Month: January 2014

Is Too Much Praise a Problem?

Today I offer you the article written by Karen Brooks in our local paper.  In it Karen talks about the practice, rife in our schools and in society in general, of praising our children for every tiny thing they do.  She talks about the “all must have a prize” attitude and its long term impact on children. 

i remember having to award a “student of the week” certificate when I was a classroom teacher. There was no option here, someone had to be the student of the week, and over the school year every class member had to receive a certificate.  By the end of term one, the kids who had already received an award lost enthusiasm for the prize. By the start of fourth term, a betting game on who was to the recipient of the week had started, because the kids knew who was yet to receive one and were able to figure out the odds.  Great maths activity but not the point of the exercise. The award had lost all its meaning very quickly.  

Like Karen Brooks, I believe that praise should be earned and that by providing our children with false feedback we are doing them a dis-service.

Read the article.  I would be interested to read your thoughts.

Opinion – Karen Brooks Courier Mail 25/01/14

 

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Back to School

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When I was a kid, Australia Day (January 26) meant it was time to go back to school after the six week summer vacation.

Since my vacation time was spent mainly with my little brother and my cousins, I was more than ready to go back to school to catch up with my friends and share holiday adventure stories with them.  The adventure stories would be well and truly embellished by the time they were shared making for some really tall tales in the first week of school.

The biggest  part of going back to school was the new equipment one required. New books, new pencils and art materials, new school bag (usually brought by Santa after the old one had collapsed under the strain of a school year), sometimes a new uniform and, of course, new school shoes.

ImageSchool shoes were black lace ups and were usually fairly heavy on the foot, because they had to put up with a lot of playtime stress. They also tended to rub one’s heels raw after about ten minutes wear in the early stages. This meant that they had to ‘worn in’.

I would be instructed, after I had had a bath to remove the day’s grime, to put my new shoes on and walk around in them for a while to wear them in.  Worn with my blue polkadot pyjamas and new white ankle socks, the school shoes completed a highly fetching outfit.  Mum would tell me to walk up and down the long hallway of our house for ten minutes or until the shoes started to rub – whichever came first. Boring!

I tried reading while walking, but I would crash into my brother who was also wearing in new shoes and, for some reason, could not get out of my way. I was sure he did it on purpose so that I would get into trouble. I was the big sister and was supposed to ‘set the example’. I didn’t even know what the example was! I just knew he was annoying.

I tried singing while walking but would be told that my voice was too loud, too irritating, too off key, too squeaky, too much like those dreadful rock and roll people.  I was quite pleased by that last one.

I even tried practising the times tables.  This was acceptable to my parents and allowed me to keep a close eye out for my little brother’s sneaky collisions.

Ten minutes isn’t a long time but it seemed like forever. It would take about a week to wear those wretched shoes in by which time the times tables were really well known.

My favourite thing about the back to school process was the readying of the books etc.

ImageSchool books, text books and note books, had to be covered.  Some people used brown paper to cover the books and then stuck interesting decals on them to make them look really good. Some people recycled their wrapping paper from Christmas and some people used the sticky Contact paper.

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I was not allowed to use Contact paper until I started high school because it was quite expensive back then and was quite tricky to handle.  Over the years I perfected covering my books with Contact paper – no bubbles, no creases, just a shiny clear cover – but my initial attempts weren’t very pretty.  One year I even ended up covering the books with brown paper over the top of the bubbly, creased Contact paper. What a disaster!

These day you can get plastic slip on covers that offer no challenge whatsoever as regards application.  You simply pop the book covers into the little pockets.  Done!

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By the time Australia Day rolled around, all was in readiness.

Books covered, pencils sharpened, all placed in new school bag. Uniforms cleaned, ironed, hems let down where necessary. New shoes worn in.

There new school year stretched out before us, full of excitement, challenge, some fear if one was honest, but most of all, promise – promise of the unknown.  That, for me, was most exciting.

