Turning 40

treowen

As my 40th birthday approaches, my plans for celebrating it with all my friends in a large house together have been thwarted.  I had booked a beautiful manor house in Monmouthshire www.Treowen.co.uk , and was looking forward to partying in the huge rooms, playing their grand piano and celebrating with all my friends together.  However, a number of people have had to drop out (for valid reasons) and as it wouldn’t be quite what I had envisaged without them, I have decided to cancel.

So back to the drawing board – how should I spend my 40th birthday?  I have a lot to live up to since I spent my 30th birthday in Paris, was proposed to on the top of the Eiffel Tower, spent the day at the opera house and the evening listening to Mozart’s Requiem .

I asked the children this morning what I should do. My 6 year old suggested I go on holiday ‘ somewhere near here – maybe Wales …. or Japan?’  My 2 year old said ‘ eat biscuits’.  Hmm… Japan sounds good , but not quite in the budget.

So what to do?  Will I be whisked away somewhere romantic?  Could I do that study tour to Reggio Emilia I have always wanted to do?  Or shall I just treat it like a normal day and postpone the celebrations till a later date? 

Maybe I’ll just eat biscuits!

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Hooray for Kindle!

kindle My most useful recent purchase has to be my Amazon Kindle.  As part of a de-clutter my husband suggested selling/giving away our room full of books and replacing the ones that we really like on a Kindle.  I wasn’t really sure at first but it has been just fabulous.

I often find myself downloading pdf documents that I think might be interesting or useful for work and then they sit around on my laptop without being read.  Occasionally I will read a few pages before my eyes get tired from reading on screen.

Now that I have my Kindle all I need to do is email them to my Kindle email address with the subject ‘convert’ and they are instantly transferred to my Kindle in an easy to read format.  Now I can sit and read them like a book without having to print them and they are always to hand.  I can organise them into folders so that I can find them easily and there is even a function for defining words that you do not understand (very useful when reading journal articles).

When I’m bleary eyed I can change the size of the text and the unlit screen isn’t harsh, but slightly brighter than a standard book. I could happily read by the light of the fish tank when researching a few nights ago.

I’m hoping that as more books become readily available I won’t have to carry piles of books or study with a stack of books next to me.  They will all be contained in my little slimline friend.

We are even considering buying one for my daughter’s 7 th birthday – she is such a bookworm .  I could make some much needed space in her bookcase and as an able reader who usually reads alone, she would be able to look up anything she didn’t understand. I think  this would bring her reading to another level.  Though stopping her from ordering endless books on my credit card may be an issue.

And as an added bonus you will be able to subscribe to this blog on your Kindle in the next few days.

I see and I forget, I hear and I remember,I do and I understand.

 

 

The Chinese proverb above illustrates the common practice of active learning in early years education, except that maybe we would say ‘ I play and I understand’.

Early years educators are often criticised for having an easy job, because all we do is play.  I would argue that play is one of the most important things we do, not only as children, but also into adulthood.  Play gives us freedom as it is one of the few things that we do that has no external goal.  Play is both therapeutic and a way of self regulating experience (Jennings).  In play we can select our own materials and are free to choose what to do with them, helping  to work out solutions to conflicts and understand one’s self.  Maybe we should all take time out from our busy lives to play.

As an adult I rarely play, we might play with our children, but generally this is following their agenda or playing a rule based game.  How many of us play for play’s sake ? Why don’t we build dens in the woods or take out a lump of clay and model with it?

I was once on a course with Jenny Moseley who asked us to sit for 5 minutes with an egg.  We had to stay in our own space and were allowed to do whatever we liked with the egg in that time.  Who would have thought that a simple egg could be so absorbing?  It became my complete focus for that 5 minutes and we were then asked to put our thoughts on paper to share with others – the words poured out of me without hesitation.826egg

I think that real understanding is achieved through more than just play.  If we look at some of the most highly respected early years establishments, in particular the pre- schools of Reggio Emilia,  there is one thing that sets them apart.  The schools founder Loris Malaguzzi describes the teachers role as learning and relearning with the children. A favourite saying is ‘catching the ball that the children throw us’. That is not simply asking the children to tell you what the teacher already knows but retaining what the children give with a sense of wonder.  We can learn a lot about the way children think by listening to them.  Often they are viewed as funny or cute comments – like when my 2 year old saw manure on the road and asked ‘Mummy has the road done a poo?’, but these little comments tell us a lot about the way children think.

