Saturday, 18 April 2015

Sorting by Colour

In an inspired moment, I grabbed the baking trays to stop the magnetic letters going all over the floor. And then I had an idea .... It kept him focused for a good while!
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Spring Flowers

My second son likes to get behind the camera - and also enjoys dabbling with watercolours. Here are some of this month's offerings ...

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Summer Born Children and the Case for a Later School Start

"Mother's Victory Opens Way for Thousands of Summer Born Babies to Start School Late"

What an interesting lot of issues are raised by this article from the Mail Online, and how liberating it is as a home educator to be free of the stresses of school admissions.

Rosie Dutton in Staffordshire delayed her summer born daughter's school start by a year, despite being told that her decision to do so could lead to her daughter having to skip reception and join her peers in Year 1 the following year. However, she did not bow to pressure, and was offered the place she wanted - in the school of her choice - in the reception class the following year. Good for her! But many similar appeals by parents up and down the country have been less successful.

The article points out that "Department for Education guidance says children in England must be in education from the term after their fifth birthday". Education here implies school with no mention that school is, in fact, not compulsory. "The law also allows for pupils to start school earlier. As a result, the vast majority of children begin their education by taking up a Reception class place at the age of four." However, the article puts forward evidence to suggest that summer born babies often do not do well if they start school shortly after turning 4. "Summer-born babies tend to perform worse in exams and are more likely get bullied by their classmates, research has found. Many experts believe that the attainment gap between children born just after the academic year starts in September and those born during the summer holidays is already evident by the age of five and, while it narrows as pupils progress, it fails to close." What is even more interesting are the statistics the article goes on to share ...

"A 2009 Department for Education report found that only 40 per cent of children born in summer were achieving a good level of development compared with 50 per cent among those born in Spring and 64 per cent in Autumn babies. Those born in September were also almost twice as likely to achieve good grades as those in August." If I am reading this correctly, this report shows that - in school - at best (amongst Autumn born children) only 64% are showing a 'good level of development'. Let's turn that statistic upside down, and it tells us that, at best, 36% (and, at worst 60%) of children are NOT showing 'a good level of development' (whatever that might mean) ... Is this not more than slightly worrying? And the list of findings goes on ....
"Of the lowest 20 per cent of achievers, 49 per cent were born in Summer months. Previous Government research has said that at GCSE level, 10,000 teenagers fail to score five good grades every year simply because they are the youngest in the academic year. In 2009 only 47 per cent of pupils born in August obtained five or more GCSES at A-C level compared with 55 per cent of those born in September." Again, turn these statistics upside down to see the failure in our educational system. The favourable figure here - 55% of those born in September achieving what we might consider the minimal qualifications (5 GCSEs at A-C level) = 45% of those children NOT achieving.

"Another study carried out by the Institute for Fiscal Studies found 12.5 per cent of August-born pupils were assessed as having mild special educational needs by age 11, compared with only 7.1 per cent of those born in September. Experts have argued over whether they should start school as soon as possible, with their September-born peers, wait several months or even be held back a year. Department for Education figures show 62 per cent of those born between May and August fail to meet minimum expected levels in areas such as reading, writing, speaking, maths and listening." Read that again: "62 per cent of those born between May and August fail to meet minimum expected levels in areas such as reading, writing, speaking, maths and listening." Isn't that appalling?

To return to the focus of the article, and the struggle of Rosie Dutton and others like her, "There are no statutory barriers to admitting a child of five to a Reception class'" states the Department for Education. "It adds: 'Children born in the summer term are not required to start school until a full year after the point at which they could first have been admitted – the point at which other children in their age range are beginning year 1. 'The admission authority must make a decision on the basis of the circumstances of the case and in the best interests of the child concerned.' But the Flexible School Admissions for Summer Born Children group said years of unclear and conflicting government advice on the policy has allowed schools and councils to use a loophole to push these children into Year 1 to ease pressure on places in Reception. Bracknell Forest Council says: 'If you choose for your child not to start until their statutory school age... starting in a Reception class following a child's fifth birthday is only possible in exceptional circumstances. Reading Borough Council warns: 'You will need to apply for a place in Year 1. However, the school may then be full because the places have been allocated to children in the previous school year."

All of this adds up to pressure on parents to push their child into school before they feel they are really ready. In fact, parents ought to be entitled and enabled to exercise their best judgement about when - and indeed if - they choose to send their child to school.

