The pluses and minuses of grammar schools

Posted April 14, 2017 by nicola baird blogs
Categories: parenting

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Right now there’s a ban on building new grammars. Should this rule be changed because they “do a good job of closing the attainment gap” for bright, disadvantaged children? Or are we entering a new phase of preparing children to fail? Words by Nicola Baird

My teenager explaining GCSE revision in maths and science to her Dad. He’s a bit confused…

As a journalist I often interview older people who have had fulfilling working and family lives for Islington Faces. But if asked about their childhood they may become anxious. If I see their hands clench, and a slight shadow cross their eyes, then invariably the next sentence is that they “failed at school”. They’ll explain they didn’t pass the 11+ with the sort of score that took you to grammar school.

It’s not just that they missed out on a good education, they’ve also had 50 or more years of feeling academically inadequate. And that’s not healthy.

Not long after I listened to news about the need for more Grammar Schools (put by Justine Greening) on Radio 4’s Today programme I met a well-educated mum heading to the hairdresser with her two children, one in Year 7, the other Year 5. It’s the Easter school holidays so she was surprised to hear that my 16-year-old was back home revising for GCSEs that don’t start until May. Soon she was talking angrily about the SATs test that is taken by Year 6s at 600,000 primary schools every May.

  • SATs are also taken by Year 2 children. In 2016 they were criticised for being so toughly-worded that many children were unable to complete the questions, or left in tears.

At the moment SATs are not an entry ticket to a secondary school. SATs are used by the government to assess a child’s level of learning at the end of primary school. That snapshot is then used throughout secondary school to ensure that progress is being made.

One of those Year 6 moments (back in 2012) when a surprise spring day led to a fab picnic in the park. And no one needed to revise for anything.

Tutors and the 11+
In contrast the 11+ exam deliberately grades a child’s ability against their cohort, allowing schools to make selective choice of the most able pupils. So does the highly competitive Kent Test, which is taken in September by Year 6 students (mostly living in Kent) whose parents want them to go to the hugely over-subscribed grammar schools in Kent.

  • Just for the record September seems a particularly cruel date as it means many young children will be super-tutored over the summer holidays in order to raise their scores and secure a place.

Parents, who can afford it, are willing to pay for tutoring, because once your son or daughter is in a Kent grammar school the rest of the educational milestones – good GCSEs, excellent A levels and a place at Oxbridge or a Russell Group uni – are going to be much easier.

“There is a lot of bad press given to grammars and private tutors alike. People say that it only benefits the affluent middle classes and to a very high degree that is true,” says Muhammad Ali a maths specialist who runs The Tuition Network, based in Islington.

As well as tutoring Ali helps teach maths to students from AIM, an educational Kent charity set up by three mums in a bid to “level the playing field and offer affordable 11+ preparation to bright children who would not otherwise receive it, and so make grammar school places more accessible to all.” Typically the 10-year-olds from low-income families will receive 50 hours of free tuition one evening a week at a Tunbridge Wells venue and during school holidays, as well as being given mock exams to hone their exam technique. This isn’t building on what their schools give them as local schools do not prepare for 11+ exams; instead they focus on the national standard tests – SATs.

“I do a lot of pro bono work for the disadvantaged (he also works for The Access Project) because I want to make a difference. I am of Bangladeshi/northern (Manchester) roots and went to a run down school in Moss Side,” explains Ali. “My background is ‘poor working class’, my friends went on to youth training schemes, rather than sixth form and my parents had not been to uni, so there was no expectation for someone like me.”

Now the Government is touting the idea that Grammar Schools could help ordinary working families – the sort Ali grew up in. At least this is the message from both PM Theresa May and Education Secretary Justine Greening

  • Interestingly Theresa May was mostly state educated, but at 13 won a place at the former Holton Park Girls’ Grammar School. During her time there the Oxfordshire school system was re-organised and it became a comprehensive. Justine Greening went to a Rotherham co-ed secondary, now an academy.

Better off families throw everything at their child in that bid to get into a grammar school (because whatever the costs of tutoring it is a lot less than years of private school fees), which could be why there’s scant evidence that Grammar Schools aid social mobility. In fact many think their entrance policy prevents bright, but poorer children, getting a place.

