May 15, 2011 - Family, Life, Parenting    7 Comments

The Untold Story – Part 1: A Year post-Resignation

A new post on Typecast’s Blognonymous popped in to my Inbox two days ago that really struck a chord. Everything the writer described I know and have felt. Then I realised that I need to tell this writer, and other fantastic fabulous women, who by virtue of being mothers have also become outcasts in the work place, my story.

I have come out the other side. Five years on, I can look back now and tell you my story, talking calmly, without shaking with anger, although I do still feel angry talking about it, I’m no longer shaking 😉

Almost exactly 3 years and 11 months ago I resigned from my job. If you read my About page there are hints of a previous life, but I have never blogged about it.

Georgia, very proudly tells people, her teachers in school, her friends, that I used to be a Scientist. She has once or twice, also asked why I’m no longer a Scientist, but thankfully, she is at that age where she is more fascinated at what Scientists do, and I have been questioned no end. Thanks also to Nina and the Neurons! To that end, we have done experiments and I have showed her bits of my previous life as a Crystallographer, but never really answered her question.

The day will come, I know, when she will want an answer to “Why are you not a Scientist any more?” and so in addition to answering that question and providing some light at the end of the tunnel for Women earlier in the Road than me, here is my, for now, 4 Part story (although I suspect I will add to it progressively later on).

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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!

An Epitaph to a Fish

Here lies little blue fishie,
In a pink polka dot box,
I didn’t know her when she lived,
But I’ll miss her now she’s gone.

Oh the tears the tears!

As we had breakfast this morning, I spotted a female guppy, floating belly-up. As we proceeded to remove the expired fish (destined for the compost collection), Georgia’s lower lip starts quivering, then her eyes start reddening and welling up, and in a blink, we have grief in full force.

Horrible as it may sound, it was rather difficult to make sense of it all, from a Parenting perspective. That one guppy was actually one of about 50, with more new babies too. Georgia had not actually formed any real attachment to that fish in particular.

In fact, in a later conversation, while she was still upset….
Me: The blue fishie is OK. She’s just gone on to a different place now.
G: It was a blue fishie?…..but I will miss that blue fishie.

But then as we know, we all deal with grief in different ways. Perhaps G was really thinking of something else, and the fish provided an ‘outlet’. Whatever the cause, it was quite an interesting lesson in the full circle of life, and because I subscribe to Buddhist-type beliefs, it was a great lesson on the impermanance of life.

Thankfully, school today provided a much needed distraction. Although it pretty much set the tone for the day.

We promised her ‘closure’, so we made a coffin (origami paper box), she founds some daisies and other bits to put in it. And because she’s been doing prayers in school, we said a little one for the fish.

Fishie go to sleep and rest now
You’ll be happy now.

Phew! I’m glad it’s tomorrow in 5 minutes time.

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.

May 3, 2011 - Life, Random    2 Comments

Scenes from the Weekend

I know it’s already Tuesday, and possibly even Wednesday in some parts of the world, but I thought it would be nice to share some pictures of the lovely places we visited over the weekend.

Avebury, in Wiltshire, the village is home to the lesser known of the Stone Circles, the Stonehenge being the most well-known. Unlike the Stonehenge, you can go right up and touch the stones at Avebury.

It is apparently the largest stone circle in Europe. The stones as they are arranged span across three fields, and a village sits right in the midst of all the circles. Read more about it here.

We passed some spectacular scenery along the way. The photos were taken from a moving car, so might not be as clear. The fields of Rape, not a nice name, but what pretty flowers!

Conversations with Georgia: We don’t say Can’t

Now that I’ve told you about our policy of ‘No can’ts‘…

 London Underground

Photo by Paddynapper

Picture this, it’s peak time, rush hour in London, and we (Georgia and I) are rushing to our train on the Underground (Tube).

I’m loaded with a gi-normous hand bag, containing all accounts of pointlessness, I’ve a large scooter on a shoulder strap on the same shoulder as my handbag.

In my other hand I have a large shopping bag, and because we stopped off at the British Museum, where G made a kite (of willow and craft paper), we have that too – all 3 feet of it!

London Underground

Photo by Kre8tiv

And then we arrive at the never-ending escalators, except of course, there aren’t just 3 people on it (like in the picture) it’s teaming with suits and ties, fashionistas and tourists!

