Teach your Children Well

Years ago, when I was a proper working person and not a layabout pensioner, I was a teacher. I worked in primary schools, beginning with the oldest children, in a tenement style school in Stockwell, London and finishing with the tiny tots in the reception class in a seaside village.

During the first, pre-career break time there was room for some experimentation in the classroom. There was the freedom to implement such ideas as ‘bay-working’, where the room was split into areas or ‘bays’, each bay being set up for some independent work in a specific curriculum subject.

When I returned to reaching after a ten year career break [having my own children] there was still a culture of freedom and the school where I taught implemented a system called ‘integrated day’, the idea being that a topic was chosen and the learning arose from delving into curriculum areas around that topic.

During the years I worked in the integrated day system I can never remember any of us, children included, feeling stressed, bored or exhausted [although, to be fair I was still relatively young]. The children, no matter what age, were responsible for their own day’s achievements and became independent from not being ‘spoon-fed’ every skill and piece of knowledge. We considered ourselves providers or facilitators and all of us attended school each day with a buzzy feeling of enthusiasm for what the day would bring.

Within the system we used ‘real’ books for reading. We’d quietly withdraw a specific ability group to teach a skill in Maths or English or hear individuals read then filter them back in to practise what they’d learned. Art, science, story writing, technology or play would all be going on simultaneously.

There were many opportunities for children to help each other and enjoy roles and responsibilities. Everyone could say what they were doing and why. The behaviour was mature and sensible, even though sixty or seventy children would be sharing a [large] area.

Within three or four years of this halcyon period the ‘national curriculum’ was introduced. Nine curriculum subjects were identified and separated. There was no more linking up areas into topics. The concept of targets crept in. Appraisal and the beginning of scrutiny began. Some bright, government ambition-seeker invented OFSTED. Fear became a feature of every day teaching life.

There was no more opportunity for integrated day, for children to feel empowered by their independence. The parents no longer trusted us. Testing, in the form of SATS was thought up, a system the parents fixated on and became obsessed with, their children’s ‘level’ being the only thing that mattered-more than motivation, achievement, self-esteem or happiness.

I believe that parents, teachers and anyone who is involved with children’s development should aim to foster a spirit of independence in thought and action, maintain the natural desire to learn and encourage kindness, respect and support of each other, just as we used to. That way we may have a hope of growing and nurturing a kind, caring and intelligent society and not the grasping, selfish and ignorant culture we are stuck with today.

Speaking the Lingo and Talking the Talk-

A language cannot be hard to learn. A child can do it.

OK, although most linguistics experts agree that children are quicker and learn new languages with ease than adults.

Of course there are some notoriously difficult languages, such as Japanese and many of the obscure African languages that utilise clicks and other sounds that are not in our sound vocabulary, but where European languages are concerned I don’t believe there is anyone who cannot become familiar enough to understand and make themselves understood in a relatively short space of time. And while heavy work is made of conjugating verbs and swatting up vocabulary lists in schools it is only necessary to spend some time living, working or travelling in a country to learn the basics of that country’s language.

For some, however even the radical step of moving to a new country does not lead to language acquisition-you have only to visit some of the areas of the Spanish Mediterranean with large concentrations of British to see this. Many ex-pats remain solely English-speakers in spite of adopting a new land. Heaven knows what the Spanish think of this…

Our latest trip covered a number of countries and languages, prompting some challenging demands on my inconsistent language skills. As a schoolgirl I learned French, German, Latin and Spanish with varying degrees of success. That I had most success with French I attribute to long summer camping holidays in France with non-French-speaking parents. Like many I gave up on Latin early, seeing no point in continuing and I was a miserable failure at German, whose grammar mystified me [and still does]. The Spanish was an add-on to A-levels, and seemed easy for being similar to French.

