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CHILDREN ARE NOT BORN BAD!

sad boyWhen my son was eleven years old, he was attacked at the park. The boy was a couple of years older than him and much bigger than him. Thankfully my son was 1st dan black belt karate at the time and also had the most powerful punch in his class. The attacker was badly hurt and ran away crying.

When my son came home and told me what had happened, I was upset for him, outraged at the child and joyful at the outcome. I laughed at the thought of this “bully” running off crying.

A couple of weeks later I was told who the boy was and a very thought-provoking piece of information – the day he attacked my son was the same day his father had returned home from prison. I was horrified – what had happened in that boy’s home to make him attack a complete stranger? I was ashamed of my initial reaction; I’ve worked with children for many years and I know how much home life and outside influences can shape a child’s behaviour. If the incident had happened to another child, not my son, perhaps I would have been more aware, but my mother instincts clouded my understanding and I had immediately judged the boy.

Unfortunately, the incident put my son off visiting the park for a long time in case the boy returned with a gang. About six months later, when my son eventually returned to the park, the boy was there – he walked over and apologised for his previous behaviour! That is not the hallmark of a child who is rotten to the core.

It made me think of a friend I had back in the 80s. He was known in his town as tough and he was from a tough family. They were all fighters. All except him. His dad would often try to arrange street fights for him but he was frightened and he would try to make up excuses to avoid the heavy shaming that would weigh upon him if he didn’t fight – the family’s honour was at stake. He was known as one of the hardest kids on the block but he would sneak away to cry in private. Shame and rage constantly coursed through him and he often lost control.

Teachers are often the unwitting victims of pent up rage in children. Some children arrive at their school with unbearable worries and pressures caused by their family life. They are not settled and ready to learn – they’re wound up and ready to attack. When their teacher has been up late the night before marking and gone to so much trouble to make the best lesson they can, they don’t always see the trouble inside the child – just a child making trouble. If you’re in a school and you have a “trouble-maker”, ask the SENCO why the child is behaving like that – you’ll be surprised and devastated. Some of the backgrounds of these children are heart breaking.

Good parents love and nurture their children. I’m not saying they get it right all the time. I don’t get it right all the time – ask my children! But good parents don’t beat each other up in front of the children. Good parents don’t beat up their children. Good parents cuddle their children when they’re physically hurt or when they’re sad because they fell out with their friend. They teach them that it’s okay to feel sad but it’s not okay to hurt someone else because they’re sad. A long time ago I watched Sir Robert Winston explain how, every time we sooth an angry toddler, their frontal lobes in their brain develop and this is how they learn to control their behaviour. Adults with anger issues have under-developed frontal lobes.

I’ve experienced life for almost half a century and I still don’t get it right all of the time – how can we expect a child, who has only experienced a slither of life, to get it right? Especially if their upbringing has been traumatic – neglect, bullying, violent, loss, substance abuse, etcetera and the adults around them have never shown them compassion or how to deal with disappointment, fear or sorrow.

Do you remember in the 80s we were told bullies were cowards? “Coward” isn’t correct – “frightened” is more accurate – they are children and they are frightened. They need help and support.

I wrote The Boy Who Couldn’t to show young readers the frightened, vulnerable child behind the bully. I hope adults will also read it. After my son read the first draft he told me “It’s really made me think. Next time someone’s being horrible, I’m going to think about why they feel like that before I get angry at them.”

I also hope that anyone in a similar situation to the antagonist can learn that your life is your choice: you don’t have to be the person others expect you to be; you can choose to be who you want to be.

Inspiring Reading for Pleasure

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A child who consistently reads is a child who consistently learns. About anything, not just the school curriculum. In “Black Beauty” by Anna Sewell, you learn all about horses pulling carts and all the relevant technical terms – you don’t get that on the curriculum. In “Touching the Void” by Joe Simpson, it’s amazing what you learn about mountain climbing – you don’t get that on the school curriculum. In “How to Train Your Dragon” by Cressida Cowell, you learn all about dragons – you definitely don’t get that on the school curriculum!

The question is – how do you get your child to be interested in reading in the first place?

