Category Archives: Random Thoughts & Life Stories

I’m 46 and I’m…. Learning to Dance: How I Found the Confidence to Try

This week, I took a ballet class for the first time in 35 years. Why did I wait so long?

 

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In my ballet dancing days

 

Believing I couldn’t dance

The last time I took a ballet class I was 11 years old.  My teacher had told me I wasn’t any good, after getting a mediocre grade in my exam and  I never saw myself as a dancer from that point on. I learned basic tap as a teen and was part of the dancing team in one show, but I couldn’t keep up with the girls who still attended dance classes.  With hindsight, I should have found a different teacher and a different type of dance. Soon I was pigeonholed as a singer and actress who could move but not dance.

How it held me back

As a musical theatre performer, this obviously held me back. There were parts I didn’t audition for because I would need to dance and parts I didn’t get because others could dance better than me.  There were bitter disappointments, like the time a director called to say they rated my talent but my dancing wasn’t strong enough for this particular show. My breaking point was a show in which I had to sing in the wings with the old people, because I didn’t pass the dance audition. That was the last musical theatre production I appeared in.

 

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photo credit Michael McClary

 

Other obstacles

In my 20’s I tried a few dance classes. Adult tap was fun, until I moved to a different town and the new class made my brain hurt because it was faster paced. I tried a contemporary class but had to travel on the train, which became a pain.  Another class was full of teenagers who had been dancing all their lives and I was completely out of my depth. I really wanted to learn musical theatre dance, but I wasn’t sure what that type of dance was called.  Eventually I gave up trying and resigned myself to never being a dancer.

Perhaps I’ve lived my dance ambition through my kids.  They are all wonderful dancers. I don’t feel like I have pushed them to dance, but perhaps on a subconscious level, I was living my dreams through them.

Now it’s my turn – I’m 46 and I’m trying again.

What changed my mind?

Strangely, it was taking up taekwondo.

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I took up taekwondo three years ago because my whole family attended and I needed a regular activity to make me workout. I really enjoyed the fitness element, as it forced me to push myself to do things I wouldn’t otherwise try.  When I started I couldn’t do a sit up or a press up.  Three years later I could do fifty of each, my weak wrists strengthened and didn’t hurt anymore and hip pain I had been struggling with since my first pregnancy disappeared.

Learning the moves was challenging and sometimes I felt I would never be able to learn the forms or kicks. Over time I began to realise that I was improving, very gradually. I became more flexible, my technique improved and I could remember more complicated poomse.  That’s when it dawned on me.

If I could learn taekwondo in three years, I could apply myself to something I really wanted to learn and in three years time, I could be a dancer.

Finding the Right Class

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As I had discovered in my 20’s, finding the right class as an adult isn’t easy.  It was difficult to find a class during the daytime, when my kids are at school and I have most flexibility. At least this time I knew what kind of class I was looking for.  After watching my daughter at a trial jazz class, it was clear that jazz was the class I had been looking for all these years.

I was so excited when I found a studio that appeared to fit my requirements perfectly.  The Studio, Issaquah, is a dance and yoga studio exclusively for adults. They have a huge variety of classes and class times to suit everybody.   Fear, led to procrastination, but my desire to learn overcame and I booked my first jazz class.

Jazz Class

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Within minutes, I felt like my 6-year-old self, excited to be at ballet class for the first time.  The studio has a warm, friendly ambience and the people in the class reflect that and were really welcoming. The teacher Megan, is brimming with enthusiasm and energy, which is totally infectious. It was everything I could have asked for and more. A good core workout, a brain workout as I learn new routines and a mixture of fun and  technique; exactly what I was looking for.  It isn’t an easy class and some of the routines tax my brain, but experience has taught me not to give up. I don’t look at my awkward self in the mirror and lose hope anymore, because I know, soon it will become easier.  My body and my brain will learn to do new things, step by step.

Ballet Class

 

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I  loved it so much I decided to try the beginners ballet class, to help with dance steps, technique and posture. My children found it highly amusing but I think they pictured me strutting around in a leotard or tutu.

