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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Saturday is Caption Day #hobbies

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Toddler Star Gazing
Getting involved in Daddy's hobbies.

What makes children happy?

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I read with interest yesterday an article on the updated findings of a landmark report published three years ago by the Children’s Society – ‘A Good Childhood’ which I blogged on some months back – here.  The previous study warned that young people’s lives are being blighted by Britain’s selfish society.  However, the updated findings say that ‘half a million children in Britain are unhappy at any moment’.  Following interviews with 30,000 under-16s it claims those who have deeply negative feelings about their lives are at higher risk of bullying, depression and eating disorders.  At first glance it makes for depressing reading and is another stark reminder that we still have unacceptable levels of child poverty in this country are more than unacceptable.  But, I then realised that the study was not talking about children on the poverty line but children in general across the board!

As I read on what actually concerned, and frankly annoyed, me about the report was the findings that;

‘Children who worry that they do not have the right clothes to “fit in” with classmates are three times as likely to be unhappy with the way they look, with the problem affecting girls more than boys.’ And ‘Those who received less pocket money than their peers reported lower levels of well-being, but so did those who were given a lot more cash, suggesting that children want to be similar to their friends more than they want to be rich.’

I’m sorry but since when did we not balk at the idea that our responsibility for making our children ‘happy’ lies with providing them with the right ‘clothes’ and enough pocket money?   Is it just me or is something amiss here?   Should it not be more cause for alarm that the emphasis and importance placed on image, labels and material things in general is completely out of control and endemic?  Instead of being encouraged to revise our children’s opinions we’re being pressured to adhere to their demands and (in my opinion) helping to compound the problem.

Don’t get me wrong; I do understand the mortification of not having a ‘puff-ball’ skirt, ‘Wallabies’ or a ‘United Colors of Benetton’ sweatshirt at school because we were a single-parent family who lived on a council estate!  However, despite our low income, my mum always dressed us ‘well’ albeit not the latest labels.  My mum, instead encouraged us to be individual and suggested it was cool to be different – just as well seen as we were the only mixed-race kids in our entire year!  I remember my aunt made us some ‘flares’ just before they heavily came in fashion (I’m talking the second time round in the 90’s – I’m not that old!) and although we were a little nervous at wearing them in the first week, the ‘top girl’ of the school came up to us asked us where we got them from and if our aunt would make her some!  There is a lot you can get away with if you’re confident and this attitude has got me a long way in life ever since.  I just think it’s a much more helpful trait to encourage in your child – confidence, individuality and setting the trend rather than following it.

There is a big difference between not having any shoes at all (real child poverty) and not having the ‘right’ shoes.  And as for pocket money – don’t even get me started. They don’t know they’re born!!

L

#3BOOKS

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I love books.  I love reading.  I do not get enough time/make enough time to do it as I should.  You can read about the ways I have got back into reading post-baby in my post Book Club Mum.  We’ve even started a book club here through More Than A Mum in response to the comments on that blog entry. (Next meeting is 8.30pm, Twitter, discussing Caitlin Moran’s How To Be a Woman under #MTAM if you want to join us. Or drop us an email at morethanamum@gmail.com if you want to join next time)

Anyway, I digress… I do indeed love reading and it is a passion that I share with Emily of A Mummy Too.  Her passion has also dwindled and her post My Three Books – What are yours? explains how and why she lost contact with reading in spite of that passion and to rectify this she shares her favourite childhood, adulthood and parenthood book and asks others to do the same. So, here is my sharing!

CHILDHOOD

This is actually quite difficult as although I am an English graduate and an English teacher I didn’t read for myself much as a child. My mother even made a worried appointment with the Head of my primary school about my lack of interest in reading, but was told that I’d come to it in my own time.  He was right.  The only thing that I can think is that my own reading skill did not match up to my interest level and the fact that my Mum and Dad were happy to read amazing novels to me at bedtime meant that I never wanted to pick up the things I could read.  Perhaps for a long time I found reading to be a social, family activity rather than one you’d keep private?  I can’t remember my actual reasoning, but I can remember starting to read only when I could manage the delights of Roald Dahl, which my Mum refused to read to me!

So here in lays my first choice.  My childhood book is The Witches.  I remember sitting outside our house in the sunshine reading that book and making sure I was just far enough away from the door that I could feign and inability to hear my mother’s calls to come inside. I wonder if my Mum knew that by refusing to read books to me it would make them doubly interesting.  They’re clever people, you know, Mums.

