July 19th, 2016
By Dr Amanda Gummer, MD and Founder, Fundamentally Children
Parenting can be tough, and at times stressful, but I think we would all agree that the hardest job in the world is also often the most rewarding. There is a great deal of work involved in bringing up children, but I have some good news for you – it doesn’t all have to be hard work, -there’s plenty of research that shows having fun with your children is the best way to help them to develop.
The importance of enjoying the formative years for both children and adults, cannot be over-stated. At Fundamentally Children, we believe passionately in playing together as a family, as well as encouraging children to play alone, thus allowing them to learn and develop naturally. This play helps them to learn about the world from their first few days, right the way through to adulthood.
But in a world that places pressure on us at every turn, we often worry about whether are children are playing in the right way, with the right toys, doing the right activities, etc. For this reason, the play diet is ideal for helping to get the balance just right.
The play diet
Moderation in everything might sound like a boring old mantra, but in the same way that nutrition is about balancing the food groups, a healthy play diet is about balancing different types of play activities. The play diet is a practical approach that you can use to help guide the activities you encourage your children to do. By developing a balanced approach and creating healthy habits as the norm, you can treat children occasionally and not feel bad.
Here are our top five tips to help balance your child’s play diet:
Let the child decide
Sometimes we are prone to over worrying about every detail of our child’s life. But an important part of development is allowing children to choose how they play. You can offer them a range of options (try not to put too many on the table, as this can become overwhelming) and then let them guide you. Try to ensure that, weather permitting, some of this play takes place outdoors. Whether that’s exploring the local forest, going out for a walk to the park, or kicking a ball around in the garden, there are lots of ways to encourage children to get outside and the benefits are huge.
The tech debate
We often feel instinctively guilty about the time we allow our children to spend on screen-based entertainment. There is indeed plenty of research to suggest too much screen time can have a detrimental impact and can contribute to obesity; a reduction in time spent outside; impaired social development; eyesight issues and more.
However, there is also growing evidence to suggest a small amount of screen time is useful for children. Learning to use and self-regulate media usage at a young age can help children be more resilient to inappropriate content they come across. The use of tablets, apps and the internet prepares them for a world full of technology, and playing the right sort of apps can in fact aid child development and help them to learn.
So the key when deciding on screen time is, again, moderation. We need to ensure our children’s screen time is not excessive and that they are benefitting from the other elements of the play diet, but if we give them access to the right apps, games, etc, then a small amount of screen time is not detrimental and can in fact be described as educational and can support development.
Spending time interacting with your child is valuable to you both as it helps promote a strong bond and allows your child to feel confident and secure. However the time you spend together should be authentic and feeling comfortable with the activity is paramount. Strengthening this bond can really help with behavioural difficulties too. If you are part of the fun, exciting times, as well as the less fun jobs and the disciplining, children are much more likely to take notice of you and do what you ask them to.
If you don’t enjoy certain types of play, it’s fine to admit this. No longer should we feel guilty for saying we don’t want to do certain activities or play in a specific way. It’s also important not to compare yourself to other parents, as we are all different and what works for one family may not work for yours. Spend some time working out what activities you do enjoy and focus on those. It’s OK to take the role of parent rather than their friend and avoid play you find boring.
Try to slot your favourite types of play into your routine so you can look forward to them. There may be other adults in your child’s life, who enjoy different styles of play to you, so encourage those interactions, as well as play with other children for a balanced approach.
Which products are best?
There is such a wide choice of toys, apps and products, each claiming fun and educational qualities, that it can be tricky to know which is best. So it’s well worth doing your research before purchasing. Read independent reviews from parents and children, and also from experts, to ensure the claims are true and you won’t be wasting money on something that could become clutter and not be played with.
For more expert tips on play, child development, and products, visit www.fundamentallychildren.com, or have a read of my book, Play.
June 18th, 2015
Father’s day in the UK is on the 21st June. I know some people are a bit bah humbug about these ‘Hallmark’ days and regret the commercialisation of such occasions but I think we should seize the opportunity to celebrate fathers.
There is the risk, especially with newborns, that women can take over parenting and assume (or have thrust upon them) an ‘expert’ role which Dads can go along with in some relief. But this is to miss out on a great resource and ‘expertise’ that men bring to parenting. Men have a unique style to their parenting that women tend not to have and children who don’t experience this are missing out.
Some dad facts:
Where fathers are not present in their children’s lives the kids really benefit from being involved with ‘uncle’ figures.
What are the differences in style?
When considering the question what do mums and dads contribute to the role of parent ask yourself what would each do/say when watching a little boy climb up a climbing frame or tree?
Dads typically say “go on, you can do it. Well done, reach for it.”
Whereas Mums might say “Be careful, watch where you put your feet, take your time.”
Fathers tend to foster independence and encourage adventure. Mothers are generally caretakers and teachers and are often more cautious.
This is what the kids think:
Mummies are smaller and Daddies are bigger.
Dads normally go out to work and you come out of mummy’s tummy.
Dads have fun and mums don’t.
Mums listen and Dads don’t…it’s the same for all my mates.