Indeed the Government’s own report (published on 12/4/17) shows that better off families are far more likely to fill grammar school places (36% from below average incomes [but not receiving free school meals], compared to 53% from backgrounds with above average incomes).

On BBC News (13/4/17) the politicians spoke out against a return to the Grammar School era too. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-39584000

  • Labour’s shadow education secretary Angela Rayner said the government could not “hide from the fact that grammar schools do not aid social mobility”.
  • Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron, said: “pupils of working families are getting stuffed by this plan, yet again rather than making every state school excellent the government want to spend more cash on another ideological experiment.”
  • Head teachers’ leader Russell Hobby said the government seemed “fixated” on expanding academic selection. “Despite all the evidence showing the harmful effects on social mobility, the government is committed to delivering a policy for the few at the expense of the many.”

How much childhood is lost if you decide to try and make your child an A student?And then what happens if they can’t live up to that pressure?

SATs stress
The Grammar School debate is going to run for a while. Considering that SATs aren’t an entry ticket to a child’s next school, it should be a concern just how many parents find even the SATs process hugely stressful – and carry that stress to their child.

“We were told that level 5c was normal. How awful to know you’ve failed at 11,” said my mum-friend, in front of her similarly-aged daughter and primary-school-attending son. Both her children looked faintly bored. In inner London (everywhere maybe) impromptu chats in the street about education are an interminable part of waiting for mum or dad as you head to the park, shops or even hairdresser.

Should the ban on Grammar Schools be lifted my friends’ kids won’t be looking bored.

Hypothetically, the youngest would be in the middle of stressful (and expensive) tutoring sessions to increase his chances of getting into the nearest Grammar. And he’d know it. While his older sister would already be experiencing which side her life’s bread was buttered – potentially quashing ambition, aspiration and, most detrimentally for a pre-teenager, academic achievement.

Perhaps when the kids can look bored by secondary school chat it’s a sign that we’re still doing education right?

  • Nicola Baird is a parent governor at a community secondary school

Over to you?
What do you think? Should the government be giving the OK for more grammar schools

 

 

So, it’s mother’s day. What next?

Posted March 23, 2017 by nicola baird blogs
Categories: parenting

Tags: , , ,

How do you acknowledge Mother’s Day? For more ideas about thrifty, creative and eco-friendly ways to raise children see more on this blog or get my book Homemade Kids, out of the library. This post is by Nicola Baird, also see www.nicolabaird.com

Me with my two daughters. (2015)

Mother’s Day in the UK  is in spring – this year it’s Sunday 26 March 2017 – conveniently after my spring birthday, and before my own mum’s spring birthday. But Mother’s Day in the US, Australia and NZ is not until Sunday 14 May (one day I must find out why & thanks to Vanessa-Jane for sorting out my now corrected error).

Me and my Mum. (2016)

As if that wasn’t enough confusion for those of us with mothers, or who are mothers… it turns out that “76% of Mothers with Young Children Want a Break from Parenting Duties this Mother’s Day.” They don’t want a card, or a gift, they want time out… claims info from a survey organised by onbuy.com (a British-owned market place allegedly similar to Amazon).

Luckily for Onbuy.com, mums don’t mind if money is spent to get that precious time out… For instance they’d be OK with:

  1. A relaxing spa day- 19%
  2. Date Night- 17%
  3. A quiet night in with wine- 14%
  4. An extra three hours in bed-11%
  5. No housework- 9%.

Admittedly Numbers 4 & 5 are free, so that’s good news for all Mother’s Day gift givers. And I’d be happy with any of these too. But I was shocked that onbuy.com found out that the average spend is a huge £38.50. I suppose that is because more adults are buying for their “old” mum, rather than little kids raiding their tooth fairy money.

Buying flowers is a cheat. I really treasure hand-drawn cards (as my daughter Nell knows they can be inspired by communing with the great outdoors), but for my own mum I’ve bought her a bunch of flowers this year… and it’s not the first time either!