In the pre-schools of Reggio Emilia  projects are based around what the children say and do.  They would go that extra step to give the children a complete experience .  A project on supermarkets for example, led them to not only visit during the day but also when the shop was closed, helping to encourage further discussion and enhance the children’s play.  In the Reggio schools understanding is not achieved through simply ‘doing’ but also by having the chance to reflect and build on those experiences. It is important that when children ask questions we ask what they think and that their interpretation is seen as important.  It is not the answers that are important but the process of discovery.

In our own work as teachers and parents we can learn so much from our children if we listen , share and take time to reflect both alone and together. In our own lives too , if we take time to step back and really absorb ourselves in something as with the egg exercise, we learn far more than rushing around doing things. Rather than always focusing on the present, the reflection time helps us to work out what to do next.  I believe therefore that the proverb should be

I see and I forget

I hear and I remember

I do and with reflection I understand.

For further information on Jenny Mosley’s work  http://www.circle-time.co.uk

For further information regarding the schools of Reggio Emilia  http://www.sightlines-initiative.com/

http://www.tots100.co.uk/2011/03/13/march-tots100-blog-hop/

Brain Food – Junk Food may lower IQ.

As parents we are keen to get our children the latest educational toy, send them to the best nurseries and pre-schools and give them the best preparation for school that they can.    A research study conducted by the University of Bristol released today suggests that diet at the age of 3 may have an effect on how intelligent our children are at the age of 8.

The study bases its findings on participants in the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children (ALSPAC) which tracks 14,000 children born between 1991 and 1992.  It suggests that a diet of predominantly processed,  high fat and sugary foods up to the age of 3 may lower IQ at the age of 8.5. In contrast A diet rich in vitamins and nutrients may do the opposite.  Parents were asked to complete diaries outlining the food and drinks their children consumed at age 3, 4, 7 and 8.5.  IQ was measured at the age of 8.5.  After taking other influential factors into account it was found that children with a predominantly processed diet at the age of 3 were associated with a lower IQ at the age of 8.5, irrespective of whether their diet had improved by that age. Similarly children with a healthy diet at age 3 were associated with higher IQ’s at the age of 8.5.  Diet at the ages of 4 and 7 had no impact on IQ.  Though the findings are modest, the results are in line with previous research which shows that quality of  diet at the age of 3 is related to school performance and behaviour. A possible explanation is that the brain grows at its fastest in the first 3 years of life, therefore good nutrition may lead to optimal brain growth.

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So much marketing is aimed at parents and children, making parents feel guilty that they are not buying the child the latest ‘educational’ toy or taking them to classes to improve their language and social skills.  So why not use this as an opportunity to market nutritious food for the youngest children as brain food. Three years isn’t that long a time to limit processed foods and it sets children up with good habits for life.  So maybe next time my 2 year old is nagging for a biscuit or sweet I’ll suggest a healthy alternative –  ‘ Have some special magic food , it will make you clever’.

http://www.bristol.ac.uk/alspac

Storytelling and memory

This week is National Storytelling Week.  I was going to write about my experiences of story telling with young children.  However,something else that I have been talking about this week seems to relate very well to story telling.

I have been having a sort out of the endless ‘stuff’ we accumulate in our house. One part of that has been to thin out all the things we have stored that we never use  and  collate our photographs in one place.  During this process my husband found a box full of old letters, certificates and notebooks which contain memories that would otherwise be forgotten.  We looked at photos of years gone by and the way that we remember things.  I also had a conversation relating to memory with a neighbour who recently had a large family gathering.  She talked about how when they all got together and talked about past shared events, they each remembered it differently.

How much of our lives get lost because we don’t document it?  When we need to find evidence of how we felt, often we can only say, I don’t remember it like that but maybe that is how it was.  Sometimes I wish I had documented my life so that I could look back and say with confidence , that is what happened, this is how it happened and this is how I felt.

At times I have kept diaries, mostly during my teenage years. I was so embarrassed by my thoughts when I  came across them years later, that I threw them away but a part of me wishes I hadn’t.  I have kept diaries of my pregnancies and early days of the children because the children won’t remember those times. I hope that one day I will be here to answer their questions about it but maybe, like my own mother, I will be gone by the time those questions arise.  I kept a journal during my honeymoon, I don’t often read it but sometimes it’s comforting to look back on the best times in your life.