Well it starts in the womb. Really! Of course, Erin the Embryo cannot understand what you are reading, but she can hear the sound of your voice and the rhythm of your words. At the same time she is tuned in to your heart beat which is strong and slow when you are calm. You are teaching your unborn child to associate the sound of reading with pleasure.

Your child is already born? Don’t worry, you’re not too late.

I cannot express strongly enough how important bedtime stories are. Firstly, they are a lovely wind down to sleep time. Secondly, they are a beautiful bonding time and thirdly, your child will hear approximately 1,000,000 words in one year of bedtime stories! That’s right, I haven’t left my finger resting on the “0” key, it is actually one million words per year just from bedtime stories! Therefore, a child starting nursery is potentially 3,000,000 words ahead of a child who doesn’t have bedtime stories.

So, you read to your child in the womb and out of the womb. You read to them through the day and at bedtime, yet now they’re nine, they’re a reluctant reader? What went wrong?

Don’t worry, all is not lost. You see, there’s a big difference between not enjoying reading and not enjoying a story. Almost everyone enjoys a story, but there are many children who do not enjoy reading. The reason is that until they reach full fluency reading is hard work! They have to decode the words, remember to pause at the commas, and stop at the full stops. Then they have to make sense of a sentence that didn’t flow, because they stopped to decode a word. On top of all this they have to imagine the characters and scenes from the descriptions (by this age they’re lucky if there are any pictures in their book). What a chore! No wonder they don’t want to read!

The only way to get through this is with practice. So how can we persuade them to keep reading through the tough part without giving up? How can we make it a pleasure? Here are a few ideas for you to try:

  • An animal – non-judgemental, tactile, soft fur to stroke, adores the child reading to them regardless of fluency. The only time my son would ever read was when I draped our Labrador across him!
  • cuddly toy – ditto above but doesn’t need feeding.
  • Grandma – never underestimate the Grandma (or Granddad) effect. It’s a very real thing. You see grandparents dote on their grandchildren in a way that they never did their own children. They think every word that comes out of their mouth is perfect and coo over the most simple achievements. They spoil them rotten, and reading time is a good time to be spoilt rotten!
  • A hot chocolate, cookie, lolly – the way to my heart is straight through my stomach and I know I’m not alone!
  • Comfortable room, tidy, no clutter – when you’re doing something difficult, it is easy to get stressed, so the cleaner and tidier and cosier the surroundings the calmer the child.
  • Quiet, calm, no distractions – they’re working hard enough without having to block out the sound of Coronation Street in the background!
  • Everyone doing the same – reading time should be for the whole family. Children are far more willing to take part in a family event rather than everyone else doing something “fun” while they’re “stuck here reading”.
  • Model reading – see above.
  • Talking about what you’re reading. It’s so much more interesting for them when they can have a conversation with you and you can both discuss what you’re reading, compare stories and give each other recommendations.
  • Be interested in any reading they have done – see above.
  • Read the same books as your child – see above.
  • Ask them to predict what will happen – engaged readers are always thinking ahead to what might happen next. If they’re right, they’re pleased with themselves, if they’re wrong, they’re impressed with the author’s twist – it’s a win-win situation.
  • Keep reading to the children – please don’t stop reading to your child. Eighteen isn’t too old to be read to. In fact, at a recent Union conference a lady told me her now husband used to read to her when they were courting! All together now … ahh!
  • Expectations / routine – children thrive on routine, if they know when they’re going to be reading they can mentally prepare for it and it won’t be an unpleasant surprise.
  • Trips to the Library with plenty of books available – it’s a free resource and so much choice. “There is no such thing as a child who hates to read; there are only children who have not found the right book” Frank Serafini.
  • If your child really enjoyed a story and wants to read the same one again, that’s okay too!

The point of all the above, is that reading is always associated with a positive experience until eventually, the reading is the positive experience.

We never grow out of enjoying stories, we just change which stories we prefer. Once your child has a life-long love of literacy, they have a free hobby for life. And you cash in on your effort years down the line, when they read to you in your nursing home!

Happy reading folks!

Fighting Fit For Fifty

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I’m on the cusp of fifty and I can’t wait!

I’m absolutely determined to only look at the positives and there are soooo many.