Obviously a big bunch of flowers tops the gift list. I’ve always really enjoyed taking a bus journey through London on a Mothering Sunday to see which people are carrying a huge bunch of blooms to their mum/wife/partner. But tragically the research found that very few mothers with young children were that pleased about this particular gift. They felt keeping the flowers alive added to their stress, they were picky about the flowers they wanted (eg, British-grown, particular types) and – by implication – a waste of money they’d rather have spent getting someone else in to do a spot of spring cleaning.

The information has left me a bemused. I’d planned to hop over to the Scilly Flowers website and send my mum a monster bunch of scented narcissi. But now I don’t know. Admittedly she has grown up kids, who don’t live with her, so the cut flowers can die when they want and then be composted.

As for what my family will get me – I have an internal shopping list wheeled out for second hand shops, jumble sales and occasional Freecycle swoops – but I don’t think they’d want to keep an eye out for the sort of items on it, eg, pillow protectors, a new-to-us sofa cover and a scrap of oil cloth to cover the garden table so that I can eat outside without chicken poo spoiling the experience.

Over to you?

What do you like getting – time or gifts – on mother’s day if you are a mother? And/or what has been your most successful gift to your mum?

 

8 ways to deal with air pollution – Delhi dilemmas

Posted January 26, 2017 by nicola baird blogs
Categories: parenting

Tags: , , , , , , ,

Delhi is the world’s most polluted city. I think. London however has been shaping up nicely this January in its bid to reach toxic gold. Here’s my attempt to unpick the ridiculous suggestions mooted in a bid to help us all ‘beat London smog”. In case there is ANY doubt this is a parody. Words from Nicola Baird  (see www.nicolabaird.com for more info about my books and blogs). 

These doors at Senate House are the very ones that inspired George Orwell's famous Room 101 scene in Nineteen Eighty-Four. My room 101 doesn't have rats.

These doors at Senate House are the very ones that inspired George Orwell’s famous Room 101 scene in Nineteen Eighty-Four. My room 101 doesn’t have rats.

1 READ THE EVENING STANDARD

Now lots of the ES is super sensible and covers the London Air Pollution saga well. It’s where I heard about London having breached its annual toxic limit by the fifth day of January 2017. But it also runs daft stories like A breath of fresh air: here’s 6 ways to clean up your act and beat London’s toxic air from two of its regular feature writers – Susannah Butter and Phoebe Luckhurst. This piece is shameful because it wasn’t tongue in cheek. The ladies suggest  “REN’s flash defence anti-pollution spray creates a viscous layer that noxious chemicals will struggle to penetrate. It smells great too.”

Why does the news so often seem like an April Food at the moment: shouldn’t Butter and Phoebe be warning us that buying this stuff would be £24 badly spent? I remember writing an exposé about the Solomon Islands trying to flog tropical rainforest oxygen back in the 1990s… Now I think the islanders had it right, Londoners are so daft they’d have sniffed up bottles of this and passed them round their Uber. PM10s are not going to be watered down by an imaginary body spray.

2 YOU NEED A FACEMASK & POLLUTION MONITORS

On the #airpollution stream on Insta there is plenty of smogporn (if that’s a thing yet), but also  brands who view air pollution as an opportunity– such as koolmask, hypeingham and metro-mask. There’s even a bedside alarm LaMetricTime which displays CO2 levels allowing you to watch the levels rising…

Got to admire capitalism because everything is an opportunity. Those masks aren’t going to help London tackle air pollution are they?

3 EAT WELL

Yup – eating avocado (vitamin D) and almonds (vitamin E) gives your body all the nutrients you need to fight toxic air pollution.  

I’ve read this. It must be right. It also gives zero thought whatsoever to how those pops of goodness arrived here (air freighted) or what damage avocado and super-thirsty almond plantations are doing where they are grown.

Written by me in 1998.

Written by me in 1998.

4 “GET IN THE CAR” & DRIVE TO SCHOOL

That was the advice from at least one school nurse to asthma sufferers. 

One of my daughters has had a tricky time with asthma and we’ve met a large number of asthma nurses. Some are great, but very few understood the big picture or factored in what it meant to be a child who likes to use their legs and eyes in the big outdoors…

It makes sense, because there are still a huge number of families who drive their kids to school, refusing to accept that their journey is not necessary. It’s still an aspirational desire to drive.