My point is that when we think of story telling we automatically think of fiction, but our lives are a story – often the most interesting stories come from real events.  What may seem irrelevant or waffly thoughts right now will someday mean something to our children and grandchildren.  My most treasured possession is a letter that my mother wrote when she was in hospital after having me.  My dad found it after she had died and it is my only account of how she felt to be a mother for the first time .  Stories don’t have to be about dragons and adventures, let’s not forget that our own stories matter too.  For National Storytelling week I will not tell a story but will try to begin to tell my story so that I don’t forget and will not be forgotten.

Parenting – the most difficult job in the world?

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I am  a bit of a ‘netmums’ addict.   Today they launched their REAL Parenting campaign, recognising that we should all stop trying to be a ‘perfect’ parent and to relax and do the best we can in our own situation.

As all parents know , raising children is full of ups and downs.  There is nothing more wonderful than watching your child grow and acquire new skills, they make you proud in so many ways.  With all the joy and love that children give they also take from you a great deal.  They take your independence, sleep, money,time, energy, appearance to name but a few.  So why not be realistic and honest for a change – parenthood can be great but its also damned hard work and if we strive to be perfect parents won’t we always leave a little of ourselves behind?

My attitudes to parenting have changed a lot in the past 7 years.  When my eldest daughter was born I had high expectations of the type of parent I would be. We used real nappies, had home made  baby food and no sweets much before the age of 2, she was exclusively breast fed for 8 months and followed a strict routine.  As an early years teacher I was keen to involve her in lots of creative messy activities , it was rare that you would leave our dining table without bits of glitter stuck to your clothes and she only watched television if I sat with her and we talked about it together.

  My 2nd child followed a slightly less strict routine, was weaned on finger food because she wasn’t interested in my healthy mush and developed a penchant for ice-cream.  She has therefore had sweet things from little after 6 months of age.  She watches television with her sister and ‘Charlie and Lola’ is the perfect vehicle for keeping her occupied when you want to get on with things. She is in disposable nappies by the age of 2 and rarely paints, glues or plays with dough and clay.

My 3rd wears a mix of disposable and real nappies, has been introduced to one formula feed a day by 3 months old, and has fallen into a pattern of co-sleeping.

With the first 2 children I didn’t return to work until they were almost 2 year old and was happy to stay at home. This time I’m really looking forward to going back into the adult world again and building a  life for myself.  Does this make me a worse mother?  I doubt it , surely a happy and fulfilled person will be best equipped to raise happy and fulfilled children. 

My attitudes to parenting have changed , I feel a more relaxed parent (as much as one can be when juggling 3 small children) and have come to the conclusion that if you pressurize yourself too much about how you should behave as a parent , then somehow you lose a part of you. When all concept of who you were before has gone everything suffers, relationships break down, self esteem crumbles and you find yourself talking about the price of nappies and which level of spelling your child is on.

Give yourself a break, we are good parents, our kids will be fine if we instil in them basic values , love them and listen to them.  Don’t give up everything for them , look after yourself or what will be left of you when they are gone?

http://www.netmums.com/campaigns/The_Real_Parenting_Revolution.5719/

Room by Emma Donoghue

I have been looking forward to reading this book for some time and had kept it aside to read in one sitting.  I was not disappointed.

The story is told from the perspective of a 5 year old boy who has been locked in a room with his mother from birth and is unaware that there is an outside world.  Sounds depressing ?  Oddly it isn’t. The child’s voice makes the whole experience both fascinating and endearing.  Inanimate objects are his friends,  hence he refers to ‘rug’,’wardrobe’ and ‘bed’ and anything that he sees on the television is seen to live only in the t.v.  As the story unfolds his mother explains to him about the outside world and we live through his bewilderment and  attachment to both his mother and the place he knows as home.

The Middle section of the book is  gripping  and fast paced , real edge of your seat stuff.

The final 2 sections describe beautifully the child’s uncertainty in a big new world and his observations of the futility  of modern consumerism .   It made me consider what is really important to children..  They don’t need ‘things’ or to be taken to lots of places what ultimately matters is security , love , and routine.

It is a wonderful thought provoking read and I can’t recommend it highly enough.

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