Tag Archives: Parent

Transition Vamp

My second son is soon to leave primary school and head up the road to the local secondary and I, his ever loving and hopefully not too cotton wool wrapping mother, have to admit to a passing sense of anxiety over how he will fare.  I have always felt this way whenever he follows the unsteady footsteps of his brother; where Sam has had someone to hold his hand, A has to find his way alone.  My little ship setting singular sail onto an unknown sea.

That said, the local comp is certainly doing what it can to set me (not just me personally, you understand) at my ease.  Last weekend they held a ‘parent and child learning event’ which, despite the fact that it was rather long (4 out of your Saturday hours that we haven’t volunteered for is a big commitment for families), and following a late return from a week-long residential visit for him and a Friday night glass (or two) of wine for me and we were a bit tired, I came away from feeling a little reassured.

Once we’d got over the shock of Saturday morning in a school, it was actually quite nice.  It was nice to be doing something, just him and me.  The thing is, though, that while it was nice, and it was busy, there were significant numbers of parents and children not there, and, as we know so well as teachers, the ones not there are the very people we would like to see in our schools, finding out that we (the teachers) aren’t ogres (and that some of them are seriously young) and that our children will actually be OK.

So I thought about the factors that might mean that people didn’t come.  First up: Saturday.  It’s a lot to expect from busy families (and tired teachers too, to be honest), so if we’re going to give up a morning, it has to be worthwhile.  Maybe 4 hours is a bit long.

Second up: what will we be doing?  Now I don’t know about you, but I like to know what’s going on and I like the illusion of choice.  I’m a fully grown up adult and I don’t like to be told what to do, especially in my free time.  What I do like is messing about doing things with my children, especially 1:1 (and this was something borne out by my April survey), and if schools can help me with that, great!

Third up: now I like writing (you can probably tell), but I didn’t like PE, so I can understand the feelings of people who don’t want to be thrown back into their own classroom insecurities, especially in front of their children, so maybe, just maybe, schools could do a little bit of lateral thinking about the kind of activities they offer for such events in future.

Guiding Principles

We need to remember that the engagement we are looking for, the one that makes all the difference in the world, is with the child, not with the school, and sometimes (well, quite a lot of the time), relationships between parents and children can get a bit tense and fractured.  So we need to offer learning together experiences that allow parents and children to engage in an activity alongside each other, to collaborate.  And something that I have learned along my journey with Sam, learning life skills together, with someone else to take the lead and take the pressure off, is a relief, a gift.

Sport immediately springs to mind, but, to be perfectly honest with you, the sporty families are probably already doing that (although the chance to play a simple, fun game that didn’t require a huge amount of skill was enjoyable), so I followed my train of thought and this is where I ended up.

Cooking together.

An art project together.

Some sort of crafting  – model making, woodwork, metalwork.

Hair braiding (I’m thinking fancy plaits), makeup and nails.

All of these things are activities that can be hard to do with children at home.  All of them are the sort of practical activity that both participants might enjoy, and don’t require huge amounts of academic skill from parents.

We know that the moments of transition are key when building relationships between parents, children and schools.  Let’s stop forcing families into states of opposition, especially battles over homework. Let’s see if we can’t do a bit of bringing them together.

Let’s take the pressure off, rethink and revamp.

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Doing stuff together is what counts, isn’t it?

 

 

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Telling Stories

Sometimes I wonder whether this blog is a sort of something and nothing kind of creature.   It’s not wholly a parenting blog.  Neither is it wholly a teaching one.  It’s not totally devoted to the boy in the title, or to one particular ideology, or anything else really.   What it is is a reflection.  It’s a reflection of some of the things I’ve learned since my boy appeared in my, in our, lives.

I don’t feel that I can advise anyone on how to bring up their child, Down Syndrome or otherwise.  I can’t tell anyone how to teach, or what to teach.  The older I get, the less certain I become of myself, of what I thought I knew.  The more aware I am of the unending multitude of things I don’t know.

But what I can do is tell you my stories.  I’m always learning from them.  I learned from them at the time, and, through this blogging process, this reflection of our lives onto a computer screen, I learn again, perhaps even something different each time.

And what I learn I find that I can apply.  I can apply it in my private, personal life, and I can apply it in my working life.  When I started working in a school again, after my long absence, a good friend of mine, who is now a head teacher, told me that no prospective employer would be interested in what I have been up to, on my journey into motherhood.  They would only be interested in my classroom practise.  Well, I’m afraid I disagree.  My life cannot be compartmentalised into ‘home’ and ‘school’.  What I learn from one, I have no choice in taking through to the other.  I do not take off one person and put on another when i am in different situations.