(Source: Netmums March 09)
While we don’t want to minimise the importance of the nurturing, the encouraging and the listening that mums are traditionally good at let’s celebrate what dads do well:
To begin with Dads do play with kids, while Mums sometimes don’t give it as much priority as they do the laundry, the cooking, the chauffeuring and the supervising of homework and music practice etc. When Roald Dahl died his children wrote about their memories of him and predictably they valued the story telling and creating he encouraged in them. My guess is when we die our children will remember the play times and the conversations with us rather than the fact that we always ensured they had clean and matching socks.
Dads tend to be more physical than mums in the way they play. Mums generally play visual games and are verbal with babies and young children while dads are more physical and tactile. There’s much that is good about both styles and children benefit from both. Rough and tumble play by dads predicts better self control abilities in their children. (Source: Gottman institute)
Encourage independence and risk taking
Dads encourage kids to climb higher, go to the store on their own, go down the highest slides etc while mums may have to stifle the urge to keep their babies safe. Encouraging self reliance and reasonable risk taking in children encourages them to discover what they are capable of and to grow in confidence. If children become fearful they will not grow and will not acquire essential life skills and coping strategies for dealing with the world.
Allow kids to experience uncomfortable feelings
When dads recognise their children’s struggles and allow them to experience some frustration and learning through failure they are helping children grow through experience. When we protect our children from their feelings of discomfort or frustration we can prevent valuable learning in the same way as if we prevent them from making discoveries physically. Although we shouldn’t shield our children from uncomfortable feelings we can help them identify them and manage them by acknowledging what’s going on. Eg I can see you’re feeling frustrated with those wretched shoe laces –but I like the way you’re persevering. You don’t give up easily do you?
Don’t judge or compare self with other parents
Dads are less prone to perfectionism than women in the parenting field and less apt to compare and judge their own or others’ parenting efforts. A great combination in a dad is that willingness to trust his instincts with an openness to new ideas.
Being a good role model
Dads are needed as good role models for their sons, especially in areas like school work, responsibility, handling physicality and aggression, how to treat women, how to handle and express emotions and seeking support when they need it. Men can show their boys how to be determined without taking competition to harmful levels. Dads are also important models for their daughters as they show them how to relate to the opposite sex. How a father treats his daughter sets up expectations for what she’ll look for in adult relationships with men. Involvement in his daughter’s life profoundly affects her self esteem.
Mums, while encouraging your children to show their love for their dads, let your partners know what you appreciate about them this father’s day.
March 20th, 2015
I think parents these days are often mindful about stereotyping on the basis of gender and try to avoid it by not dressing their children in ‘gendered’ colours (but did you know that up until the early 20th century pink was thought of as a strong boys’ colour?), providing them with opportunities to play with toys and to take part in sports or activities generally associated with the opposite sex, exposing them to different role models (in literature and in reality) and speaking to them in gender neutral terms.
But it’s actually really easy to get caught out by little gendered remarks that slip out unnoticed. For instance have you told either your sons or daughters to ‘man up’? What does that mean? If it means to toughen up and be strong is that an attribute just for men? If it means don’t give in to your feelings or don’t talk about your feelings or, worse, don’t have those feelings, what are we saying about men and emotions? The answer to that last question was made abundantly clear to me once when I was giving a workshop on Raising Boys. I was talking about encouraging boys to identify and manage their feelings when one father said “I would question my son’s masculinity if he was talking about his feelings”!
Sometimes with the best of intentions we’ll say things like “big boys don’t cry.” In hundreds of little ways we give our sons the message that it is weak and unmanly to express emotion and to be a man is to cope on your own. Statistics show what terrible repercussions this has for adult men not seeking help when they need it –men don’t even go to the doctor let alone ask directions! More seriously the suicide rate is much higher in men than women.
It’s just as problematic if we’re giving limiting messages to our daughters. Have we fallen into the trap of calling our daughters ‘bossy’ for behaviour that we would find acceptably assertive in our sons? I hope you’ve seen the wonderful you tube video ‘Run like a girl’ by Proctor & Gamble which aims to celebrate the phrase rather than allowing it to be derisory.
And of course there is still much stereotyping in music, the media, video games and in film through images and the behaviours portrayed by men and women despite recent efforts by children’s programme makers. Certain ‘masculine’ or ‘feminine’ qualities are ascribed to men and women. And children will be exposed to a lot of gendered stereotypes in shops with pink and blue aisles and packaging as well as boy toys and girl toys.
There is much that parents can do to avoid these stereotypes and to offer contrary images and messages to those absorbed through the media etc. But what if, in spite of your best efforts, your child is the one coming up with stereotypes for boys’ and girls’ behaviour?
One parent told us that her three and a half year old son had been making comments like "only boys can play with this…" to which the mum responded that "Actually boys AND girls can play with the same toys!" she was curious as to where this fixed attitude came from as neither she or her husband had ever consciously stereotyped boys vs girls. She said she always tried to use gender-neutral words such as ‘firefighter’ instead of ‘fireman’ etc.