ADULTHOOD

There are so many books from which to choose here.  In fact my husband and I so love books that we used book titles as table names at our wedding.  Each table had a picture of the cover of the particular book as the table marker and menu.  The amusing thing for us was that we sat people on books which we felt suited them. I am not going to go through the books we used or why people were sat at particular books in case any of our guests are reading, but suffice to say all the books meant something to us and us alone!

Anyway, my choice for Adulthood is hard.  I have already written and re-written this post with three different choices here (To Kill A Mocking Bird, Harper Lee, 1984, George Orwell and Popcorn, Ben Elton if you’re interested) but my book for Adulthood is actually one that I have only recently read thanks to one of my book clubs: The Tennant of Wildfell Hall, Anne Bronte.  There are many reasons why I have fallen in love with this book. Firstly it reminded me of why I love the Brontes and made me wonder why I hadn’t read poor Anne before.  I am a lover of the gothic, romantic style that these sisters use and love it particularly in contrast with the saccharine stories of my most hated of female authors, Jane Austin.  I loved it because it reminded me of being an A Level student again, when I read and loved Wuthering Heights, but more than this I was amazed by how modern and pertinent it was.  It may have been written in the 19th Century but the lead female is strong independent and brave, and challenges the social stereotypes and taboos of the day in a way many women are unable to even today.  She is a single mum, who has chosen to stand up to the male dominated society she inhabits.  She is definitely More Than A Mum!

PARENTHOOD

I adore the reading that I do with Munchkin.  With children, reading is learning; reading is enriching; reading is powerful.  We have read to Munchkin since she was born.  She has had books around her since day one and I love the fact that when I was looking after a friend’s toddler for the day and whilst washing up from lunch I wondered why the room had gone quiet I popped my head round the door only to find the two of them engrossed in books!

To choose just one of the books that I have read with Munchkin seems impossible.  There are so many great ones. The inimitable Julia Donaldson is obviously a part of the cannon, as are Eric Carle and Lauren Child.  I love the old classics of Beatrix Potter and AA Milne as well as they come full circle and remind me of my own childhood. Munchkin goes through phases and we read the same two or three books for days and even weeks on end, driving us nearly potty at points, but still I love reading with her.  My favourite book for this category though has to be one of the first that she experienced and one that I have read over and over more times that I can remember:  Pants, by Nick Sharratt.   It is funny, scans beautifully and has fantastic artwork, and with the line “No Pants At All” it’s a little bit naughty!

So there are my three books:

CHILDHOOD: The Witches, Roald Dahl

ADULTHOOD: The Tennant of Wildfell Hall, Anne Bronte

PARENTHOOD: Pants, Nick Sharratt

I hope this has inspired you to think about your own favourite books and your own reading. If it has, pop and see A Mummy Too and have a go yourself.

R

Don’t forget, More Than A Mum Blog is also available on Kindle

#3Books

Developing speech, language and communication in your child

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Yesterday a survey by OnePoll for I CAN, the children’s communication charity, and Openreach revealed that children in the UK are suffering as the recession forces parents to take extra work.

According to the findings the recession has forced 81% of parents in London (72% of British parents nationally) to take on extra work to make ends meet putting pressure on home life and time with children.  Worryingly, parents surveyed said this impacts on the time that they have to talk and interact with their child aged 0-5 years, which could potentially impact on their child’s communication development and their school readiness. Evidence shows that children’s understanding and use of vocabulary at 2 is very strongly associated with their performance on entering primary school. More than 50% of children start school without the communication skills they need to achieve particularly in some areas of social deprivation within the UK.

Key stats from survey in London:

•           Over a third are working longer hours, one-fifth have found themselves with no option but to take on a second job and a quarter of parents surveyed are now doing extra work from home.

•           More than half (57%) say they have less quality time with their children as a result of their work.

The survey shows that parents of children 0-5 years old, understand the importance of regular, quality conversation with their children. However:

•           44% say they rarely have time to talk these days and blame increased workloads.

•           20% are too tired to chat with their children by the time they get home from work.

•           Around a third state that either answering work calls or responding to emails often interrupts attempts to chat with their children.

•           Although parents in London recognise mealtimes as one of the key occasions to engage in conversation with young children, nearly 40% are regularly missing out on these meals due to work commitments.

The survey aims to encourage as many families, nurseries, child minders, children’s groups and others across London to register and take part in I CAN’s Chatterbox Challenge 2012 ‘Kids in Motion: Get Active and Make Chatter Matter’. the 11th annual Chatterbox Challenge, from 1-7th February 2012. The Chatterbox Challenge, developed by speech and language therapists, aims to develop children’s communication skills, through songs and rhymes, in homes, nurseries and childminding groups across the country.”

