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Teaching the Law of Cause and Effect … work hard, or …

“That’s what happens when you don’t work hard!,” a silent but firm message, often in no unforgiving tones is regularly sent to young Chinese children.
In most cases, the parent quite openly and unashamedly points out to the garbage collector or the person sweeping the street or even the maid.

Whether or not the message is true is of little of often no consequence, the core of the lesson is to instil the ethic of work, and perhaps more importantly, the idea that dreams come true when you work for it.

Having lived in the UK for quite a while now, I had gotten used to the complete political-correctness of never talking down your fellow human. I had unknowingly accepted the Western notion that when someone is in a fairly low-level job, it may be because, a) he enjoys doing it (and that’s what matters) or b) he’s in a rough patch. Come to think of it, there’s even a song about “The Dump Truck”

Never in all my years here had this been a subject of conversation with any of my peers, who incidentally come from a wide range of professions, from Professors to cooks in a Chinese take-away.

So naturally when Georgia starts negotiating to ‘practise her cello tomorrow’ and ‘do five sums’ instead of ten, I turn to my mum and bemoan the fact that, she’s becoming lazy.

“Wait till you come back here (to Malaysia) for a holiday, then you can point out the cleaners in my building,” she mentions reassuringly.

And so the time comes, we pack our bags, lock up our house and fly half-way across the world, to see what lessons we can impart to our nearly 6-year-old.

In the whirlwind of meeting up with relatives and friends, we take occasional refuge relaxing in the swimming pool when we happen to chance upon a couple of cleaners, walking round with mops and brooms.

“Great! Time for a lesson,” I think to myself.

“Hey G, you see those cleaners over there? Do you know why they have to clean other people’s houses?”

“Dunno…” she nonchalantly shrugs of the questions and goes back to her game of shooting her water gun at various toys she’d arranged around the pool.

“Well you know how we always tell you, you have to work hard at school?”

“Uh-huh,” she becomes a little bit more interested now and turns to look straight at me, wide-eyed.

And the lesson hits, “Well, if you don’t work hard and do your best, well then you won’t be able to find a good job and buy all the things you like….and you’ll have to end up cleaning,” I try to say this with as much seriousness and conviction as possible, trying to sell the idea that being a cleaner is just not good enough.

And just as serious and with as much conviction comes her reply “But Mummy! I like cleaning!”

And there it is! Does it matter that our society defines the worth and value of an individual by their occupation or that, it is in Asian terms ‘losing face’ when one’s child does not succeed?

Wrapped up in G’s immediate responses, was my lesson “Love what you do”.

Conversations with God…um, Georgia: About God

WARNING: Please do not read if you are religious.

Georgia goes to a CIW (Church in Wales) school, and as a result she sings hymns, says prayers and goes the whole nine-yards with a Christian ‘God’ that we knew about but never really bothered with.

So anyway….have spent a few days making crosses in school, she comes home one days and asks:

G: Does God look like a man?
Me (keeping in line with our policies of truth): Well, some people think so and some people don’t. What do you think?
G: Ummm… I think it’s all made-up.
Me: I think so too 😉

I didn’t really have to worry about religious influences, or do I?

Keeping an Identity: Expectations of School

Over the past few weeks I had a revelation. It wasn’t the sort of revelation that hits like a ton of bricks that makes you go ‘Wow!’; it was more like walking through a deep dark forest, seeing nothing but a tiny glimmer of light, and eventually when you get to the tiny glint you find a paradise waiting there all along.

And this amazing revelation was nothing more than My perceptions and expectations of school were warped if nothing else. Generally my opinion of school was “after we do the hard work at home, she has time off to relax at school – school is boring, learning nothing new”.

You see it all started weeks back when we took Friday off, packed up to go to Brighton and London over a long weekend. As a parent, I’m a stickler for routine (a little routine), I like knowing what has to be done, by when and once it’s done it’s out of the way, we can get on with the day. Don’t worry, it’s not as if the entire day is scheduled, just some parts of the day.

Anyway, we generally have a morning time routine, in which she does some work (writing, reading and maths) and practises her cello. Usually we slack off during a holiday, although tiger mummy that I am, I do usually take along some books to carry on with a stripped down version of ‘work’.  On this Brighton trip though, we completely laid back (pretty much horizontal) and found getting back in to the routine, once we were home again, a big big struggle.

This was when I started to reassess what we were doing and why we were doing it, and I came to the conclusion that it was this great big disparity between what I expected of a  school and what was actually done in school.