Ballet was a busier class but I didn’t feel lost. Again the teacher was friendly and encouraging and everyone in the class was either new to ballet or hadn’t danced since a child. For years I’d felt like the useless one in the group; here I fitted in. I liked the slower pace of ballet, as it helped me keep up with the routines. Many of the exercises and terms were familiar from my childhood, even if I couldn’t quite remember them properly. I thought I would feel like an idiot in a ballet class in my 40’s, but somehow it felt like coming home.

I keep seeing new classes I’d like to try, like the daytime tap class starting in June. Anyone buying me a gift in the future shouldn’t struggle for ideas – keep fueling my dance account and I’ll be happy.  I’m so excited to see how I will improve over time; maybe I’ll even dance in a show again someday?

 

Disclaimer: All recommendations are personal – no financial incentive was given for writing this post.

 

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T2 Trainspotting -I’m 46 and I’m ……

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My first experience of Trainspotting was a theatre production in the tiny round studio at the Sherman Theatre in Cardiff.  It completely blew my mind!  Up close to four incredibly talented actors playing multiple parts and switching between comedy and tragedy in a moment, left me dumbfounded.  It probably remains the most poignant piece of theatre I have seen.

I then read the book and loved that too, relishing the Edinburgh dialect,  perfect characterisation, humour and despair. I soon became one of my all time favourites.  The film had a lot to live up to and apart from the soundtrack, and the visual images that could only work on-screen, I always felt it didn’t deliver the same impact as the book or play for me.  Perhaps, had I seen the film first, this would have been different.

I went on to read a number of Irvine Welsh books, none of them quite lived up to Trainspotting. When my daughter was born, I was reading the follow-up book to Trainspotting, ‘Porno’.  I remember my husband made me hide it under the bed when the midwife visited, because he didn’t want to give her the wrong impression.  I enjoyed the follow up but it wasn’t a patch on Trainspotting.

When a friend invited me to a pre-screening of T2 Trainspotting, I was excited (especially having heard great things about it from friends in the UK), but I was a little worried it would disappoint.

I loved it for its pure unadulterated nostalgia, it was like meeting up with a group of friends you haven’t seen for 20 years. Though it drew on aspects of the ‘Porno’ story it followed a new narrative that was both warm and funny.  The strength of Trainspotting the novel was in the characters and how each of them told a story and T2 very much lived up to this.  Renton, Sickboy, Spud and Begbie have grown up, but, as most 40 somethings will recognise, underneath they are still the lads they always were. Just as it is hard for us to believe that it has been 20 years since Trainspotting, the film revolves around the theme of where has time gone and what have I done? As Renton puts it

“I’m 46 and I’m fucked!”.

There is plenty in the film to transport you back to the original. Flashbacks to the iconic scenes are abundant, as are modern-day twists, like Renton going back to his perfectly preserved bedroom and putting ‘Lust for Life’ on the turntable and a new ‘toilet scene’.  The most memorable is the new Choose Life speech, some will hate it but I personally like the commentary on 20 years of change and how it drew the two films together.

Danny Boyle talked about the pressure to make an exceptional soundtrack in his Q&A after the film.  From one viewing, it didn’t disappoint, the soundtrack had guts and mixed modern with nostalgia. I loved his decision to pay homage to David Bowie, not by including the song Golden Years (originally intended for the first film) but by lingering on the record  in extended silence, as Renton chooses  a record to play. Boyle talked about his love for Trainspotting the book and clearly had a genuine passion for the project.  For me that’s what I loved most, the actors and production team couldn’t hide their love for the Trainspotting story, the characters and world created by Irvine Welsh.

I’m 46 and I’m hooked. I’m off to re-read Trainspotting before I watch it again.

How to Survive a Road Trip from Seattle to Yellowstone with Three Kids, a Dog and a Tent.

