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 .

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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.

World Poetry Day – Musings on Poetry and Some to Share

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There has been a lot of discussion in recent weeks amongst mummy bloggers  as to whether or not we would be prepared to share poetry that we had written as teenagers.  The general concensus was ‘no way, it is far too personal and embarrassing’.  When I joined the discussion, I had just found my book of poetry from my teenage years and started to read it.  I agree that much of it is very naive, about love and loss of love and the desperate nature of teenage romances.  However, some of it is about other issues.  It shows the common beliefs that you hold when you are young , a sense of injustice and the hope that you will change the world some day.    I wrote lots of poetry as a teenager , helping to frame my thoughts and work through issues.  As an adult I write them less frequently, usually when I am unhappy and still find it therapeutic.

I’ve decided to be brave and share a poem that I wrote when I was 16 years old – this was written in the mid/late 80’s when there was lots of scaremongering about nuclear war – remember the dramas about what would happen if a nuclear bomb exploded? It’s unedited and uses the punctuation that I chose when writing it.

The End of the World

Screeching! Wailing! Shouting! Screaming!

People run to take cover where they cannot be saved.

Heart jumping, legs quaking, head  pounding,

I watch the sky for the beginning of my fate.

Then it comes, with no noise, people silent,

As we watch the air explode into smoke

See the world turning purple, red and yellow,

I feel sick, on my tears I could choke.

  

Bring my hands to my eyes and bury my head

To protect me from the great blinding light.

What’s happening? Help me! I can’t see!

Am I dead? Is this Heaven? Help me out!

Crumbling world all around me, dying people

But it’s all brought about by greedy men.

It’s the innocent , God fairing children

That are punished and have said their last Amen.

 

In my last few moments I remember a land

Full of green, much love and content.

See the earth slip away – not just my life

But a place, far too late to repent.

Dust fills my lungs and I crumble to the ground,

And though I am weak and my brain is concussed,

I still know how appropriate those funeral words are

of Ashes to Ashes and Dust to Dust.

 

I asked my 6 year old daughter to write something for me to share on my blog.  She loves poetry and often chooses a book of poetry as her bedtime story.  My husband taught her to recite ‘ Custard the Dragon’ by Ogden Nash, it was lovely to watch them doing this together and I’m sure it has helped with her expressive reading .  She used to add in her own bit when Custard cried for his nice safe cage – she would add in a deep ,whiny voice ‘Boo-hoo I want a safe cage’.  I think my 2 year old will follow in her footsteps.  She often chooses singing books at bedtime which include a mixture of song and rhyme.  Learning poetry by heart is such a valuable skill for young children.  It covers so many things that are important for becoming competent readers, awareness of rhythm and rhyme, use of alliteration, memory and the use of expression to convey meaning.  And of course it is fun.

Here are my daughter’s poems

Elephant

Elephant, Elephant

Wrinkly and Grey

I’m going home in case you

Step on me on the way.

Treasures

I love jewels on the walls

Crowns and diamonds all at the piemans

Money, money it’s so funny

Garnets and rubies at St Cuby’s

Turning 40 Part 2 – Is Eeyore in his 40’s?…. and more thoughts about Eeyore.

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I picked up a book in my doctor’s surgery , ‘Forty-fied – How to be a Fortysomething’ by Malcolm Burgess.

I loved this quote

Eeyore is probably 40, seeing that his stuffing is falling out, he’s terminally depressed and surrounded by annoying energetic younger things who know that the only way to cheer him up is to give him a nice jam jar with a burst balloon for his birthday, about which he is expected to be sadly euphoric

I don’t feel like my stuffing is falling out but after having 3 kids,  I look at pictures of myself when I turned 30 and compare it to the tired woman with grey roots, developing wrinkles and a post baby tummy and wonder if we are the same person.  I love the stuff about presents which are also discussed elsewhere in the book.  I keep getting asked what I would like for my birthday but I don’t really want or need anything.  I’d quite like a boob job but at £5,000 that’s a bit above most budgets, permanent hair removal,  decent hair cut, a trip somewhere?  I’m doing quite well with presents from my husband, I have a spa day, haircut and photo shoot and tickets to see Rufus Wainwright and my neighbour has bought me tickets for the ballet – so I’m far from Eeyore’s realm.