I liked not knowing what lay ahead.  I would imagine all sorts of scenarios, dramas, successes and spectacular failures.  The anticipation was exhilarating.  I would head off on that first day ready for anything. In my mind I had already coped with whatever life was about to throw at me.  With plans in place to deal with the horror of being placed in Mr Higgins’ class or having to sit next  to – (gasp) – a boy, I would set forth with the natural resilience and humour of childhood and, of course, my collection of spicy tales of holiday adventures.

I hope Australia Day is an enjoyable day for you. Remember to pop over to Book’dOut to enter the competition to win a book by an Australian author.  If you would like to check out any of my mystery books for 8-12 year olds, pop on over to Taya Bayliss Books.  

A Series of Ideas

When I was a kid, we went to the movies every Saturday afternoon.  The cinema was just a block away. The seats were made of canvas and were sort of like hammocks. The aisles sloped towards the screen, just perfect for rolling lollies (Jaffas) down.

The cinema was next to a paddock into which the Friday night patrons would throw their empty drink bottles.  These bottles were gold to us kids.  At that time, each bottle was worth money when returned to a retail outlet.  We made it our business to be at that paddock early on a Saturday morning to search for bottles.  We would gather as many as we could find and take them down to Mr Kennedy’s shop to exchange for money, which would then be used to fund our afternoon’s entertainment.  Bottle collection was a fine little business for a kid to be involved with. We looked at it as free money rather than providing a public service.  A really productive morning could see one set up for sweets for the rest of the week without having to dip into ones pocket money.  Excellent!

On Saturday afternoons the cinema ran a children’s matinee.  There would be a cartoon followed by a short film e.g. The Three Stooges and then Intermission.  Then there would a serial and finally, the feature film, usually a Disney movie or Elvis Presley film.

I loved the serials. They were famous for their cliffhanger endings.  The hero would be trapped in the mineshaft, the fuse of the dynamite would be lit, and then…the famous words…”to be continued” would appear and  a massive collective groan would roll around the theatre.  How on earth were we supposed to wait for a whole week to find out if he survived?  Of course, we all knew that he would come up with some amazing way to escape just in the nick of time but it such fun to come up with all sorts of mad scenarios/suggestions for what might happen.  Flash Gordon, The Hardy Boys, Roy Rogers and Rin Tin Tin all featured in those serials.  They kept us on the edges of our seats and fired our imaginations for the rest of the week. It is  a technique authors use in their books to make us want to keep turning the pages.  A chapter, especially in a mystery story, should always end with a hook that makes the reader say ‘Just one more chapter’.

Now, someone has recently suggested that I write one of my Taya Bayliss stories in the form of a serial.  One episode every week for, say, six weeks, released on Kindle.  It is an idea worth thinking about.  I can see the possibilities of this and am actually quite excited by it.  Hmmm.

Move It.

When I was a kid, I had no trouble whatsoever keeping active.  Like most kids, I only had two speeds – flat out and dead stop.  These days, however, I spend a vast amount of time resting on my broad-based seat of learning either at the computer, working with students at the tutoring centre or relaxing in front of a good movie.  This article sent to me by a friend is timely and I am pleased to announce that I writing this blog post in a standing position.  It does feel somewhat weird but not uncomfortable so i am happy to adjust my habits to include periods of standing typing.

Since our weather has recently taken a turn  for the hellish, temperature-wise, I have been walking laps around my house rather than venture out into the furnace-like conditions.  One lap equals fifty steps and ten laps take five minutes. Go me!

Here is the article.  Sitting Down. Read and enjoy….preferably standing up.

 

 

Cubby Houses

When I was a kid, I always had a cubby house of some sort.  It was my own little space where I was queen.  Sometimes I would graciously allow my brother or my cousins to come in to my cubby house. The only reason for that was that I knew they had their own cubbies that I would want to visit.

My cubby house was where I stashed my second best treasures. I wouldn’t keep my top level treasures there because of the afore-mentioned visitors to the cubby, all of whom were likely to pinch one’s treasures if they had the least opportunity.

