Real Parenting Through the Eyes of Tim Minchin

 

I have just returned from a wonderful weekend in Edinburgh for my 40th birthday.  As part of the trip we went to see Tim Minchin. He was clever, funny, a stunning pianist and brave.  He has added a new song to his repertoire called lullaby.  How many of us have been in that situation when the baby is constantly crying and there is that very fine line between loving your baby and wanting to throw it out of the window?  I had one of those moments recently when I was sat in the car with noise and demands coming from all directions and I just wanted to shut the door, walk away and never come back.  We don’t do it because we love them and the benefits outweigh the tough times but I’m sure we have all had those fleeting moments.

A weekend away without the kids is a rare treat – did I miss them?  If I am honest no because I had the chance to be me for the weekend, to enjoy being a couple, to live at a different pace and forget about everyone elses demands.  On my return, how lovely to see the baby’s smiling face and have big hugs from my girls.  They always amaze me when I haven’t seen them for a day or 2, staggered by how tall they are or how amazing their vocabulary is and I appreciate them so much more.

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Turning 40 – What have I achieved in the past decade?

It’s my last week in my 30’s so I’m doing a lot of reflecting on the past 10 years.  I don’t really feel like I have done a great deal in that time but when you sit down and think about it there is quite a lot that I can be proud of.  Here are some of my greatest achievements in that time:

1. I Got Married 

Not much of an achievement I hear you say, perhaps not for some.  I remember saying to my mum when in my late 20’s that I didn’t think I would ever get married because I didn’t think I would find someone who would love me enough.  She told me not to be stupid and as always she was right.  When my husband proposed to me on the eve of my 30th birthday, I was overwhelmed that he loved me enough to want to spend the rest of his life with me.  I think that’s a great achievement and that we are still married after 9 years isn’t bad in the scale of things either.  Marriage isn’t all moonlight and roses and I’m not the best wife in the world.  Keeping it together is a huge challenge when you throw in the demands of young children, stressful jobs, working away and running a business, not to mention how much we change as individuals.  I don’t know if we will make it through the next decade, it will be my greatest achievement in life if we do.

2. Had 3 Wonderful Children

There was a time when we thought we would only ever have one child.  We tried for years to have a 2nd but suffered 2 miscarriages and felt it was our fate to only have one. My eldest is the most amazing child, clever, confident, beautiful, well behaved and sociable, you couldn’t ask for more in a child.  We still used to feel sad when she was playing on her own and hoped that one day she would have a brother or sister.  Now she has 2 sisters. My 2 year old can be hard work but is also clever like her sister, has a wonderful loving nature and frequently makes us laugh and the baby is a beautiful, happy, easy baby who smiles at everyone she meets.  I am proud to be raising 3 such lovely girls and I’m sure they will make me even more proud as they grow up.

3. Got a Masters Degree

My husband always makes me think outside the box and when I was unhappy at work he helped me to see that I had the power to change things and to go back and study.  I loved studying for my Masters and I found that I was surprisingly good at it.  I’m so glad that I did it.

4. Played Maria in ‘The Sound of Music’

I have been involved in musical theatre since I was a child and it was such a buzz to play Maria at Cardiff’s New Theatre, playing to full houses of 1000+ every night.  It was tinged with some sadness as it happened just after mum had died and I knew it would have made her so proud. 

Getting to do any theatre since having children has been an achievement in itself but I have done fairly well by appearing in a few musicals, playing Jane Eyre , a cocktail waitress in Shakers and appearing in my first opera.

5. Finding 2 Jobs that I Loved and in Which I Could Make a Difference.

In my early 30’s I worked with families of pre-school children who were on the autistic spectrum.  This was such an amazing job, I learned so much and met so many wonderful children and parents.  Watching the children progress and the families become more able to cope, I feel that I really did make a difference and that is so satisfying .

Between my first and my second child I worked for the local authority as an early years consultant.  Again I met some inspirational people, loved coming up with solutions to problems, learning about and sharing good practice and watching Continue reading Turning 40 – What have I achieved in the past decade?

Sesame Street on Kinect

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I know it’s a bit sad but I was very excited to hear this news.  Firstly, I am a huge fan of Sesame Street – my mum often attributed my intelligence to the fact that she watched Sesame Street whilst carrying me.  Secondly no more shouting ‘Get out of the way’ when my youngest tries to join in with Kinect games because this one will be aimed at her.  When we got our Kinect for Christmas I thought it would save all the arguments over controllers and my 2 year olds inability to handle them properly, but so far there hasn’t really been able to join in.  She has played bowling with some success and manages some of the games on Kinectimals but I do feel that she is a little young for these. So Hooray, finally a game aimed at pre-schoolers and with Sesame Street behind it I trust that it will be good.

I love that ‘Once Upon a Monster’ is aimed at families playing together – we often have 5 children trying to play ours and it can get a little manic.  The game is aimed at teaching young children about emotions like sensitivity, empathy and friendship that’s got to stop the arguments surely!

