Wednesday, 17 December 2014

Science on Sea

 Last week we went to a fantastic free interactive Science Workshop for kids organised by the Hastings Pier Charity.

Hastings Pier was burned down by arsonists a few years ago and the rebuilding effort is being paid for through fundraising by this charity, but as well as working on the pier project, they are also delivering brilliant community sessions including arts and crafts and now science.

The show was run by American born, Sussex based 'science dude' Brad Gross and was the first of a series of monthly science events.

The photos I have taken don't do justice to the activities, but it was tricky getting shots without OPCs (Other People's Children) in the picture.  For better images from the event taken by the organisers follow the link from here and look at the post from the 13th December 2014.

The first part of the show was a lively interactive mixture of science concepts, mainly based around understanding our solar system and an introduction to constellations, but also with a nod to the science of the pier including weathering of the structure.  Each segment had activities for children to volunteer to take part in and lots of audience interaction.  Ollie and Toby had the chance to be planets orbiting the Sun (Ollie is Venus in the picture, Toby was Uranus).

After the first part of the show, the kids then took part in make and take away activities.  The boys had fun producing their very own star chart of the constellation of Orion with stickers and buttons and there was also a beach layering activity using breakfast cereals to try.

Brad paced the show very well for his young audience and hit that sweet spot of getting information across in a fun and memorable way to the children while at the same time making the adults laugh.  The venue was perfect too, accessible, comfortable and with panoramic views of the sea and the work in progress of the pier.

Places are limited at these free but book-ahead shows, so we'll definitely be putting our names down for future shows and hoping to get a place.  Hopefully the success of these shows will highlight the thirst for science education in the local area and we'll be seeing a lot more of these kinds of opportunities springing up in the future.

Science is fun and exciting, and the hard work of staff and volunteers preparing and delivering these kinds of events helps to spread that message to the next generation, so why not have a look to see what is already being delivered in your local area and make sure you go along to everything that you spot, because nothing says 'thank you, we want more like this' than bums on seats.

Monday, 15 December 2014

Music, art and emotional intelligence

 Using music to inspire painting is certainly not a new idea, but is something I have been wanting to incorporate into our routine for some time.  However  musical knowledge is definitely not my strong point.  I can just about fumble my way around simple guitar tunes but have only the barest awareness of classical composers and my CD collection is pretty limited in any genre.  It's a weak point I feel conscious of and I would like the boys to grow up an environment rich in music and art.

There's all sorts of educational reasons why exposure to these things are important for children's development - from shaky studies into increased IQ (don't get me started on the poor science of the study, the media extrapolation to apply it to babies, or the flaws of IQ testing in general), to links between maths ability and musical practice.  Beyond all these 'IQ boosting' claims however I think there is a far deeper reason why music and art are important.

Music and art (and maths and dance...) are important ways in which we seek to understand the world around us and communicate our feelings, ideas and knowledge.  For children, who are just starting to develop their ability to understand how they feel and express it, this exposure to and participation in art and music is particularly important.

The teacher-speak used to describe a child's ability to understand and express their emotions and display empathy for the feelings of others is 'emotional intelligence'.  For a child (or an adults) happiness and success in life emotional intelligence is just as important, of not more so, than traditionally measured academic intelligence.

The activity we did today is extremely easy to replicate.  You will need music, something to play it on, and something to create a piece of art with - collage, paint, crayons it doesn't matter and you could vary the media you use each time you do the activity.

Finding a good piece of music was a stumbling block for me. I knew I wanted something more atmospheric and different in feel to the usual cheery acoustic stuff I listen to, probably something more classical in style, but my previously mentioned lack of awareness of composers left me a bit stumped where to start.

Enter the perfectly timed offer of a CD to review.  The CD, by British composer Lydia Kakabadse was everything I could have wanted for this project and more.  With a diverse cultural heritage herself, this composer has created an album with a range of different influences including Middle Eastern and Russian, which is perfect as it produces a distinctive and mysterious-sounding set of pieces which are just right for inspiring young imaginations.  The album, titled 'The Phantom Listeners' provided a number of different pieces to inspire us and each came with a useful guide in the CD booklet which explained what the piece was about and enabled me to get to grips with descriptions I could use to tell the boys a little about each piece.

We started with a piece called 'The Mermaid' based on a story written by the composer and narrated by the rich voice of Kit Hesketh-Harvey (who you may have heard of for his musical satire 'Kit and the Widow' among other things).  As we listened to the story and the music the boys drew their interpretation of what they heard, and I asked them to tell me about what they were drawing and about how the characters felt.

Ollie drew a very mournful-looking mermaid trapped in the net of a rather scary looking grinning pirate.  In Ollie's words 'the pirate is happy because he can sell the mermaid and get more treasure, the mermaid is sad because she misses her friends and will die away from the water'.  (The hand outline above the boat is a jellyfish, just because Ollie fancied drawing one).

 Toby's picture looks like random swirls, but when asked to tell me about it he told me 'here an island, here a mermaid, here a pirate, here an octopus, here a sea monster' when I asked him if the mermaid was happy or sad he said 'mermaid is sad'.  Ollie adapted his picture as the story unfolded, changing the mermaid's expression and eventually scribbling out the whole picture.  It's important not to interfere too much with what your child produces during an activity like this, if they get stuck for ideas you can try leading questions like 'how does the pirate feel'  or 'does this music make you think about castles or aeroplanes' but if your child wants to make the sky pink, or scribble the face off a character, it's their picture, let them.  I like to take picture as the boys create things so that if they decide to paint it out or scrunch it up, I still have the steps before they did that as a record.