So I tell you my stories, in my attempt to make sense of the world about me, to learn, and apply what I have learned from my experiences.  And I refuse to think that they are irrelevant, that the personal, the emotional, the different does not matter, isn’t relevant, doesn’t fit in to the Grand Scheme Of Things.  Thank you for reading them, thank you from the bottom of this uncertain heart, and take from them what you will.

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Inside Out and Back to Front

I hate the school run. I hate it with a passion. I hate the way that it rules my day, the way it starts it with a whirlwind when I am hardly ready to be awake, let alone charging up and down the stairs looking for lost shoes and swimming costumes. I hate the way it makes me shout at my kids first thing in the morning. It breaks my heart when I have to wake them up and drag them out of their warm cocoons of sleep, into the harsh, cold day.

I might not feel so passionately about it if my children were a little more biddable. After all, we haven’t far to go to get to school. Since we moved house there is no car to wrestle two awkward boys and a baby into, and the walk is only minutes up the road, but still. Some mornings I feel as if I have climbed a mountain and it isn’t even nine o’clock.

Most of the time I am far more aware of the similarities of my family’s to everyone else’s experience and this keeps me on an even keel, but I had one of those conversations a while ago with a friend of mine, where I realised that my life isn’t quite as normal as I usually persuade myself. We were having one of those moans you do about the school run that probably included the difficulty of the violins, and the dinner money, and the homework, and the packed lunches on particular days but not on others, and the scooters, and the bikes, and I happened to mention that I wished my daughter would get herself dressed. My friend looked at me in complete amazement at this state of affairs. After all, she is 7, and well able to do it herself; it’s just that we sort of fell into this pattern on a school morning, and it got me thinking.

OK. I put my hands up. She is my youngest, and I know that I am guilty of a certain amount of babying. She gets away with far more than she probably ought for the simple reason that she catches me out by growing up just before I have prepared myself for it. But in our family, it’s a little more complicated. There is an added dimension. My younger children don’t exactly have the best example in their big brother.

It’s a difficult thing, to try and put into words the nature of the maturity of my eldest son. In many ways he is just like any other almost teenager. He loves football, he’s becoming more aware of girls, he’s having a go at swearing (he might not get the words right, but from the intonation I have no qualms in telling him to stop or I’ll wash his mouth out). He goes to a secondary school, albeit a special one, and he’s certainly experimenting with the Strop and the Playing of Loud Music. It’s just that the music he plays is ‘musical timestables’, or ‘Welcome to Lazy Town’, and he’s more than happy to watch CBeebies rather than CBBC, Barney rather than The Simpsons.

My middle son finds it the most difficult to handle, this mix of older and younger brother. On the one hand, they know their position in the family. Sam knows that he is the eldest (if not the tallest at the moment), and expects this to be respected, and yet A is streets ahead of him in terms of understanding and ability. In many ways my dear, worried, anxious little boy needs an older brother who can pave the way for him, show him the next few steps. But instead he has a big brother he is heartbreakingly protective of, and who he looks after in his stressy little angry way.

Some things are made easier by the special-ness of my eldest son. Bed-times, for instance. Sam is a lark and no mistake, and there are many times when I have wholeheartedly wished that he would not get up so early, but it does mean that he is more than ready to go to bed at a more than reasonable hour. We don’t have to deal with my daughter asking to go to bed later and later, because the older ones do. The adults still get a nice long evening with complete control over the remote and the best seats on the sofa.

I have a good friend who tells me that her children love coming to my house because when they are here they are allowed to be young. We sit at the kitchen table bemoaning the State of the World Today, while her enormous children ride up and down the hallway on trikes we haven’t yet found a new home for and play musical statues while bouncing on the beds. Thanks to Sam there’s no pressure here to be anything other than who you are. There’s no hurry. We like what we like and we are who we are because wouldn’t life be boring if we were all the same?

It’s nice for the little ones that they don’t have a big brother who is pushing them to grow up before they are ready, but just sometimes, I feel like I could do with a bit of help. Because when Sam can’t dress himself without putting on a football kit when it should be school uniform, or shorts when it’s snowing, or at the very least getting them inside out and back to front, why should they?

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Teacher-parent/parent-teacher?

I used to be a hard hearted teacher. Not the sort that never cracked a smile, or ever told a joke, or even never let the children in my care see the soft-centred me, but what was I thinking when I gave kids a hard time for turning up too early in the morning? How was it that I didn’t realise that children have no power over what time they are dropped off or picked up?

I am so thankful that I always gave the children in my class the chance to practice their spellings while I was doing the register. I am glad that I figured out that some children don’t get the chance to do things like spellings, or times tables at home. It might be because they don’t have a quiet space, or, as I know now, because mummy has to cook the tea, or there is a new baby, or visitors came round, or that there is Brownies that night, or that, like my children, once they step beyond the school gates, everything that has gone on in there all day is wiped from their memories, because they have much more important things to be doing.

