Education

Bear Hunt

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Well, you may well know by now that I (Ruth) am an English teacher and am passionate about reading and especially getting children engaged in books and reading from a young age. You may also know that both Loretta and I have really rather active little mites who, although they both enjoy books, are often in need of activities that burn off a little more energy than reading, so I gave some thought to the matter and when we met up with the kids, we went on a bear hunt…

To read the rest of this post, head over to our newly launched website: www.more-than-a-mum.com

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Parents’ evenings: an insider’s guide!

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So far here at more than a mum, we have focused on toddlers and Mums.  That is where Loretta and I are at with our own parenting.  Today, I want to discuss something for parents of older children: school parents’ eveningsParents' evening

As you may know I (Ruth) am a secondary school teacher and recently when attending a Mums get together, I chatted to a number of women with older children.  Something that they all said was that one of the toughest  parenting challenges they faced was school. In part, this was due to finding they didn’t understand “the system”.

One area where many parents can feel lost is parents’ evening.  You may feel anxious and as if you are on trial, waiting for the verdict to be pronounced on you via your little darling’s achievements or misdemeanours. Teachers have to see tens of parents in very short order and (at secondary school, especially) you are often only allocated a 5-10minute slot with each teacher.  You want to spend as long as necessary, but are aware of the queue building behind you and the mounting chorus of sighs and tuts.

Firstly I thought it may be useful to tell you how the teacher may be feeling.  I cannot say that this goes for all teachers; I can only talk from my own experience. The thoughts below are amalgamation of my own thoughts, experiences and observations through ten years of teaching.

“As a teacher I am frustrated by the short time slots. They don’t allow me to talk properly with parents.  I am also very aware of the huge queue building up and wary of the parent who wants to talk for the entire evening.  I would like to build a good relationship with parents but often don’t feel that there is the time on these evenings.

“For parents of children who are doing well, I may not say much.  I want these students to do well, but as their families are obviously already doing all the right things, spending ages talking them is not my priority. I may tell you statistics and use acronyms without explaining them to you – this because I forget that you may not understand and I know it they mean that your child is doing well.

“For parents of children who need more support in learning or behaviour, I may appear to lecture you and not let you get a word in edgeways.  This is because there are a number of things that I need to say to you and I am aware that time is short. I am used to talking to students who are expected to listen and can sometimes forget that I’m not in the classroom.  I want you to be involved; in fact I need you to be involved if we are going to help your child.”

So, that was my view on the part of the teacher in parents’ evening, but as the name suggests, it should not be about the teacher. The second part of this blog is therefore, over to you.  Please add your questions and answers below.  As a parent, what do you want to know about parents’ evenings? What most frustrates you?  What is the thing you always want to find out, but never can? Which acronyms do you need explaining? Has your child’s school really got something right? Have you got a parents’ evening insight to share?

Also, are there any more teachers out there (I know there’s a few of us hiding, unnoticed in the mummy-blogging community!) who could share a hint or tip for parents about how to make parents’ evenings a successful interaction for all concerned?  Or can any of you answer the questions posted?  I hope that this blog will get a dialogue going and help to remove at least some of the barriers of “the system” that the women I spoke to seemed to have found.

R

Teaching children about identity, prejudice and racism

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A couple of things have prompted me to write this blog. Firstly, last week I was described and recommended as a ‘black’ mummy blogger to a mum who was looking for the same (apparently there are not many in the UK so identify yourselves if you’re out there!) In case you’re thinking this offended me, it didn’t in the slightest but as a ‘mixed race’ woman it did get me thinking about identity, culture and heritage and how we communicate/pass that on to our children. I have been asked numerous times in my life whether I see myself as ‘more black’ or ‘more white’ and I always find the question puzzling as in actual fact I don’t see myself as ‘more’ of one or the other. Now, I don’t mean that I see myself as separate from both rather I see myself as entirely both. From a young age my twin sister and I have called ourselves ‘brown’. Not sure if this is PC or not but it’s what we always felt was most fitting. Growing up we hated ‘coloured’ and ‘half-caste’ both common in the 80’s. A friend who has mixed race children used to point out to her children, ‘You are not ‘half’ anything – you are fully black and fully white.’ I quite liked this description owning all of your heritage and not just portions of it. Furthermore, I remember from very young age thinking for myself how wonderful it was that just by existing I represented two races coming together who had such a stark history of ignorance, hate and prejudice – I actually announced this to my teacher when I was around 10 years old! (Can you imagine what an annoying kid I was?) Please don’t stop reading if you’re not an ‘ethnic’ – sorry I’m not good at being P.C – because I think we can apply this to any racial background, not just colour. Whether your background is Welsh, Scottish, Irish or much further afield, our heritage is part of who we are and we should celebrate it and proudly embrace it but I strongly believe it shouldn’t and does not define us.

The thing is race and or ‘difference’ to children, if left to their own devices, really isn’t an issue. It wasn’t when I was little and it isn’t now. It only becomes an issue when children imitate adult’s poor attitudes, representations and prejudices. In short; it is learned behaviour. It’s not that very young children are unaware of ‘difference’ or don’t notice it, they simply accept it, get on with it and even celebrate it! I remember in the summer when BearCub noticed a birthmark Munchkin has on her foot when they were playing. After enquiring what it was, Bearcub actually cried because he wanted one too and we had to draw one on his foot to pretend. I wondered how different that conversation would be had the birthmark been on a child’s face and had they been thirteen!