It is perfectly normal and developmentally appropriate behaviour for a young child to explore his or her identity including gender roles. Research has shown that children may be born with gendered tastes in toys, in that girls prefer dolls over cars and nothing we do or say can change this! However up until the age of 12 months boys are equally interested in dolls. It is only after this age that boys show a preference for toys with wheels, whereas girls continue to prefer dolls. This suggests that this is attributable to social factors rather than genetics. By the age of 3 or 4 children have surprisingly definite ideas about what behaviour and dress is appropriate for boys and girls. By this age most children when interviewed give stereotypical answers about behaviours appropriate for male and female dolls -100% of the children interviewed in one study said the female doll liked to clean the house and took care of the babies while the male doll went out to work!
These perceptions of ‘boys’ toys’ or ‘girls’ toys’ and dress and behaviour show a normal, healthy development of gender identity and a natural inclination to want to fit in with their sex. This adapting to belong is a sign of good social skills but parents are wise to offer contrary messages as well. The strongest message we can give our children is through what we model so if boys see their dad sewing on a button or cooking a meal they will think that is an appropriate activity for a male. Likewise if mum mends the fuses or changes a tyre then obviously women can do those things. Children will model themselves on the same gender parent so dads please let your sons know its ok to talk about your feelings.
Children this age are very black and white –its only as they get older that they can understand the grey areas of life, including the idea that boys and girls can do things beyond the stereotypes.
January 31st, 2013
Do you ever feel like life is a race and you are left wondering where the finish line is? Are you worried that life will overtake you? Do you feel that your life as a parent is one big race against time with our quest to ensure our children are doing x in order to achieve Y and not be left behind. Whether it’s speed walking, speed dating, speed dialling and heaven forbid speed drive-thru funerals in USA there is a need for us all to just SLOW down and perhaps not cram so much into our day.
Carl Honoré’s latest book on Slow Parenting raises some really key questions for us all as parents and has been written as a response to the helicopter parenting we have been seeing where parents are micromanaging their children’s lives to such an extent that parenting is now seen by some as product development or akin to a professional pastime. Students are not coping at University – unable to stand on their own and Merrill Lynch offers Parent Days to cater to the professional pack of parents ready to try and negotiate their offspring’s salary package.
As a society we are going badly wrong – robbing children of their childhood as evidenced by increasing cases of mental health issues, eating disorders, binge drinking, substance abuse and prolific teenage sexual activity.
So what can you do as a parent to find your tempo and ensure your children have a balanced journey of discovery?
So if you are worried life will overtake you – you’re wrong. Life is where you are now and when we slow down we find life has a natural groove that is richer more pleasurable and more fulfilling – we may do fewer things but what we do, we do well.
When the Lee Hsien Loong, Prime Minister of Singapore – home of tiger mom culture – spoke on the National Day of Singapore about the Singaporean style of parenting, and launched an attack on tiger mothers in a speech last year , you know it’s time to change . He berated parents for “coaching their three- or four-year-old children to give them that extra edge over the five-year-old competition”. And he added: “Please let your children have their childhood…Instead of growing up balanced and happy, he grows up narrow and neurotic. No homework is not a bad thing. It’s good for young children to play, and to learn through play.”
So when was the last time you stopped and allowed your child to have those moments looking at the ice crystals and the snow patterns or the rain drops?
When was the last time you took a really deep slow breath and felt the natural air ticking over of your respiratory system – breathing in and out long deep breaths to their comfortable conclusion, until you are flooded with calm.
We all know it’s time to slow down.
July 18th, 2012
As the schools empty and our homes fill with tired children, many parents are relishing the opportunity of a break from the school routine, and yet we’re also looking at the weather forecasts and wondering how on earth we’re going to fill the next 1,000 hours or so until term starts again!
The joy of doing nothing
At the beginning of the holidays, it can be a relief for children to have some time to do the things that matter to them, and even simply to be able to choose what they do after weeks of being told what, where, how and when. Of course, it’s a universal parenting truth that most of the things that they want to do involve noise and mess, but it’s in playing that children learn and discover so much about themselves and the world. After the constant stimulation and organisation of the school term, it’s no bad thing to find yourself with nothing to do, and no ideas either. It’s in moments of solitude and idleness that we often discover what truly interests us, and who we really are. As far as possible, let them play.
The joy of doing something
On the other hand, with so little practice of finding their own amusement, it probably won’t be long before they’re asking “I’m bored, what can I do?”. When we’re busy (somehow school holidays don’t seem to make much difference to the amount of things parents have to do) and it’s raining again, it’s so tempting to give in to the easy option of screens. This summer there will be some inspiring and fascinating TV opportunities with the Olympic coverage. (At the last Olympics we had the TV on pretty much all day every day and saw an amazing range of sports and memorably courageous wins and losses.). There are also some valuable websites which encourage creativity (FIND SOME EXAMPLES LIKE STICK MAN or learn to type).
And what else is there? According to a recent survey by npower, 87% of children can’t repair a puncture, 83% can’t tie a reef knot, 81% can’t read a map and 78% can’t build a camp fire or put up a tent. (They can pretty much all work a DVD players, log onto the internet, use a games console and work sky plus!). How about taking some time during the holidays to put this right? If it can’t be done outdoors, there’s plenty to be done inside the home – it may sound strange, but most children love the challenge of learning to make a cup of tea, iron a shirt, cook an omelette…..