I can’t wait to see the finished product – I hope it lives up to my expectations.

http://www.wired.com/gamelife/2011/04/sesame-street-kinect-game/

Nominations open for MAD Blog Awards

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I’m new to blogging and so far it has been a liberating experience.  In the few months since this blogs creation the readership has grown and I have been really fortunate in being part of Netmum’s  Blogging Network.  One thing that is odd about blogging is that although you can see how many people are reading your blog, unless readers share comments, you have no idea whether people actually like what they read .  I have had loads of positive feedback from friends and family both verbally and via Facebook and it always lifts my day when I get a comment on my blog – but what does everyone else think?

Then along came the MADS  – awards to celebrate the best in mums and dads blogs.  There are 15 categories for nominations  and the 5 blogs in each category with the most nominations will become finalists.  I would love to see that people enjoy my writing enough to nominate me for one of the categories.  As I am new to this game of course Best New Blogger would be the perfect category as would Best Pre-School Fun.  I would love to think people see me as a good writer by a nomination for Best Writer or Best Blogpost.

So if you have enjoyed reading my blog, or I have touched you in some way I would really appreciate it if you would take the time to nominate me for any of the above categories (you can nominate in more than one category). Click on the Nominate me button on the sidebar and it will take you directly to the MAD nominations page. The competition will be great as there are many blogs with a huge following , so I feel a bit like a small fish in a big pond,  even so it would be lovely to receive even a few nominations .

The Bitter Sweet of Mother’s Day

Most Mums wake up on Mother’s day looking forward to a day with their family, being spoiled and looked after.  The Facebook status of my friends who have children has been full of Happy Mother’s Day wishes and talk of what a great day they have had.  I struggle with what I should feel about Mother’s Day.  Since losing my own mother ‘Happy Mother’s Day ‘ somehow doesn’t seem quite appropriate – yet I do want to celebrate with my own children.

I lost my own mum 10 years ago at the tender age of 54 – she never had the chance to meet my girls, and she had so desperately looked forward to being a grandmother.  Mother’s Day is the day when I remember her most , thinking about what a fantastic mum she was and all the things we shared that I still miss.  I am sad that my children will never know her and that the support and encouragement she would have given me when I became a mum is missing.

To  a certain degree today has been a happy day.  This morning I had the pleasure of being brought breakfast in bed by my 6 year old, along with a small bunch of flowers from the garden, a handmade card and some ‘helping vouchers. 

I like to visit mum’s grave in South Wales on Mother’s Day.  It is always strange doing this with the children.   My 6 year old is beginning to understand who ‘Nanny Wendy’ is and why we go to lay flowers and remember her. It is difficult for my 2 year old to understand, ‘Who is Nanny Wendy?’ and ‘Where is Nanny Wendy?’ she asks.

So Mother’s Day for me is a strange day – I look forward to it and dread it, I celebrate the many joys of being a mum but it is always tinged with sadness and loss. I think it’s the ‘Happy’ Mother’s Day that I struggle with most – it seems somehow inappropriate to be happy on a day of remembrance.  So for all those who have lost their mum’s I’ll say a more fitting ‘Best Wishes’ for Mother’s Day.

My Thoughts on the Tickell Review of the Early Years Foundation Stage

I usually approach such reading with trepidation, however when Jonathan Douglas Chairman of the National Literacy Trust described it as ‘exhilarating’ my ears pricked up.

The Review recognises the success and popularity of the EYFS and that it will be some time before this will be fully embedded in practice.  It therefore does not recommend radical change, but maintaining  EYFS in its current form whilst  fine tuning certain aspects.  I’m sure this will be a relief to many who are only just getting to grips with the EYFS and dread being faced with even more change. The tone of the report feels very much as though Dame Tickell has listened to the many individuals and organisations involved in the consultation and shows a commitment to the importance of early education. The review supports learning through play, active learning, creativity and critical thinking as characteristics for effective teaching and  recommends  that the EYFS remains inclusive and mandatory.

