Browsing "Learning"

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”.

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 18, 2011 - Learning, Parenting, School    6 Comments

Is the Weatherman a Scientist?

Weather StationA couple of days ago, the other Reception class stuck this weather station outside their classroom. Now as all the Reception children share the same yard, the label seemed infintely loaded.

But anyway, seeing it the first time after school, making our way home, my first reaction was to tell Georgia to leave it alone. Too late.

A combination of selective hearing and curiosity meant that she dashed straight off to pick up the rain water funnel.

As the other class’ pupils spilled out, one ‘told’ on her shouting loudly, “Georgia’s touching the weather station”.

It so happened that by that time, I had caught up with her, and had told her to put it back, and leave it alone. But a man who was at the door, of the other class room, one whom I’d never seen before, took it upon himself to berate her or at least it seemed like it, at the time. (Given that I myself had told her to put it back, and he had witnessed the whole incident.)

He shouted loudly and went on and on, insisting, “You are not supposed to touch that only real scientists can, and it takes years and years of training to become a real scientist”.

Now , while I was absolutely appalled that Georgia had picked up the rain funnel, disregarding the sign on it, I was completely cheesed off at the unnecessary reaction to her curiosity and inquisitiveness.

Having been (do you ever stop being?) an actual ‘real’ scientist, I had on the very tip of my tongue a retort, which would probably have shut the man up, but I held my tongue. In hindsight, probably rightly so, for it would have been unnecessary and pointless to get in to an argument.

However, I am a firm believer that nothing promotes or encourages science more than kids getting their hands dirty. Encouraging curiosity and certainly encouraging experimentation.

To put up a sign that says Scientists Only, discourages the fact that everyone, especially children, are probably the best scientists around. While I am a member of the Permanently Head-Damaged, I certainly do not believe you need letters after your name to be a scientist. It would have been so much better if the sign had just said Do Not Touch.

If you had been there, would you have said something?

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!

May 20, 2011 - Family, Learning, Life, Parenting    No Comments

Life’s Lessons

If you have been following The Untold Story series, these Life Lessons (and so many more!) are a culmination of the journey and how we have found our balance.

There are so many more good things that can be added to the list. These are my top 4. If you can think of others, please do share them.

Life’s Lessons

Lesson 1 – Staying home with children (under age 5) is much harder than going out to work

I do not mean to start a national debate, at all, WOHM and SAHM contribute significantly to all areas of our lives. I will admit that this feeling may well not be universal, but the majority of SAHM’s I know seriously miss the ability to ‘shut the door’ and have some down time. Equally, WOHM’s wish they could spend days with their kids, finger painting and digging in the sand. It’s not a competition!

So yes, I stand by, going out to work is easier than staying home with children, BUT, having said that WOHMs – all that juggling — that is a super-human task. So which ever camp you fall in to, pat yourself on the back, and remember we are all just doing the very best that we can.

[Disclosure: WAHM – definitely have it best of all!]

Lesson 2: No regrets – Decisions you make at that point in time are the ones best for you then (keep moving forward!)

There will be times when we look back and think, I wish I did it differently, but (and it is always a very big BUT!) there is no way of knowing what you know now, and if circumstances where the same in the future, you then have the benefit of hind-sight and will perhaps take a different path.

But Live with it and do your best and most importantly – Keep moving forward (ever watched Meet the Robinsons?)

Lesson 3: Having it all, doing it all, being it all, is a Myth! (UNLESS you define having it all in your own terms)

Us women, we are too hard on ourselves! The suffragettes ensured that we had equal rights, equal access, equal votes etc to the men, and for that I thank them.

What they did not need consider, and perhaps it was because most suffragettes had live-in nannies and house-keepers (cue Mary Poppins), was that women generally are (very loosely said here) responsible for the household and for the children, not because there are inequalities in family life, but because by nature, women are more nurturing, they are able to multi-task (it’s true!), they do after all, carry that baby for nine months.

Now before you jump on me, yes we are very much a 21st centrury family and share all these responsibilities, but, (again it is a big BUT), I was never asked to go out and earn my keep, I did it, because

I felt it was only right that I contribute to the household income

I felt it was a distinct waste of an education and significant qualifications to do otherwise

I had an image to up-keep, and perhaps most importantly, and now i figure most bizarrely,

I needed to feel a sense of control, especially where money was concerned.

Note here, these are all I‘s, demands placed upon myself, by me. No one else. Do you see where I’m going?

And so how have I reconciled it? I will be honest, it has taken a long long time, a lot of support (thank you DH), a lot of open conversations.

I still have crazy demands of myself (a gazillion things, I want and need to do) but because I want to do them (writing this blog and another that’s coming is one of them). This is closely tied in to Lesson 4.

I accept that money earned, whether by me or by DH is ‘our’ money. Yes it’s still a  guilty feeling to spend money on ‘myself’ if I haven’t earned it, but it’s getting better (I suppose it’s like the first time crook, do it once, do it once more and sooner or later, it becomes second nature 😉 I’m not at all suggesting that spending joint money is like stealing!) Oh and haven’t you heard, ‘your money is my money, and my money is my money ;))

I accept that I contribute significantly, whether in the business (that we own jointly) or in the household (where we live jointly) – it is about give and take. Some days I do more here and some days I do more there.

Which brings me to my final lesson.

Lesson 4: Live NOW.

Whether you are a WOHM, SAHM or WAHM, you will know what I mean about this.