  • I actually made it this far! For some reason I didn’t think I’d be lucky enough to live this long, and many people don’t make it this far, so to reach 50 is pretty fantastic in my opinion.
  • If I live as long as my Grandma W, I won’t even be half way through my life yet, and I feel like I’ve been around for ever – certainly all my life!
  • My children have grown up enough to look after themselves so I don’t need to organise babysitters – hubby and I can just go out on a whim – we can even stay overnight and it doesn’t matter! Social Services will not be called!
  • In fact, my children are so grown up that one is self-propelled and the other will be learning to drive this year, so I don’t even have to rush around taking them everywhere they need to go.
  • Grandchildren! Ah, one of the best reasons for reaching 50. So far I have three little cherubs and they’re fantastic. They pop round, cause absolute chaos for a few hours, give me my weekly fix of kisses and cuddles then they’re gone again. I have a quick tidy up and there’s nothing left to do. I don’t have to wake up in the night with them, change nappies, buy clothes that they constantly grow out of, clean up sick… Grandchildren are bliss without a downside!
  • Spare time! This is a massive change for me. I’ve always been busy rushing around working several jobs, running clubs, studying, volunteering in child related committees, taking my children hither and thither, washing countless clothes, cleaning up and tidying up after the two messiest children in England and now, I have spare time. Hence the writing hobby.
  • I have to admit, the day I turned 40, my body began to crumble a bit. Well forty years of moving joints is bound to take its toll. But, I have 7 months before I turn 50 and I reckon that’s a good target to get my fitness back. I’ve always enjoyed exercise, and now I have spare time so no excuses. I’m determined to be fighting fit for when I turn fifty. In fact, I might even take up Kick Boxing again.
  • Pension … it’s in touching distance. I’m sooo looking forward to retiring so I can spend more time with my grandchildren, writing, exercising, reading, and I’ll be able to have a dog again. Ooh and I fancy doing a house up à la Homes Under the Hammer style.
  • Confidence, ah the older I get, the more confident I become. In my 20s I worried far too much about what other people thought of me. Now – take me as you find me. If you don’t like me, that’s fine, we’re all different, I’ll just move along. What a release that day was when I stopped worrying.
  • What career is waiting for me in my 50s? In my teens I was a student, 20s I was a secretary, 30s I was a childminder, 40s I was an English teacher and a librarian, 50s … who knows? Full time author? I hope so!

So really, I’m not at all worried about reaching half a century. In fact, forget over the hill; I’m over the moon that I’ve made it this far, and I can’t wait to see what the next half a century has in store for me.

 

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How to set up a school library on little or no budget

I transformed our school library from this:

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To this:

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And you can too!

Our library had four shelves per wall, over three walls, sparsely populated with a few books. Within a year we had three shelves (the top one was pointless – students couldn’t reach it) over four walls plus three mobile bookshelves all absolutely packed with books.

More importantly, we increased library loans by 1,000% Yes one THOUSAND percent!

Before you start, you need to discover the reading age of your students, preferably by a computerised reading test, or at least the old paper version. Work out how many books you need for the amount of students in the school. “The SLA (2015) recommends that secondary-school libraries should have a minimum stock of 10 items per pupil, not including electronic resources or required textbooks.” (The Literacy Trust)

HERE ARE THE TEN THINGS WE DID FOR FREE:

