Every day I am pretty sure I do at least one thing wrong. Most days I do more. I used to think I was alone, until I talked to other parents who were honest. Here is a place for more parents to feel less alone, and more "good enough".

Wednesday, 3 August 2016

13 years ago............

Well. There goes Week One of the holidays. I was all set to write about Week One tonight, but it has hit me with some force that my eldest child is 13 years old in the morning. Well technically at 7.05pm, but I don't think he would take kindly to that idea. I'll catch you up on Week One in a few days - it was not very restful despite only having one child around for the majority of it. A snap shot would be of chicken pox with a side of bacterial skin infection and cheeky random mice trying to take up camp in our house - see what I mean?

So, back to the almost 13 year old. I distinctly remember finding out I was pregnant with him. I was actually at work, and hiding out with a pregnancy test during my break. His existence was discovered in Bradford University Library - that'll be where he gets his brains and eccentricity from then ;) I didn't tell anybody for weeks as I hadn't a clue what to do. I think it was about January before it was common knowledge. The boy completely altered the course of my life. I had been coasting along, rather a mess if I'm honest, pulling a whole trolley of baggage behind me and not really with any kind of a plan. But I knew that I could be a good mum, and I knew it was my responsibility to do it right.

2003 was a really hot summer. My brother's girlfriend and my mum's next door neighbour were also heavily pregnant, and we spent most of the time complaining about the heat and swapping tips for getting cooler! I was a week over due when I went to Bingley Hospital, which isn't even there anymore, for a routine check-up. Only to be told that I was 4cm dilated! I hadn't even had any labour pains! It was 1pm in the afternoon and because I was young and my mum had pre-eclampsia with all of us, they wanted me straight into the hospital. We dashed back home for my bag, and the builder was just smashing up the concrete to start the extension. When we told him I was having the baby that day, he just looked at me as if to say "Well, you don't look like it!". And that was how I felt too.

Adam was born at on Monday 4th August 2003 at 7.05pm. He weighed 7lb 8oz, which was the exact average weight for babies being born at that time. He was absolutely fine, no problems, and we went home the next day. Well, home to my mum and dad's house for a few weeks until our flat was ready for us to move in.

He was a really chilled out baby, not too keen on noise but then we lived alone just the two of us, and I guess that's what he was used to. He was happy to go to anybody and just trundled along with every day life, rarely crying, and waking up most mornings at about 4.30am just in time for The Morning Line ;) I was the only one of my friends to have a baby, and they all spoilt him rotten. I don't think I even bought him any clothes until he was 12 months old! Never crying was the luckiest thing in the world, for more reasons than one. At 4 months old he had bacterial meningitis with septicaemia and spent days in an oxygen tent, but came out of it without a scratch (apart from a few chest infections for the next couple of years), all down to the fact that he never ever cried, so when he did cry that day non-stop, we took him straight in and it got caught early xx. Bless his cotton socks xx.

Tomorrow he's going to be 13 years old. Which is not adult by any stretch of the imagination, but it's the road to that. Only 3 more years of main schooling, then 2 years of further ed at sixth form or college. Next year he'll be choosing his options and thinking about what he wants to do a little more. We are already looking at university options and talking about volunteer work along with other outside interests. At present he's going for teaching History in secondary school, which is no surprise considering for his 7th birthday he had a tour of the Imperial War Museum in London and knew more about World War 2 than the Eden Camp guide did when he went to look around aged 10.

13 years seems to be a bit of a watershed moment, a bit of a, "standstill and look at me, remember, I won't be here for much longer", kind of time. A time to remember that you don't really have them for very long at all. Sometimes my 7 year old and my 3 year old spend the whole day vying for my attention, and I have to go hide for 2 minutes to try and get a piece of sanity back. One day, they will stop doing that too. I feel like the eldest is the one we have to figure out the most things with, and especially the teenage years. Working out when to pull nearer and when to let go, treading the fine line between independence and yet giving enough support. I don't really know what I'm doing, but I get the feeling most parents don't, especially with their eldest. The ones who say they do are usually lying, or not doing how they think they are. I see kids I looked after in Reception finishing their GCSE's this year, and that is my son in 3 years time, and I don't feel like I've done all the right things to prepare him for life. I don't think any of us ever think that. All we can really do is just try, and keep on being around.

All we can really hope for, is that they grow up to be kind. Kind is what matters every day.