So how can we encourage our children to keep the wonderful, curious, open-mindedness they have towards other looks, ways of doing things and experiences that they have now while they are pre-schoolers? I believe the answer is to expose them to as many different cultures, types of people and experiences as possible. We are spoilt for this in London as society is so vibrantly varied in terms of different cultures and races. However, I grew up in a school where there were only 4 black people in our year and my sister and I were the only mixed race pupils. Going back to the same school now every class has at least a couple of mixed race students! Mixed-race people are the fastest growing ethnic minority group (defined according to the National Statistics classification) in the UK and, with all mixed categories counted as one sole group, are predicted to be the largest minority group by 2020. I guess one day maybe we’ll all be brown! Last week at my local library they held a ‘Roots of the Caribbean’ day to celebrate Black History Month (This month in case you didn’t know!). It was a great event with Steel drums, traditional soul food and a wonderful carnival vibe.

My little boy doesn’t look like he has any black in him at all (his dad is white) but I think it is important for him to understand and explore his roots, not only so he is able to dance in time at the school discos, but so he can appreciate the wonderful diversity of language, culture, colour and life in general. My son has never asked why Grandad is black and Nanny is white or even why mummy is brown (or gold as he likes to say) because it doesn’t even occur to him. Sometimes by being overly P.C we can create issue where there is none. Wouldn’t it be great if adults took the lead from how young children so readily interact with those different to themselves?

L

What is a good childhood?

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As well as being a mum and a singer I also work as a radio presenter and producer. My show is for Unsigned artists and I meet some incredibly talented people.  This week an artist who is also a friend of mine (Jules Rendell) sent me a new track she has written which was inspired by the 2009 Children’s society report.  The song is called Never been Loved and it’s in response to the findings, which basically said that children are more anxious and troubled today than ever before.  It largely put this down to parents striving for material success and pursuing their own self-centered ends rather than the needs of their children.

Wikipedia puts it like this: The Inquiry’s report, A Good Childhood: Searching for Values in a Competitive Age [8], was published in 2009 and received considerable media coverage, including from the BBC[9]. It found that ‘excessive individualism’ is causing a range of problems for children today, including family break-up, teenage unkindness, unprincipled advertising, too much competition in education and acceptance of income inequality.

The song is fantastic and speaks of discovering an unconditional love that can spur you on to hope but what really impacted me was the summary of the findings that she sent along with the track (above).

This ‘excessive individualism’ can be seen throughout our society and I agree that it’s spreading like an endemic disease. It is all the more deadly because it is not only seen as acceptable, but the norm. We are programmed from an early age to strive and compete to ‘have it all’.  In deed in this day and age we believe it is our ‘right’ and that we in fact deserve it.  What’s worse is many young people are growing up believing these ‘things’ should come their way without doing a thing to contribute to themselves or the society they live in.  This dissatisfaction with life is what I believe was at the root of the recent UK riots primarily amongst the youth: Young people who feel the world owes them more without having to earn it in any way.  And it is not just the under-privileged youths that have this attitude.  Middle class children who want for nothing, have the latest gadgets and get everything on their Christmas list are also turning into adults who ‘expect’ material gain with little effort.  But as super-nanny would say (bless her) usually it is not the child’s fault for their behavior and attitude.

Along with this, the lie is sold that by gaining these ‘things’ you gain happiness and fulfillment along with it.  Mums and dads who work all hours, most days just for a luxury 2-week holiday twice a year are modeling this same attitude.   I must say I get challenged every Christmas when I find myself wanting to buy BearCub every toy I see that I know he would love.  However I had a stark wake up call recently when he started to ask and expect a new toy every time we went out.  I had been spoiling my child.  At the risk of sounding all ‘when I was a wee lass’, when I was a child we had secondhand toys which we were overjoyed with and I remember my sister and I crying for joy when my mum managed to scrap together enough to get us a second-hand Commodore 64!

We ought to be showing our children what is important in life and the only way we can do that is to find out what really fulfills us and make sure we’re living our dreams too.  This will inspire our children that happiness and fulfillment equal success – whatever the route there may be for each individual.

L

Should I send my child to preschool?

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I know that not everyone will share the views I express here, nor will everyone have the luxury of choice, as I do.  But I want to explain why I will not be sending Munchkin to preschool.

I am a teacher; I have a Masters in Education (well, very nearly!); and I am a mother. I think therefore, that I’m pretty well qualified to make the following comment: we institutionalise our children into school at too young an age.

Children have to be in compulsory education from 5-18; that’s 13 years of their life! If we send them from age 3, that adds another 2 years. I wias in favour of the Cambridge review, which stated that children should not start formal education until they are 6, but that was ignored by the Government who commissioned it and the opposition at the time, so that was that.

I know that a lot of preschools and reception classes do have a play based curriculum, do understand the need for informal styles of education in the early years and do work hard to keep learning fun, but I’m a secondary school teacher and I have regularly seen pupils who are bored witless of school by 14 or 15 (just when they really need to be switched on) and all I can think is, they’ve been there pretty much all their life.

I didn’t go to preschool as a child, and I still felt pretty cheesed off with it all by sixth form (and staying until 18 was a choice then, unlike now).  I didn’t do as well as I should have in my A levels and didn’t start working until I reached University and began a whole new style of learning and teaching.

I don’t think that we should institutionalise our children at such a young age, and yet I am also very aware that my daughter is at her most interested and like a sponge at the moment and I don’t want her to miss out on Educational opportunities. But, you don’t just learn in school, there are many other places and ways to learn and by not sending Munchkin to pre-school we have time to exploit those.

I also know that one of the things children do in the preschool and reception environments is to learn to socialise without their parents, both with other adults and with other children, but again, there are other ways to achieve this.

The choices we make about schooling among the most difficult choices we have to make for our children and only you can decide whether or not your child will benefit from preschool. As the Government said in their 2007 document about home schooling, “The responsibility for a child’s education rests with their parents. In England, education is compulsory, but school is not.”.

R