  1. PPG BUDGET Once you know how many books you need, identify the PPG students and apply to the PPG budget for books to cover them. I was surprised how much money I was given for that. Trust me – that money is waiting to be spent. I count it as free as it’s not coming out of the library budget and your school is not trying to find “extra” money.
  2. SECOND HAND BOOKS Next, I put out an appeal via the academy’s social media for good condition second hand books (NEVER say “no” to any books or people will worry about bringing them and making a fool of themselves – any you don’t want, just give to charity). Once the word got around that I was incredibly grateful for every single book I received, far more people came forward with books – including parents, teachers, students and local neighbours. Indeed, they still keep coming in now, four years later!20150603_085723
  3. FREE POSTERS Having removed the top shelf which was full of books that were physically and intellectually out of most KS3 students’ reach, I wanted to fill the space with attractive book-themed posters. I found lots of memes on Facebook, printed them off, mounted and laminated them and they look great!
  4. FORGOTTEN BOOKS After that I went to the English Department and asked if they had any old books that they no longer wanted. You’ll be surprised how many books are hidden gathering dust in English Departments. I think I got over a hundred!
  5. BOOKTRUST Next I applied to BookTrust for their yearly free School Library Pack of books (you have to reapply every year, so keep an eye on their website and pop it in your diary. https://www.booktrust.org.uk/what-we-do/programmes-and-campaigns/school-library-pack/IMG_3015
  6. LITERACY ACROSS THE CURRICULUM BUDGET Then I discovered we had a budget for literacy across the curriculum. Remember literacy is a WHOLE SCHOOL subject, not an English subject. I was only given a small amount, but it didn’t matter, every book was a bonus. I went back to the English Department and they kindly matched it with a small amount from their budget too.
  7. HALF PRICE BOOKS At this point, I still hadn’t used any of my own budget, so I added half my budget to the pot. I soon discovered that there are book companies who provide brand new half price books. Now I admit this did make me feel guilty, as I pride myself in supporting our local bookshops whenever I can, but at this point, we didn’t have enough books for the students and I had to make every penny count.
  8. FREE WORKFORCE I gathered a team of student librarians and we formed a “factory” to label up all the books and put them on the system before placing them on the shelves. I’ve since had parents helping me too – never be afraid to ask for help, it’s amazing who is out there just dying to help you with books!FACTORY 2
  9. FUNDED AUTHOR VISIT With my remaining budget, I was able to fund two author visits. One I paid the full price and the other came partly funded through our public library’s “Crossing The Tees Book Festival”. It’s definitely worth getting in touch with your local public library to find out what free or part-funded events they are running that your school can be a part of. It was at this point I was able to get our local bookshop involved as they supplied the books for the author to sign.
  10. FREE FURNITURE AND GAMES I was donated the cushions from a sofa that a teacher was throwing out, so I made a floor-sofa, and I was donated lots of board games from a variety of sources. I also found some in charity shops.

FUND RAISING In addition, myself and the student librarians now have a fund-raising pattern. We sell hot chocolates and cookies one Thursday evening each February and usually raise enough money to buy the shortlisted Carnegie books (£50-£80), we make bookish crafts to sell at the Christmas Fayre (£40-£70) and more recently, we’ve stopped giving the books we don’t want to charity, and started selling them for 50p each at the Christmas Fayre (£30). We’re hoping our academy is going to start a Summer Fayre for us to raise more money. We have just held our first Half Price Scholastic Book Fayre and were able to take £252 in books as commission! Children who lose or destroy books are asked to donate towards the replacement. It is not forced, only requested, but parents are very supportive, usually giving £5 per lost book.

So, there you have it. The library which was once really a meeting room with some books on display has become a thriving library, packed full of books and, importantly, students. So much so that I have students queuing outside to come in. Of course, now I need a bigger library…

Top Tip: Whenever someone says there’s nothing in the budget, ask them “which budget?” and carry on regardless!

 

Blog From The Dog

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As you all know, the human who usually writes these blogs belongs to me, but today we’ve agreed that I should blog instead. The reason is, that this blog is all about me so for accuracy’s sake, it should come from me – “straight from the dog’s mouth” so to speak!

So I’ll start at the beginning. I struggle with the concept of past, but my human is helping me out. I found it quite easy to choose my human family. The Hairy Human came to the farm and looked at us pups. I liked the look of him, he was very calm and laid back which to us dogs, means easy to wrap around our little paw. So I marched straight over to him and placed my paw on his foot. He picked me up and took me home the same day!

I thought I was going to be in for a relaxing peaceful life with this new-age, short-haired, hairy hippy. I had absolutely no idea that the rest of his family would be nothing like him – I got placed in a manic household with so many kids coming and going it was confusing, yet invigorating and exciting. You see what I’d been hiding from the Hairy Human, is that I’m manic too! So I was just added to the heap of children and we all played manically together. It turns out only two of the children belonged to the Hairy Human and his wife, (The Happy Human), the rest were all borrowed and would go home to their own families each night. Me being special though, I stayed with the Hairy Human’s family all the time.

I soon found how to make the little humans laugh, I would stretch my front legs flat on the floor with my chin between them and shake my bum or I’d lick fresh snot from the baby’s nose, they even found it funny when I’d lie across all the toys they were trying to play with.