 

I love the idea of a road trip. It isn’t something people do that often in the UK, since it is such a small country and the main roads are really congested. With so many places here to explore and big open roads, I can’t wait to get out and explore. Perhaps it is a little unrealistic to expect it to be plain sailing with a three kids and a dog in tow, but I’m always eager for a challenge.  A few years ago we took a road trip to Curlew lake for our first family camping holiday, which was a really successful trip. Why not take the plunge and go for the long haul?

Close to 700 miles seems an awfully long way to drive so we broke up the journey with a camping trip with friends in Eastern Washington and an overnight stay in Missoula.

Packing

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We have camping packing down to a fine art. We decided not to take the kayak on this trip but everything else in the picture was loaded into the Suburban.  Our tent is an Alaknak with an added vestibule. It has plenty of room for our family of five to walk around inside and is quick and easy to put up. We sleep on camping cots and pack a camping kitchen but to be honest on this trip we didn’t use it a lot. The best time to see wildlife is early morning and evening so we rarely got back to the campsite before it was dark.  I was told it was cold at night so packed plenty of warm clothes. We didn’t need many warm weather clothes at Yellowstone. Yellowstone is mountainous territory so has considerably cooler temperatures than surrounding regions, we mostly wore long trousers and layers.

On the Road

After our weekend camping we headed through Eastern Washington( I saw tumbleweed for the first time) towards Spokane where we took a lunch break. We then crossed the State line into Idaho.  To keep ourselves amused, we accepted a friend’s challenge to spot  licence plates from different states. This was the perfect challenge for a trip like this. Yellowstone is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the country, so there were plenty to find. We managed to find 45 of the 50 states by the end of our trip.

We then crossed another state line into Montana. There were lots of roads like this,

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They don’t call it the blue sky state for nothing.

Overnight Stop

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For our overnight stop we had pre-booked a cabin at KOA Missoula. I was really impressed with how neat and clean this KOA was. There were floral displays everywhere and a man who ventured out every morning to water and feed them.  The staff were really friendly and the shop well stocked.  Ice cream  was served in the evening (much to the delight of the girls) and breakfast in the morning. The girls enjoyed a dip in the pool before it got too dark.

Travelling to West Yellowstone

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The next leg of the journey, through Montana was really beautiful.  We stopped for lunch along the way and then another rest break (conveniently at a consignment/antique store) made the journey around six hours. Arriving at West Yellowstone KOA, the girls headed off to the indoor pool while Dad put up the tent.

Tips for Camping in Yellowstone

 

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Tips for Camping at Yellowstone

  • Our first concern regarding camping was that we were in grizzly bear country. The owners at the campsite assured us that they rarely see any wildlife on site except for foxes, but to keep any food locked in the car to be safe.  We also had a bear proof food container which was almost human proof too.
  • Even in the height of the summer, Yellowstone gets pretty cold at night often reaching below 0 degrees centigrade.  My advice would be to get good quality winter grade sleeping bags, lots of layers and hats for night-time.  We also bought a camping gas heater and with this on we were warm enough.  If you have very young children or are not seasoned campers I would recommend staying in a cabin or RV. Campfires are permitted at West Yellowstone KOA.
  • During the daytime, campsites are pretty quiet as all the guests are out exploring.  The pool and hot tub was very busy in the evenings when people returned.  We chose to stay at the campsite and use the facilities in the morning when it was quiet and head out after lunch. This gave us plenty of time to drive to the best places to view wildlife in the evenings.

How Easy is a Yellowstone Trip with a Dog?

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  • Dogs are permitted in Yellowstone but there are a number of restrictions.  Dogs are not allowed on any of the trails or boardwalks or on the roadside.
  • We were fortunate to have cooler, cloudy days so that we could leave the dog in the car when visiting big attractions like Old Faithful.  On warmer days we took the trails and boardwalks in shifts. I went with the younger children and then my husband and my eldest went when we got back.
  • Yellowstone is huge and a lot of the sites you can see from the road, particularly the wildlife.  I think we would probably had a different experience if we had used the trails more but it is perfectly reasonable to take a dog and do the trip in the car.