With support from Openreach, donations raised during the Chatterbox Challenge go directly to I CAN’s work with children with speech, language and communication difficulties. I CAN aims to ensure that no child is left out or left behind because of a difficulty speaking or understanding.

 Kate Freeman, I CAN Communication Lead Advisor says, ‘There are many quick and simple ways to help your child’s communication and we’ve put together 10 tips on building talking and singing into a busy day’:

10 TIPS FOR DEVELOPING SPEECH, LANGUAGE AND COMMUNICATION

GET YOUR CHILD’S FULL ATTENTION FIRST

Get down to the child’s level and engage their attention before speaking or asking a question – say their name to encourage them to stop and listen.  Talking about what your child is interested in will also help to gain their attention.

MAKE LEARNING LANGAUGE FUN

Funny voices, rhymes, noises and singing all help children to learn language.  Be silly – often the daftest things gain their attention

IMITATE CHILDREN’S LANGUAGE

With very young children, simply repeat back sounds, words and sentences. This demonstrates that you value all they say.  This can be anything from “ba” to “Oh, you liked the apple?”

USE A FULL RANGE OF EXPRESSION

Speak in a lively, animated voice and use lots of gestures and facial expressions to back up your words – you’ll give clues about what your words mean

USE SIMPLE, REPETITIVE LANGUAGE

Keep sentences short – as you talk about what is happening (“We’re driving in the car” or “Wow, you’re building a tower”)

MAKE IT EASY FOR YOUR CHILD TO LISTEN AND TALK

It is easier for your child to know what to listen to if your voice is not being masked by the television or music.  Give your child quiet times to help them focus on your words.  If your child uses a dummy, make sure that it is not in the way of their talking.  Keep dummies to sleeptimes

BUILD ON WHAT CHILDREN SAY

Talk very clearly and add one or two words to your child’s sentence – if your child says ‘look car’, you could say ‘look, red car’

GIVE CHILDREN TIME TO RESPOND

Children often need time to put their thoughts together before answering, so give them longer to respond than you would with an adult

BE CAREFUL WITH QUESTIONS

Try not to ask too many questions, especially ones that sound like you’re constantly testing the child, or where you already know the answer

DEMONSTRATE THE RIGHT WAY

Praise your child’s efforts, even if the results aren’t perfect – if the child says “we goed to the shops” the adult might say “Yes we went to the shops” of if child says “look tar” the adult could say “yes, car!” 

I thought these were pretty good tips but I’d add avoid baby talk.  I honestly have never understood the thinking behind teaching two versions of words when you can teach the correct one from the start! Why say ‘Choo-Choo’ when you can say ‘train’? Why teach ‘Ta’ when you can teach ‘thank you’.  Some baby talk words are more difficult to say than the real ones i.e. ‘Bow wow’ V ‘dog’!!!!  My son’s speech has always been fairly advanced (a real chatterbox) and although he loves using funny voices, making up words and silly rhymes (which I encourage) he has a great vocabulary and loves learning new words and their meanings.  I’m sure this has been largely down to us taking advantage of his inquisitive nature and explaining things properly when he asks about them rather than palming him off with kiddy answers – that are often not true.  Sometimes adults can assume a child will not understand and therefore over simplify an answer which can actually end up confusing a child – especially if they’re on to the fact that you’ve made it up!  I also found responding to a question with a little bit of additional information but not too much helps to add interest and fun into learning.  I also have talked a lot to my son from him being a tiny baby and I believe this helps them with their speech and understanding.

What tips would you add to encourage development in your child’s communication?

There is still time to register for a free Chatterbox Challenge pack, just go to www.chatterboxchallenge.co.uk

L

Me Time: Learning something new

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In this time of New Year’s resolutions and making promises to “do better this year”, don’t forget you.  You are probably aware by now of the mission of More Than a Mum (if not, click here!) and therefore I’d like you all to look carefully at your New Year’s resolutions and check that you’re not using them as a stick with which to beat yourself…

It is easy to get into a negative frame of mind with New Year’s resolutions.  Looking at the ‘bad’ things you do and trying to improve them is important, but don’t dwell only on what you do that you shouldn’t and don’t do that you should.  I advocate (and have a few of my own) resolutions which fit with the ‘giving up …’ ‘trying to stop…’ ‘making more time for…’ ‘Getting round to…’ themes, but I also think that we should all have at least one resolution which is based purely on a positive and gives you some of that all important “Me Time”.

That is why this year I am going to learn pottery.

