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A Plea for Child Readiness

Amanda Martin:

I couldn’t agree more.

Originally posted on Tales from the Penguin Room:

all families matter all families matter

The term “School Readiness” has always bothered me. As a preschool teacher, I am not just getting children ready for school or even for kindergarten. I am helping them learn to be life-long learners. I want them to enjoy school, of course. But I want them to enjoy the people they meet at school and enjoy the things they do after school just as much. I want each of them to be a well-rounded person who finds their own way of fitting in to the world and offering something to the communities they find themselves in.

A blog post of Teacher Tom’s http://teachertomsblog.blogspot.com/2015/06/your-child-is-not-falling-behind.html

making a map

made me see another reason to dislike the phrase “school readiness.” It is often a euphemism for literacy; more specifically reading and writing. Too often I see programs focusing on “school readiness” put so much emphasis on reading and writing that they ignore speaking…

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Posted by on June 25, 2015 in Parenting

 

Playing Away From Home

I don’t know how to admit this, but it’s been playing on my conscience. I have neglected you, my family, for another.

The is someone else. What can I say? It was new, exciting, secret.

I thought I could keep you both happy, that no one would know. But then I saw the truth – I was keeping part of myself from you.

There it is, the truth is out. There is another. Another Blog.

Mummy Fit By Forty.

My new place to ramble and try to work out life. An attempt to galvanise myself into getting fit enough to keep up with my kids.

It’s not going so well. The initial excitement is waning. It’s hard. It’s lonely.

So if I’m ever missing from here, I might be there. But you will always be my first, my family. :)

 
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Posted by on June 24, 2015 in My story

 

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Maybe Children ‘Behaving’ Isn’t So Essential

The Guardian article

The Guardian article

In my last post I complained that even my fictional children won’t do what they’re told. My character ran off and started writing a completely different book to the one I intended. According to a writer’s course I did, this is a sign of bad planning and research.

It turns out that my character might know what she’s doing and, if I let her express herself, she’ll write a truer story than anything I could carefully plan and execute.

While writing courses and writing advice is all brilliant, and helps the craft, there is definitely a point to tune out external opinion and trust your gut.

Two articles I read on Facebook recently have made me realise the  same thing with regards to my real life parenting.

I’ve always been a ‘soft’ parent, willing to accommodate my children and listen to them.  I did see a meme this morning on Twitter that said something like, ‘If you always put others first, you teach them that you’re second’ and that is certainly worth considering. I often have to explain to my children what ‘servant’ and ‘slave’ mean after I’ve blurted out a particularly sarcastic comment.

Even so, I’ve never been too bothered about swapping the pink cup for the yellow, or making toast that’s half-marmite, half-jam. This is seen as a parenting weakness. In an article I ranted about a while ago, a nanny said she judged a family badly if they did exactly that. I argued with this view. Why shouldn’t we accept that kids have opinions? I have my favourite glass, fork, plate, bowl and make sure I get them at mealtimes. Woe betide husband making a cup of tea in the wrong mug!

We tell our kids not to whinge or have tantrums or change their mind, but we’re no better. This brilliant article Toddler vs Mum Behaviour: Spot the Difference? on WryMummy.com sums up the hypocrisy. We’re all capable of spilling a drink or napping at the wrong time, and we’re old enough to know better, as the phrase goes. So why yell at a child for it?

The second article that really hit home was on the Guardian website. It’s called Since when did obedience become the epitome of good parenting? My answer would be, Always. Traditionally that’s been the whole purpose of parenting and education. To raise obedient children, seen and not heard, who would go into the Forces, or a factory or an office, and do what they were told.

But life isn’t like that anymore. There are no jobs for life, and the good jobs are about being able to think for yourself – doctors, nurses, scientists, programmers, designers, entrepreneurs, even plumbers and electricians (jobs picked at random!) all require independent thought and problem solving skills. How many times have you moaned because a person in a shop or a tradesman did ‘exactly’ what you asked, without using their brain?

In the Guardian article, the author says, “Imagine going to a friend’s house and you accidentally spill a drink and get shouted at, instead of them saying “oh don’t worry” and mopping it up. And yet…”

The Wry Mummy article

The Wry Mummy article

My kids are terrified of doing something wrong because I yell at them, particularly if they break something or spill a drink. Recently, due to perceived external pressure to make them more obedient, I’ve started started saying things like, “I don’t want to hear excuses, I want to hear, ‘yes Mummy’!”  WTF? I sound like a sergeant major at best, a monster at worse.

I don’t want kids who can’t think for themselves. It is tough, when compliant children are so much easier to deal with. But the flip side is the dangers of compliance. The article discusses a book by Alfie Kohn, called Unconditional Parenting. In it, Kohn explains that a compliant child becomes a particular worry when they hit the teenage years.

“If they take their orders from other people, that may include people we may not approve of. To put it the other way around: kids who are subject to peer pressure at its worst are kids whose parents taught them to do what they’re told.”