I’ve had a car in the past and of course it’ll be used it if it’s temptingly parked outside and you’re running late… but get rid of the car and you’ll always walk, or scooter, or bike to school which teaches your kids good habits (and burns off breakfast). If rates can justifably skyrocket (and i wish they wouldn’t if it kills independent stores) then so too can road taxes or the cost of the right to drive in a city in a diesel powered car. (I should add that I’m not that impressed by private petrol or electric vehicles either)

5 SAY NO TO LETTING THE KIDS PLAY OUTSIDE

When environmental health officials are tricked (surely?) into saying it’s dangerous for kids to use the school playground be wary of following their advice.

Already most kids stay indoors far too much despite the indoor air pollutants from cooking, furniture, sprays and cleaning products create a toxic soup. They can’t be independent from a young age because of the dangers from cars knocking them over (not stranger danger). City kids need to know as much as possible about nature even if it is just jumping the weeds in the pavement cracks, pulling at last year’s hollyhocks languishing in the tree pits or hearing the blackbird singing on that house’s old TV aerial. Having a glimpse of even this diminished nature is what may help the kids figure out that life outdoors ought to be one of opportunity, not threat.

Front garden - there's a bird in the apple tree.

Front garden – there’s a bird
in the apple tree.

6 DEALING WITH SUBSIDENCE

My poor Victorian home is subsiding. The only way insurers deal with this is waging war on anything green around the foundations, and so the buddleia and jasmine have to go.

It’s impossible for me to denude the bricks while my head is swirling with toxic London fog scenes and the sweet inner-city robin cheerily sings when it sees me heading towards its corner of the buddleia brandishing a bow saw.

7 SETTLE DOWN WITH NETFLIX

Watching The Crown on Netflix ought to cancel out visions of toxic smog… but no, in episode 4, in December 1952 there are a dreadful three days which flood hospitals and ultimately kill as many as 12,000 people during the Great Smog of London

Churchill is hopeless at coping with this, writing it off as British weather, an “act of God”. At least Sadiq Khan seems to be looking at our problem head on. Now he’s got to show the sort of leadership that no one has yet dared to do against the car lobby, and in particular diesel vehicles. Couldn’t we just do something radical like shake up the whole way Londoners move around for a trial phase and see if it made a difference?

8 SPOILING MY MARATHON TRAINING

Of course I’m not training to run the marathon, but I’ve heard the moans. Toxic air wrecks “Marathontraining plans” so the runners have to head to the indoor gym and cycle on stationary bikes and indoor running tracks, rather than plod pavements.

Wouldn’t it be great if the generation obsessed by bucket lists and meeting personal challenges could start working together to force politicians to make London’s air cleaner – and by default other cities cleaner as well? Because if they did within a year no one would ever have to cancel their training run.

THE END
So where does that get us? Nine ways to clean up your act, or nine opportunities to speak up?  The only good seems to be that at last air pollution in London – and the impact cars, traffic (and airports) have on it – is at last being talked about by everybody, even if the messages aren’t always clear. Next step is action. Please.

7 ways to stop a tantrum

Posted January 19, 2017 by nicola baird blogs
Categories: parenting

Tags: , , ,

What can you do to when your child has a tantrum? For more ideas about thrifty, creative and eco-friendly ways to raise children follow this blog or get my book Homemade Kids, out of the library. This post is by Nicola Baird, also see www.nicolabaird.com

Reward good behaviour, ignore the bad. Here's the famous thumbs up in Trafalgar Square by David Shrigley to remind you of that maxim. (c) homemade kids

Reward good behaviour, ignore the bad. Here’s the famous thumbs up in Trafalgar Square by David Shrigley to remind you of that maxim. (c) homemade kids

My daughters are definitely too old to be having tantrums – they are 15 and 18. But recently I spent a couple of nights in a house with two primary school aged children and realised how much I’d forgotten about negotiating with little kids. How do you get them to go to bed? How do you get them to get up? How do you get them to get dressed? Or eat breakfast? And how do you do all that so you can arrive at their classroom without being late?

