Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Free Play

Do you remember the time when your parents let you walk to school alone at the age of 9? Do you remember playing out on the streets in the woods with friends and without parents hanging around? Do you remember when you did death defying stunts, jumping off high places, climbing trees, racing on your bike and no one shouting, "Don't do that you could hurt yourself."? I know I do. Yet so many parents these days restrict their children from free play because of risks some of which have been perpetuated by the media and the alarming amount of cars on the roads and the sue culture.

In the UK they are closing roads at certain times to allow children to play in a car free zone, allowing children to ride their bikes, to use chalk to create and play games and to build a sense of community in their areas, the sort of thing my parents had and so did I to some degree as a child. Even I have been become fearful of allowing my children to play out on our quiet street, I have to be able to see them, going past the driveway is simply a step too far. When I sit down and think about it, it makes me feel sad.

One of the things I noticed about moving to North America from the UK was the overwhelming amount of scheduled before and after school programs kids are involved with. Some get up at 5am to practice ice hockey some are playing soccer at 7pm at night, some do both. These children are young, the ones I have witnessed are under 8 years of age. It is an incredibly long day for kids, when do they get to rest their minds and enjoy their free time or have time to play, be creative without structure without adult guidance?

When my children went to school in the UK our after school activity would be to walk to the local park nearest the school and let the kids play. Sometimes a group of mums would take a picnic, let the children play whilst the mums worked together preparing the blankets and food and drinks. It was so much fun. we were outside, getting fresh air and it did all age groups a world of good. The kids could release some steam and enjoy time with their friends and the parents would get to know one another and build friendships that can at time be challenging when kids are rushed off to their out-of- school activities. I don't do this in Canada, kids are being rushed away, I am unable to build relationships with other parents because there is simply no time due to their children's heavy schedules, it sounds ridiculous, doesn't it?

The school my children go to in Canada has a wonderful forest that the kids are allowed to play in. They can climb trees, build camp fires, build art with sticks, splash in puddles, pick up worms, get outside and learn. They have to watch out for bears and coyotes and understand safety where wildlife is concerned, they observe owls, woodpeckers, hawks, eagles. We live in the suburbs, it is built up with lots of houses but there are places to go in search of nature. Not all schools have this luxury but I made a point of finding such a place for my children. Their creative play time is so advanced compare to where it was three years ago, it is a joy to watch.

Have you ever watched your kids play? Sometimes I would observe the children playing and watch them work together as a team, try and test new ways to do something and allow for idea generation from everyone in the group. It would soon become obvious who was the leader of the pack and how everyone naturally fell into place or how they would share the leadership role. This is what play should be about, no interference from over protective parents/adults, sometimes kids need to learn with their peers.

Some businesses are noticing the upcoming generations are not as creative, they are structured, conform to rules, because schools insist that they study hard, ready for tests, there is little creativity in that. I am already seeing more homework coming back with my child at grade 3, it is unnerving.

Why have we become so obsessed about structured time opposed to free creative play time? It certainly makes you think about what we are doing to our children in the society that we live in today.

Watch this awesome video about free play, it is inspirational.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Creativity Can

We recently went to the Mastermind Toys opening day in Coquitlam and they were handing out goody bags to the children. The packs contained some fabulous items including the Creativity Can. The Creativity Can contains all the items you need to make something out of a glue, paper, pipe cleaners and more. It really gets the kids imaginations going. My kids were starting to ask me, "What can I make mum?" but I refused to give them any ideas, they need to learn to think for themselves, all I said was, "Create what you want, use your imagination, it is not right or wrong, just play." Within seconds both my girls were creating. 

Here are some of the things they made. It may not make any sense to us but being creative doesn't have to make sense.

In the pack was a Playmobil game that hasn't been played yet.

A can that is about to be opened.

Reindeer's and butterflies.

Two wheel monster.

Being creative is fun.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Pumpkin Painting for Halloween.

This is so easy for little ones and big ones. I got my inspiration from some paintings I saw in a local gallery and I went out and bought some acrylic paint from Michaels. The store has a sale on so these paints came to 50cents each, Squeeze the paint over the pumpkins, these are mini hand sized pumpkins, great for kids to take to school for show and share. Let them loose with all the paints and away they go. 