There are also many things children can do indoors with relatively little equipment or supervision – although they will love any of these activities all the more if you’re involved. As the holidays start, set some time aside to sit down together and come up with a list of all the things they would like to do – think of all those things they keep asking and you keep saying no, not now, later, another time….. (Making a den and not having to clear it away is always top of the list in our home!) No idea is too whacky, too silly, too dull, too anything. All ideas get recorded and then you can move on to deciding what to do when. As far as possible, let the children lead this process. It’s fine to put some parameters in place – about what might work when and where and with whom – but try to let them have ownership of their own time and enjoyment.
And just in case it’s not so easy to get started with this list, here is TPP’s Top Tips for a Rainy Summer…..
Make an indoor camp – snuggle up with duvets and books
Make a treasure trail – using hand or foot prints, or clues
Hopscotch – use numbers or shapes or colours
Movie night – get in character, costume, themed food
Rain sticks – use paper towel tubes, and decorate and fill with pebbles, pasta or rice and make the rain go away!
Hide and seek and sardines
Dance party – invite friends for a dance-off
Charades – songs, films, books
Indoor obstacle course – finish before they’re too tired to help clear up
Toy safari – hide toy animals around the house and seek them out
Fashion show – choose outfits and music and do the cat-walk
Sink or swim – find out what sinks or swims
Make a movie – write a script, make costumes and create scenery
Photography project – choose a theme, and make an album
Book club – everyone chooses their favourite book and reads out their best bits
Robot Mummy or Daddy – they get to order you around (for a short while!)
Grow seeds – mustard and cress on loo roll, sunflowers or even tomatoes or strawberries in pots
Family Band – just have to decide who is the conductor!
Listen to songs in foreign languages (opera is great for this) and make up alternative words – we had Pavarotti extolling the virtues of squashed tomatoes and kids in convulsions
Take photos at strange angles around the house – and guess where they are
Indoor picnics – under the table, behind the sofa, in the den….
Paper airplanes – all sorts of designs to see which one flies furthest
Make a rock family – paint faces and create characters that you can then make up stories with
Edible necklaces – from pasta or cheerios or sweets
Paper bag piñata – fill with little surprises (doesn’t have to be edible)
Make ice-cubes – you can colour them with food colouring, or add little flowers (or worse) to them
Hand puppets – from old socks (finally a use for the orphan socks!) with silly faces and voices
Magic cups – three cups, one marble, put it under one of the cups and move the cups around and guess where it’s gone
Make a mobile – with a stretched out wire hanger, and decorate it
What’s missing – lay out items, memorise them, then take one away….
Family Tree – make a family tree and discover some stories about their ancestors (the funnier the better!)
May 03rd, 2012
Although many 7-year olds (and their parents) are celebrating the scrapping of government guidelines saying they had to complete an hour of homework each week, the rest are still labouring away. And while a few voices, getting increasingly louder, are asking “what are we doing this for?” the reality is that in the UK children start homework in Year 1, and by Year 10-11 are completing up to 2½ hours a night.
And few of them like it. And not many of us enjoy it either
Homework can be the single most stressful issue in a home (at least 50% of parents report having serious rows with their children over homework that involve yelling and crying – the reality is probably higher given a natural reluctance to admit that these things happen) and homework can come to dominate our schedules, and our conversations with our children.
In addition to our parenting role, which can be stressful enough in its own right, in the evening we have to don our teaching hat, and support our children who have already been at school for maybe 8 hours already to do more work sheets, essays, test papers etc.
The ‘quality’ moments where we build and boost our relationship with our children are usually the first casualties of the ever-increasing levels of homework. It also reduces their time for unstructured play or thinking and processing time. However, we all want our children to do well at school, and while the debate will continue to rage about whether children need homework, how much should be set, what type, when it should start, and the rest, back at home the parental role is to help our children cope with whatever homework they bring back.
So, what is homework for?
It may seem like a simple question, but the answer may not be that straightforward and until we understand what we are hoping our children will gain from homework , we can’t be sure HOW to help them.
Is homework to improve their learning? Or for them to gain study skills? Does homework teach children about responsibility and self-discipline? Or as Alfie Kohn suggests in ‘The Homework Myth’ is homework simply something they need to get used to, because that in itself is a life-skill they need to learn?
There’s a lot of research about homework – although most of it starts from the premise that homework should exist and then aims to demonstrate that it benefits students. In ‘The Homework Myth’ Alfie Kohn lays out the case against homework. The evidence he presents is compelling, if a little overwhelming.
And the central problem is that we’re just not asking the right questions – we ask how we can strengthen our children’s back muscles so they can carry increasingly heavy back-packs, and we don’t ask why they’re carrying so many books, and whether it is doing them any good. We ask how much is the perfect amount of homework in order to increase test scores, and we don’t ask whether tests are a good way to improve learning. We accept homework, and we content ourselves with asking questions about the detail, rather than challenging the concept.