The Sights of Yellowstone

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Day 1. Artists Paintpots – We underestimated quite how big Yellowstone is and how much there is to see. On the first day we headed to artists paintpots, passing a few smaller sights on the way. We took it in turns to walk the trail and boardwalks around the hydrothermal basin, so we could leave the dog in the car. Artist paintpots is full of coloured pools and mudpots that bubble like a witches cauldron, perfect for making up fantasy stories for little ones. Yellowstone wildlife greeted us for the first time in the guise of a chipmunk and a coyote walking out of the woods past the car.

For the rest of our stay we decided we should plan the things we really wanted to see and work out a manageable route. This was our list and route.

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Day 2-Old Faithful – The times that Old Faithful is likely to erupt can be found on an app. The signal in the park is very poor, so once you get in you may find that it doesn’t work but the times can also be found in the shop. Next to Old Faithful is a display of photography and old cameras.  This was fun to visit.  At the shop we picked up Yellowstone Jack – a very cute friend to carry around and include in your pictures.  He can then be tagged on Instagram to win prizes.  The girls thought this was great fun. If geysers are your thing, there is a whole trail of different geysers around old faithful, but by this point we were a bit geysered out.

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Day 3Wildlife spotting   Our main destination for day 3 was the Hayden Valley, a good place to spot wildlife. Along the way we stopped to see an Elk, walking along the edge of the river. At the Old Faithful gift shop we bought a book,”Who Pooped in the Park”.  The book is a children’s guide to animal tracks and scat that might be found in the park. The girls were fascinated and walked around the meadow trying to identify all the different types of poop.

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We also stopped to admire many of the views and arrived at the valley at dusk.  We saw a whole herd of Bison, some walk along the road but mostly you watch them coming out to graze as daylight falls.

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We spotted a group of people looking out over the valley, so stopped to see what they could see.  They had set up very powerful scopes and showed us a pack of wolves, too far in the distance for the naked eye to see. We were hoping to see a bear but unfortunately not this time although we were assured there was one travelling down the hill.

Day 4-  Waterfalls .Our  first destination was  Canyon Village, where we stopped at the store before heading to view the Lower Falls.  The view was spectacular and you could clearly see the yellow rocks that give Yellowstone its name. Even the little ones were absorbed in a few moments of quiet contemplation.

img_0838-2 The girls amused themselves by climbing the rocks, travelling in different ways around a tree.

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Our next destination was the Lower Falls, a short distance away. We were a little cautious when we saw  bear warning signs but the girls soon found a tree trunk to amuse them.

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There is a longer walkway that takes you above the falls but it was a little late in the day to try that.   When we left it was beginning to get dark.  We saw a sign for Artist’s Point but debated whether it was too late to stop.  We decided to take a quick look and I’m so glad we did.  This was the biggest surprise of the trip, the view was so stunning that it almost didn’t seem real. The whole trip was memorable and full of new experiences but I think this is the view that will remain imprinted in my memory forever. It left me lost for words. I can clearly imagine sitting there for hours writing or painting, it certainly lives up to its name.

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I could have stayed here forever. The little ones thought the view was amazing too and they studied the rock faces with the binoculars.img_0972-2

Day 4 Final Day – The Quest to Find more Wildlife

We decided to cut our stay at West Yellowstone KOA short and booked a cabin in Deer Lodge, Montana, for a slightly warmer night and to shorten the journey home the next day. After packing up and letting the girls choose homemade fudge from the campground store, we headed back to the park for the last time. After 3 days of spotting bison, the girls were really keen to find different wildlife. Our first discovery was a mountain goat sitting in a ditch along the side of the road.

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We climbed the high ground to reach the Loire Valley.  The views as we climbed were magnificent and we stopped many times to take photographs.

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We were really keen to see bears, and stopped to use the binoculars to see if the dots in the distance might be bears, but sadly just bison.

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Our intention had been to drive some of the valley to spot wildlife and then turn around to  exit the park.  After driving for some time we  realised we had driven the whole valley and reached an exit to the park in a little town called Silvergate, where we stopped for a drink at a small café.