Thursday, 21 July 2016

A "Plan That Is Not a Plan" For the Six Week Holidays...................

For children who are educated in school, the six week holiday is upon us. For some this is awesome, for some this is worrying, for many it is somewhere in the middle. There are articles telling us all about the top 20 places to go in the UK - mostly high priced. There are articles telling us that kids need to be bored to develop their independence and we should just leave them instead of planning every day. There are articles with summer holiday planners to download and fill in. There are lists of things every child should do before they are 11 3/4. And there are tons of Pokemon Go memes - either telling you that you are the worst parent ever, or the coolest parent ever - it depends on your Facebook friends list ;)

We like a bit of 'middle ground' in this household. There are few planned concreted in things - a small family holiday (we take our main one in October when it's cheaper!), a local charity holiday club, a scout camp, and a few craft days at a local community centre set up via school. Then there are lots and lots of other days with no plans. On some of those days, my children will quite happily potter away at home, in their bedrooms, in the living room, in the basement, in the garden. With an odd request to get something out that they know I need to give permission for, and a few arguments over whose turn on the computer it is. On other days, I will have a 7 year old coming to me every 5 minutes - "I don't know what to do, what can I do, I just don't know what to do" - repeatedly saying this. And all of the usual ideas will be given short shrift. If I leave her to be bored and insist she finds something herself, she will just get louder and more insistent, start pushing everybody's buttons and I will end up with a completely melted down household and a child still asking for something to do.

So, this year, we are going to use the 'Boredom List/Jar' method. When a child is asking for something to do, or needs a bit of a push to get away from Netflix, they can look for ideas on the list/in the jar. At the moment, we have a list written on the computer. I think this may make it's way into a jar at some point, or a pin-board, or some kind of document where the children don't get bored of reading through the whole thing and so only ever do things from the top of the list. I haven't put any of their very common activities on there, because the plan is to use it when they can't think of anything to do, not as a complete replacement for ever making a decision off their own bat. So it doesn't really have any electrical/screen devices on, but this is not because we are particularly bothered about their usage. It's just that they self-regulate pretty well, but equally don't need any extra encouragement to go on them!! There is also not really much on there that costs anything as we are rather skint this summer, and I'd rather have them have a list of things they can definitely very easily do on the spur of the moment, rather than have to wait to do in a few days. We do have a list of 'Plan in Advance' ideas also, which may go up next to the Boredom Jar, for inspiration of a few treat days out.

I created our list through a combination of looking up 'Boredom Jar' on google, cribbing the bits that suited our family best, adapting some to fit, and also thinking about what we have in the house, what they like to do, and things I have in the deep recesses of my brain that break out at these times! I suggest you do the same if you are thinking of making one. There is nothing worse than simply printing one straight from a website, and then your heart sinking when they ask to do something that is really expensive/not nearby/you don't have the stuff for/you just know will cause major chaos in your house. There were some I saw that I just thought, do you know what, I have over 100 things on this list, I really don't need that one on there, they can live without that experience and I will remain a sane person for not providing it!

We also, in our 'Already Planned' section, have decided to do a 'Daily Lego Challenge' which I am going to create using various online resources, take part in the 'National Library Reading Challenge' and create a 'Holiday Scrap Book' where they can put photos in, write in, draw in, whatever they want really, as a record of the holiday. It will also be a good thing for the younger two to take into school in September, as the 7 year old is especially motivated by being able to show her teachers everything she has experienced.

So this is our list. Please, please, remember this suits our location, our budget, our children. My children are aged 3, 7 and (almost) 13. We live near parks, woods, a canal, a river, and a town centre, with really good transport links. This list is mostly aimed at the 7 year old as she is the one who needs it, however most activities are adaptable to suit them all, if they want to do them. And some are aimed at getting them to do things together!