They loved seeing the paints blend, drip and form shapes. I found it so much fun that I was inspired to create a personalised card using the same dribbling method. Acrylics take very little time to dry but I left these out to dry, undercover, overnight. It is a quick and easy project. They will look awesome for Halloween decorations and Thanks Giving table decorations. 

Monday, September 8, 2014

Home Schooling and Strike Rant

Now that I am having to home school my kids for the interim I am discovering where my kids are with their education. The report cards I receive tell me absolutely nothing, so much so I scan them, sign them and throw it away. I can't tell where they are at, if there are where they should be, is there anything I need to do to help them progress. I remember taking in a workbook that pre-schools have to put together during the child's time, it is something Ofsted require. I showed it to my youngest's Kindergarten teacher and she told me this is the sort of thing we do in Grade K. What joy to know my child has to step back a year, not! But because we have moved and disrupted my kids education yet again, I respect that this is the way but I can't help but rant.

To start, the school that my kids go to do not have tests of any kind, not even weekly spelling tests, there is no homework other than reading daily and perhaps once a month a book is taken home and my eldest has to write about something she did. In England in Grade 2 my daughter was bringing home on a weekly basis maths, reading, spelling and projects to work on. My eldest daughter would be going into Grade 4 this year in the UK but in Canada she has to go into Grade 3 (they start later in Canada). I would like to say this has been of benefit to step back and redo a year but she found lessons boring and not challenged at all. By now she should know her 2, 5 and 10 times table plus more but she has forgotten some of what she learnt because she was not been taught this in her new school. The reading is coming along fine for both my kids, I love how they emphasize the importance of reading here, they read in the morning with parents and read at the end of the day and are expected to read more at home. The maths seems to be lacking which worries me so how they dare to say that BC has one of the best public education systems in the world, well, it beats me! I had never heard that before Christy Clark mentioned it on TV and if it is the best why has she put her kid into private school? I have a theory why they think this because a lot of parents in BC invest in after school programs that help their children progress.

I have a Grade 2 maths book for my eldest, I wanted to see where she is at before pushing her on to a Grade 3 level. She is not even half way through the book and she needs a lot of guidance from me. For example, it talks about hundreds, tens and ones and how to look at the larger numbers. Not done this in class, she told me. Then added numbers together with a number underneath the other and add them. Not done this either. As it happens she is finding it easier once I show her a few times. I don't understand why she has not been taught these very basic equations at her age because kids are able to absorb information at a young age easily. How is she ready for Grade 3 if she can't do Grade 2 equations? To me the education she received last year is below par.

We had extra tutors when we first moved out here but it looks like we will have them again particularly in the maths area. Hopefully when they are at middle school age we can afford to place them in an independent school because unions are nothing but a pain in the arse particularly when it hurts the kids.

As my neighbour said and he is not the first to say it to me, (his kids bar one go to an independent school and so does the one next-door-but-one for that matter), the schools here are over qualified babysitters. I purse my lips at this, I can understand why he says this but I am not sure I would go that far with the teachers here. I think they have a tough gig, and with language barriers, special needs, blended classes how do they manage and successfully teach kids at varying levels with various ways of learning? I guess that is why they are paid quite well from what I hear and with excellent benefits, who else gets a 8 weeks holiday in the summer, 2 weeks at Christmas, plus pensions, signing bonus, excellent starting salary straight out of university? No one I know, I can tell you. As one teacher recently said, those with extra learning needs get lots of attention, those who are very bright get extra attention those in the middle are self-sufficient and they are left to get on with it. How are they to become exceptional if the support for the middle group is not there? That is the problem with public schools infact that is the problem with anyone in the middle, middle class always get hit the hardest.

We are into the second week of the strike and the one thing that is annoying me with the teachers strike in BC is, it started out as being about class sizes, extra assistants to help with the kids but as it turns out it is all about the money. I have spoken to many people on this topic and they support the teachers but if it is about the money then this is no longer about the needs of the children. After watching many news reports, reading newspapers both sides are to blame. The unions are now focused more on the money and Christy Clark is twisting the truth about what the teachers demands are. I have no sympathy with the teachers if it is about the money, I think, however, for most it is really about providing the kids with a better school system. Besides, the union is willing to bring in a third party but the stubborn Ms Clark and Education Minister Peter Fassbender who clearly wants education privatised is not willing to do anything, at all, except wait it out. Ms Clark's child is in a expensive independent school has no need to worry. She, like the rest of them have no clue what it is like to try and work and keep kids occupied and educated so that the kids are well balanced individuals ready to help boost the economy when it is their turn. It is short sighted of her to think that this will go away. In fact, long term it could have a devastating effect. I am not annoyed at the teachers because they are trying but the government are not doing anything, they are not willing to negotiate by any means.