I understand so much more now about the priorities of children. These days the children I teach look at me with amazement when I refer to a TV programme they might have watched, or a cool toy or a comic. It’s as if I have suddenly popped out of this grey ‘teacher-world’ where everything is dull and difficult, into the real world, where I am a ‘real’ person, someone they can relate to, someone who understands that when they say they know what a healthy meal is, they have absolutely no intention of ever eating one.

Back before I had my own kids, I bemoaned the fact that homework added extra to my classroom responsibilities, and piously declared that children these days ought to be playing out and getting exercise. But I had no concept of the impact of homework in the life of the family. I didn’t know then that visits to relatives would need to be cut short, or playtime would be missed because the school work was waiting. And I certainly didn’t appreciate the difficulties of getting three children to do their homework, each of whom can’t do it on their own.

Before I was a mother I would have wondered how on earth this state of affairs could come to be. After all, I had been successfully managing groups of up to thirty-five of them, all working away, all at the same time. What I didn’t understand was that there is a huge difference between what children can do in the heightened atmosphere of the classroom, and what they can do at home, when there is all the temptation of all the things they would rather be doing right there, in the next room.

And how do I give them the kind of support they need when there are three of them? I don’t know if it is down to the Down’s Syndrome, but my children seem incapable of doing homework independently. The vision of the children working away at the table while I make the tea simply doesn’t exist in my house. Each child wants my undivided attention. Each child demands my undivided support. It would be easier if I could cut myself into three pieces. As it is, I have opted for helping them out, one after the other, and doing my best to swallow my resentment. Like them, there are thousands of other things that interest me more, and after a week spent cajoling the most reluctant of small people into hard-won feats of learning, the very last thing I feel like doing is repeating the act all over again at home.

I hate the fact that homework has been one of the biggest cause of fights between me and them. It feels to me as if the hand of the state has reached into my home, given us a sound telling off, and set us into generational opposition. What was it I used to say to parents when they came to me, worried about their children’s reading? Don’t make it into an argument, said I. Don’t force them, if they don’t want to. It’s supposed to be a joy, a pleasure, an entry into worlds unseen, as well as our own. Cuddle up on the sofa together. You read your book while they read theirs. Let them read what they want to; joke books, comics, how to do magic tricks, whatever. Take the pressure off. I hate the way that, under the threat of lost playtimes, I fell into the very same trap myself.

Back then, I didn’t understand that the child belongs to a set of family circumstances. They are not an individual at home in the same way they are at school. I didn’t have the first inkling of the complexity of needs and abilities at play in the family, let alone when one of the children has significant special needs. I never appreciated the fact that, if I give my children everything the school asks of me in terms of support for homework, then there is very little energy left for me.

I hope that today, or next week, or next month, when a parent comes to see me because their child is having difficulty with their work or problems in the playground, or any of a myriad of concerns, I will be able to see beyond the label ‘fussy parent’, or ‘pushy parent’, especially if that parent has a child with Special Educational Needs. I hope that I won’t take it personally if that parent is abrupt, emotional, or even aggressive, because I understand what it has cost them to come in to school in the first place. I know how difficult it is to have a conversation with a teacher at the end of the day when there are three clamouring children in tow. And I know the depth of feeling in the heart of the parent who has made the effort to come in, to make an inroad into the precious time of their child’s teacher.

This is not to say that only teachers with their own children understand the lives of the children they teach. It’s just that I didn’t. I didn’t see that family lives really matter. I didn’t know quite what a difference they make. I was guilty of saying all the right things, but not seeing the child in context, only the face they presented in the classroom. Would I have understood that the little boy in my class was tired because his brother had woken him at the crack of dawn for the fourth week in a row? Would I have seen that the little girl was finding it hard because the other children were asking her why her big brother was allowed to get away with such strange behaviour, when she didn’t understand it herself? Would I have understood that the child with Down’s Syndrome had already scaled a metaphorical Everest before they even set foot through my classroom door?

And this is not to say that teachers who don’t have children can’t be great, sensitive and inspiring teachers. They, unlike me, don’t have divided loyalties. They don’t need to rush out of work in the same way that I do, because they have small people who rely on them to transform themselves back into mummy on the way home. They are free to pursue far greater knowledge and understanding than I because they have far more time. They are far freer to discover through research and professional discourse the thing that I found out through pain and tears and confusion. That the parents matter.

That these people, these tired, divided, imperfect people hold the keys to their children’s success, and that when we set homework, or send letters home or ask if the children can come in fancy dress tomorrow we need to take them into account. We need to see not just the child, but the whole web of connections within which they sit.