We travelled across Northern France into Germany, then Austria. Unlike the French, Germans are not only excellent English speakers but are also happy to speak in English-particularly, at this time on the subject of Brexit. ‘We DO NOT understand the Brexit!’ they told us on more than one occasion. What are we to say? We could only agree that, no, neither could we. On then to Italy. Italian is a most beautiful and musical-sounding language, enough to make anyone want to learn it for the sheer pleasure of speaking it, but for anyone who has learned Spanish the similarity between the two languages leads to much initial confusion. I consistently muddled my ‘grazie’ with my ‘gracias’, my ‘due’ with my ‘duo’ and my ‘per favore’ with my ‘por favor’ etc. After a week or so I fared better and, armed with the ‘Lonely Planet Phrase Book’ was able to stumble through some phrases. I felt inordinately proud when my much practised ‘lavatrice giettone, per favore’ resulted in the swift handing over of a washing machine token, more so when ‘prego’ was the response to my ‘grazie’.

Of course most people understand a nod or a shake of the head and when one set of words doesn’t work another way of saying something often does. And we are yet to meet anyone who doesn’t understand a smile-

 

Where is Your Threshold?

At a party last January a fellow guest, on asking if I was retired wanted to know how I ‘filled my days’. Fill my days? I found this question startling, for my concern is not ‘filling days’ but rather, how to cling on to each day ‘Carpe Diem’ fashion when there are to be less and less of them.

But it is true that many fear retirement for the boredom that may ensue. Most ‘take up’ activities, golf, good works or learning something. You hear stories of failing marriages as couples get under each other’s feet when precipitated into close proximity for so much of the time.

The Offspring are fond of recalling well-known phrases and sayings from their childhood that seem to have been uttered by their mother with monotonous regularity. Among these is ‘I wish I had time to be bored’-my retort to any complaints regarding ennui they may have had. And I did wish it. With a full-time teaching post, two small children and a house to renovate I did fantasise about having the time to play solitaire, file my nails or watch the gloss drying on the skirting boards.

The fact is, as a generation I think we were taught as children to tolerate boredom. I have early memories of rising on Sunday mornings, polishing my shoes and traipsing down through the village with my brothers to Sunday School. I realise now, of course that this was no more than a cunning ruse on the part of my parents, who felt no need to accompany us, to snatch a sneaky child-free hour or two. Sunday School was deadly dull and set the bar for Church, which ensued when we became too old for Bible stories in the vestry.

Church services were a masterclass in boredom. What was there to do, once you’d scrutinised your fellow worshippers, found the hymns in the book, fiddled with the tassels on the hassock, shredded the sweet wrapper in your pocket?

School assemblies came close and were exacerbated by the excruciating discomfort of sitting for aeons on a cold, hard floor. But the boredom they provided amounted to a theme park ride compared to the crushing tedium that was ‘Speech Day’-thankfully only once a year, but a feast for connoisseurs of monotony.

School lessons themselves seemed to have been planned with boredom in mind. A gowned teacher would appear in the room, at which we would stand up; they would mount a small podium and sit, at which we would sit. They would open a file and read ‘notes’ from it, demanding that we, the unhappy, captive addressees would write it all down in our ‘rough’ books. What an impressive frittering of time it all was! Compare this method to teaching strategies of today, where teachers must compete with screens, swing from chandeliers, use fancy dress or formulate elaborate scenes to grab children’s attention!

That today’s preoccupation with saving children from boredom is laudable is in no doubt-nevertheless I, personally have never found the occupation of time to be a problem, so maybe it was all that early training?

Failures-of Course.

Aside

                For an inexplicable reason which I now fail to recall, I considered, a few months ago, that it would be an inspirational idea to undertake a creative writing course. Of course, anyone who reads Anecdotage regularly will by now be scoffing and sniggering, since they will have acknowledged the necessity for my doing it from the first, but still…

                Above all, the timing could hardly be worse. We seem to be in the throes of a period of mad activity; a deluge of family, home, health and socially related issues.

                This is an online course. Week one arrived to the inbox. ‘I’ll start tomorrow’ was my approach, as I polished shoes, buffed nails, attended the salon and hoovered the carpets.

                During a five minute lull, in between making up beds and cooking lasagne I read one or two pieces of information and watched a couple of videos. Hooray! ‘This will be simple’ I thought.