These are good questions for parents and schools to ask and we need to educate ourselves about this. I do believe it is important that we question rather than simply accept, that we talk to each other, and share our concerns with our schools; that we don’t meekly accept without question something that we don’t always believe is right for our children. For now we have homework and so I want to focus on how we can help our children not just cope with it and not lose their natural love of learning but to be motivated to do it, to develop creative thinking and to get into independent habits of study.
Many schools officially encourage parents to let them know if a child is struggling with homework. But it’s not easy to do this – there are many credible reasons why we feel uncomfortable about it. We may accept that homework should be difficult, that children will dislike doing it, and we don’t want to be seen to be indulgent to our child, or cause a fuss…. It’s a long list. (My 11-year old son didn’t want me to discuss a recent comprehension with his English teacher because he didn’t want his mates to see that his mother had come into the classroom – it’s my world, he said, and it’s not cool for your mum to come in….).
So, as well as considering taking an active role in the homework debate for future children, what shall we do for OUR children in the here and now?
First, let’s go back to the question of what we hope our children will gain from doing homework.
In our classes we ask parents what characteristics they want their children to develop. No parent has ever said they want their children to buckle down and accept things without question, instead they say they want their children to be curious, self-motivated, to know themselves, to be confident to share their opinions, and much more.
Let’s look at a few of the qualities that we strive to bring out in our children, and see how they relate to homework.
In theory, homework COULD teach our children to take responsibility for their own learning, but, in real life, we don’t often give them the chance to take any responsibility for it. The school decides it must be done, the teacher decides what it shall be about, and, in most families, the parents decide the where, when and even how. (“Use this pen, sit here, no you can’t have music on, underline this, rub that out…..”) In fact, we usually don’t even let our children have the responsibility of remembering to do homework – a Californian study found that parents raise the topic of homework within 5 minutes of meeting their children after school!
What shall we do?
(1) Hold back asking them about their homework – give them a chance to mention it first, and take ownership of their homework.
They may remember and mention it themselves, which is a great opportunity for Descriptive Praise, or they may not. Rather than believe the worst (they’ve forgotten it, they don’t take this seriously, they’ll never achieve anything in life unless I make sure it gets done….) instead, take a breath and consider why they may not have mentioned it. Chances are they’re used to you bringing it up, or they’d simply rather tell you about something else about their day first. Or, of course, they’re not looking forward to it…
If you really can’t wait to raise the topic, try a gentle reminder (“Do you think we’ll get some time after tea to play that game?” or verbalise their reluctance (“Guess the last thing you want to think about right now after a busy day is your homework….”)
(2) Rather than impose the homework schedule that you believe is best, involve them in creating it.
Sit together and discuss the where’s and when’s and how’s – it’s perfectly reasonable that you set the parameters (they need to be where you can hear/see them,) and it’s effective and fair when they take some ownership of the details (have a snack first).
I have, in the past, dictated the chair my sons sat on, and the direction they faced. I insisted homework was attended to before anything else, including a meal. Then I realised I was using the food as a lure, and I wasn’t comfortable with this. As growing boys with growing appetites, they needed food before they could concentrate for another nano-second, and as normal boys with huge energy levels, they often need to blow off steam first before settling down for another session of study. So, the routine in our home has changed recently – their favourite option is eat, play, study, which (rather unsurprisingly) is my least favourite option! However, it’s working so far.
Start small, and let them make small choices about their homework NOW so they can make big choices about their homework IN THE FUTURE. (We don’t get better at making decisions by having them made for us!) Much resentment is avoided when they feel they have a measure of control.
(3) When the homework is completed, encourage them to look through their work and suggest improvements to you.
This replaces us pointing out the errors they have made– not only is this de-motivating, it doesn’t help them get into the habit of checking their own work, and spotting improvements. When we encourage them to look for themselves, it helps them get used to the idea that they will make mistakes, but they can identify them, and put them right and move on.
“You’ve managed to get lots of capital letters and full stops in here. They make your sentences easy to understand. Can you find any places where a full stop or capital letter would make it even clearer?” “You’ve been working hard on your spelling, and it shows in this piece of work. Are there any words you’re unsure about and would like to check?”
Creativity, motivation and the love of learning
The majority of homework is repetitive – and while some repetition is necessary for transferring to our long term memories things like times tables, spelling words and French verbs (and even then there are more creative/fun ways of doing this) doing the same thing over and over again is boring for those who can already do it, and depressing and stressful for those who can’t. Not only that, it can limit our ability to search for alternative ways to answer problems, and research shows us over and over again that doing something because you HAVE to do it decreases motivation.
“Homework may be the single most reliable extinguisher of the flame of curiosity.” Deborah Meier, quoted in ‘The Homework Myth’
Of course we want to teach our children – let’s allow the teachers to focus on the front-end academic side, and let’s focus on teaching our children about real-life. And there’s an awful lots of maths, English, Science, Geography and History in our every day world – there’s even a fair amount of Latin!
What can we do?
(1) Go out – and take school learning into other areas, and make it fun!