The typical scenario of

a) a WOHM is, guilt at work because child is in childcare, guilt at home while with child, because of unfinished work.

b) a SAHM is, guilt when playing with children, because of unfinished housework, guilt doing housework because not spending time with children.

c) a WAHM is, generally a combination of the two above.

So having been at some point or  other one of the three options above, I have come to the realisation that the very best we can do is to live NOW. So when I’m with Georgia, I’m with her (wholly, mentally and physically) or I try my very best (you know what they say about multi-tasking?!)

If I’m working, I’m working, full stop. Admittedly, it helps significantly to trust the child-care or school environment your child is in, completely.

So there – my four Life Lesson’s from my experiences. Do you have any more to add?

No Limits, Please!

In our adult roles as parents, carers, teachers and educators it is inevitable that a large part of our responsibility encompasses placing limits on our children. As responsible adults, it falls on us to limit the amount of television they watch or the number of sweets and chocolates they can have in a day. Perhaps we think about how we can limit negative behaviour and encourage positive behaviour instead. These types of limits are necessary for the good of the child. However, not all limits are positive and sometimes they seem unnecessary and may often be detrimental.

I first became aware of these potentially detrimental (often unnecessary) limits when Georgia started at nursery school. It all started when I learnt more about the phonics system that is in use here in the UK to teach reading.

Georgia spends a lot of time with books and surrounded by books (a confession here: My main weakness is shopping for neither clothes nor shoes but books!). We first started looking at alphabet books and learning letters by their letter names and their relevant phonetical sounds. So from about 2, she knew that an ‘A’ (letter name) sounded ‘ah’ (phonetical sound) and so on.

Later on when she started at nursery school, she came home referring to letters, bizzarely, only by their phonetical sounds. This was when I did a bit more digging around on the Web and found out that children here are not taught letter names for fear that they would get confused!

So 4-6 year olds are ONLY taught the phonetical sounds of each letter without being told their letter names (I don’t know why they bother to teach the ABC song then really). At some point in their primary school life, probably at about 7 or 8 years of age, these children who up until then have only referred to letters by their phonetical sounds are then taught the letter names.

What baffles me completely is why there exists the assumption that children would find it confusing to learn letter names along-side letter sounds? My personal opinion and experience tells me that such limits are very unnecessary and often only serve to tell the children that they are inferior and incapable, while the fact is, if these limits are removed they are actually very capable of much greater achievements.

How would you know something is difficult, if you didn’t know that it was hard in the first place? In my book, children do not have enough experience to know whether things are easy or hard, they may have a preference, likes and dislikes, but with no prior experience, the perception of something difficult is often a ‘borrowed’ concept.

I observed a similar ‘self-limiting’ experience recently with music instruction.

Georgia’s school participates in a fantastic scheme called The Infants’ Strings Project. Through this project, all children at Reception (4-5 year olds) are taught to play the violin and some are offered the cello.

We too have a quarter sized cello at home and Georgia and I have been ‘playing’ with it for the past year and a half now. As I found it quite difficult to get hold of cello instruction books suitable for 3.5 year olds, I decided to design a very simple set of notes based on a music staff with some visually appealing images.

So we had notes for C, G, D and A (the open strings on the cello) printed on a staff with the bass clef and the music count. I also incorporated different note values. Because it did not occur to me that it might be difficult for Georgia, and I carried on teaching her based on ‘normal’ music notes. I found that it took only a couple of tries before she actually recognised and remembered the notes. In short, she could actually read music.

We have recently started formal music lessons with a lovely teacher who also participates in the Infant Strings Project and I found out from her that the children are only taught to recognise coloured notes (a colour denotes a note) without a staff and without note values.

This seemed to be yet another case of telling the children what they cannot do without actually letting them try to reach their potential.

Would you believe then, with no limits attached – the deaf can hear and the blind can see?

Take the case of (Think and Grow Rich, 1937) Napoleon Hill’s son, Blair, born without ears and on further examination, apparently had no possibility of hearing, and yet with unmistakable belief and no limits he was eventually able to gain most if not all of his hearing (with a hearing aid).

If this is not convincing enough, hear Caroline Casey for yourself….and remember – No Limits!

May 5, 2011 - Books, Learning, School    No Comments

The Drama of Reading Books

Now I’ve gone and done it!

Over the Easter holidays, Georgia was given two new reading books, again from the Oxford Reading Tree series. One was OK, thankfully, but the other, Gosh! ‘The children were fed up. “Yuk!,” said the children’

So while we are working to instil a positive mindset and to encourage Georgia not to say Yuck to food – how can it be right to the encounter all of these in reading books?

Time for a change. Thankfully, her class teacher Miss Jones was really understanding and recommended that we try books from another scheme, which she called Ginn books.

Apparently these books are quite ‘old’ but hey…as long as they’re not so depressing! I promise I’ll come back and provide a verdict after we’ve read them.

Apr 26, 2011 - Conversations, Learning, Life, School    4 Comments

Conversations with Georgia: Tongues in School

Of all the things, 4 and 5 year olds get up to in the school yard…

G: Do you know what Mrs Thomas said the other day?
Me: No, what did she say?
G: She said, “Everyone must keep their tongues in their own mouth and NOT touch other people’s tongues with their own tongue!”
Me: Oh…why did she have to say that?
G: Because they were touching other people’s tongues with their own tongue.
Me: !!!