Monday, 29 December 2014

Why does my child pretend to hate school?

I mean, after all the fighting to get them through the door in the morning, they come out at night laughing and smiling! And they walk out with their friends, chattering away. And they don't look any different from the other kids meeting up with their parents at the gate, even though those other kids went in looking as happy as when they came out. What's going on?

Can we back-track a moment? Or maybe more than just the one moment, just to make sure we cover everything.

You fight to get your child into school but you don't know why? Come on! This is in the same league as slapping your mother up the side of the head and then wondering why she is in a mood with you. Or behaving like a rabid dog at the checkouts then complaining about the bad attitude of the staff.

You know, you just don't want to know. There is a difference.

Any child who does not want to do something will tell you why. There is likely to be A List:

The other children are mean!
The teachers are mean!
The food is nasty!
The teachers are nasty!
The children are really nasty!
They are all nasty!
They are all mean to me!
I want to be at home!!!

Yes, general statements that any child could make when they're having a rough day. Maybe you discount them because not all the teachers can be mean and you're pretty sure none of them are mean at all. They smile a lot when they see you and they don't seem to be drawing lots to teach your child (yet).

And the kids? All kids can be nasty and mean sometimes. Your own child is not an angel. It's all part of the great school experience, learning to get along with people who don't behave perfectly. It's a part of life, preparing children for the real world where there are also mean people and nasty behaviour.

No, there has to be something specific if your child doesn't like school, right? If only they would tell you what it is, you could fix it. Or tell the teachers and let them fix it.

Well, remember last Thursday at the school gate when your little one pointed at a snub-nosed boy with a cheeky grin and whispered, 'That's Tommy'? You nodded and got on with what you were doing, thinking what a cute kid Tommy was. Did you remember the conversation your child had with you in the car on the way to Jenny's house a few days before? Where they told you about how Tommy liked to wait behind the coat racks next to the playground door and jump out, roaring? Did you listen long enough to hear the roaring was followed by nipping and sometimes kicking?

Yes, I'm sure you did listen, it was just that by the time you'd got round the awful roundabout at the end of Jenny's road and then parked in her L-shaped drive, you'd forgotten all about Tommy. Kids do silly things, don't they, and Tommy is just playing a game. No doubt in a few weeks you'll be having him over for tea.

What about last week when Mrs Montrose told all the children to write about their holidays and your child decided to write about their grandparents' holidays instead because they went to see the white dancing horses in Europe whereas you only went to the little caravan site in Blackpool? Those dancing horses made such a good story! And then it was horrible because Mrs Montrose said your child hadn't listened and it was a good story but it wasn't the right story and there were tears - unfortunately not from Mrs Montrose.

You hear the Reasons Why every time your child tells you things. Or you figure out the reasons when you piece together clues from other parents, children or the teachers themselves. There is always a way to find out why your child doesn't want to go to school. You do not need to resurrect Poirot, you only need to ask the right questions and listen at the right times.

So why does your child pretend to hate school and then come out all happy and smiling and chatting to friends? Because your child actually does hate school and at the end of the day they are super-happy to be leaving the place and are chatting to friends because happiness and relief make you feel so exuberant you will chat to anyone, even people who leave you to face Tommy alone every day.

There is no pretence. The only pretence is in comforting ourselves that school is a preparation for life. It can be, you know. All the best bits are there, like learning to follow instructions and sit still for a long time and get on with absolute ticks who ought to be kept away from the general population.

As for putting up with bullies and pedants? Well, I guess that's some preparation too. I know it prepared me very well for a life lived differently, avoiding normal jobs and trying my utmost not to have to work for other people.

And as for Tommy? He'll probably go really far as he has figured out how to work the system and do just what he likes without ever being pulled up on it. Good for Tommy, eh? Bet he doesn't pretend to hate school.

©Amanda J Harrington 2014

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Thursday, 25 December 2014

A Carnival for Christmas

It was something of a surprise to me a few Christmases ago when my youngest son told me he was very excited because he had asked Santa for a carnival! He told me it was going in the back garden so that every time he opened the door, there it would be. I asked him if a carnival would be a bit difficult for Santa to bring on his sledge but I had forgotten about Santa being able to fit anything on that sledge, hadn't I?

As it was, Santa left my son a very nice letter, explaining about the snow he had on order, direct from the North Pole. So my son had a present of a big crane instead, to play with while the snow fell.

And, would you believe it, two days later the snow started to fall and it fell for days...

A Carnival for Christmas

I wanted a Carnival for Christmas
but Santa says he's very sorry
this year he made a special order
for lots of snow, direct from the North Pole!

That means he's given me an indoor present instead,
a great big crane!
to lift my other presents
while the snow is falling.

Santa says the snow will fall for days,
long enough for proper sledging.
I'm really looking forward to the snow!

I was looking forward to that carnival too
but I suppose Santa is right,
it would be too cold.

I'm glad I wrote about the carnival
'cos Santa would have been caught out
if he'd already ordered the snow.
I'm really glad he wrote back too.