My cubby was a place to read in peace, a place to eat the sweets bought with the weekly allowance, a place to dream big dreams and a place to escape from other people – something I quite enjoyed – and move into a fantasy world where everything was perfect.

My favourite place for a cubby was in my bedroom or in the playroom.  Image  I would gather up bedsheets, table cloths, pillows etc and drape them from the furniture to form a secret hide-out or smugglers cave.  These cubbies had a tendency to collapse and fold in on themselves just when you least expected them to and were not resistant to bombardment with stuffed toys or tennis balls.

The obvious solution to this was to build a cubby under the dining room table.

Image A blanket or two draped over the table so that it reached right to the floor made for a dark, mysterious cubby that required the occupant to use a torch when in residence – perfect for ghost stories designed to scare the pants off little brothers. My cousin had his chemistry set in his under-the-table cubby until there was a slight mishap with some smelly substance that rendered Aunty’s dining room uninhabitable for nearly a week.  Thereafter he was banned from cubby construction in the house.

My cousin and I were known to be, um, shall we say, mischievous and inventive?  Our achievements in the field of treehouse building were the stuff of legend.  This picture from the local newspaper of a treehouse built by some kids reminds me of the tree houses that Greame and I built all those years ago.

Image    Of course, in our minds, it look more like this one from The Swiss Family Robinson movie.  I loved that movie.  It encouraged me to learn how to weave banana leaves into mats, roof coverings and curtains.  Unfortunately, I couldn’t find any coconuts so I never had a go at creating any of the wonderful water lifting machines.  Greame did suggest tin cans but I rejected that idea out of hand…it had to be coconuts.

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One weekend when I was about eight years old, we went to a drive-in movie.   There, for the princely sum of two shillings, patrons could enter the monthly draw for some really fabulous prizes.  Drive-in movies were the in thing back then and the huge parking lots were filled for every movie session.  Anyway, on this particular occasion, the first prize for the raffle was a cubby house – gasp!  It was spectacular.

Image       It looked something like this one.  I loved it on sight.  Dad bowed to pressure and purchased some tickets, giving me the chance to own this dream house.  Being me – the eternal optimist – I assumed that since I had a ticket, I was bound to win that house. I started collecting interesting items to display in my new  cubby house. I created artworks for the walls and even made a letter box similar to the one in the picture so that my parents would be able to communicate with me when I had moved into my new dwelling.  I was devastated when I learned that I had not won the cubby house.  I had been so sure that it was going to happen.  I had seen myself in that cubby house.  I cried myself to sleep for a week.

But, as I was to learn much later in life, the Universe moves in mysterious ways.  My father, wonderful guy that he was, had already purchased the necessary materials to build me a cubby house.  Maybe it wasn’t quite as fabulous as the raffle prize, but I loved it with all of my youthful heart.  It looked a bit like this, but it had a proper door, complete with a handle and even a peephole.  There was a ladder attached to the side so that I could climb up onto the roof if I wanted to be a pirate pacing the deck or a princess in a high tower.

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My cubby didn’t have flower pots hanging outside. It had my own personally designed flags flying proudly.  And..it was all mine.  My own place to do with as I wanted. Dad didn’t paint it. He left that to me.  He asked me if I wanted shelves in there.  Of course, I wanted shelves.  I asked him if I could have a lantern.  He bought me a camping lantern power by batteries.  Smart man, my dad, imagine what I could have done with a kerosene lamp!!!!   He put a camp bed in there for me so if I wanted to sleep in there I could.  It was just wonderful.

My Dad was the best.  He understood the need for a little girl to have a personal space in which to dream and create worlds of wonder.  He didn’t try to impose his own ideas on me.  Other than the initial construction, he allowed me to create my own place.  It gave me a position in the world that was of my own design, still within the bounds of parental control and safety but isolated enough to give me a taste of independence.

A cubby house is a base for creative play, a fortress of solitude, a refuge, a place to be in command.  It is, in my opinion, an essential part of growing up.

 

 

What if I Fail?