Boredom Jar Ideas
Make a junk-model
Chalking outside
Cook something of your choice
Bake something of your choice
Find out about the human body
Go to the pet/reptile shop
Build up a lego set
Take a picture every hour to record your day
Go on a nature walk
Make a nature scrapbook
Do a page of your memory scrapbook
Play a game with your sibling
Play a board game
Picnic indoors
Hama beads
Make a hedgehog hotel
Alphabet tour with a camera
Make some jelly
Do some maths
Picnic outdoors
Make salt dough
Write a letter
Make a gift
Build a Lego city
Learn the guitar
Visit a family friend
Make flower + leaf prints
Do a magic show
Build a big Playmobil town
Make friendship bracelets
Set up a 'home corner' with your little brother
Do a puzzle
Go to a cafe
Watch a movie
Make a family tree
Make a pirate ship
Have a bubble bath
Do a science experiment
Play a card game
Write a poem
Do some crafting
Find bugs
Trace a picture
Make a card for somebody who lives alone
Make pizzas
Look up places around the world
Learn the keyboard
Make a treasure map
Make a robot
Make sock puppets
Play hide and seek
Make a card for somebody who is ill
Water fight
Play I Spy
Hand + Foot painting
Go to the library
Colouring in
Make fingerprint animals
Ride your scooter
Ride your bike
Go to the park
Learn chess
Do some gardening
Tidy your room
Read a book
Write in your holiday scrap-book
Draw something
Draw an animal
Draw our house
Paint something
Tidy your desk
Make homemade bubbles
Bake cupcakes
Make Gloop
Make something with a box
Write a story starting – There is a monster in my garden….
Write a story starting – Yesterday I went in a spaceship to….
Write a story starting  – There once was a little girl who liked to skip….
Write a story about you
Find shapes in clouds
Create a family flag
Make a musical instrument
Build a time capsule
Play with a toy you haven’t played with in a while
Learn ten words in a different language
Make homemade play dough
Make and decorate paper airplanes
Make a den
Paint your nails
Make a board game of your own
Make a button picture
Draw a picture blindfolded
Draw a picture with your feet
Make a video
Google something to make
Make a card pyramid
Go and collect some stones and make them into bugs
Dance to loud music
Bake cookies
Make a bookmark
Make some homemade ice lollies
Build a marble run
Go on a scavenger hunt
Watch a nature documentary
Vacuum your bedroom
Draw a picture of your family
Plan a garden party
Tie dye a tshirt
Sweep kitchen
Shadow drawing
Make an obstacle course
Make a fairy/small world mini garden
Design and build an outdoor musical area
Design, make and race boats
Sweep bathroom
Go out for dessert

Plan in advance days
Go on a mystery tour
Go to a museum
Go to a farm
Go to a park that isn't local
Go swimming
Go to the cinema - BFG
Have a garden party
Day out with a friend
Play Team sessions
Go to the beach
Complete the sculpture trail
Indoor play area
Charity Shop bargain hunt

Already planned
Daily Lego Challenge
Nana's caravan
7 year old holiday club
13 year old scout camp
Salvation Army Fun Day
7 year old community centre days
Holiday Scrap Book
7 year old Library Reading Challenge
7 year old Park Meet days  - these are events set up via our school facebook page, a few pre-planned days in the local park for the children to meet up during the holidays.

I hope this helps some people................................if not - order more chocolate ;) We stock up our freezer with ice-lollies from Fultons - they tend to have packs of between 8-12 for only £1.00 a bag :D Enjoy the holidays!! We will try and keep up with the blog, recording our escapades over the next 6 weeks :D We also are planning to keep this Boredom Jar as a long-term addition to our house, the 7 year old has been using it after school all week and it has certainly helped retain a sense of calm on what is often a hectic week xx.

Monday, 18 April 2016

Parents - The Silent Partners in Education?

I don't actually know where to start writing. My mind is so busy, that I can't even make sense of it myself. So really, this is just going to be a complete ramble. I apologise in advance. I wrote this poem over my 'thinkative' morning coffee:

People put labels on who I am. Make presumptions. Who is the real me? I don't even know, I make new decisions all of the time. Form new opinions, worry about new things, and always, always, I am learning.

I have three children. I am their parent. According to the law, parents are responsible for their children's education.

Section 7 of The Education Act 1996 states:
"The parent of every child of compulsory school age shall cause him to receive efficient full-time education suitable—
(1) to his age, ability and aptitude, and
(2) to any special educational needs he may have,
either by regular attendance at school or otherwise."

What is important, is that this law recognises that it is the parent/s who are best placed to make the decision as to what is best for their child. The 'or otherwise' bit is also important, as that is what allows for home education, flexi-schooling and any 'otherwise' education provisions.
It is the parents duty, and the parents that are entrusted with having knowledge of what is suitable for their children's age, ability, aptitude and any additional needs they have, therefore the government must listen to our requirements for our children's education. Teachers also have knowledge of many children they have taught and currently teach. Most government ministers are not experts on children or education; even if they are parents they know their own children, not ours.