We can visit museums, galleries, exhibitions, theatres, as well as watch films and TV programmes, about the topics they’re studying. Or simply go for a walk and talk…. Or let them go out in the dark to see the stars or let the children take the lead on how to pursue an idea as they do in some schools in Finland, a country at the forefront of academic excellence and one that eschews the ideas of homework and testing.
(2) Stay in – and make fractions and ratios real
It’s not as hard as it might seem – watch a bath run and see how things sink and float, or how much water is displaced, or ripples move; make a cake or salad dressing, and weigh ingredients and see how they mix together or not; have a Victorian evening, with candles and playing cards; plot holidays on a globe or atlas, dress up like an Egyptian, make an ant-factory, have a scrapbook or project about anything that interests them.
3) Model an interest in learning
Each and every time we sit down to read a book for fun, or pick up a dictionary or search the web to find something out we don’t know, or visit a museum or art gallery or go to a talk or do some form of training we set our children a great example that learning takes place throughout our lives.
Independence and involvement
Children are encouraged to do their homework on their own. However, research is showing that working with others, brainstorming and collaborative work, is more productive than working alone.
So that brings up the contentious issue of parental involvement. We know we’re not supposed to actually do their homework. (In my experience, my ability to do their homework didn’t last as long as I expected or hoped it might…. but then I ‘learned’ a lot by rote, and out of fear, perhaps it’s not surprising most of it has evaporated.)
Research shows that when parents get involved, the level of stress rises. When parents are told that the homework is for a test, they tend to interfere with the homework more, and the child tends to do less well on the test. When parents are not aware there is to be a test, they tend to stand back more, and the child tends to do better in the test.
What can we do?
(1) Discuss their homework with them in a positive way– not is it finished or where have you put it, but ask their opinion, share ideas and thoughts.
This is particularly true for reading. Of course, repeated practice helps children become proficient readers. But reading for enjoyment’s sake is one of the first casualties of homework. Once a child has to read a certain amount of their book, or read for a set amount of time, it becomes a chore and the love is lost.
“The best way to make students hate reading is to make them prove to you that they have read.”Alfie Kohn in ‘The Homework Myth’
After your child has read, either with you or on their own, rather than sign the reading book, talk for a few moments about what they’ve read. If appropriate, perhaps your child can fill in the reading book – putting the date and number of pages read – and give it to you to sign-off. It’s these tiny acts that help them feel involved – that homework is something they do, not something that is done to them. Don’t reward kids for reading other than to praise them for their progress – it should be enjoyable for itself and if we dangle a carrot then we are undermining that message.
(2) When they moan and complain about homework, hear them.
When we listen to their complaints we may worry that we are agreeing with them. We worry that if we validate the negative things they say they will become negative about other things whereas we want them to be positive. None of this is true. (“I hate this homework, why do I have to do it?” “I hate it too, and I don’t understand why they keep giving it” –this is agreeing – as opposed to “It’s tough having to sit down and do more maths, when all you probably want to do is curl up, or run outside, etc.”-this is empathising)
We’re allowing them to tell us how they feel. How children feel about homework is very important as it affects their whole relationship with school, studying, and learning. When we empathise with them, we can actually lower their reluctance or resistance to doing it and let go of their negative feelings. When we try to explain or cajole them to do it, or make them feel wrong for complaining, we give them the message that their instincts and emotions are wrong, and they need to learn to over-ride them and get on with doing as they’re told. Not only that, they can’t talk about it with us because we’re not going to hear it. Not really the life lesson we want our children to learn, nor the relationship we hope to have with them. When they feel heard they have the experience of someone validating their perspective. When we acknowledge their point of view we can help them be calm and move on.
January 19th, 2012
There is an assumption that children and parties go together like bread and jam. And parties are important for the social development of our children.
In many ways, children and parties do have a natural affinity – they both tend to be full of activity and noise, and they’re often somewhat chaotic, and usually quite exhausting!
Parties present a different world to children, a world where the rules are often very different and this can make it hard for them to know how to behave.
Some children don’t enjoy parties – and others enjoy them too much! Either can cause challenges for parents.
There is a wealth of information about how to organise a successful child’s party and plenty to say about whether or not creating a Fabulous Event for a 3 year old is appropriate. But for now we’re going to focus on how parents can make a party a success for the child themselves, helping them feel better, and behave better, and gain from the opportunities offered.
In our experience, these are the 3 main areas parents worry about – and some ideas about how you can help your child:
Nerves and reluctance to join in
Some children throw themselves in with abandon as soon as they arrive. Others hang back and find it hard to join in the merriment. Many children feel anxious or insecure in unknown situations, and this can be exacerbated if they are also to be separated from parents/caregivers. (Separation anxiety doesn’t just affect 18month-2 year olds – it comes in fits and starts, and often another peak is at 5-6 and at 7-8 years old.)
When it looks like our child is not going to join in, it can make us feel disappointed that they’re not going to enjoy themselves, particularly if we’ve made an effort to get there, or worried that they’re out of their depth and we’ve done something wrong, or we can’t help them or that they’ll grow up to be a social misfit!