 Some of the next songs had no words and were initially trickier for Ollie to respond to, so I started him off by drawing a happy face and a sad face and asking him to point to the face that was the same as the music.  He picked the happy face and then started to draw and tell me a story about how the naughty pirates were now all locked up in a dungeon at a castle.  He said there were twenty pirates and they were angry because they were trapped and they kept trying to fight their way out of the dungeon.
Interestingly, Toby at this point wanted to climb up onto my knee and drew a castle of his own, this time with a monster locked away in it - he drew lines to represent a cage.  Toby has been worried at night about monsters for the last few weeks after reading the book of the film 'Monsters University', so this seemed to be a therapeutic way he could share his fears and deal with them by locking away the monster. He went on to ask me to draw more monsters for him to 'put in cage' and a picture of him holding the key outside the castle 'so they no get out'.

Art, like play, is a really good way for children to express, think about and deal with their emotions and worries.  Having a strong set of music tracks like the ones on this CD was a really good way to encourage thoughts about sadness or being scared so that the boys could process their feelings in the light of day and in a safe environment and hopefully will be less troubled by them at bedtime.

The boys are already used to listening to storytellers so the mixture of spoken fables and atmospheric music on this CD was a great way to bridge the gap into a new area for us.  Hopefully it will lead on to finding out about other contemporary composers.  I'm a CD fan as it's less faffing about than digital music, but if you're less of a dinosaur than me you can also download this as an MP3.  Click on the image of the CD to find out more and listen to samples.

Note: I got the CD for free to try out, but opinions, ideas and pirate drawing boys are all mine.

Friday, 12 December 2014

Watch the weather

Changes from one season to the next make a great opportunity to introduce simple weather observations to young children.  I chose just four weather types, but you could expand on this as you increase complexity.

 My aim for this activity is to get the kids used to thinking about what is happening in the world around them, so we pause for a moment before we head out of the door to look at what the weather is like.  They can then start making decisions for themselves about what clothing and shoes are needed (if I think they have made a wrong decision I stuff the extra layers/ boots into a bag and take them with us).

Having the chart builds littlest's vocabulary and adds to eldest's acquisition of sight words.  I wasn't expecting the squabbling between the kids that resulted however as Ollie wanted to put the pointer on the actual weather while Toby kept putting it on the hoped for weather (always snow).  The pointer is attached with bluetack, but one of those split pins that lets you twirl things round would be better if you have one.  The chart is just paint on card, but it would benefit from being covered with sticky-back plastic to preserve it (mine is A3 so won't fit through my laminator).

Toby wanted another chart for his play house, so I quickly knocked up another one using a paper plate.  I also made a clock on a plate, with hands bluetacked on, for the playhouse.

We're already getting questions from Ollie about why we have the weather we have, so in the new year we will start looking at the natural processes behind the weather, starting with rain and snow since he already is familiar with concepts such as evaporation, condensation and freezing.

This was a little quick thing I knocked up, but an even better learning opportunity would be to help your little ones to craft their own.  There's certainly no lack of changeable weather in the UK at the moment to inspire them, with warm sunshine one day and freezing cold sleet the next!

Wednesday, 10 December 2014

Amberley Museum and Heritage Centre

 Have you ever wanted to ride on a steam train, stream tractor, double decker bus and a fire engine complete with sirens?  Have you ever wanted to do all those things in one day?  Well, my sister in law introduced us to the place you can do all those things when she organised our annual Christmas get together.

Sixteen of us descended on Amberley Museum near Arundel (West Sussex) on Sunday and had a fantastic day riding the engines, playing with the hands-on exhibits, trying out the crafts, enjoying a meal in the cafe and even a visit to Father Christmas.  We were especially impressed that the kids who were 2 years or older were allowed to participate in a one-to-one wood turning session to produce their own Christmas decoration.  My two made a snowman and an elf, which now have pride of place on our tree.  They also really enjoyed being helped to produce a personalised 'Santa please stop here' sign at the printers and trying out all the different plug styles that were in use in Britain before standardisation.  

 The center is largely staffed by hugely knowledgeable volunteers who's dedication to kids having a fantastic experience is impressive.  This is such a brief overview of what is on offer it doesn't really do the place justice, but I'd be here all day if  I was to try to cover everything we did that day, and even then would still miss out the things we didn't have time for that we will be returning in the future to see.

Friday, 5 December 2014

Carpentry for Christmas

A few weeks ago we took a book out of the library called 'Harvey the Carpenter' by Lars Klinting (2005).  In this lovely book the process for making a tool box is explained, along with the tools used and a plan you can use, while the story of the eponymous beaver constructing the toolbox unfolds.  The kids were really impressed.  They had been asking for tools for a while and this book fired their interest in making things from wood.  "Can we make one?" was the inevitable question. "Erm, probably" was my response.  One day while I was home sick and working on a deadline it seemed the perfect opportunity for a bit of Daddy bonding time, so the boys drew up plans for the box using CAD software, with Ollie inputting the dimensions, then they headed off to try to source the materials needed.