The original plan had been that I would live outside in the garden. The Happy Human thought that’s where dogs live! Obviously, I had a lot of training to deliver. I just stared and stared at her through the glass door, making her feel guilty to enter the kitchen, so she relented and said I could come into the kitchen on cold or wet days and put me a little bed down. I refused to lie on the bed and laid on the cold hard floor instead, whilst making little whimpering noises and putting my head on one side with my ears up (my mum taught me that). She decided I could lie on the living room carpet, but only while she was there. I let her think she’d won and accepted this for a day or two, then when she was sitting on the sofa one day, I sprang up next to her and gave her a big lick across the face then cuddled myself across her legs. She gave in straight away. I’d won. She was so easy to train. Good girl!

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Once I’d had all my special puppy visits to The Vet I went for my first ever walk in the park. I had a complete sensory overload, I just wanted to see and sniff and touch and taste everything. Apparently licking poo as it’s coming out of another dog’s bottom is a definite no-no and I was never allowed to do that again!

Luckily, they kept taking me for walks, in fact there’s never been a single day that I haven’t been taken out – even when I didn’t want to go. Have you tried pooing wearing a rain-coat? It’s awkward and undignified. My humans take me everywhere with them, we go to parks, rivers, moors, beaches. I’ve even been on holidays with them in caravans. When they holiday abroad, I go on holiday to the Hairy Human’s parents. They are my favourite Old Humans. They feed me crisps and biscuits and cakes. Every time I come home, my humans have to give me extra-long walks to work the extra weight off which is just another bonus to me!

One of my favourite things is when anyone comes home from The Outside. They laugh at my excitement and say things like “We’ve only been five minutes” but I have no idea what these mysterious “minutes” are so it makes no difference to me. I just love to see them come back to me. They always come back no matter what, because I’m irresistible you see!

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Another favourite thing of mine is Dog Agility. Can you believe, until we started doing Dog Agility, my human didn’t even realise how clever I was! She’d spent years trying to teach me to walk to heel and shut the living room door and thought my lack of progress was down to my intelligence! How silly – didn’t she realise I trained her to walk faster and close the door for me?

A few years ago, I stopped enjoying Dog Agility which is unusual for me because I love EVERYTHING! It wasn’t that I stopped loving it, but it had just become too painful for me. I’d always had pain for as long as I could remember, but as I’m a Labrador, I’m tough and never told anyone. When it became too bad, I started to feel miserable so my human took me to the The Vet (we dogs know him as The Interpretor) and he explained to her that I had arthritis and my Agility days were over. This didn’t bother me at all, because I was given special medicine to make the pain go away and I was given longer walks, swimming and even more cuddles. I loved arthritis!

Another of my favourite things is visiting The Vet. I always get lots of attention there and sometimes I’m given a special sleep which I love. Just a word of warning though – one time when I woke up, they’d pinched two of my teeth, so keep an eye on them. The most recent time I went to The Vet, was the day I woke up feeling the most poorly I have ever felt. I didn’t even want to go for a walk, in fact I couldn’t stand up properly. The Hairy Human, the Happy Human and the Funny Human all started crying and making such a fuss! I was almost happy to be so poorly because they were all cuddling me at the same time. I get lots of cuddles but usually only one human at a time. To have all three was lovely, I just wish I felt well enough to appreciate it. They took me to The Vet who spoke very kindly to me and he did all kinds of tests, then all three humans cuddled me again as he put something cold into my leg. It made me very sleepy and as my humans’ tears fell on me, I started to dream. I saw the most beautiful bridge sparkling over water. The sun was shining off it and making beautiful rainbow colours. All my pain drifted away and I was able to run towards the bridge. As I crossed over I saw lots of other dogs on the other side, all running around in the sun and having fun.

It’s strange, I thought I’d miss my humans, but because I have no concept of time, I’m happy to play while I wait for them. I know that they will be with me again and the other dogs have told me that I will know when that time has come. In the meantime, I am completely pain free and having so much fun. My only worry is that there is nobody to lick my humans’ tears and comfort them. I hope they find a doggy who needs them as much as they need him and they can share all their love until it’s time to play with me again.

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