Being the life and soul of the party is not for all of us! And most parents would choose “being a good friend” over “being a party-animal” for their child! If your child’s temperament means they are more cautious, and reserved, this doesn’t make them wrong- it’s just who they are and we need to accept and support them. Understanding our children’s temperament helps us find ways to help them. For example:
Over-exuberance and not wanting to leave
Some children jump in feet first, and commit to having a full role in every aspect of the party and may even take over somewhat. And, with no sense of time, and no awareness of all the other things you have to do that afternoon/evening, they find it impossible to leave when they are asked.
The evening after the party…..
Once we’ve got home safely, it’s tempting to believe it’s all done and dusted.
Actually, it takes children a remarkably long time to calm down after the intensity of a party. After all the hype, nerves, adrenalin and sugar, it’s difficult for them to adjust to the order and expectations of the real world again.
The more tired they are, the harder it is for them to do anything – including going to sleep. Yet all we want to do is collapse into bed! This can mean we ourselves are not calm, and this doesn’t help.
Rather than pushing them to go to sleep earlier, it can help to start the wind-down to bedtime earlier and make time to do something smoothing and calming. Even if it means they go to bed at the same time as normal, they should fall asleep more peacefully and have a better night’s rest.
Ideas include: deep “sleepy” breathing, gentle massage, having candles/bubbles in the bath, reading favourite stories in your bed. When you’re reading it can help children relax if you gradually slow your voice down and lower the volume, making longer pauses between sentences. It might also help to stroke the child in a rhythm that matches your reading.
It may help to modify some rules or expectations about the evening to allow for the earlier mayhem – for example, if you usually require that your child puts their dirty clothes in the laundry basket, maybe you can do this for them. It doesn’t mean the rule is broken, it’s just the rule applies to “normal” days and doesn’t apply on party night! If you want to maintain any house-keeping rules, be prepared that they might be forgotten, not done so well, or done very slowly and grumpily!
Over all, it always helps us to look at things from our child’s perspective – in time they will be able to do this for you too. When we consider the experience they’ve had at the party, it’s not hard to see how they may crumble or explode later at home.
July 01st, 2011
Have you ever had the experience where your child says they are bored and there is nothing to do? Or indeed the situation where a simple family game of cards dissolves into hysteria and tantrums if your child does not win? Simply playing sport or other games can sometimes be fraught with emotion for both parent and child. Encouraging simple creative play from an early age can often be a minefield as parents are bombarded with a n overwhelming array of educational toys – largely electronic, with an amazing range of batteries and buttons. The marketing gurus cleverly stamp a package as “Award Winning Toy” encouraging parents to buy with the implication they will have as a result an “award winning child”. This preconditioning starts early and moves with the development of your child into the more sophisticated area of Nintendo Ds; Playstations and Xbox’s. Electronic toys are largely about children executing tasks and play therefore becomes based on performance and not imagination. The manufacturers may just as well put a health warning on the box saying” creativity and imagination not included in this package!”
Another on going problem for many parents is that as children develop in age, there can be a temptation to fill children’s free time with many organised activities and entertainment often designed to add to their list of accomplishments. Indeed we do live in a culture of organised play, as the pressure to maximize every moment is enormous, especially as time together between parent and child may be compromised. The result can often be children who, when left to their own devices, may not know what to do. We don’t want fun to be seen by our children as commercialised and yet so often this can be the case .
The solutions to the above are so simple as to be overlooked:
In terms of playing competitive games and sports, many life skills are required in order to be successful and enjoy taking part. We need to teach and train our children to:
Set up opportunities to practice the above skills by playing sport and other games. (This also provides opportunities for positive time with your children which contributes to a positive relationship with them, improves their motivation to please and increases their self-esteem.)
And finally when your child returns home from their cricket or rounders match resist the temptation to ask “Did you win?” replacing it first with “Did you enjoy yourself? And then “did you play your best?” or “did you manage to keep your eye on the ball the way you’ve been practicing” or “Did the coach have any good tips?”
March 31st, 2011
By The Study Gurus.
The Race To Nowhere film showed us that an increasingly significant number of high school students are feeling an unhealthy amount of pressure when it comes to school and their future. In some cases it’s so extreme that it’s not unheard of for 16 year olds to be popping pills to sacrifice sleep for more study.
Clearly, something’s out of kilter.
Perhaps you’re concerned your child is feeling a lot of pressure to get into the right university? Perhaps they’re at risk of burning out before they even get there?
Well here’s the question; what is it you want your child to value?
Success for the sake of success? Or happiness and career satisfaction?
If your answer is the former, then by all means do everything necessary to get your child into the ‘best’ school possible. But if it’s the latter, then what are you so worried about? To achieve career satisfaction and happiness your child needs to have confidence in themselves and the right attitude, not necessarily an Oxford education.
The children who enjoy learning, have a good work ethic and a likeable personality are guaranteed to go far. And YOU can instil these characteristics into your child quite easily all on your own.
What are you talking about at the dinner table?
Do you spend more time over dinner obsessing over what school or university your child is going to get into, or more time having erudite conversation about current events? More time discussing what grades your child needs to get in their exams, or what they learnt today at school?