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I overheard the owners saying that they had been visited by a bear on recent nights and often it could be seen on the hill in front of us foraging for wild strawberries. We sat staring at the hill, but didn’t see any wildlife.

The lady told us that in the park there was a dead Bison near the old ranger station and you could often see bears feasting on the carcass.

As we headed back into the park it began to rain and as we looked to the side we were greeted by the most magnificent full rainbow, one of the most amazing sights I have ever seen.

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The rain soon stopped and we carried on until we saw crowds of people along the side of the road.  The people pointed out the location of the Bison carcass and invited us to look through their scopes.  You could clearly see a pack of wolves feasting on the carcass. The girls thought this was really cool.

Finally we travelled to the exit of the park at Mammoth Springs. Mammoth village was a pleasant surprise. It houses the parks headquarters, hotel, lodges and a historic fort. Deer were grazing everywhere and I wish we’d had time to get out and explore.  This will definitely be our first destination if we return to Yellowstone.

mammoth-hot-springsPoints to consider when visiting Yellowstone with children

  • Expect a lot of driving.  The park is vast and getting to the main attractions often involves a few hours drive.
  • Pack snacks and drinks. There are places to eat at Old Faithful, Mammoth Springs,  Canyon, Grant Village and Yellowstone Lake but they may take a while to get too and are often busy. If you travel to see wildlife in the evening as we did it will be dark by the time you leave and more difficult to find food.  There are plenty of restrooms throughout the park.
  • A lot of the wildlife is far off in the distance –  the Loire Valley has lots of bison for  close up wildlife, or Mammoth Springs for deer.  If you want to see wildlife in the distance invest in a scope (a good pair of binoculars helps but you will only see wildlife clearly with a scope).
  • Go to a visitor centre on your first day, here you can pick up junior ranger activity booklet to keep the children occupied during their stay.  The stores also have some great books for nature-based activities, facts and figures and things to spot on your journey.

We stopped overnight at Deer Lodge KOA – a small KOA perfect for an overnight stop. Our final stop was Couer D’Alene in Idaho, where we stopped for lunch, a play in the park and a swim at the beach before heading home.

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Driving itinerary

Alta Lake State Park to Spokane – 3-4 hours (with a short stop at Grand Coulee dam)

Spokane to Missoula 3- 4 hours (overnight stop)

Missoula to West Yellowstone approx. 5 hours ( we also stopped twice;  for lunch at the Smiley Moose Deli in Bozeman and to browse antique shops between Bozeman and West Yellowstone, I can’t remember exactly where ).

Return

Mammoth Springs to Deer Lodge KOA approx. 3 hours (overnight stop).

Deer Lodge KOA to Couer D’Alene  3-4 hours.

Couer D’Alene to Eastside Seattle – 4-5 hours. (one short food stop).

The children on this trip were aged 12, 7 and 5. The trip was taken during late August.

Photographs by Michael Mcclary

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Why Mums and Dads Shouldn’t be Camera Shy.

A few months ago a Facebook post asking dads to take more pictures of their partners went viral.  The post is re-surfacing this week.   I recently wrote a piece about it that had a lot of favourable comments if you would like to check it out.

Messy Hair and No Make-Up, the One Reason we Should Stay in Front of the Camera Anyway.

 

 

 

What is my Responsibility as an Early Educator in the Wake of the US Election?

Yesterday, in the wake of the US election, I was filled with  questions.  These were not questions about my role as a parent or about my future as a resident of the US but about my role and responsibility as an educator.

My core educational philosophy is to encourage children’s critical thinking and creative expression. Children should be valued for who they are and children, teachers and parents should work collaboratively, in an environment of respect and dialogue.  I draw inspiration in my thinking from Loris Malaguzzi, the founder of the preschools of Reggio Emilia.  He worked with the community, to create  new schools in the aftermath of World War II that would bring hope for a new generation. He created an environment that encouraged critical thinking and creative expression, and a culture of working together with respect for one another.  Malaguzzi achieved his goal with a community of like-minded individuals.