That terrifies me. My son already does what his sister tells him to do, even if that is scrambling onto the shed roof or dangling from the climbing frame – activities she often won’t do because she knows they’re dangerous and she’ll get told off. When he’s in trouble for fighting at nursery his explanation is always, ‘But my friends were doing it…’ He’s 4.

The same goes for children who won’t tell their parents when they’re in trouble or suffering. If I silence them now, will they not tell me when they’re being bullied, or starting to think about having sex?

Hard as it is to be constantly challenged, at least my children aren’t afraid to stand up for themselves or explain their actions. Part of my strong reaction to it is knowing I would never have got away with arguing back as a child. There is definitely a fine line between arguing and answering back (in a rude and stroppy way – something my daughter is a master at).

A comforting thought is written beneath the attached photograph: “A healthy sense of rebellion is a sign that a child’s attachments are secure.” If a child can’t push the boundaries with their primary caregiver, how will they ever learn where those boundaries are?

Reading these articles today has made me more determined to watch for the line, rather than having a blanket ban on all forms of self-justification and expression of opinion.

Who knows, today’s child that learns to fight her corner, justify her position, who knows she is valued and her words count, might well go on to change the world. Or at least enjoy her place in it more.

 
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Posted by on June 17, 2015 in Parenting

 

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Even My Fictional Kids Don’t Behave

Seren Kitty books one and two

Seren Kitty books one and two

I finished my fourth Seren Kitty book last week (originally called Cat Girl Sophie). They’re only early drafts. Even though the first three are on Smashwords – that’s mostly for ease of being able to get copies to Beta Readers.

Four is a nice number and I’m ready to let them sit for a few weeks, or more, so I can get the proper distance for editing. Or can afford to hire an editor.

I’m still a bit vague about how to write a compelling children’s book, even though I can definitely tell the great from the meh ones I borrow from the library.

So this morning it was time to sit down and start afresh. I have one manuscript half-started, for an 8-12 yo novel, but I don’t feel like going back to it yet. I also have the outlines of two dozen picture book/early reader stories, but that’s not right either.

Recently I’ve been consuming some fantastic 8+ stories, by authors like Lucy Coats and Holly Web, and that’s where my mind is at.

Cue brainstorm time.

Books three and four

Books three and four

Seren Kitty was found in a brainstorm, and I find it’s a great way to discover characters. (I don’t invent them, as such, more flick through ideas and concepts until someone waves at me).

My stories always start with characters and much of writing is getting to know and understand that character. I’m not a planner, even if I’ve got better at sketching plot outlines before I get too stuck in.

I read once that, if your characters do something unexpected, it’s because you didn’t flesh out their backstory and personality fully. Oh dear. My characters are always misbehaving.

I don’t worry. Writing for me is more like online dating. You know quite a lot about the person you’re about to meet – you’ve read their profile and exchanged messages – but it’s only by spending time with them that you truly understand them. I met my online-dating husband nearly eleven years ago and I’m still discovering new things.

But, as with online dating, it starts with a spark. It starts with wanting to know more about a person. It starts with someone standing out from the crowd.

My latest character has a spark. More a roaring inferno, really, because she’s already causing trouble.

Most of the books I’ve read in recent months, aimed at the 7-10 market, are written in the third person, with varying degrees of internal monologue.

But that’s not good enough for Will (Willow), she wants to tell her own story. When she started chatting in my head, as I walked the dog, she wasn’t talking to another character, she was talking to me.

Now I don’t know what to do. I don’t like writing (or reading) first-person novels. Aside from Dragon Wraiths (written in the first-person present tense, by another bolshy character) I haven’t done it before. And Leah, in Dragon Wraiths, is a stroppy teen. Will is meant to be an adventurous nine-ish year old.

I like my own children being independent, strong-minded, feisty. Just not when I’m raising them. Similarly, I like characters that are alive in my mind, but not when they take over. Sigh. Time to go back to the drawing board.

 

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Yummy Ella Crumble

Apple Crumble

Apple Crumble

It’s been a while since I shared my progress with Deliciously Ella, the cook book I purchased in an attempt to eat less sugar.

Apart from making a range of smoothies every day (mostly my own invention, like cucumber, pear, apple juice and aloe vera) I haven’t actually used the book in a while.

Then, during half term, my friend (who bought the book after I showed her my copy) made us the quinoa and broccoli dish and it was scrummy.

My own attempt was less delicious, but that was probably because I got my tahini and tamara muddled up (it is a bit like learning a new language!) so there was too much sesame and not enough salt.

Today I ended up taking my daughter to the minor injuries unit at 7.30am because her wrist was still hurting after a week (nothing serious, apparently, although it didn’t help that she decided to be brave and not tell the nurse when it hurt! Sigh) so we all missed breakfast.

My son made up for it with four rounds of toast, at playgroup and football, and nothing else, so I decided to make a healthy pudding to top up his nutrients after tea. Crumble is his absolute favourite – pretty much the only way he’ll eat fruit that isn’t dried. But I couldn’t be bothered to make the topping, after all my weekend baking, so I dipped into Deliciously Ella.