Finding hand tools was tough (in the case of hand drills, they aren't stocked by either Wickes or B&Q) and the wood needed wasn't found, so a truly awful piece of MDF substituted for it, but the kids were pleased with their haul of carpentry essentials.  They had fun drawing out the design onto the wood and spent a couple of hours out in the shed creating the box which was to be Ollie's.  They duly painted it his favourite colour and I varnished it for them.

Next it was the turn of Toby's toolbox, which Toby and Ollie helped me make yesterday.  In typically different approaches to things, rather than using the lovely plan they had created and measuring it out, I opted for the quicker option of drawing round things and hoping for the best.  Surprisingly the result isn't much different from the boys first box, and they certainly had a lot of fun making it, and then painting it Toby's favourite colour (he's recently graduated from pink to purple, which caused him a lot of debate when choosing the watch he wanted for Christmas - a pink one with a rainbow on it, or a purple one with a butterfly.  He eventually went for the butterfly).  I also opted for a different approach to the boys first toolbox and did everything in the kitchen, where it was warm, bright and close to the coffee pot and the radio.

What I was really impressed with was how helpful the kids were, especially when in both cases one of them knew the finished product was not for them.  Ollie persisted and completed painting the box after Toby had lost interest (and started gluing glitter to a piece of paper).  Ollie also took the dustpan and brush and cleaned up the sawdust without being asked, and both took turns in handing me nails and using the hammer and saw without squabbling.  They even filed the rough edges off the shapes without filing the kitchen furniture or each other.  Those of you with daughters may not understand how surprising these things are to a parent of small boys.

A seasoned carpenter would laugh at our wonky efforts, but it's more than just a finished product that the boys are proud of (and me too - it's a long time since I built something that wasn't flat packed).  The kids enjoyed the long period of sustained attention to something for them and with them, the shared goal of producing something together and the opportunity to take time to make a gift for each other.  Of all the bits and pieces they have asked for this Christmas (watches, extra train track, torches) I think it will be these gifts to each other that will mean the most to them.

Safety bit: use your best judgement about when your kids are ready for using sharp tools, do it with extreme and constant supervision and read safety info on paints and varnishes.  Keep tools well out of reach/locked up when not in use if there is any chance your kids will go looking for them to do a little  unsupervised DIY of their own. We painted with kids ready-made poster paint (mixed with PVA glue for the first coat), and I followed the instructions on the varnish and applied it in a well ventilated space, using gloves and well away from the kids.

Sunday, 30 November 2014

Silent Sunday

 Ok I know Silent Sunday is supposed to be one pic, but I liked these fungi pics too

Friday, 28 November 2014

Fit for Christmas

I don't do New Year's Resolutions to lose weight.  This is not because I don't need to lose weight, but because it's a really rubbish time of year for motivation and willpower - in the UK January is the coldest month of the year and my birthday also falls a couple of weeks after Christmas so any strict healthy eating plan would fall over as soon as the birthday cake starts calling to me.

We try to strike a balance between eating healthily and being able to enjoy treats as a treat, with the hope that this sets an example for a good relationship with food for the kids.  However, for the last couple of years in the run up to Christmas I have cut back my treats and increased my exercise in order to lose around 7lbs so I can go into the season of temptation without feeling bad every time I'm offered a mince pie or a cream drenched lump of Christmas pudding.  I can feel my clean eating friends wincing, but experience has shown me the limit of my will power and I'd rather end Christmas the same weight I started November than 7lbs heavier.  I'm over 3 stone lighter than I was in 2005 (42lbs) which I'm really pleased with for the benefits to my health and my wardrobe, especially given the 5 stone (70lb) I gained and lost during and after my pregnancies means a total loss during this 10 year period of 8 stone (112lb).  I don't want one season of festivity to derail this slow trend towards a healthy weight.

This year I have a new assistant in my fight against the flab. I received the stunning Ozeri Touch II digital bathroom scale last week and have been thoroughly impressed with it.  My old bathroom scales were as embarrassing as my waistline and as rusty as my joints, so to receive a good looking new set of scales was a real treat.  My old scales also only measured weight, which was useful for tracking changes and working out BMI, but so last century in terms of what we expect of modern bathroom scales.

The Ozeri bathroom scales are just as beautifully designed and well made as their other products. Ozeri made their name as a company supplying luxury hotel apartments, relying on the quality of the products to sell themselves to the visitors on these exclusive club holidays.  Now they have brought the same quality and design to the general market. According to their website they are the first manufacturer to champion the use of Microban antibacterial coating on bathroom scales, so they will remain hygienic and fresh smelling even if the feet standing on them are not.

The new scales are accurate to the scale of ounces (or grams if you prefer) which I tested by weighing myself, then stepping on again holding a 7 ounce bowl which I had previously weighed on my kitchen scales.  They also measure the percentage of body fat, water and muscle, plus give an estimate of bone weight.  A handy guide booklet is provided to look up what a healthy level of each is considered to be.  This was the bit I really liked - although my BMI puts me in the obese band, the measurement of my body fat (37.5% on my first weigh-in) dropped me into the next band of 'overweight' rather than obese. I could see from the scales that I was dehydrated, that I need to increase my muscle mass a little, but that my bone weight is almost double the minimum considered healthy for my weight band.  I am genuinely heavy boned (although undeniably also heavy fatted).

Curiously, it showed that Matt, who is from a visual inspection just perfect, is actually further below his minimum healthy muscle level than I am,  My days of running around after busy little lads who often want a carry home afterwards must be better for the muscle mass than working in an office, although since he is 2 stones lighter than me and has less than half as much body fat by percentage, I don't think he's too worried.