Yesterday, a key question for me was; if I only work with liberally minded families is there really anything to change and  am I really making a difference? If I want to encourage a different way of thinking, shouldn’t I be helping children who have not been encouraged to think in this way?

I struggled with the juxtaposition between encouraging critical thinking and respecting family beliefs and cultures. I believe that it is our duty to create an environment of tolerance and open-mindedness, and to promote a culture of children who think for themselves and whose opinions and emotions are valued. However, I also believe that we should work alongside families, respect their beliefs and work together for the good of the child.

More questions arose.

Can you do both and is it even possible to foster a new way of thinking if there are opposing values at home?

If a family believes something is a fundamental truth should I give the child the tools to question their world or would this be disrespectful to the families beliefs?

Perhaps it is my own issue and not theirs and I should instead seek to understand them better and why they uphold those beliefs?

Yesterday, that is where I left it, but today things are clearer, particularly in regard to the final question.

When there is hatred, unease and unrest in the world it is because of misunderstanding, ignorance and lack of knowledge. I can criticise people if they believe in things that I find fundamentally wrong, but should not condemn them until I have listened to their story, understood why they feel that way and looked into the contexts of their beliefs.  America is divided; there is a clear feeling of them and us, but who is looking to understand why the other side holds their beliefs and the reality of their lives?

I grew up in Wales. In Wales we dislike the English because we are fed a history of English wealthy landowners who treated the working classes badly and took away our language.  We see the English as arrogant toffs who think they are above us.  Of course this is ludicrous and there is as much diversity in England as there is in Wales,but if you rarely cross the border, ignorance prevails. The same is true here. Liberals see Trump supporters as racist, bigoted individuals and people outside of the cities, see city people who are ignorant to their way of life and take away their values and livelihoods.

I think I now know my role. All children should have their minds opened.  This isn’t only about questioning and critical thinking, it is also our duty as educators, to partner with other educators from other parts of the country and the world, to help them understand what the world is like for others. Show children the diversity of the world, teach them to ask questions of one another. Do they have the same questions? Do they think the same things as me? How are they different and how are we the same?  We have a new opportunity in the world of the internet and social media to open children’s eyes so that they will not grow up in ignorance and fear.

We are all different but in many ways we are also all the same – let’s celebrate that for a while instead of trying to outdo one another all the time.

 

 

 

Teacher? Play Worker? Educator? What’s in a Name?

beachcombingMany years ago, straight from college and failing to find a teaching opportunity in my locality, I accepted a job  leading a play scheme. This was a new concept at the time, the first after-school and holiday club in my town. I learned a lot. I learned that play doesn’t need to have an end product in mind, I learned the importance of open-ended materials and space, I learned how to work with parents and the huge responsibility of being in charge of somebody else’s child.  Through play work I learned that I loved working with the youngest children  in a play-based environment. I no longer looked for teaching posts with 7-11 year olds but volunteered at a local nursery school to learn the trade of being an early years teacher.

As a young aspiring teacher, I was never proud of my title – play worker.  I was always sure to let people know that I was actually a qualified teacher, that I had been to university for four years and wasn’t just a child care worker. When I got my first teaching post, it wasn’t all it was cracked up to be. Stuck in a classroom of five and six-year olds with nothing to play with apart from a pack of modelling clay, I was quickly disillusioned.

My next job, in a nursery was very different. I worked with a team of teachers and nursery nurses who bounced ideas off one other, who valued play, who cared that the kids were happy and were passionate that teaching was far more than imparting knowledge.  I watched, I listened and I learned. One of my colleagues was wonderful with the children and the parents loved her but she didn’t have a single child-care qualification. I quickly learned that having a teaching qualification didn’t make me better than those less qualified ; we could all learn from one another and had our own contribution to make.

Teacher Tom’s post, I’m Not Sure That’s Teaching ,reminded me of this. Tom questions the meaning of the word teacher and whether or not those who follow the children’s interests, supporting them as they go, are teachers as most people perceive them.