There are a number of recommendations in the review including:-

  • A greater emphasis on parental partnership .  The EYFS should be more accessible to parents by making sure it is in plain English.  I also think this would really help with the wide range of people that use it and help to remove any ambiguity .  In addition an online interactive version of EYFS is recommended that would be accessible to parents.
  • A reduction of the Early Learning Goals from 69 to 17, with a simple scale defining the skills needed for emerging, expecting and exceeding each goal.  Anything that reduces targets has to be a good thing in my opinion and the examples of the simple scale are very clear.
  • A commitment to greater clarity on the level of paperwork required, alongside the suggestion that paperwork should be reduced.  This sits alongside the recommendation that Ofsted and the Local Authority work together to ensure that no unnecessary demands made.
  • There continues to be an emphasis on formative assessment based on observations of daily activities to illustrate children’s learning.  Summative assessment (the Foundation Stage Profile) will be significantly reduced and there is a call for stronger links between EYFS and KS1.
  • A call to investigate as a matter of urgency the suitability of a ratio of 1:30 in reception classes.
  • A commitment to recruiting a professional and highly qualified workforce including a review of Early Years training courses and a clear progressive structure for qualifications.  I just hope that this quality is maintained by providing financial incentives.
  • A recommended change to the areas of learning. This would create 3 Prime areas – Communication and Language, Personal, Social and Emotional and Physical and 4 further areas through which these will be applied. These would be Literacy, Maths, Expressive Arts and Design and Understanding the World.  I am undecided as to whether the separation of Communication and Language from Literacy will lead to a greater emphasis on speaking and listening or whether it will detract from the interdependence of reading, writing, speaking and listening.  I hope that there will be clear advice as to what early literacy is .  I am a little disheartened that literacy is defined in terms of reading and writing and that definitions have not been reframed for a new technological age.  I am also unsure about the change from Creativity to
  • Expressive Arts and Design.  I am certain that it has been changed to avoid ambiguity, but creativity encompasses so much more than art and design, that I would hope that this would be fostered in diverse ways.  It is good to see that technology has a specific mention in Understanding the World.
  • A review of children’s development at aged 2-2.5  sharing knowledge from all agencies.

The examples of good practice in the appendices make good reading and there are some thought provoking quotations interspersed throughout.  Reading the whole document takes some time, but is worthwhile.  If you didn’t want to read the whole review the summary of recommendations in Annex 2 will give an overview.

I watch with interest to see how policy makers will adopt these recommendations for the new EYFS.

The full consultation report can be viewed  here http://www.education.gov.uk/tickellreview

Can Technology Engage and Improve Boys Literacy?

How many times do you hear stories about boys falling behind girls in their literacy scores?  In the last 2 years the Foundation Stage Profile Results ( assessment at the end of the child’s first year in school) show that girls are outperforming boys and that Communication, Language and Literacy has the widest gap.

My opinion  is that to a large degree it is down to the fact that boys are not motivated by literacy, because it is not taught in a way that is relevant or interesting to them.  It is important that this is addressed at an early age, rather than once they have already lost interest and are failing.

Children are growing up in an increasingly technological world.  Think back to how much has changed in the last 10 years and we can not possibly imagine what life will be like for our youngest children by the time they leave school.  There is no doubt that children’s experience of literacy in the future will be very different to the pen, paper and print concepts they learn about today.  

 Children’s experiences with technology in the home are generally incompatible with  what they see at pre-school or nursery.  In my experience, having visited many nurseries, technology is generally used in a piecemeal way.  If  I compare this to my children’s  experiences at home it is vastly different.  At home my children play on games consoles, operate the television by remote control, talk to family via video chat, watch cartoons on the laptop or mobile phone, take photos and videos using a mobile phone, record their voices onto a laptop or mp3 player, draw pictures on a drawing tablet, play games on a mobile phone, search the internet for information and much more. The richness of their home experiences are not reflected in their learning at pre-school.

Often this is based on fear, an uncertainty about introducing children to technology (especially screen based) because it will lead children to become lazy and replace more healthy, active or outdoor pursuits.  I recognise those fears; none of us want our children to grow up as screen junkies or for technology to replace important things like reading to your child.  However, I would argue that as technology is evolving, it is becoming more accessible to pre-school children and the opportunity to use it in innovative ways in a play based setting presents itself.  Technology is an ever growing part of their lives and it is important that it is utilised as a natural part of children’s play in pre-school settings.

Boys generally love anything technological and lack interest in reading and writing – this is a generalisation but on the whole it is the case.  I hear people ask all the time ‘ how can I get my son off the computer?’  So maybe instead of trying to ban the things they are interested in we should be using it to our advantage.  I was told a story just a few days ago about how a boy aged 11 who could never understand how anyone could choose reading or writing as a pastime and had joined a computer club at school.  The teachers had shown them how to create animations and story boards.  Following this he has gone away and invented characters, writing comic books and animated stories with such enthusiasm that he couldn’t get to the club quickly enough. 

If we can encourage this enthusiasm at pre-school, maybe we could avoid many of the negative feelings that boys have around literacy and inspire them to be literate in a different way.

This premise forms the basis of my proposal for Phd research ( subject to finding the necessary funding). The hypothesis is that if boys were given opportunities to learn the foundations of literacy through technology, then they would be motivated to learn and this would in turn improve their literacy outcomes.  I would  create a play based environment whereby children could explore the underpinning skills of literacy, through the medium of technology.  This would occur alongside more traditional activities to see whether the technological experiences were more engaging. Technology would be integrated into ongoing practices of teaching and learning.  Each classroom would be designed around the needs and interests of the children. Technology would be freely available and would be used both indoors and outdoors.  I would hope that it would also inform those who create technology, software and applications highlighting possible future developments.  To work together to provide suitable experiences for our youngest children that would reframe  long held notions of literacy.

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