Anyone who manages this, regularly, even if not every day deserves a medal. Or should be volunteering to sort out Theresa May’s Brexit problems.

Tips and tricks
But when you are in the midst of dealing with little kids then there are some techniques that can help make life a little less tricky.

Your child has switched from super happy to impossible. They are lying on the pavement refusing to move… What next:

  1. Try asking them to get up… (only once. It might work)
  2. Avoid raising the stakes. Pinch yourself to prevent this happening. If you end up saying “if you don’t get up I’ll never buy you sweets again,” they’ll know there is NO way you are going to keep your threat. If you are like me you tend to use threats that were things you were actually looking forward to doing, like going to the park or feeding a friend’s pet rabbit.
  3. Never threaten because this is a toddler tantrum. You need to rethink fast…
  4. Try humour. I can’t carry you because “I’ve got a bone in my leg” is baffling and funny (for a young child). Will it work?
  5. Try distraction. Look there’s (name a friend) let’s go and see what’s in their lunch box/book bag/ whatever springs to mind.
  6. Try better distraction. “Oh my word, there goes a blue unicorn down the high street…”
  7. Deal with it. OK nothing has worked. Your tot is definitely embarassing you. Don’t worry, everyone who has a had a child has been in this situation. And so they should. Either wait until s/he’s bored or exhausted by this behaviour and then without making it into a big deal walk on. The school door is waiting.
Tantrums don't last - but reacting the wrong way to them can make managing small children much harder. (c) homemade kids

Tantrums don’t last – but reacting the wrong way to them can make managing small children much harder. (c) homemade kids

On reflection
Figure out what might be the problem. It won’t be obvious – maybe it’s just that your child is tired, hungry or doesn’t want to be parted from you. In our family we used this phrase “Are you struggling with your big girl self?” far too much (and just occasionally I even wheel it out now). The kids grew to hate it, but I think it helped them recognise when their emotions were taking over.

If it’s simply that your child has no power and wants attention then aim to do more rewarding good behaviour and ignoring bad. It may seem impossible, but every fight lost is going to make the next stress point slightly harder.

Good luck, do you have any tips or tantrum stories?

5 things everyone can learn from I Daniel Blake

Posted November 14, 2016 by nicola baird blogs
Categories: parenting

I Daniel Blake is a courageous film by the veteran social commentator Ken Loach. It follows the lives of two unlucky benefit claimers – Daniel and Katie – in the north east of England. It’s Newcastle that he uses so the screen is filled with Geordie accents, white faces and northern poverty.  If he’d picked on Tottenham it’d have been a very different set of faces – predominantly black and brown – but all would be facing the exact same problems. How to cope when you’ve got no money.

I loved the film, and recommend everyone sees it (it’s a 12A because there’s a little bit of swearing). The more income you have, the more important it is that you go – that’s why Jeremy Corbyn suggested that Theresa May went to see it.

Here are some things that could be learnt from I Daniel Blake.

  1. In I Daniel Blake, Daniel just presses bubblewrap against a sunny window as insulation. I found you had to sellotape it. I'll let you know if it works.

    In I Daniel Blake, Daniel just presses bubblewrap against a sunny window as insulation. I found you had to sellotape it. I’ll let you know if it works.

    Britain is cold Coping without money in the summer is tough and impossible. But in the winter you need electricity and maybe gas to have light and heat. If you use it then the bills can tip you into debt. If you don’t you are just ground down by the cold.  Daniel shows his friend Katie how to insulate windows with bubble wrap to trap any sunshine (I’m not sure it works, but i’ve had a go on one of my windows). He also uses four candles and two terracotta pots to build a little indoor woodburner.

    When you use a supermarket look out for foodbank collection points. At some Morrisons and Waitrose on a saturday there are often food sweeps where you buy from a list - to help people who are hungry and unable to shop.

    When you use a supermarket look out for foodbank collection points. At some Morrisons and Waitrose on a saturday there are often food sweeps where you buy from a list – to help people who are hungry and unable to shop.