I'm thinking of asking for more snow next year,
now I know he does that sort of thing.
Maybe an ice age for Christmas? And a mammoth? Just a little one.
And a pack of wolves to pull the sledge.

And maybe another carnival - a winter one this time.
I'll put it in the back garden
With the wolves.

©Amanda J Harrington 2014

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Tuesday, 16 December 2014

Last Breaths

Her husband was angry,
she made friends easily,
calmly capable,
in the face of grief.

Her hours, days, weeks,
built around her sons,
her years on the farm,
in a village.

Farmer's wife,
keeper of boys,
holder of bonfire night
vintage extravaganzas.

A moment passed.
Holding her life,
like it didn't move.

Her husband was angry,
refusing the truth,
casting abroad
for cures.

Casting for anything and wondering,
who would hold their boys,
who would smile.

Her husband was angry,
the other half,
the one who wasn't waiting
in the warm,
kettle on,
bright eyes,
ready smile.

And it felt like years, the moments.
It felt like years, snapped away,
it felt like years, and then.

It was a time of its own keeping,
a pocket where parties invited everyone,
a giant tin of fireworks,
bought weeks in advance.

Food steaming in the open kitchen,
face at the door, framed by the light.

Her husband was angry,
marrying again soon after,
everyone thinking
he didn't care.

And every breath she took,
she saw them,
felt them,
knew them,
loved them.

©Amanda J Harrington 2014

This is a poem I wrote about someone I knew growing up. She was one of those people everyone knew, who organised events and did lots of different extra things with her life, as well as having a demanding family life and home to look after. Sometimes people pass through our lives who we don't know very well but feel we are better for having met. She was one of those.

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Saturday, 6 December 2014

How to make your child like reading.

Reading is good for you: we know this. Like a literary version of broccoli, reading is known to cause interest, engagement, increased brain activity, a tendency to imagine strange new landscapes and the ability to strike up conversations with complete strangers who instantly become new friends.

Yet so often people will say their child hates reading, they will do anything to avoid it and that parents have tried everything to make them like it.

I despair when people say to me their child won't read. Sometimes, you know, it is because children have a problem with reading, perhaps undiagnosed dyslexia or similar. Sometimes children cannot process the written word as well as the real world around them, so they move away from books. More often, their parents never showed them that books are gooooood.

It is that simple in the majority of cases. Books are good, people. Books are fun and they can be full of pictures and stuff. They can have rocket ships and fire engines and dragons eating small, angry princesses. They can be completely about real-life things, so that children who avoid dragons don't have to bother with them. You can read about tractors the whole time, if you like, or what children in other countries do every day that is amazingly different to what you do.

You can read about things which have no basis in what most people think of as the real world. The real world is open for debate! Let it be magic, let it be aliens masquerading as school children. Let it be whatever you want it to be and let it feel real for the time you are living in that book.

And again, all of this does not often happen by itself. If your small child wanders past on their way to the TV and sees you sitting, with your nose in a book, they will want to know what you are doing: small children always want to know what you are doing.

You don't have to grump 'reading' and then ignore them; neither do you have to explain in great detail that you are finding out which mad serial killer disemboweled the Griddle twins while they were camping in Lone Wolf Forest. You can just say you are reading a great book - would small child like to read one with you? (Choose a different book, though, eh?)

Or if you don't like reading either, then first, sit down and have a talk with yourself. You want small child to read, okay? You want them to have this amazing benefit in their lives, yes? So, pretend. Who cares if you like reading - you pretended to like small child's looped rendition of Wheels on the Bus every day for a week so you can pretend to like this beautiful picture book about frogs.

Together you will have the exquisite quality time which comes from having your child's soft head resting gently against you as you turn the pages. You will have that moment when they look up at you to watch your lips as you read a certain line. You will have time that never comes again.

If your child is already older, well, look to what interests them and take it from there but don't think because they are older that your example is any less important. Just be aware that reading the instructions on their new video game is also reading, as is reading the dialogue in the game. Reading is more than books, it is about exploration and knowledge and these come in many forms, right through life.

And, later, when small child is bigger child and bigger child becomes lumping great teenager, you will have a young person who is not afraid to pick up a book and knows that books are a part of life and can be part of their lives too. Your teen may still not be a raving fan of reading but by starting early you have given them the tools to use books to help themselves - and by books, I also mean ebooks, online articles, blogs, coding manuals, the whole shebang.

Those years later might also see you passing by your young person as they lie on the sofa, one arm and two legs at strange angles, their head on the armrest and their other hand clasping the latest book as they devour a new world and everything in it.

It's not about making anything happen. Think of it as leaving the door open to let in fresh, summer air. You didn't have to go out and gather the air and rush in before it blew away: all you had to do was open the door and let it happen naturally.

Reading is good, for you and for your children, but the only way to make the goodness work is to bring it right into your life and keep it there, in the heart of your family.

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A story somewhere