The scales are also useful for weighing the boys every so often for their growth charts.  Although this is something I don't worry about it's nice when the numbers confirm the evidence of my eyes that the boys are growing up strong and healthy and following their expected growth curves.  For much older children the other measurement functions can also be used.

The extra information from these elegant high tempered glass scales is now forming the basis of my plan of action to shift those pre-Christmas pounds.  I can see that I need to increase my hydration, so have started drinking an extra 2 pints of water a day, split into 4 servings.  I need to increase my muscle mass a little, so will ramp up the weight bearing exercise to include an extra run on the sea front with the kids as soon as I shift the cold I picked up from them. This will also help to maintain my healthy bone density.  Perhaps I should follow Toby's lead by finding the heaviest stones on the beach to throw in the sea to tone my arms and increase lean muscle there. I will also continue to resist the post-study late-night toast cravings.

So far in the week since receiving the scales and implementing just the extra water and toast reduction elements of my plan I have lost 2lb 4oz, and a little over half a percent of my body fat, plus have increased my percentage water by 2%.  Interestingly, after just a few days of reduced activity due to my cold I could also see my muscle decreasing - down by 1% in a very rapid space of time, emphasizing the importance of daily exercise.  The scales have a feature I have never seen before too - when you set your initial details such as height, age and gender you can also select the option 'male athlete' or 'female athlete' - a great addition as I'm sure folk who are more muscular than the average person get annoyed by having a high BMI when they know that they are heavier but not overweight.

For my own health as well as to provide the kids with a good role model who is able to keep up with them as they grow taller and faster I am glad of this extra boost to the healthy plan.  I have measured myself every day this week as part of my trial of the product, but from here on in I will be stepping on less regularly and enjoying the weekly treat of seeing muscle go up and fat go down.  For all those amazing folk out there who enjoy stronger will power than me and do head into January with good resolutions, this set of scales would be a good present to yourself for Christmas.

Note: I received the scales for free in order to review them, but opinions given, embarrassingly high body fat stated and gorgeous cheeky boys are all my own.  I just had a look on Amazon and the scales are currently (28/11/14) on sale at 57% off and have free delivery.

Friday, 21 November 2014

Learning at the zoo

We are very fortunate to have a wonderful gift from my in-laws each year - membership of our local zoo.  Drusillas would be hideously expensive if we weren't members, but with that precious plastic membership card we can go several times a year, usually at least once a month.

The learning opportunities this presents changes as the boys grow.  What started out as a lovely place to see small zoo animals and pets, with a Thomas ride and a great adventure play park, has grown into a place to explore geography, habitats and adaptations.

On our visit yesterday we addressed the following themes:

  • Geography and habitat: looking at the maps on the information boards for each animal and talking about where it lived and what it's habitat was
  • Adaptations of feet to animal's lifestyle, e.g. how the rhinoceros iguana had sharp claws for climbing, the monkeys had dexterous hands and feet for climbing and handling food, the meerkats paws were adapted for digging
  • Adaptations of eye orientation depending on whether the animal was a predator or a prey species - eyes in front for predators and on the sides of the head for prey species who need to see a predator creeping up behind them
  • Fur adaptation - Ollie was curious when stroking a pygmy goat why it had soft fur near it's skin and wiry fur on the outside, so we talked about properties of fur and feathers such as insulation and waterproofing
  • Adaptations of tails for balance and climbing as in the monkeys, and for communication in the ring tailed lemurs who use a combination of boldly contrasting banding on the tail and scents applied to it to communicate as they hold their tails up vertically as they walk along.
  • Animal's diet - exploring what each animal ate, how it was similar or different to us and any adaptations to that diet, for example there is a nice model of a cow's teeth and digestive system at the zoo.  We also talked about how the flamingo's diet of shrimps contains carotenoid pigments, similar to those that give carrots their orange colour, and that the flamingo stores these in it's feathers, turning them pink.
  • Animal sizes, Toby liked shouting biggest and smallest answering questions about the cut out models of the world's biggest and smallest pig species for example.
  • Camouflage and warning - we looked at different examples of animal colouring including the well camouflaged stick insects versus the warning colours of the corn snake (mimicking a venomous species).
Some of these topics I am familiar with because I am by original training an environmental biologist, and by inclination a naturalist, but even if I had walked in off the street with no pre-existing knowledge the interpretation boards for each animal give a huge amount of information which can be shared with children, in addition to the important skill of just carefully watching and listening to the animal (and in a few cases even touching them).

We didn't walk around with a clipboard of questions to answer, but this was as sure an educational trip as any you might go on with school, where kids rush to fill in their booklet so they can dive into the gift shop.  The principles of stop, look, think, question, discuss, read, listen, explore are important ones to gently guide children into, with which every trip becomes a more interesting one, stimulating ideas and knowledge.  Plus at the end we spent the afternoon in the play park climbing and sliding and jumping, so that's got to tick the 'physical activity in an outside space' box that kids of the age mine are probably need more than all the rest of it.

So well done Toby, for insisting yesterday morning 'we go zoo today, we see mammals and ride on Thomas' ('mammals' is how he says 'animals' - it made me chuckle that he was being apparently anti-bird when we were watching the penguins and he dragged us away saying 'no more penguin, we see more mammals now').  Especially since now I'm stuck home today with a stinking cold and a deadline looming for an assignment on seawater.