Wednesday, 15 April 2015

Potty Stress & The Wisdom of Waiting

Some months ago, as my youngest son approached three years of age, we began to talk about the toilet. For Christmas, we bought him a book about it, "Pirate Pete's Potty" which he loved. He became quite obsessed about bodily functions as he processed the idea of moving on from nappies, and we have an Usborne Body Book with which he has become very familiar, showing particular interest in the page all about digestion. I noticed he seemed to have a dry nappy a lot of the time, and that he was becoming aware of when he was weeing, so I decided to take the nappies off and see how he got on. We had a potty around, and he was talking very eloquently about the whole process and what he had to do. Of course, he has the example of three older brothers to follow as well, so it seemed the time might be right. However, what happened next was not something I experienced with any of my other sons. He willfully stopped weeing, and stubbornly held on to it, even when it began to cause distress, even though I was very calm and patient and he knew what was happening and what he needed to do. I became so concerned about his holding on that, after talking to him about it, we decided to go back into nappies. I even rang my health visitor for some advice, and she supported my decision to just back off for the time being. But he clearly knew now that he could control things so, even back in nappies, he refused to go. He was so wilful about it that, when he did finally had to let go, he would tell me in advance and we went into the bathroom and stood beside the toilet. He would then wee in the nappy and we would then change it. However, he had held it so long that, twice, the wee was so big it leaked through his nappy and on to the tiled floor! This caused some distress, so I tried doubling up the nappies when he was ready to go. From this experience came the idea of going 'on the tiles'. This meant, when he needed to go, he would go and stand on the tiled floor by the toilet so as not to leak on the carpet. This became his new habit and, as he relaxed about this, he began to go regularly again, always "on the tiles". Even when we were out and about, "on the tiles" meant he needed to be taken to the toilet. So, now, effectively, I had a child who was 'toilet trained' in that he knew exactly when he was going and what he was doing, but was still insisting on wearing a nappy. Well, I just waited and we carried on like this for a while, relaxed and not making any fuss about it. Then, suddenly, on his 3rd birthday, he woke up and stood in front of a big mirror talking to his reflection ... "I am a big boy now, so those nappies will just have to go in the bin. Wees need to go in the toilet," he declared. And that was it. From then on, he has been using the toilet for both wees and poos, day and night, he is fine with it. And we've had no accidents to clean up. Isn't this an interesting lesson in the beauty of waiting until a child is ready? It certainly saves a lot of stress. I remember potty training my eldest son and what a drama it was. I wish I had known then what I know now, and had just had the wisdom to wait.
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Cheryl's Birthday Problem

We are having fun with the Cheryl's birthday puzzle in our house today. We disagreed with 'the expert' (Alex Bellos) in the video initially as it seemed he had made an illogical jump in his reasoning. But then we saw it! What do you think? When IS Cheryl's birthday?
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Monday, 30 March 2015

Men as Mentors

As my oldest son begins his teen years, I have noted the way he latches on to men, enjoying their company and wanting to learn from them. I once read of a culture in Africa where, at 14, boys are taken away from their mothers for a process of initiation. They spend two years away with the men of the tribe, and are then reunited with their mothers in a special ceremony which marks the beginning of a new relationship between the mother and her son as a man. I remember this as I note quietly that my boy is increasingly unwilling to listen to me, and I try not to let it upset me, but to see it as a normal part of his growth. My husband is much better able to get through at the moment. I remember too a book I read by Steve Biddulph, "Raising Boys", in which he talks about the years of strongest influence on boys ... From 0-6 years, he suggests, boys belong to their mothers, then from 6-14 the focus shifts to Dad (or a familiar older man). From 14, he suggests the boy will look outwards from his family to other men in the community. Look out for good men, mentors, in your community who will catch your boy when he turns and looks outwards.

In the summer, we had some work done on our new house. It was quite substantial work over some months involving extension to the rear and the installation of a new kitchen. On the job were two men - Sam and his Dad, Keith. My oldest son loved having these guys around and he spent a lot of time hanging out with them at the back of the house, observing their work, talking to them about what they were doing, helping where he was able to. These guys were great with him and very tolerant. I think he really enjoyed the experience and I am sure he learned a lot about construction - and manhood. As he learns primarily through talking to people and asking questions, experiences like this are invaluable, in my opinion. Unfortunately, our society doesn't seem to give a lot of opportunity for boys to hang out with men all that much. In schools, the relationship between pupils and teachers is different, as the focus is on the imparting of a curriculum rather than sharing life and work. This doesn't usually allow the same kind of mentoring role to develop. I think it is really important that we find and encourage these mentoring relationships to help our sons become men. Where might we find & build such relationships? In the family, at youth groups, community groups, sports clubs, at work ... Where do your son's interests lie? Can you find men with similar interests who might be willing and able to get alongside during these crucial years?

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Minecraft in the News ...

Should parents ever worry about Minecraft?

The Way We Work

In our house, we do have a general 'gaming after 4.00pm' rule which came from the boys. Whilst this rule is flexible, I think the key to managing gaming is balance, balance, balance ... Let it be part of a busy life - full of other stuff. I have noticed that my boys' social time with friends now seems to revolve around Minecraft and it is a challenge for parents to keep up with all that is happening online. Just this week, I had an evening call from a friend whose son was very upset about what was happening in the Minecraft world, and the boys and I had to have a chat about what was going on and how others might react to what they were doing in the game. The boys and I talk about online time a lot, and I gently but persistently encourage them to balance their gaming with other activities. What are your thoughts? How do you manage gaming in your house?

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