 

 

There’s no doubt about it, watching your child fail at something is hard.  You know they are trying really hard but they still don’t make the team or get 100% for spelling.  You watch them and your heart breaks for them.

Children even see failure in not having anyone to sit with at lunchtime or not being called on when they raise their hand in class.  That sense of “I’m not good enough” can start very early in their lives.

Henry Ford’s statement “Failure is only the opportunity to begin again more intelligently” reminds us that failure provides us with the opportunity to re-evaluate and to try again with the extra ammunition of experience to support us.

I guess we have all heard “Practice makes perfect” or “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.”  Whilst I would amend the first statement to ‘Practice makes for Improvement’, I do endorse the second.   It is through trying and failing, possibly repeatedly, until some measure of success is achieved, that our children learn about patience and perseverance, two key factors for success.

So how do we help our kids through the inevitable failures that they will face?

Talk with them about how they are feeling as a result of being unsuccessful.  Reassure them that what they are feeling is okay and help them to find acceptable ways to express those feelings.

  • Talk with them about how they are feeling as a result of being unsuccessful.  Reassure them that what they are feeling is okay and help them to find acceptable ways to express those feelings.
  • Remind them that you are proud of the effort that they have put in and the positive attitude they have shown.  Tell them that you value these two things just as much as, maybe even more than, a win.  Make sure they know you love them no matter what the outcome.
  • Keep expectations realistic….for both of you. 
  • Have a discussion on strengths – the things you notice about your child that you see as positive characteristics. Remind them that nobody is good at everything.
  • Be a positive role model.  When you experience failure of any sort. Remember that young eyes and ears are recording your reactions.  How you deal with failure is a major lesson for your children.  It is okay to tell them that you are disappointed or sad and important to show them how you go about learning from the experience.

 

Everyone will fail at some time in their life, but it is how each of us deals with that failure that sets us apart from our peers.  Treating failure as a learning experience may seem a difficult task, but as previously stated ‘Practice makes for Improvement’.

 

 

 

 

Give Childhood Back

Today I present to you an article from Peter Gray, research bio-psychologist, in The Independent on Sunday, january 14, 2014.

It begins with:-

Give childhood back to children: if we want our offspring to have happy, productive and moral lives, we must allow more time for play, not less

Because students spend nearly all of their time studying, they have little opportunity to be creative or discover their own passions

Hello, curriculums writers and re-writers, are you listening?

Mr Gray continues with this which should give all of us who are parents some pause for thought.

The most important skills that children everywhere must learn in order to live happy, productive, moral lives are skills that cannot be taught in school. Such skills cannot be taught at all. They are learned and practised by children in play. These include the abilities to think creatively, to get along with other people and cooperate effectively, and to control their own impulses and emotions.

For the whole article, go to this page.  The Independent.

It makes for interesting reading and certainly makes me wonder a) how much thought and research, (beyond politics) goes into the formation of curriculum for our schools – and – b) how much the pace and pressures of modern life are taking away from our children.

Super Nurturing or Over Protection?

Here is a very interesting piece written by Maggie Dent about how we are not allowing our children, especially our boys, to have some freedom and adventure in their childhoods.  

http://www.essentialkids.com.au/older-kids/development-for-older-kids/why-boys-need-a-boyhood-to-become-good-men-20140108-30gat.html

I particularly like this line.

“I lay blame on society, which seems to have stolen boyhood in the name of a sanitised, politically correct, gender neutral, bland childhood.”

Read it.  I would be interested to read your thoughts.

 

Eat a Little Mud

UnknownI was out walking with the dog today. We went down to the lake and wandered along past the ducks, black swans and water dragons and happened upon a couple of little girls playing mud pies  at the edge of the water.  Their mother was sitting on a rock nearby watching them as they formed their pies and set them out to bake in the sun.

When I was a kid, we used to do this all the time. Memories came flooding back. Rows of beautifully formed mud pies and cookies,  decorated with little pebbles or shells we’ve saved from our last holiday at the beach, lined up on Dad’s barbecue plate to bake.