Amazing as her class is, with all the loving, caring philosophies, I have found it more than a little frustrating that communication has been limited, nil, to say the least, apart from the ten minute sessions of Parent-teacher meetings.

To be fair, I have never found the need to go and tell them quite what she was capable of, writing short sentences, making lists and doing sums and times tables.

Being the typical Asian, I have not ‘rocked the boat’, kept my mouth shut, and basically done what I can from home. This included sitting with Georgia every day, working through things she is very capable of (in terms of learning) to ensure that she had some challenges, while she went to school for what seemed to be a relaxing play time, at least that is what she tells me.  (yes, I know they have this new thing called learning through play).

All this until we came back from that Brighton trip…and then nothing worked. No amount of coaxing, cajoling, bribery or threats could get her to pay attention for longer than a millisecond. Worried and frustrated, I decided to talk to her teachers (the TAs really as her class teacher was away that week) at school to see if she was doing the same thing at school. (Turned out to be a great conversation and a great deal more conversation followed but that’s for another post)

But this was when I realised: much as I liked and loved the openness, the encouragement to ask and question of the Western education system, I had seen and experienced enough to know that the issues with low achievement lay not in the methods of delivery for education, but the low, often unsaid, unverbalised expectation of children.

And this was where I fell in, I went along with the low expectations in school, figuring that I could very well just keep up the work and expectations from home. After an honest heart to heart chat with a friend, turns out my perception is completely warped.

After my chat with the TAs, Georgia came home the next day and mentioned that Mr A (the Headteacher) had been in to talk to her to ask her to read (a reading book) and ask if she knew her times tables (which she sang to him). How’s that for a quick response? I was certainly very grateful that the TAs mentioned it to the Head, who in turn took an interest to find out more for himself.

I had at that point, worked out that the next best thing to do was to request a meeting with the Headteacher, not to complain or to moan but to talk about parenting expectations.

So that said, we requested a meeting with the Headteacher, who very kindly met us the very next day. And we learnt that

We could and should ask more and expect more of the school – communicate.

The typical ‘Asian way’ was that you kept your mouth shut and just got on. This obviously wasn’t working. So Mr A very generously explained to us, that the best way forward was really to schedule weekly meetings with G’s teacher to discuss how and what she was doing in class and how we might be able to support her with that work at home.

In his own words, he (the Headteacher) said that the 10 minutes during the termly Parent Teachers meetings was really not enough time to know how she was doing and what she was doing in school.

Realistically though, although that was the advice, and I suppose in many senses the offer, I know very well that to demand that of the class teacher takes time out of her class, and time out of her preparation for class. I was happy to meet with her and chat and after that continue the communication with written notes within her reading notebook (as a friend suggested).

It turns out that she already is in the top set for Maths but not for Literacy, which was rather surprising given that she loves writing and spelling but is not keen at all on sums. I have since worked it out though that the differences lie in the fact that the class/scheme that they use have pretty simple and basic expectations for Numeracy and are pretty advanced for Literacy (which completely baffles me – but time for that in another post).

So anyway, moving forward with better communication and feedback, it has been 3 weeks since the above took place. And where are we?

Pretty much back at square one, I think. Communication has been slightly improved, after I’d taken to writing pages in to her reading book (it is tiny!) about the things we are working on at home. However, I am still really no better off and still do not know what she has been doing in class, or if there is anything that she could be helped with.

Is this really what the rest of school is going to be like? Is there anything else, really, that I can do? Are you absolutely happy with your children’s school?

Jun 17, 2011 - Family, Life, Random    2 Comments

Hair bobbles, hair bobbles everywhere, no more.

I really should have posted this amazingly simple bit of organisation that 5-year old Georgia was thoroughly taken with, on Sunday when it took place.

If your girl is anything like mine, you would undoubtedly be overflowing with hair bobbles, hair pins, hair ribbons….everything remotely hair related! We found an excellent, relatively cheap way of organising it all using craft toolkit boxes. We got ours, Craft box, that is, at The Works for £1.99, but we have also seen them in The Range.

Hair organisation

Apart from moving to a bigger house, have you any other great tips for organising kids stuff?

Jun 11, 2011 - Conversations, Family, Parenting    6 Comments

Conversations with Georgia: My Daddy Likes to Get Drunk

This morning as I was getting breakfast ready a little voice pipes out.

G: My daddy really likes getting drunk.

Taken quite by surprise and rather shocked (we only very very ocassionally have a drink), I replied.
Me: No he doesn’t.