I am a learn-a-holic. I’m a teacher by trade and last year I completed my Masters in Education. This completion has left me somewhat bereft.  Doing my MEd kept me sane at many points during the last few years (No honestly, it did!) and the flexible study of the OU was perfect to fit around family life. I love education and enjoy learning for its own sake, but this year it is OH’s turn to start studying, so there is no way that there will be enough time for two of us in the family to be working on academic stuff and frankly I should take a break from essays and all that jazz. But, I couldn’t take a break from learning, hence the pottery.

I really think that learning something new is a great gift to yourself.  It challenges your views of yourself.  It gives you a goal and who knows, it could open new avenues for you. Watch this space for my online pottery catalogue! You could learn a language, take an eyebrow threading course, try burlesque dancing or learn to sew.  It doesn’t matter what it is; how big or how small; it doesn’t matter if it is academic, practical or even pointless, learning something is all about focusing on you for a bit.

As a Mum it is also great to share learning experiences with your kids.  You will be better placed to understand their trials and tribulations in school: they may be struggling to understand algebra and you trying to get to grips with ice-skating, but you’ll remember what it feels like to be learning.  You’ll be able to talk to them about strategies you use to help you learn. You can discuss ways of overcoming difficulties and sympathise about how teachers and/or other students can really get on your nerves!

The things you could learn are endless, the places you could learn them diverse and the costs varied.  For first inspiration you could try googling your postcode and the word courses, classes or learning. I tried and found a photography course, a reki and natural healing course and Spanish lessons in less than a minute. Libraries and local council websites can also be a good place to start looking for ideas, as can local pubs and clubs (my local has Salsa classes in its function room on a Wednesday evening) or shop and community hall noticeboards.

My OU masters cost a fair bit (though some was paid for by employers as it was relevant to my job – always worth asking your boss; the worst they can say is no.) The pottery is run by the Arts Centre at a local University, and costs just over £90 for the term, including materials. Our local Children’s Centre runs various free courses from drawing classes to job interview skills, from yoga to bhangra. Many universities run free taster courses in both academic and professional development courses. If you don’t fancy or can’t afford taught courses there are so many things you can learn for free online. Just google “learn to knit online” if you need an example.

Why not make this year the year that you learn something new?  It might be something you’ve always dreamed of, or something you spotted on a whim on a flyer, but go on, make a resolution to spend some time on you this year: learn something new.

R

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How to talk to Little Girls

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I read a really thought provoking article this morning which really challenged my thinking completely.  It was by author Lisa Bloom in the Huffington Post called How to Talk to Little Girls. Now I see myself as a liberal, forward thinking, bordering on feminist woman who feels strongly about girls celebrating their brains as well as beauty; having a healthy all-round self-image.  However, when I read the article I realised that I too have often been guilty of employing ‘flattering’ tactics of little girls in order to boost their self-esteem.  All little girls want to be a princess and love to be complimented on their pretty dress, hair or smile – something we never really grow out of!  But what Bloom challenges in the article is the idea that teaching girls that their appearance is the first thing you notice tells them that looks are more important than anything.  This really did make me stop in my tracks!

Bloom noted that this week ABC News reported that;

‘Nearly half of all three- to six-year-old girls worry about being fat. Also in her book, Think: Straight Talk for Women to Stay Smart in a Dumbed-Down World, she reveals that 15 to 18 percent of girls under 12 now wear mascara, eyeliner and lipstick regularly; eating disorders are up and self-esteem is down; and 25 percent of young American women would rather win America’s Next Top Model than the Nobel Peace Prize. Even bright, successful college women say they’d rather be hot than smart.’

A depressing outlook!

Yes we want our little girls to know they are beautiful physically regardless of the current ‘trend’ for beauty and whether they fit into it or not but, wouldn’t it be even better if they were brought up to believe that this actually doesn’t even matter at all?!  As to whether this is possible in today’s society is another thing altogether but Bloom does believe we can play our small and significant part to, as she says, ‘Change the world, one little girl at a time.’

Bloom suggests we consciously engage in a different dialogue when we talk to little girls such as asking them; What is she reading? What does she like and dislike, and why? For older girls she advises, asking about current events issues: pollution, wars, school budgets slashed. What bothers her out there in the world? How would she fix it if she had a magic wand? Tell her about your ideas and accomplishments and your favorite books. Basically to model for her what a thinking woman says and does.

I found this really inspiring as well as challenging.  I don’t have a daughter but if I did I’d love it if my friend’s I admire and look up to conversed with her in this way.  As a mum of a son it obviously got me thinking about how we talk to boys and what negative stereotypes we subliminally enforce – but that’s another blog post for another day!!

L