Right now, I feel very much like my parenting is a 'silent partner' in my child's education. I have these rights, but it is difficult for me to use them. If I dislike the way the education system is going. I don't really have any re-course to alter it. Even if many parents, and many teachers, feel the same. We sign petitions, in vast numbers, but nothing happens. Right now, we are at a tipping point. A point which once gone past, can not be reversed. If we privatise our children's education via academies, we can't just 'un-privatise' them if it doesn't work. The way academies work, with a business manager at the top of the rung, being paid more and having the final say, above the heads who are actually responsible for the children's welfare, teaching and learning, is not the way I personally think education should be run. I don't think we should value a number-cruncher more than an educator. I don't think that a number-cruncher and business manager should be able to veto something that an experienced head knows would be best for their pupils. I'm certain there are good academies, and good free schools, it would be wrong to say there aren't. The distinct difference between having them around, and enforcing them on every single school regardless of area, intake, size, the actual best interests of the children, is massive. I saw a Conservative MP's response to a parent asking about academies. I directly quote: "It seems that the Labour Party and their left-wing cheerleaders at 38 degrees have forgotten that it was, in fact, the last Labour Government which introduced academies." Ok, so our country is being run by people who resort to "He started it sir" upon being questioned. The parent who had contacted this MP had not actually indicated their party choice. I do not indicate my party choice, I am not a member of any political party at present. This is not about what party started it. As my mother would say "I don't care who started it - I'm ending it!" Just because one party started something, does not mean another party can choose to enforce it onto every single school, and then when people complain, blame the original party for starting it rather than actually engage in a proper discussion about it. Life doesn't work like that in the real world. The fact of the matter is, that the government should not have the mandate to completely alter the way state education is run, without fully and properly taking into account the views of the people who are legally responsible for ensuring that education is provided. That also includes providing parents with the true facts and figures, or lack thereof. Respecting parents and valuing their opinions and thoughts, taking the time to fully consult with teachers and experts in education, not just following through with an idealistic plan regardless of any opposition or consequences.

I have had people questioning me over my objections to SATs. Questioning my parenting. "I don't pressure my children, maybe you should be careful how you talk to your child?" Which is quite laughable to anybody who actually knows me and my (very fluid) parenting style. My child knows it's a test because it says test on it. And because it's set out like a test paper that she has seen in tv shows. She will most definitely figure out it's a test when she asks for help during it and her teacher is unable to give her any help or feedback. She doesn't actually mind doing the test. But she's a bit fed up of the fact that she doesn't do as much Science as she used to do. Or as much Art. Or as much PE. She lives for the afternoons at school, the mornings are 'just boring learning and tests'. Not a great way to motivate and fire her up to learn the essentials skills of English and Maths, or enjoy investigating them further. Just tonight she has told me that she has tummy ache every day at school. A few weeks ago she told me that she had a nightmare that all of her friends got every answer in a test correct, but it still wasn't good enough. And believe me, we do NOT put any pressure on this child at home. We have told her that the SATs are just to check what she knows, so that the teacher knows what she still needs to teach her. In reality of course, I'm pretty certain her teacher has a fairly solid idea already of what she knows and what she still needs to learn. I'm pretty certain that she's doing great from my knowledge of my own child. I don't really care about whether she's 'meeting age-related expectations', especially seeing as this year her age-related expectation is what was last year expected at the end of Year 3. So a whole 1 year + 1 half term older than she is now. On a new KS1 curriculum that she has only been taught the second year of. And that has changed a fair few times just since this January. So forgive me if I don't really see the point of testing her on it. It's not the actual test I mind. It's the blatant disregard for the teacher's knowledge of my child. The time wasted teaching her all the new additions to the tests, when she could have been learning far far more without picking up on the obvious stress her teacher is under. The fact that the results are going to be completely inaccurate because the information has been crammed in and rote-learned in a really short space of time, and actually bears little relevance to her life or even adult life. And don't even get me started on the KS2 SATs - try asking the secondary schools how accurate and useful the 'results' they provide is.