Tuesday, 18 November 2014

How to introduce sight reading high frequency words

There are two main techniques by which children learn to read.  The first is one which anyone who learned to read before the 1970s will be most familiar with -  'sight reading'.  This is the technique by which children acquire reading skills by, for example, being read to by an adult who is running their finger along under the word. The child starts to assign meaning to the shape of the whole word by seeing it at the same time as hearing it, or by looking at books with the word under a picture e.g. first alphabet books with 'A is for apple' and so on.

The second technique familiar to younger generations is that of 'synthetic phonics', where letters are pronounced as letter sounds 'a' for example is 'ah' not 'ay' and children are taught to 'sound out' as they go 'cuh, ah, tuh says cat' and then progress to learning combined sounds for example 'tuh and huh says thu' (I haven't written this quite correctly as the long 'tuh' pronunciation isn't used, it is a much shorter sound, but I use it here so you don't read it as 'tee').  This is useful for basic words and for teaching in large groups, and has fans and critics in almost equal measure.  The critics have a point in that English is a largely non-phonetic language - consider for example the pronunciations of the 'ough' combination of letters: 'dough' (dohw), 'tough' (tuff) and many others.  Phonics is generally useful however, and this is the method by which school children are taught to start with.  

Even if phonics is used early on, at some point children need to move on to sight reading, for the sake of speed and the comprehension of a text that can only come with a fluid pace of reading.  The first words which children need to learn to sight read are generally what are known as 'high frequency words', i.e. those that crop up over and over again, and which often also fall into the category of 'tricky words' because they are hard to sound out phonetically.  The word 'the' is a perfect example.  Pure repetition is generally the way these words are learned, which can often be very time consuming and if done through pages of the same word written over and over, or through flashcards, is disengaging to young readers through it's sheer boredom factor.

This is where a former teachers great company Love2Read comes in with an ideal solution.  By choosing from a variety of topics such as 'I love...', inserting your own family photos and writing a short line of text below the photos, children have their very own reading book which they will come back to time and time again because the topic material is personal to them. They are able to link the written words to the images they love, and repetition of such a book is a joy rather than a bore.

 We chose the title 'memories of 2014' but there was a wide range of other ideas, such as producing a book about a family member, or a holiday, or your own creation entirely.  The website was really simple to use and gave clear instructions for each easy step.

The amount of text you can write beneath each picture is quite limited, which is perfect because it keeps you on track in making simple descriptions to assist you child's reading, rather than getting carried away and producing an essay.  When the book arrived we were really pleased with the good quality glossy finish and the size, which was ideal for small hands but large enough to be able to clearly see the text and pictures.  The boys were hugely excited to see themselves in print in a real book just for them, and especially so as it coincidentally arrived just in time for Ollie's 5th birthday.  As well as being a wonderful gift to produce yourself, you can even buy gift vouchers to give an opportunity to someone special in your life to make their own book.

I have no doubt that this resource is going to contribute greatly to our learning adventure, as well as being a lovely reference to help remember this time in our lives.

Note: this post includes a review of Love2Read and their lovely book, which we received for free in order to review it, but opinions given and cheeky Tigers are all my own.

Thursday, 13 November 2014

Why do people home educate their children?

I've previously talked about our own reasons to home educate, but I have recently been following a number of conversations on home education forums where the issue of 'why' has been discussed at great length and I thought it would be interesting to set out the main reasons given.  Many families home educate because they feel that this is a lovely time they want to share with their children, but others are pushed out of the mainstream by a whole host of perceived problems.  This article is very much looking at the negative reasons for the choices, I know this does a disservice to the many positive reasons why people choose to educate at school or at home, and I can only apologise for that and promise a more positive article in future.  Since this is all drawn from recent discussions on the forums, the reasons were however by far weighted towards the negative reasons, and so this is what I am reflecting here.

By far the largest response to the question 'why do you home educate' was lack of special educational needs provision in schools, lack of good training of teachers in this area and children suffering as a result of it.  The needs were wide ranging, including life limiting progressive conditions, frequent illnesses, conditions such as diabetes, physical needs, emotional issues and 'ADD'.  The most frequent need quoted that was not dealt with well in school was regarding children on the Autistic Spectrum, with large classrooms, large schools and poor teacher training being given as the main issues.  There were stories of children being battered and bruised by being physically restrained during rages brought on by the unsuitable environment, and of parents being treated like the problem rather than partners in their child's education.  A particularly worrying lack seemed to be in staff's awareness of children's illnesses.  This is something I experienced myself as a teacher - the parents would carefully fill out all the health information when they registered the child, which was available in a file in an office for the form tutor to note down, but the information wasn't given to subject teachers and cover teachers were particularly in the dark - an issue I raised several times.  The solutions to these problems would include simply better staff training with SEN being a core subject during teacher training rather than just an option, but my old bugbear of schools and classes being too big are an issue here too.

This is a shame because when schools are properly set up and run for inclusiveness or as specialist schools they are a fantastic environment to provide children with an individualised plan to support their educational, emotional and social development and work in partnership with parents to provide strategies that can be used at home to support the child's progress.  It can be done well, but the hundreds of families pushed into home education who had intended to have their children educated at school is testament to the lack of provision and understanding in this area.