To be honest I’m actually not that depressed about turning 40 – it’s a turning point for me.  The end of my childbearing days hence a chance to get my figure , career and social life back on track.  Maybe not straight away (I still have 2 children under 5) but there is light at the end of the tunnel.

I hope I’m not an Eeyore.  In Benjamin Hoff’s wonderful book ‘The Te of Piglet’ ( a follow up to the’ Tao of Pooh’), he describes the Eeyore effect.  Those in life who enjoy being unhappy, who are so obsessed with the bad things in life that the good things pass them by.  The most poignant part of his Eeyore discussion  is that of the Eeyore educators.  These try to force too much inappropriate information on children too soon, so that children get stuck.  An Eeyore educator’s answer to failing test results would be to send them to school earlier,  taking away their creativity and play .

Piglet

picked a large bunch and trotted along, smelling them, and feeling very happy, until he came to the place where Eeyore was.

‘Oh Eeyore’, began Piglet a little nervously, because Eeyore was busy.

Eeyore put out a paw and waved him away.

‘Tomorrow’ said Eeyore. ‘Or the next day’.

I think we all recognise this in our busy lives, how we often say ‘In a minute’ but for the child who lives in the moment, that moment becomes lost. Hopefully turning 40 doesn’t mean turning into Eeyore, but rather being a Piglet or a Pooh.  As Piglet says in the closing line of ‘The Te of Piglet’

For me, it also seems like a beginning.

Someone to Watch Over Me – Childhood Risks

I’m so pleased that my eldest (almost 7) has finally started to play in the street with her friends.  It is well known that if you ask adults about the most memorable and enjoyable times from their childhood they will almost always involve being out of doors, with friends and with no adults around.  I can’t remember a time when I didn’t play out in the street, I certainly have clear memories of being 3 years old and doing so.  When we moved from the city to a cul-de-sac before we had children, I hoped that we would find somewhere that our children could play in relative safety from traffic.

This has come at an opportune moment as I have just finished reading ‘Beware Dangerism’ by Gever Tulley, which discusses the irrational fears that we have about our children’s safety and how this makes them less able to deal with risks and challenges.  Gever runs a school called Tinkering School which encourages children to build and take things apart using real tools.  This reminded me of photographs that a colleague of mine shared on her return from visiting forest schools in Denmark.  I saw pictures of under 5’s using sharp knives with great skill to whittle sticks.  She talked of how one of the schools had been on the coast and the children were sent off without adult supervision onto the beach, with the only rule that they were to go no further than the edge of the water.  They were called back hours later by a bell.  This approach reminds me of the hours that I used to spend in the woods near our house as a child.  We used to often pretend we had run away – the idea of being independent was always a thrill I’m sure that I am often looked upon as a bad mother.  On holiday last summer another parent looked horrified as my 18 month old stood waiting to go down a big slide.  I watched as her child looked worried about going down the smaller one and an adult stayed carefully by her side.  I looked at the other parent and said ‘She’ll be fine , she does it all the time with her sister’ as she launched herself down the slide smiling and laughing.  I often see parents holding their children on reins as they attempt to climb in playgrounds, as if they are afraid to let them try anything on their own.  I once had an argument with a lady in a charity shop because I was letting my daughter touch china pots whilst I was next to her supervising.  The lady very crossly asked her to stop and I asked her how my child was expected to learn to be careful with things if she wasn’t allowed to touch them under adult supervision.  I want my children to try things with confidence and not to grow up cautious and timid, I never underestimate what they can do as long as they have clear safety  rules.

Lenore Skenazy has a great blog  that talks about kids and risk taking many daft restrictions on children

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