                I resumed pre house guest preparations with a light[ish] step, given that, as I elaborated in a previous post, I am crippled with annoying foot disease. I mowed the lawn; de-gunked the lavatory. I found time to log back in. I completed a couple of quizzes, even successfully! It would be a slab of creamy gateau to complete this course!

                ‘Whoa! What was this? I had to write something?’ I logged out in disgust and went to scrub the bath and shine the shower screen. I had to keep a notebook.

                I am not against the idea of keeping a notebook, of course. It has been my ambition to keep one ever since setting out on the bumpy journey that is writing. My writing idol, Donna Tartt keeps one. It’s just that proponents of the notebook idea make it seem easy. ‘Take it with you wherever you go!’ they suggest. ‘On the bus, in the café, on the train, in the laundrette, whilst out for a walk…’ OK. How do I write notes whilst driving, in a café with Husband or Offspring, whilst our laundry is whirling in the kitchen or while cycling? [walking has been a no-no for some time].

                Worse-I had to write a paragraph. It must contain three fictions and one fact. For an inveterate liar such as myself, the fictions presented little problem. The fact was I was unable to conjure one single idea. Time was spiralling away down the week’s plughole with an ever louder gurgle. The weekend came-and went. Monday arrived and with it…Week Two. Horrors! The first week had passed without my submission so much as forming an amorphous cloud inside my head.

                On Monday I risked a cursory glance at others’ submissions, where hundreds of paragraphs scrolled down in an interminable roll. In a fever of humiliation I added my short, hasty contribution; an excuse for a piece of writing. I was not the only miscreant. Others had also missed the deadline.

                The end of Week Two is now starting to appear upon the horizon with an inevitability as stark as my enthusiastic intentions. Would that the course was good old paper and post-then at least the dog could have eaten my homework…

                I will keep you posted.

The Power of the Group

                In a rush of New Year, new good intention and bushy tailed optimism I’ve entered a new phase of story competition submissions. It all may be influenced by the coincidental cropping up of a few imminent deadlines, or I may have got over my fit of pique for getting on to yet another shortlist and no further ; nevertheless the urge to compete, to step up to the literary mark has been invigorated. In addition to this surge of competitive zeal-or alongside of it-I’ve signed up for a short course of creative writing sessions.

                During the time I’ve been blogging I have never mentioned my delightful writing group, who inspire, motivate and invigorate each others’ writing each and every time we meet-fortnightly, to be exact. I joined the group as a rooky ignoramus about three years ago, only to find myself inheriting the task of running it about six weeks later. In all the time I’ve been writing I’ve only ever really learned one thing, which is that the learning mountain for writing is insurmountable, and that I will, in all probability never get anywhere near the summit. In the time that we’ve met together, various members have come and gone, and others have come and stayed, so that now we are a comfortable set of seven who know each other well enough to offer honest critique respect each others’ views. We all feel that the sessions offer an invaluable input to our writing and that the work has improved as a result. Yet if there is one issue we must address it is that we are too polite, too complementary to each other. I read recently that children make more progress in any endeavour if they are not too broadly praised for every undertaking and this may also be true of we adults.

                The result of all these ponderings has catapulted me into the new group. We began by acting on the writing prompts [a set of questions] provided by the teacher, who is an attractive, vivacious blond lady. We wrote continuously for fifty minutes-no stopping to check emails, have my online Scrabble turn or read from The Guardian website; no breaks for coffee or gazing out of the window at the garden bird feeder. I wrote a lot. Here was a lesson in itself. I have no idea whether any of it was any good, since I am too bound up with the preparation of another story to look, but I’m guessing it may provide the basis for something new at some time.

               

                

Part 2…Grace’s Guide to Happy Old Age

                …So much for the experts’ guide to ageing. I am no expert, but I may be moving towards knowing what makes for a happy, healthy old age. For the majority it must be a desirable state. Who would plump for the alternative? You would have to be in a miserable condition to choose to be either unhealthy or the ultimate in ill health.