The second largest area of concern was bullying.  Gone are the days when a child would be expelled for assaulting another child.  Now schools are judged on retention, paid bonuses for taking violent children expelled from other schools and issues of behaviour management are firmly in the classroom teachers area of responsibility rather than that of the family or the senior management.  The bullying I experienced at primary school - the name calling, silent treatment, exclusion - made me miserable enough, but the bullying of today goes far beyond this.  Children are being home educated after being subjected to nothing less than daily torture, with beatings and physical violence such as being stabbed with compasses and slammed into desks being commonly reported.  'Cyberbullying' was also mentioned, with children receiving vicious abuse, even death threats, and having their torment in school filmed and put on the internet.  A friend who teaches recently brought to my attention the phenomenon of 'banter' where every verbal or physical assault challenged by a teacher is met with a shrug of the shoulders and the recommendation that the teacher 'calms down - it's only banter'.  In some cases the teachers themselves were the bullies, with constant criticism and sarcasm being used.  Children as young as 5 were stated as having been withdrawn from school because they were depressed, self harming, talking about wanting to be dead.  Parents talked about having spent years repairing the damage and getting their children back to the happy, confident, keen learners they had dropped off at the school gates at 4 years old.

This seems an insane situation, where the quiet studious kids are forced out of schools and the education they crave because the bullies who have no intention of opening a book are the ones who are pandered to, rewarded and praised.  Every child has the right to an education in safety, whether at home or at school and as much as I believe every child can be supported to behave in a considerate way, our current school system doesn't seem to foster that.  It is undoubted that many of the bullies are victims in their own right - perhaps of neglect, disinterested parents, abuse at home, but this does not give any child the right to make the lives of other children a misery.

The age of school entry was a third large reason, with many parents stating their belief that 4 was far too young to start school, especially for the summer born children who were closer to 4 than 5 when they start full days in September. A few schools, at the discretion of the head, still offer settling in terms of part days, but this is increasingly uncommon.  Even 5 is felt to be too young by many, with the trend for starting formal education at 7 in the countries with the best standards for literacy and numeracy in Europe being given as proof of this.  Daily homework was a complaint, especially in light of research which shows that it actually damaged young children's learning.  Restricted movement and opportunities to spend time playing and being outside was also a concern of parents with primary aged children.  Age structuring of classes was also mentioned, in that in no other place would you expect to spend all your time with people the same age as you - in social situations and in the workplace you have friends and colleagues of every age.  The one size fit all approach is a concern, both in terms of what children should be achieving and who they mix with - we all know 6 year olds who are happier in the company of smaller children, and others who prefer to make friends with older kids and adults.

Bright kids were another group that were commonly home educated - 'my child was told they were naughty, but they were bored because they had done everything'.  What do many overstretched teachers do with a bright kid who has finished their page of sums?  They give them another page of the same kind of things - an approach that can make kids feel like they are being punished for being quick.  What do they do to the child who always has his hand up to answer questions?  They ridicule them by using 'that tone of voice' to say that there are actually other children in the class, always pick them last to answer, make them feel like a nuisance.  All things that can be avoided by decent teacher training and providing support with differentiated lesson planning and questioning techniques.

Another concern was that children were not having their basic needs met - not being allowed to go to the toilet as needed, not having access to water, being hungry.  Hassle from schools over children needing to be home ill from school was mentioned - including the recent instructions to parents in Wales of the list of conditions that the child should not be kept home from school with, including glandular fever!  With my own little ones poorly this week, I was certainly glad that I didn't have to phone them in sick to school and nursery while trying to get a doctors appointment at the same time.  I'm also glad that with Toby having been on a nebuliser twice, and prescribed antibiotics, steroids and an inhaler I didn't have to drag him out in the rain to take Ollie (who also had a cold) to school.  Being educated at home gives the kids permission to be ill, to recover properly, to go to the park for some air in the afternoon if they feel better without worrying about being spotted out and about having been taken out of school sick.

None of this is intended as a slur against teachers, this is just an overview of the most common reasons why kids were taken out of school, or never sent.  The over riding theme was that the children were miserable and failing to thrive.  My own opinion is that since our national wellbeing and economic success in the future depends on these children that are being made so miserable at school, it should be an absolute priority to provide safe, inclusive, academically and socially good schools for those who want the option.  Class sizes should be capped at 20 to give teachers the chance to actually get to know their students, provide for their individual needs and mark properly (tick and flick marking gathers data, it does not support learning), schools should be small enough that the Head knows every child (I've worked at a big school were the Head didn't even know the names of the rapidly turning over staff, never mind the kids, a big difference to the schools I attended where the Head greeted each of us by name), violence should never be tolerated, teachers should feel valued, have good training, including in special educational needs of all kinds such as supporting educationally high potential students and those with statemented issues, and they should be allowed to offer a wide curriculum with literacy and numeracy integrated into creative and investigative projects,

Even if every school was a safe, welcoming environment there would still be lots of families choosing to home educate, and I don't want to give the impression that home education is a 'second best' always chosen by families with no other choice.  However, there do seem to be an increasing wave of families voting with their feet because they can't bear to see their children suffering and this is not fair to anyone.  Since it costs the Government around £6,000 per year to educate each child at school, I'm not sure that they have the will to reverse the trend for home education, especially in light of new research that shows how well home educated children do academically and how they contribute to the workforce and society as adults.  In one study in Canada I read about for example it was found that not one adult who had been home educated was claiming social security benefits, and the percentage of the population who participated in weekly social and sports clubs was far higher in adults who had been home educated.