As you can see from the picture, the recipe is very low hassle. About the only effort is melting the coconut oil (and I held it over the boiling pasta pot for a minute which did the trick!)

As you can also see from the picture, I tweaked the recipe a bit. Ella’s recipes always make far too much. I used roughly a third of the ingredients, together with four tiny apples and a fruit pot, and it made enough for four people.

I also included pumpkin seeds and brazil nuts to add a little crunch and extra flavour. It was delicious. I did serve with custard, but aside from that there was no butter, refined sugar or wheat flour in it.

Unfortunately, after a bowl of broccoli pasta and two yoghurts my son wasn’t hungry and didn’t eat his! Shame. All the more for Mummy and Daddy. We need nutrients too, right?

 

 
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Posted by on June 9, 2015 in Cooking and Baking, Food, Parenting

 

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A Mental High-Five

Fun at the fountains

Fun at the fountains

I’m always talking about the trials of parenting and how much I struggle. So, today, I thought I’d share my little personal high-five.

We live near a place called Burghley House (as in Burghley Horse Trials or as featured in many a costume drama!)

Part of the estate includes the Gardens of Surprise, which consists of a water garden and a sculpture garden. I used to take the kids a lot when it was hot, but it got harder as they wanted different things (one to stay with Mummy, one to explore).

Now they’re of an age that they can go and play together I decided, this summer, to get another family pass.

So today we went. The sun was beaming down, a gentle breeze keeping it cool. Perfect.

However, having made the decision to go, I realised – at 10am – that I didn’t have anything for a picnic. So (high-five no. 1) I quickly rustled up some Mary Berry scones (including a little jar of jam), some Paul Hollingwood blueberry muffins, and a pile of cheese sarnies.

I managed to locate swim gear, shoes, hats, and applied sun cream. I remembered water bottles, the porta-potty AND the picnic blanket. Lunch was yum (high-five no. 2)

I invited a friend and her family to meet us and they arrived mid afternoon. The kids had even more fun and we got to share the parenting load. The dads supervised a frisbee game and my friend and I got to chat.

Then, to top off this unprecedented parenting day of gloriousness, when we got home, I stared blankly at a fridge full of random leftovers and came up with a delicious ten-minute meal (spinach and beetroot salad with smoked fish and toasted cashew nuts). High-fives all round.

I didn’t remember to buy milk, and I’ve still got school uniform to iron, but you can’t win them all. Still, today it felt pretty close.

 
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Posted by on June 7, 2015 in Food, Kids Days Out, Parenting

 

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How I Survived Half Term

The Holiday Lists

The Holiday Lists

It’s no secret that, while I love my children ‘in all my heart’ as my daughter would say, I struggle when they’re home together for long periods of time.

To be fair, half term is only a week, and this one had a bank holiday weekend as well. Even so, I feel it went surprisingly well considering.

My strategy, developed in desperation on the first Saturday morning, was to kill the pestering.

For weeks I’ve been answering the children’s random activity requests with, ‘We’ll do it at half term’. So, of course, Saturday started with, ‘Mummy, when can we paint our nails, go swimming, learn to plait/knit, go to the park….’

My brain exploded.

In exasperation I said, ‘write a list and we’ll schedule it all in.’

And they did!

Well, my daughter wrote the lists for her and her brother, which might explain why ‘learn to knit’ crept into his top ten. Then I numbered them, made a chart of Monday to Friday, and pencilled everything in.

I forgot my son was still at nursery for two days, and we had an unexpected bonus play date, but other than that we more or less stuck to the plan.

The best part was feeling in control. When the kids whined, ‘When are we going swimming at Grandma’s?’ I could look at my scrap of paper and say, ‘Friday’.

I’m sure this scheduled parenting is the norm for many, but it’s new to me. I’ve always wanted my kids to be as free range as possible when they’re not at school. I fill the playroom with toys and craft, the garden with climbing frames and sand, and let them just get on with it.

And sometimes they do.

But, weirdly, they like doing stuff with me. Even though I whine and moan more than they do, especially when I’m tired, they still like doing stuff with Mummy. And, this week, I even enjoyed some of it too, even if it was being able to say, ‘tick!’

So, we survived half term. We didn’t do a couple of things (no knitting lesson, phew!), but we had a bonus trip to ToysRUs to spend the money they raised selling off old toys. We got a grown up bed for our son. (The end of the toddler bed era!) And I even managed a bit of work.

The tablets helped. I could feel the medication tightening protectively as I got increasingly tired and tetchy. It’s weird to feel you want to sit in a corner and sob but your body won’t let you, but if definitely makes parenting easier. And I’m sure my family appreciate the lack of drama.

I’m not quite saying, ‘Roll on Summer Holidays’ but at least I’m not gibbering at the thought of it. It’s a start.

 
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Posted by on June 1, 2015 in Depression, My story, Parenting

 
 
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