G: Yes he does…he loves to get drunk.
Me: But daddy’s allergic to alcohol.
G: Oh? He’s ‘llergic to alcohol (she understands what it means to be allergic). How?
Me: He gets rashes and other things when he has alcohol.
G: Oh….but he loves to drink Coke!
Coca-cola

Disclaimer: I did tell her, Coke does not have alcohol and yes DH does really really like Coca-cola.

Jun 10, 2011 - Family, Random    2 Comments

Post-it Art

Conversations with Georgia: A forger in the making?

As we had a couple of minutes before getting ready for bed, I offered to read Georgia a story. Any story that she wanted. So she picked up the Monsters Inc. Guide, turned to the front page and this is what we read….

As we get to the bottom of the page, she notices the scrawled signature by Henry J. Waternoose, President & CEO, Monsters, Inc. Curious she asks,

G: What’s that? (pointing to the signature)
Me: That’s called a signature. It’s a special way of writing your name, so only you can do it.

G by now looking dubious, looks at the signature again, then points to it and says,

“But anybody could copy that!”

Cello: The Beginning

About two years ago, we, rather randomly spotted the Bristol Violins shop on one of our weekend jaunts and decided to drop in to see if they had any baby cellos (1/4 and 1/8). She was about 3 at the time.

From my own experience, I was fairly certain that Georgia would benefit most from starting out on a String instrument before moving on to any other instrument she wanted. I also desperately wanted her to start before age 6. Yes I am a pushy parent but I’ll also explain why.

Starting a musical instrument before age 6, has roots in the concept that babies and children all have perfect pitch. They are born with a sense of natural rhythm and if there are no hearing deficiencies, they can hear and reproduce sounds almost perfectly pitch-wise.

As they grow, this skill, unless nurtured and practised, apparently seems to start becoming lost. And it does actually make sense, in the haze of everyday life, little children’s brains pick up and learn so much, so even if they had pitch perfect hearing, if it was a skill that was not important and did not contribute to daily life, it is natural that it would gradually diminish both in importance and in ability.

Being a pianist and picking up the cello and the flute at Uni, I came to the realisation that of all the instruments to learn, strings are quite possibly by far the hardest, mainly because it relies wholly on the ear to create the pitch perfect note.

You see, unlike a piano, where a fixed sound is made when a key is depressed, or guitars where there are frets to guide your fingering. The accuracy of a note, to be played on a string instrument relies entirely on the positioning of the finger on the finger board. If it is tilted, even by the tiniest angle, it would affect the sound, changing it either sharper (higher) or flatter (lower)

So anyway, we were really lucky then as we did find an 1/8 size cello which we managed to borrow on loan (for free!) for two weeks.

The amazing thing was Georgia turned out to be a complete natural. Not once did she make that squeaky sound, common with all first time string players. She played the open strings (when you don’t press any notes) really confidently.

So we went away and eventually came back, £80 poorer, 4 months later, to return the baby cello, having spoken to numerous cello teachers. None of whom would even consider taking her on at her age then, 4 – simply because they had no experience. Oh Shame!

Conversations with Georgia: Different Colours

Reading Nurture Shock by Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman, the second chapter talks about race and why we really should be talking more about the variations in our skin pigmentation more with our children.

I suppose it hit home, although I do have a lot of comments and opinions to add to that chapter, from personal experience growing up in a fluid multi-cultural society (read: Malaysia). So anyway, I thought I’d ask 5-year old Georgia, why she thought people have different skin colours. The conversation went like this.

Me: G, why do you think people have different skin colours? You know, like some people are really fair and some people are really dark.
G: Well, it’s because they get more sun and some people get less sun.
Me: Oh?
G: Like you know, in Malaysia, people are darker and there’s more sun than people here.
Me: Gosh, that’s a logical explanation….

Boy, we’ve got some explaining to do 😉

Conversations with Georgia: Mrs Mooncake?

As we gleefully left school on Friday afternoon, after what had been a seriously long week, we walked along the shaded path heading towards the car.

Two ladies came walking in the opposite direction. And G whispers,

G: There’s Mrs Mo…

And because they were drawing nearer, I looked up, to smile as the one that Georgia knew smiled at her. And as soon as they were out of ear shot, I stopped Georgia and asked,

Me: What did you say her name was? Mrs Mooncake???

At which point we both burst out laughing.

G: Her name is Mrs Morgan. But you know, they have such strange names, like Mrs Kershal.

Turns out, she thinks Sam is normal, but Jin Aik is strange too – Poor Daddy!

In case you’re wondering, Mooncakes are a type of Chinese sweet-cake associated with the Mid-Autumn Festival, along with the Lantern Festival. There are legends that go with it as well – read more about it here.

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