This all sounds as if I'm very anti-school - I'm not.  The right school, with the right staff, can be an amazing place for learning and growing, and many schools are trying their best to put children first despite all the restrictions and counterproductive initiatives thrown at them.  I'm also not anti home education - it's not always something forced on people, and when it is for the vast majority it is in the end the best outcome for the children involved.  I'd just like to know that every family has a genuine choice between the different and equally good forms of education.

Friday, 7 November 2014

Little engineers - how to make a junk robot toy

I have written before about the shortage of STEM (Science Technology Engineering and Maths) graduates in the UK.  I think a great deal of the reason that people don't choose to study these subjects is partly because they are perceived as hard, but also there is a perception that they are boring.

This image of these subjects as hard and boring can overcome if you get to the roots of what a scientist is - an adult who never lost the curiosity in the world that a child has before they get indoctrinated to learn 'old facts' and not ask questions.  There is also the problem that most people don't know what people in these professions actually do - I'm studying Oceanography as part of my degree - currently a section on seawater, and was surprised that by funny coincidence this happens to be what Matt is studying as part of his Masters degree in Engineering.

There is an additional problem now in UK schools in that
children are underdeveloped in certain areas including those to do with
volumes, weights, measures and strengths because they increasingly have no contact with real objects in their play.  Children know how to swish a screen, but have no idea how to make a model that balances without falling over, or make estimates on whether a thing will be heavy or light, weak or strong.  According to a lady I talked to in the summer who gathers information on such things, a growing number of children are now what would have been classed as 'developmentally delayed' in the 70's because they lack such instincts.  Kids are afraid to try things out because they lack the confidence that would normally come from the repetitive play of childhood - handling objects, pouring liquids, building things.

As usual the answer isn't rocket science (pun intended), it's play with real objects.  We have a long history in the UK (and as a species) of inventing things by tinkering about with materials, and this is at the heart of helping your child to develop their creative and scientific abilities.

 The process is really simple - start with a problem that you want to overcome (plus a box full of junk such as old cereal packets, and some glue and tape).  In our case Ollie's problem was that he didn't want Daddy to go to work because he wanted him to stay home and build a tower with him.  The solution he came up with was to invent a robot that could go to work and do Daddy's job for him.  The boys worked cooperatively to put their robot together - Ollie in charge of the tape dispenser because Toby always loses the end of the tape, Toby in charge of putting tape everywhere.  They quickly found that one off-center leg caused the robot to topple over, so they had to find another box the same size to give the robot two legs.  Likewise with the arms - when they tried a big box for an arm the robot fell over, so cardboard tubes were used instead.  The last balancing lesson came with the head - sticking a box to the front unbalanced the robot, so an egg box on the top was decided on.

When happy with the shape, Ollie then pointed out that the robot needed to be metal, so I brought out the foil and the boys wrapped their robot.  Ollie wanted to know how we could be tearing metal since metal is strong, so we talked about how the strength of a material is relative to it's thickness.  He then wanted to know how it was made, so we had a quick search for a video of it being made - there's a great show 'How it's made' which has lots of episodes on YouTube - I searched 'How it's made Aluminium Foil' and quickly found a video showing how the big block of Aluminium had impurities removed, then was solidified again, the block of pure aluminium was then sent many times through heated rollers which pressed it to 5mm, before it was sent through cold rollers which pressed it to the very thin final product.

The final stage of the robot was to make it move and think, but Ollie conceded that he would have to do that bit later when he was 'a bit older and bigger'.

If you look at the actual skills involved though in this simple creative play session it's impressive what kids this age achieve.  They have worked cooperatively and with a high degree of perseverance to produce a toy that looks the way they want and can stand up without falling over - the ability to make an object balance requires an understanding of weight, shape and forces (even if they wouldn't know by these terms that this is what they know).  When something didn't work they searched for a solution both by trial and error and by using their existing knowledge from previous play.  They used their imagination to visualize what they thought a robot should look like, then tried things out until they found a configuration that both looked like their imagined robot and was structurally strong enough to play with.  They researched materials.  They even seemed to understand that this was a prototype and would require further development when they had greater knowledge and skills in the future.  This is no different to what a design engineer or a host of other STEM professionals do in their jobs.

I've chucked a lot of analytic words at describing what they were doing, not to look like I'm over analysing every element of children's play but rather to give an idea of the fact that play is science, and science is play, so lets raise kids who are confident tinkerers and understand that STEM careers are just as fun and accessible to them as any of the other fantastic professions they could aspire to.

Friday, 31 October 2014

'Mum can I write that down?' - how to help kids enjoy writing

 Looking at the forums, one of the most common complaints of parents is that their children 'hate writing' and treat writing practice as some kind of punishment.  If you look at how writing is traditionally taught I can understand how so many children get turned off to the fun of writing.  It can start when children who lack the strength and fine motor skills (which should be built up by climbing and playing with bricks) are handed a pencil and expected to hold it correctly.  If kids aren't ready for writing then it can be physically painful to them - not a great start to encouraging a healthy relationship with a new skill.

Many kids aren't developmentally ready until as old as 7, and the rise of tech-based indoor play means that even older kids are only capable of swishing a screen with a finger and find anything else uncomfortable.  So with reluctant writers the first question is how can you support their development so that holding a pencil is comfortable - the answer is play, with real objects to hold and manipulate, and plenty of climbing to build up strong hand muscles.  Plenty of drawing is a great way to build up confidence with a pencil too.