Sometimes, my daughter is so brave that she astounds me. Recently, she smashed her nose on the floor of the school playground. She lacerated it right down to the bone, and broke part of the cartilage. When her teacher saw her, she herself was in shock. My daughter cried for a few minutes, and then she stopped. When I got to school, she wasn't crying. She was sat with her teachers, who were desperately trying to keep her from falling asleep and trying to stop her seeing the amount of blood. They told her everything was going to be ok, and she believed them. The paramedics came, and she talked to them and myself in the ambulance. She got to the hospital, and she let the doctors look at her nose, and pull it about. She didn't ask for any pain relief. When they asked if it hurt she said "just a little bit". She talked to the surgeon who was going to operate on it, and said she was looking forward to having a free sleep. The surgeon came to see me whilst she was in recovery to say that he had put real stitches in, that would need taking out, because he believed she would be able to cope with having them taken out. He said that usually they don't put them in children her age, but having met her that he would, and it would make the scar heal better. She did this on Thursday morning and was operated on Thursday night. She was back in school on Monday morning, with black stitches right across her nose. When she went back to have them taken out, it took an hour. The nurse kept apologising to her, but she sat as still as a statue for the whole time, letting the nurse pick and pull at the stitches. When she looked in the mirror afterwards, I could tell she was upset that the scar was there. She hadn't quite realised the long-term scale of the injury. That night we had angry tears in bed, and then it was done. Now, she watches her favourite film, 'Soul Surfer', and she says that if somebody can do that with just one arm, then what does a scar on her nose matter? The paramedics, the A+E staff, the surgeon - all of them commented on how resilient she was, and how they get many adults, let alone children, who cope worse with the level of injury she had.

Despite this resilience, sometimes my daughter is too worried to go to school. She is too worried to leave the house. She imagines all sorts of things happening to her. She gets tummy ache and she sits curled up in a ball on her bed, refusing to move. And yet when something does happen, she is amazing at dealing with it. On these 'scared of the world' days, we usually get her out of the house,we give her the tools to feel better, and she tries, she really tries, to break through the wall of whatever is holding her back, and she keeps going forward.

She is amazingly brave every day just for getting dressed and leaving the house. And somebody, somewhere, thinks they can define her as 'below age related expectations' just because she doesn't fit their mould. The SATs don't measure reality. They don't measure my daughter. They are not a fit for purpose measurement of a child's ability and aptitude. They are not age appropriate. They take up far too much time in preparing, sitting, and marking. They don't take into account the fact that a 6/7 year old child is not designed to sit quietly for 45 minutes and answer questions on a paper with no feedback or interaction. They don't take into account that not all children progress in a nice straight line. They certainly don't take into account that many children put pressure upon THEMSELVES even if other people don't, and that they are very finely tuned to picking up any change in mood of any relevant adult in their life, i.e. their teacher.

I am not asking everybody to agree with me. I am not asking everybody to even understand. I just would like everybody to really think. To really think about how children learn, and that what we are teaching them is important. Think about what life is actually about, and what skills they may need when they grow up. Understand that not all children are the same, and that many children fight many demons every single day. Think about the skills and experience teachers have, and how disrespectful it is to presume a nationally applied 'one size fits all' test is better at assessing our children than a teacher who is with them almost every single school day. Think about how much and how well you know your child, and how disrespectful it is that unless you are able to home educate or afford private education, you have no say in how your child's education is run, yet you have the responsibility for it, enshrined in law.

Last but not least, no, I am not using my child as a weapon. I have not told her that she is missing school because the SATs are bad, or the schools is bad, or the government is bad. I have told her that we are having a picnic, and fun together, to show our support to teachers and to try and make sure people remember that children are supposed to learn through play. If she doesn't want to miss school that day because they are doing something she really wants to do, then I will not keep her off. I will send her and attend the picnic myself. I am not trying to upset my child - I am simply trying to make my voice heard. Petitions don't work, talking to councillors and MP's doesn't work. Some parents have said that teachers who are worried about attendance affecting their Ofsted results, are planning trips for this day to try and prevent the protest from happening. To me, this is a perfect example of children being used as a weapon, but not by the parents. And again, a concern, that a) people are scared of an inspecting body so much that they will use a child as a weapon, and b) that parents are unable to have a voice, because we are so scared and feel so guilty about affecting the school's attendance or being fined.

Be confident in your knowledge of your own child's best interests and also remember that the law was written with the knowledge that parents are the ones who know their children and have the right to choose how to educate them. This just seems to have been forgotten somewhere along the way.