And because I’m out of hands, our conversation goes something like this…

Me: Right, you hold on to your kite and the hand rail and step on. I’m right behind you.
G: Can you hold the kite?
Me: No, look at what I’m carrying already!
G: OK then, can you hold on to my hoodie?
Me: No, I can’t, look I am holding on to all these things.

You can imagine what comes next…

G : Mum, we DON’T say CAN’T!

You could say, I asked for it! 😉

CAN’T is for Wusses

Why CAN’T is banned in our house…

One of the things we noticed recently, was that Georgia had picked up and was very generously sharing was the use of the word Can’t.

Being Asian, born and bred, we have grown up rather far removed from the Can’t ideology, “You do as you’re told” was the overarching philosophy of the day. Not that you couldn’t ever say Can’t, you had to have at least tried before you gave up!

And because we generally are pretty optimistic, positive people (at least I like to believe so!) we found then as Can’t became more and more prevalent in our household, it became both frustrating and annoying, and we just had to do something about it.

It was extremely encouraging to read then, in Jack Canfield’s book, Success Principles, that one should never ever use the word Can’t. In it’s essence, Can’t is the epitome of self-limit. It imposes a restriction within the mind, before one is even able or willing to try something.

When children start using Can’t as an excuse not to do something, it seems to completely negate all possibility, all hope of even trying, it becomes both frustrating and really quite sad.

When you think about it, Can or Can’t both refer to choices (a positive choice or a negative choice) however it is very different from I don’t want to, I will not or I should not all of which state a preference.

And so we set forth to restrict the use of the word Can’t. In our house, you’re allowed to state a preference preferably with an explanation, I’d rather not (Don’t want to),  you’re allowed to decline, No thank you but Can’t is simply unacceptable.

Generally though, our main response to ‘I can’t’ tends to be ‘You CAN, you just need to try!’

And how has it been going? Great! Given that, because can’t as an automatic response is no longer acceptable, Georgia has started to weigh up her responses and think about whether she really doesn’t want to do something, and for what reason.

Apart from the obvious (swear words et al.), are there any words that are ‘banned’ in your house? Why?

Keeping An Identity: On Expectations and Achieving

Before our time in London, I spent the past week reading two books. The first Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother (Amy Chua) and the second To Miss with Love (Katharine Birbalsingh)

The first, Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother by Amy Chua in a straight sitting (about 2 hours – it was an easy read). It was exciting, riveting I suppose in a way, although completely unsurprising, being Asian and growing up in Asia, these sorts of expectations and need to achieve are completely commonplace.

The second though, To Miss with Love, I struggled, and I really struggled through. It was not that it was difficult to read, nor that it wasn’t interesting, in the end what I realised was that, I actually COULD NOT read it for more than a few pages at a time, simply because it was so shockingly awful and yet so shockingly true. It took me the rest of the week to finish it.

Although the contrast between the two books could not be any greater, one talks of success and high achievements, (a 14 year old performing at Carnegie Hall!) and the other describes blood-shed (metal pipes and knives!) in school, at the heart of both books lie a very similar theme….EXPECTATIONS.

What was interesting about both books was the way both confirmed and reaffirmed my thoughts that there is actually nothing wrong at all with the education environment in the Western world, but what is shockingly missing, and it’s glaringly obvious, are Expectations.

The comparison between the achievements of (broadly generalising here!) Eastern and Western children really boil down to one thing and ONE thing only, it’s the fact that in the East, Achievement is Expected, and Success Demanded, while in the West, it seems as if Achievement is Encouraged and Success is Preferable. The difference being Choice.

Readers in the figurative ‘East’ would not blink nor flinch at any of Amy Chua’s methods or thoughts, ideas and philosophies, indeed some might even think her mild, and yet the complete outrage and anger directed at her parenting methods, could really only have come from the ‘West’.

So what then of the Eastern family in a Western environment?

In more ways than I can count, I admire, Western children for the confidence, their ability to articulate, and yet, these same abilities so allowed and nurtured by their parents seem in part, to be the cause of the very same limits that hold them back from pushing the boundaries and achieving more.

We, as immigrants see so much of what is good in the Western culture, and at the same time we keep trying to reconcile that with what we know is good from our own experiences. And so for now, we strive to find the balance and walk that middle path between all the best in the West and the good that we know of the East.

Have you read the Tiger Mummy book? What do you think of it?

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: !!!