Exercise

                Some of the experts’ ideas are on the right track, but to me they seem too narrow, too prescriptive. For instance, why weight lifting, particularly? There can be few people left on the planet who don’t realise by now that exercise is good for you, but any kind of activity will surely suffice? I’d opt for something you enjoy-swimming, walking, dancing, gardening, cycling-even housework [perhaps not so enjoyable]. Experience has demonstrated to me that activities which are not fun or enjoyable will not be sustained. I never got any fun from weight machines. On the other hand I love Zumba.

Eating

                Again, you would have to have lived on a desert island not to know that overweight is bad [in which case-you would be unlikely to have become fat, due to having to hunt for food]. Food intake is closely linked to the above [exercise]. It’s not difficult. Fuel in-expend fuel. Too much fuel without enough expenditure=surplus. I can’t see the need to fast, and in any case it is unpleasant.

Brain

                I agree it is best to keep the grey matter in good order. If learning a language is what you enjoy, go ahead and learn one. Learn lots of languages! But I’d say there are plenty of ways to maintain the cells. Reading, discussing, learning, writing [of course!], observing, crosswords [if difficult enough], those number things with a Japanese name. In the future I’d guess more old people will be accustomed to computer game playing. I confess ignorance as to the value of these.

Others

                This is a tricky one. According to the ‘expert’ marriage and/or a strong social network were crucial to staying healthy. But I’d place the emphasis on the ‘happy’ part where marriage is concerned. For some, once the world of work and bringing up children comes to an end there is little left in a marriage and it could be more stressful to continue as a couple than as individuals. In retirement you spend much more time together as a couple. Similarly, the company of friends can sometimes provide more problems than it solves. But I do agree that loneliness can be a stressful emotion.

                The experts were all agreed that stress should be avoided in order to live into advanced years. I’m with them on that. This is not to say a little excitement should be avoided however. But how you do it, I reckon is not rocket science at all. Enjoy life and live it to the full!

 

Windows

                I’m not sure of the exact meaning of ‘broadening’ the mind, but if it has something to do with stuffing facts, experience, skills and knowledge into it then it must be true that travel does this. But to learn anything by travelling I don’t feel it is necessarily a requirement to trek into the Antarctic, to climb Everest, canoe up the Amazon or swim with dolphins in Florida. While it is desirable to wander far and wide, I think it is entirely possible to broaden the mind with a simple stroll around the block, whether your neighbourhood is a suburban housing estate or the village green. All you need is to be naturally nosy and have voyeuristic tendencies.

                To wander an area on foot, wherever it is, presents a multitude of questions. Who lives here? How do they earn a living? What do they do in the evenings? How do they travel? What kind of tastes do they have? Where did they get their kitchen units? Do they garden? What do they grow? What on earth made them choose to paint the front door cerise? Why do they have net curtains? Why don’t they have net curtains?

                It is helpful to anyone wishing to pry if the subjects have neglected to pull the curtains and left all the lights on. I love this. I especially love the basements of residential London streets, where they may have converted the space into a kitchen or a living area or a playroom, a library or a dungeon.

                We have travelled more ‘on our own doorstep’ here in the UK than in any year I can remember since I was a child. This is in part due to family events, of which there seem to have been many and divers, and also due to the summer weather, the first for many years not to be beset with rain, wind and low temperatures. We have visited all four parts of The British Isles.

                The British countryside is beautiful. The trees, especially are graceful, majestic giants in full leaf and laden with their seeds or fruits.

                We are in the Yorkshire dales in the aftermath of a family gathering; staying on the periphery of a small market town, where many of the homes’ entrances open directly on to the street, their windows allowing plenty of nosing to take place. As we walk I conduct a casual survey of the inhabitants’ attitudes to tourists’ prying eyes. Many have wisely installed blinds or net curtains, but some provide ready-made interest in the form of a display; shelves of antique toys, a beautiful plant, a revolving glass mobile, a partly written love poem in an ancient type writer.

                The spell has broken and it is raining, reverting to summer as we have come to know it. In a couple of weeks school will be in and it will be time to head south in search of warm weather without the hoards. Next month, Southern Europe. Santé!