Now, Dad wasn’t too pleased with us using his barbecue for our baking.  He had spent an entire weekend building its solid brick frame, complete with storage section for the wood, newspaper and kindling twigs.  He’d laboured over the seasoning of the plate, a pristine piece of metal salvaged from the biscuit factory where he worked when they had rejigged one of the ovens. It was a masterpiece, that barbecue, his pride and joy – well, up until the evening he burnt his hands on that pristine piece of metal.

He had placed his glass of beer on the back of the barbecue frame, so that it could easily be reached by a thirsty, outdoor culinary expert when the need arose.  All went well until, in the course of discussing the cricket results with my uncle, he reached for his glass, overbalanced slightly and put both hands down on the hot plate to regain his equilibrium.  Ouch! Severe burns to both palms…..no more barbecuing for a while.

But, back to the mud pies.  We were allowed to bake our pies on the barbecue plate as long as we  cleaned up thoroughly – and I do mean thoroughly –  afterwards.

Those mud pies featured in many a game.  They were vittles while we were riding the range with Roy Rogers or Billy the Kid. They were medieval fare when we were knights in shining armour or damsels in distress.  They were fairy cakes for the little girl next door.  They were space food for astronauts and they were food for Captain Nemo in his submarine city.  I seem to remember that Superman quite enjoyed a mud pie too.

Mum didn’t mind how long we played mud pies.  She didn’t even mind the bits of mud pie that we accidentally (almost) ate.

‘Oh well,’ she would say, shaking her head at the sight of our muddy faces. ‘It won’t hurt you to eat a bit of dirt.’  She reasoned that our immune systems were strong enough to cope with a little bit of dirt.

That philosophy is rarely found now. A teacher friend of mine established a mud puddle in the garden outside her classroom for the little ones to enjoy as part of their creative play.  The kids loved it but there were several horrified parents.  What if their child got dirty? What about the health risks? What if they get mud in their mouths, noses, ears etc.? How do we know that it is clean mud?

I said ‘Hello’ to the mother of the two little girls playing mud pies by the lake this morning.  My dog sniffed at the pies but was told that they weren’t ready for eating yet.  The girls were excited to explain to me how one goes about making special magic mud pies. One of them wiped a stray hair and smeared mud over her face.

‘Oh well, ‘ her mother said with a laugh. ‘It won’t hurt them to eat a little bit of mud.’

I laughed with her, reassured that the world hadn’t changed so much after all.

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A Deficit of Play

A friend on Facebook drew my attention to this most interesting article today. 

Interestingly, it begins with ‘When I was a child’….grabbed my attention immediately.

Here is the link  http://aeon.co/magazine/being-human/children-today-are-suffering-a-severe-deficit-of-play/

And here is the first paragraph.  

“When I was a child in the 1950s, my friends and I had two educations. We had school (which was not the big deal it is today), and we also had what I call a hunter-gather education. We played in mixed-age neighbourhood groups almost every day after school, often until dark. We played all weekend and all summer long. We had time to explore in all sorts of ways, and also time to become bored and figure out how to overcome boredom, time to get into trouble and find our way out of it, time to daydream, time to immerse ourselves in hobbies, and time to read comics and whatever else we wanted to read rather than the books assigned to us. What I learnt in my hunter-gatherer education has been far more valuable to my adult life than what I learnt in school, and I think others in my age group would say the same if they took time to think about it.”

 

I agree with the author that the decrease in the amount of free playtime has resulted in  less creative, anxious, disrespectful and overly self-involved children.  

It is time to stop scheduling children’s time down to the last minute and just let them be kids.  Let them amuse themselves so they learn to be inventive. Let them be bored so that they can find things to do, be creative.  Let them experiment so that they can learn safe risk taking.  Let them fail sometimes so that they learn to handle disappointment.  Let them wait for things to happen so that they learn about non-instant gratification.  

Ask them questions. Let them state their opinions and, more importantly, justify them. Challenge children to be clever and watch them astound you with their wisdom.