  2. Foodbanks are essential. In an ideal world food banks wouldn’t exist. But right now is not ideal especially when an individual or family with little money has to make a big unexpected expenditure – maybe to visit a sick family member, or because they are sick, or because they have been “sanctioned” or their benefits have changed and money is delayed. The Trussel Trust organises foodbanks throughout Britain, for many they are lifesavers. Please donate a tin or two when you next can.
  3. It’s hard being a woman. I’d never really grasped this before, but if you have no money then you can’t afford san pro. In the film Katie ends up in big trouble because of this – and though the foodbanks offer loo roll they don’t offer Bodyform, Allways or any other sanitary towels. A friend who lived through a seige in the 1980s told me how humiliating it was running out of shampoo, soap and tampax. Poverty isn’t a war, but how embarrassing it can make life. Maybe donating some san pro to foodbanks could be a start.
  4. Couscous is great fast food.  The thing about couscous is that it cooks so fast (compared to potatoes), is quite a cheap grain to buy (compared to rice) and fills you up just as well as bread. It can be very tasty, although that takes other ingredients. I’ve used it camping for all these reasons – but lots of people are using it because they have to. Donate couscous to the foodbank.
  5. Being homeless is even worse than being stuck in the Catch 22 of waiting for the call from the decision maker. There’s no safety net when you are homeless (i’ve no idea how A Street Cat Called Bob turns into a positive film!). Generally i don’t give money to homeless people – but if you haven’t got any food on you to hand out maybe giving a bit of cash is the right thing to do.
  6. Using spray paint is fun. And it’s hard to stop writing the message, so make sure you’ve got enough wall before you start.

See comments about the film in the Guardian.

How to prevent tensions between school & home

Posted November 3, 2016 by nicola baird blogs
Categories: parenting

Tags: , , , ,

What can you do to help students getting ready for exams? For more ideas about thrifty, creative and eco-friendly ways to raise children follow this blog or get my book Homemade Kids, out of the library. This post is by Nicola Baird, also see www.nicolabaird.com

Some of the families in our babysitting circle back at a 2009 get-together.

Some of the families in our babysitting circle back at a 2009 get-together. Plenty of these children are now dealing with exams at school – and even university!

As the Year 11s start getting deeper into their revision schedules – for some that will be pre-Xmas mocks, and others January testing – tension between home and school can start to appear. It will definitely help if you, your child and the school have worked any difficulties out in advance. It will also be useful if you’ve been to the scheduled parent evenings over your child’s school career so you have a realistic idea about how they are getting on. The point is to make progress!

Everyone’s situation is so very different – and exam results, to a certain extent, matter a great deal. But it probably helps if parents remember that most 15-16 year olds doing GCSEs in 2017 need us less on their backs over trivial misdemeanours at the moment (like tidying rooms, helping with housework, etc). The kids have got enough to do and worry about, rather than adding a full on family fight to their stress levels.

What Every Parent Needs to Know by Toby Young & Miranda Thomas (Penguin, £14.99)

What Every Parent Needs to Know by Toby Young & Miranda Thomas contains all that you used to need to know. Now you just need to be kind and boost your child’s mental and physical wellbeing. (Penguin, £14.99)

Assuming everything else is OK (attendance, learning, revision schedules, homework) then teaching your child how to relax properly, and eat well – both by your example – should surely be the top priorities right now, eg,

  • Going to bed at sensible times (and thus getting up at a sensible time)
  • Being encouraged to do some sport or spend time outside even if it’s just kicking leaves or chatting
  • Getting together some healthy snacks (nuts, sunflower seeds, crackers, cheese, fruit most things on sale at Itsu)

It will also help if you can listen to and/or support what the school says needs to be done.

Here’s hoping you have a real positive partnership with your child and their school. Because it’s going to make the next few months of GCSE countdown much easier.

3 tips on running an autumn craft event for kids

Posted October 17, 2016 by nicola baird blogs
Categories: parenting

Tags: , , , ,

Now that I have teenagers it’s easy to forget how much attention and imagination you need to entertain and educate younger children – here are a few tips gleaned from the Apple Day where I helped run an activity at our nearby nature park. For more ideas about thrifty, creative and eco-friendly ways to raise children follow this blog or get my book Homemade Kids, out of the library. This post is by Nicola Baird, also see www.nicolabaird.com

Apple Day activities at Gillespie Park have to be all about apples. I ran an apple bobbing stall and a nature pendant stall which got kids to decorate air dryed clay with leaves, sticks and seeds.