No wonder our kids are crumbling under pressure… all we talk about is grades, grades, grades!
But grades are important right? Of course – they can have a huge influence on a child’s life after school. But we are saying that we need to emphasise both grades and the importance of learning and actually enjoying it.
The reason being, a student who enjoys learning will do well at school for all the right reasons – because they want to, because they’re curious, because they’re motivated.
Where should you start?
A technique we like to use to spark an interest in learning in our students is to steer conversation away from solely facts and equations, and more towards the real world context behind their subjects wherever appropriate.
For example, if they’re reading a book for their English class, instead of just talking about what’s going to be in the exam, we ask questions like, what’s it about? What do you think the author was trying to say with the story? Are they enjoying it? Yes? No? Why not? What would they rather read?
Or with their maths and science subjects, we try and talk about how these are applied in real life. What does E = mc2 actually mean? Who figured it out? How did it change what we know about the world?
Open and topical questions like these that spark an interesting conversation will make your child appreciate their school subjects in a way that isn’t necessarily attached to school. They’ll be more interested in the content of their subjects, rather than totally consumed by grades.
Help your child find their magic study formula
Every student will have their own unique way of studying most effectively. This is why your child needs to figure out their study formula. This is their personal formula for academic success. It’s the academic equivalent of a personally designed training regime for a top athlete.
Once your child knows what their study formula is, they will understand exactly what they need to do to get the most out of any study session. They won’t have the stress of not knowing how to approach study, and they’ll save time by avoiding study techniques that don’t work for them.
There are a number of facets involved in understanding what your study formula is. Questions you and your child need to start thinking about might be:
• What sorts of techniques help them remember stuff well?
• What’s their predominant Learning Style?
• Do they like writing long notes, or bullet-pointed short lines?
• Do they like drawing diagrams?
• Do they like watching videos?
• Do they learn best by actually doing things?
• Do they study best in the morning or at night?
• Do they study best with long periods or short bursts of study?
The list goes on…
Figuring out your study formula is a game of trial and error. It should be thought of as a constant work in progress. But very quickly it will enable your child to study efficiently and effectively, and will be something that will serve them well all throughout their life.
If you have a child who’s motivated and who wants to succeed, you should be celebrating – not stressing.
Sure they’re going to be nervous when it comes to exams and university acceptance letters – that’s not a bad thing. But if your child has a good work ethic and enjoys learning they are 100% guaranteed to make a success of themselves.
It would be impossible not to.
The Study Gurus are Clare McIlwraith and Chris Whittington. Their aim is to show parents how they can help their children reach their academic potential. They’re sharing their years of studying and tutoring experience at www.thestudygurus.com.
January 10th, 2011
We are now well into January. The Christmas tree has been taken down, life is slowly getting back to normal and I’m feeling that this has been one of the best Christmas holidays ever! And, it’s not over yet! Just over 3 weeks into the holidays, and I’m getting a bit sad that my daughter will soon be heading back to school. As I think back to December 15th, I remember almost feeling a sense of dread that the holiday would be so long! Now, though as she is heading up to 8, she is a total joy to spend time with, and I have had a really great time playing, baking, reading, drawing … all the things that she loves to do. It was really a holiday where – inspired by theDiane Loomans poem, I decided to ‘stop playing serious, and seriously play’.
The holidays started with a magical blizzard, that left many people here in London stranded, unable to get their planned flights either out to see family, or heading somewhere warm. We were already planning on staying in London, as my Mum was coming to visit, so we could really enjoy the snow. During the weekend of the big blizzard, we were all out in the park building snowmen and had a great time throwing snowballs and making snow angels. Sadly for all those who were trying to reschedule flights, they didn’t necessarily see the fun side of the weather.
The snowy days brought to mind a Maya Angelou quote: You can tell a lot about a person about how they manage these three things: a rainy day, lost luggage and tangled Christmas tree lights. I would add to that, a dumping of snow while you’re stuck on an airplane on the runway at Heathrow not knowing whether you’re going to take off on that lovely trip – and with small children who are getting increasingly tired, hungry and bored. You can prepare all you like, but things can still go awry.
What can help you in those unpredictable moments is the ability to stay calm – almost surrendering to the fact that there is very little you can do to change the situation. About the only thing you have any control over is how you are going to approach it! You can go down many different routes: the complaining route (‘these airlines …’ ); the victim route (‘why does this have to happen to me?’); the practical route (attempting to make new travel arrangements); or the ‘let’s make this fun anyway’ route! Choosing to not get swept away by feelings of frustration and sadness about possibly missing out on your vacation, and actually choosing a more positive approach works on so many levels. First, there is the obvious benefit of having happier children. There is also the added bonus that your children are learning a great lesson about how to deal with situations when things don’t go swimmingly. If you’re able to stay calm and creatively deal with the challenges, you’re giving your children an amazing lesson in how to deal with the challenges that life will throw at them.
So now that the parks are green again, the Christmas cookies have all been eaten and the decorations put away for another year, I’ve decided to take on a renewed commitment to stay calm when life gets crazy, and to always remember to take time to seriously play! Happy New Year!