With all that is going on has anyone listened to what the parents want? All we ask is our children be back in school, educated, learning and developing, being with their friends, having a routine in place. They need the support to mature.

I have a good routine with my kids, a lesson plan in place, places to visit, after-school activities, extra tuition planned, the one thing they do miss is their friends. I think this strike will make parents re-think their child's learning needs. I got to say, this whole thing is frustrating and could end up a big mess and the kids might not be back in school this side of Christmas. Bloody mess.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Back to School?

If you live in British Columbia and do not send your kids to an independent school then you know the pain parents are going through currently. June 17th was the last time kids were in school, two weeks before they broke-up for summer and it is September 3rd and a there seems to be no end to the strike. I have looked desperately for an independent school but they do not have space for both kids, I can get one or the other in but not both. I am also looking for alternative help, Kumon, Sylvan, that can help with extra studies but these are also expensive alternatives and the $40 per child per day only covers half the cost. We did have a tutor that came in from Tutor Doctor  but the issue we had was we had a wonderful tutor who loved to teach maths but she left to take a full time job and we had an alternative who preferred English. It was fine but I did not like the disruption of changing tutors just as my child was getting into a rhythm.

I am acutely aware that if I do not help my kids along sooner than later then they will fall behind quickly. The schools here in BC have long summer holidays and it has been proven that skills are lost during long summer breaks. Throughout the summer my children have been reading, the summer program at the library has been very useful. One of the things I lack in is teaching my kids is maths, mainly because it does not come easily to me and my mental arrhythmic is appalling due to lack of practice during my younger years plus I was not taught well from the start. My husband on the other hand whom was privately educated and went to a prestigious school in England, oozes confidence and has a much better handle on many subjects but he is so busy with work that he is unable to help my cause (when I say busy, it is seven days a week, lucky to get a few hours of his time). I can't complain my husband is earning money to keep a roof over our heads. Also, it is harder to explain the value of money nowadays because we use cards so often to pay for goods. I do give my children cash for chores and try to teach them to save which seems to be working. The problem with taking my girls out so they can understand how to use money and calculate what change they will get;  in Canada until you get to the till you have no idea what the actual cost is. This is due to the tax(es), they do not appear on the ticket. So if my kids look for something worth $2 then we know they need more but because we do not know what tax amount to calculate before we get to the cashier because the government tax many items differently depending on what it is. It is challenging to teach and get a grasp on  how much one needs to pay. It is ridiculous. In England what you see on the label is what you pay making it easier to see what amount you have in your hand and handing the money to the cashier and if there is change it can be calculated beforehand.

So to make these challenges less of a problem I have purchased a number of exercise books and games; crossword puzzles, word search, paint by number, bingo, Monopoly, educational books, maths books, reading and writing and sketch books for art projects. Here are a selection:

4 Cats Art History Books

4 Cats Art History Books

The books below were bought from the Dollar store for $3 each. They are great and the kids love them too.

There are also a number of TV shows that help. My kids love The Magic School Bus and Horrible Histories. There are also some good websites that I have yet to explore.

Putting a lesson plan in place will help too. Kids love routine so for my 6 and 8 year old my plan looks something like this:

8am Breakfast
9am Quiet reading and read to me individually
9.30am English activity, word search, writing practice, reading aloud etc (depends on age)
10am playtime and snack
10:30am Maths activity, counting games, card games, Bingo, exercise book, times table
11:00am Art or Physical activity
11:30am help to prep food for lunch, set table
12:00 eat, clear table, play
1pm Read, writing, drama, physical activity
2pm Learning about art, history, science experiment
3pm play
4pm help with preparing food or setting table or chores in general.

It gives you a guideline and of course you can mix it up with outings and day trips that they rarely get in a school environment. It helps to get kids back into a routine and I can tell you they will love you for it.

If you have any suggestions, books, Educations shows, learning sites on the web, I would love to hear.