Apple Day activities at Gillespie Park have to be all about apples. I ran an apple bobbing stall and a nature pendant stall which got kids to decorate air dryed clay with leaves, sticks and seeds.

I love seeing kids getting dirty, but parents increasingly don’t. It’s a shame to hear an adult telling a child not to go in puddles or touch a plant in case they get dirty. My daughters definitely looked scruffy but they were allowed to explore properly. I generally dressed my kids in leggings or trousers as dresses are so restricting. That’s because you are much more likely to do spontaneous cartwheels, play football, climb trees, pick blackberries, face nettles or even kneel down to study something on tarmac/gravel if you are not wearing a dress. But at a public event kids are often quite smartly dressed up. Here’s how to help the children have fun without causing too many parents to get upset about their child’s outfit.

The Morrismen dancers turned up and invited everyone to join in. I have to admit that I abandoned my stall for a dance waving handkerchiefs. If you don't have fun at these big events you don't want to do them when you're asked next time.

The Morrismen dancers turned up and invited everyone to join in. I have to admit that I abandoned my stall for a dance waving handkerchiefs. If you don’t have fun at these big events you don’t want to do them when you’re asked next time.

1 BE PREPARED
This is the third year I’ve run children’s events at Gillespie Park Apple Day – an event which attracts a lot of young children (year 3 to babes in arms) and a few older ones. For some reason I always seem to find it hard to rope in a glamorous assistant so it makes sense to be prepared. And that means you might need:

  • A gazebo if it rains. This was essential as I was running a air-drying clay activity and rain would spoil the pendants. During the storm I also moved the apple bobbing under the tent. All of the apple day attendees were rewarded by a fine rainbow when the rain began to stop.
  • A bucket for hand washing (drying clay feels horrible), soap in a hand-pump and a couple of towels. I organised for someone to lend me three towels, and brought the final dry one out for the last hour. By the end of the day they were going to need some serious washing!
  • First aid knowledge... I refresh mine bi-annually. It’s always worth teaching basic first aid to children and teenagers can start learning it properly through the Red Cross or St John’s Ambulance training courses.
Making a nature pendant or nature medal.

Making a nature pendant or nature medal – an activity which suits all ages and skills and fitted in with the all-things-apple theme.

2 EXPECT CROWDS
It’s easy to show one child how to make a clay pendant. Ideally I try and show a group of three plus. It’s really nice when later in the day you see kids who’ve enjoyed the activity coming back and explaining to their friends or even cousins what to do. They do teaching with such pride!  To make it easy for anyone who will have to explain what to do to someone else, break down the task into stages so you can demonstrate with ones you’ve made earlier. That way visual learners and active learners can get down to the task while you re-explain to the ones that like words more. I had a round ball of clay; a flattened pendant with a hole in it and a finished item (which I failed to photograph, sorry).

Adapting the pendant idea from a circle or oval to leaf shape - and then pressing the shape of the leaf into it was suggested by an experienced Woodcraft Folk member.

Adapting the pendant idea from a circle or oval to leaf shape – and then pressing the shape of the silver birch leaf into it was suggested by an experienced Woodcraft Folk member.

3 TAKE TIME TO PRAISE WHAT NEEDS PRAISING
When you are working with 30 plus children – there were about 200 trying the Apple Day activity between 12-4pm, you soon notice the kids who think in a non-classroom manner. It was really noticeable that children who go to Brownies/Scouts like to follow lists so they can tick off tasks and earn their badges. The ones who go to Woodcraft Folk, even very young children, are skilled at using nature to inspire their art and can also tie knots. As lots of children are quite shy to have a go their parents will step in. This seems a shame, so I try to let the kids make their own art by suggesting their mum/dad does their own pendant. It seems to work and it’s nice for the kids to see that you don’t have to stop being artistic when you leave school.

Over to you
Hope these tips help encourage you to run your own local park or street party event with kids’ activities. Let me know what games work well for Autumn/Winter/Outdoor activities.

 

 


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