Peter Moss describes Loris Malaguzzi’s role in the schools of Reggio Emilia, as an educational leader whose role was

Not to tell others what to do, not to lead a pliant following wherever he chose – it was to create and evolve an educational project in his city, but always in relation with others and in a spirit of participation and co-operation

I’m currently reading a selection of Loris Malaguzzi’s writings and speeches. The rise of the preschools in Reggio Emilia as a reaction to education built on pre-determined knowledge imparted bit by bit, seems to ring truer today than it ever has.

Labels are complicated and to this day I’m not really sure what I’d prefer to be called. A teacher? educator? play worker? early childhood professional? I’m not sure any of them are quite right. Perhaps that is why I often struggle for a title when people ask me what I do.

Most of the children I have worked with in my career have called me Rachel. Not teacher Rachel, Miss Rachel or Mrs McClary  but simply Rachel. Perhaps titles don’t matter that much after all.

 

Why Singing and Dancing Promote Social Skills and Friendship

singing kidsResearch has shown that singing increases happiness and emotional well-being.  People feel happier after singing than simply listening to music, probably due to the release of neurochemicals in the brain.

It isn’t news to me that singing lifts your mood.  The quiet teenager that would skip along the road after my weekly singing lesson, head held high and ready to conquer the world is testament to that. When I sang I came alive, through singing I could truly let go. I grew up loving musicals, perhaps because it is perfectly acceptable to sing and dance down the road in a musical and everyone is always happy.

Singing as a group has additional benefits, according to recent research from Oxford University.    Singing in a group encourages social bonding, and singing groups form friendships more quickly than in other group activities. Group dancing also produces similar results, suggesting that a shared musical experience and working together are key factors.  Many of my closest friends were made during my musical theatre days and joining choir was the perfect way to meet people and make friends, when moving to a new country.  A large proportion of the ladies in my choir joined because they were new to the area and wanted to meet new people, whilst sharing their passion for singing. Perhaps if we mix in a little dance we will be even closer?

Singing is a natural way for parents to bond with babies .  As a singer, I instinctively sang to my newborn babies when I was alone with them for the first time.  Often a parent will get their first reactions from a baby when they sing to them. Smiles, laughter, calming, eye contact or gesture can all be encouraged through singing.

When my eldest was born, I felt privileged that as an early education teacher, I  knew lots of songs to share with my baby. With this in mind, I started a baby music group with my antenatal group. My aim was to reach out to others and introduce them to songs that they could share with their babies.  With hindsight, this not only helped the babies but also gave this group of new mothers the chance to socialise, at one of the most vulnerable times of their life. As new mothers singing to their babies, it didn’t matter if they felt they ‘couldn’t sing’  and we quickly built strong friendships.

Group singing was an important part of my teaching day and something I was very comfortable leading.  This confidence wasn’t shared by all the teachers but some approached singing time with enthusiasm and energy, even if they believed their own singing voices to be terrible. The children responded to the teachers who could have fun and draw them in, musical proficiency was never a factor. Singing in a group is a fundamental part of many preschool settings and is one of the ways in which children learn to work together. In order to create a unified sound the children have to listen to one another and share in the experience together.

Young children are instinctively drawn to music and dance and sing without restraint. This usually remains with them until the age at which they become self-conscious and concerned about whether they are good enough. Reluctance to sing may also arise as singing becomes  performance focused rather than purely for pleasure.

One of my favourite memories of Christmas time, was the year my great aunts came to visit my grandparents. The sisters sat around the keyboard as my Auntie played and we all sang for hours.  That family togetherness is difficult to replicate in other situations. My great aunts grew up in the era before television, when singing around the piano was part of everyday life.  I believe that it is important for children to see that singing (and dancing) isn’t about winning a talent show.  Sing along to the radio on car journeys, make up silly songs or fire up some karaoke videos and sing along.

When we have friends around it nearly always ends up with a round of karaoke and it has paved the way to some of the best parties. I love that young and old, singers and non-singers join in and it is always accompanied by laughter and friendship.singing