains that the earlier a child learns to read then the more likely they are to love it.  From personal experience with my own children I disagree with this.  My 2 year old has been obsessed with books since she was around 6 months old but cannot read yet.  At almost 3 she is beginning to show an interest in words and is keen to read some for herself.   My 7 year old went to school without being able to read but with a huge vocabulary, an interest in books, the  ability to recognise rhyme and alliteration, a love of singing and poetry, the ability to keep a steady beat and some knowledge of the alphabet.  Within weeks of being in school she learned to read, she is now a well above average reader, an avid bookworm and reads aloud with more expression than most adults (including myself). Based on my 2 year old’s extensive vocabulary, love of books and ability to recognise rhyme I expect her to go the same way. From this experience I question the necessity of programmes such as ‘Your Baby Can Read’.

I think if you have a pre-school child who has built a good vocabulary, oral and aural skills, loves books and is showing an interest in the written word then this could be a useful tool in the journey to learning to read. Personally I don’t like the idea of teaching reading using DVD’s because reading is as much about sharing a special time and ideas with your child as it is about the act of decoding words. I will use the rest of the materials with my 2 year old daughter if she shows an interest but I wouldn’t choose to use them with my baby. For those who would like their baby to read I have no doubt that the system works and that if the system is followed according to the comprehensive guidance the babies and toddlers will get great pleasure from it.  From the perspective of an early educator, I would let babies be babies and use it when the children are a little older.

Little Legacy – Lullabies

@AResidence Little Legacy is a remembrance project  run by Alexander Residence to celebrate small things handed down by predecessors. 

When reading one of the posts this week I was reminded of a lullaby that I sing to my children.  It is a lullaby that I have never heard anyone else sing and have never been able to find elsewhere. I remember my mum singing it to my brother when he was young, he would repeatedly ask for it so I heard it a lot.  I remember my mum saying that her mum had sung it to her.

I don’t know if I remember it properly and probably I don’t remember the whole song because it is very short but it is something I have felt compelled to pass down.  I believe very strongly in the power of singing to calm children and build a strong bond.  When leading parent and toddler music groups I have seen groups of babies go from crying to attentive from the moment I begin to sing.  Many a stressful car journey has been saved by singing with my own children but something about lullabies is very special.  There are few greater feelings than snuggling cheek to cheek with your baby and singing softly to them as you rock them and stroke their head.

I have been meaning to record lullabies for a long time so this is hopefully the first of many.  It is recorded in the way that I would sing  to my children (though perhaps a little louder) without background music or distractions, focusing on the voice and cuddles.

This is lulla bye bye short but sweet and loaded with fond memories.