 When they can hold a pencil comfortably, and know their letters, using writing as a practical skill with an obvious reason to do it is far more engaging than just writing long lists of copied letters and words.  The activity we did last weekend was a good example of how to make writing a relevant skill.  The boys wanted to make biscuits and rather than using the teeny writing in the recipe books we looked up a simple recipe on the internet using our android tablet computer because this gives us the option of zooming in on the bit we want.  Ollie then copied out the recipe "so that we don't get food on the computer"and the boys made their biscuits together.

We then decided the recipe worked so well we needed to keep it, so Ollie made a recipe card.  Matt drew a border and some lines and held the cookie cutter shape for Ollie to draw around.  Ollie then painted it in and copied the recipe onto the lines below (I added in a few bits as by now he was starting to get ready to move on to the next game and there's a balance to be found between encouraging perseverance and not discouraging by insisting on finishing a task when it doesn't really matter).  Ollie very proudly pinned his recipe card to the fridge with a magnet and off he went to play.

I'm not saying there is no place for handwriting practice as it is a way to encourage legible writing, but the prime aim of writing should not be forgotten - to record and communicate information and ideas.  Also, having said that many kids aren't ready for writing until 7, I don't believe in holding kids back who are capable and eager either.  Children are individuals and are ready for things at different times.  Ollie is writing pretty well at 4 (almost 5), who knows if Toby will be the same, I just hope that we can keep learning as fun as it is now so that they never lose the joy they have in it.  They certainly will never be given lines to write out as a punishment!

Thursday, 23 October 2014

Toyvalanche? Time to have a pre-Christmas clear out

Lots of savvy parents have already realised that the 'toys' that kids play with the most are cardboard boxes, household junk, everyday items and 'things they shouldn't be playing with' such as reconstructing the sofa as a mountain and slide.  With the exception of a few bought toys that have endless facination such as wooden train tracks, building blocks and musical instruments, lots of toys end up barely touched.  Part of the reason for this may be sheer overwhelm - if you are faced with hundreds of 'things', each individual item loses value to you.

The time it really becomes apparent that a toy cull is needed is when, having got the kids to put everything in the toy box so you can vacuum, all their good work is undone by the 'toyvalanche' as the overloaded box spills out back all over the floor.

Some of this is solved by regular sort outs - a box for tracks, a box for cars, a box for bricks, a box for animals and so on, all stored on a bookcase so you can cycle the toys around and not have everything jumbled together all at once.

Even so, with birthdays and Christmas looming there comes a time when enough is enough and it's necessary to pass on, donate or even sell off some of the hoard.  How you go about it will depend on the age of your kids and how attached they are to the things.

I tried to cull the toys in the summer, but kept the bag in a wardrobe in case they were missed.  It turned out that at that point the boys weren't ready to part with their old toys.  So we have tried again - this time I asked the boys to pick out anything they thought was a 'baby toy' that they were too 'big boy' for, watching their cues to see if they had any particular reluctance over a certain toy - no soft toys made it into the give away bag.  We decided together on the places we would give the toys to - Ollie decided the gymnastics waiting room and creche were a good plan as other kids could share the toys but they would still be able to play with them sometimes.  When the time came, Toby retrieved one toy, but the rest of the toys and books were happily left behind.  Phew!

There's also an interesting link between toy overwhelm and behaviour  - I read about a family that vastly reduced their son's diagnosed ADHD by working at home and with his teachers to declutter the areas he was in, repainting in calm colours, ditching most of the toys, and also addressing his diet and activities.  They managed to turn things around so much that he avoided being put on Ritalin.

It can feel almost cruel giving away toys and books, but is it any crueler than the obscenity of some kids having a floor that is invisible under toys while others down the street have nothing?  Neither situation benefits the children involved.  Sneaking toys away is an option for those who are really going to have trouble with possessive kids, but I'm hoping that the way we have done it means that our little ones will grow up with the idea that it's good to share a bounty, and that others can enjoy the things they've outgrown.  I know this is already an annual routine in most homes.  However they will see it as being unfair if it's only ever them giving things away, so it's time to hit the wardrobe too and set a good example by passing on that pretty dress that is never going to get worn by me ...

Tips for decluttering toys:

  • Take time to sort out toys regularly - at least once a month - so that you can clean them, dispose of any broken ones, match up parts of toys, games and puzzles
  • Separate toys into boxes with themes, e.g. building bricks and stack onto a bookcase.  Keep puzzles and toys like games with lots of little bits in a cupboard or on a high shelf and put back when finished with for the day.
  • Keep a bag in the wardrobe that you can add outgrown toys to - if a toy in the bag hasn't been asked for within a few weeks you're probably in the clear for passing it on
  • Ask children which toys they feel they have outgrown - try to make them part of the process
  • Many families find a 'one in, one out' rule works to keep on top of toy clutter.
  • Give children options for where their old toys will go - the more they understand the toy's new home the happier they will be 'for Fred's new baby sister to love' will go down better than an unknown destination where they may worry their toy won't be cared for.
  • Only pass on toys you'd be happy to receive - give everything a clean and a check over before it goes.
Best of luck - we've made a good start but there's certainly more to be done in our house!

Wednesday, 22 October 2014

Kids, ducks and Autumn leaves

Last Saturday we took advantage of the Autumn sunshine and unusually warm weather to take a trip out to Bentley Wildfowl and Motor Museum near Ringmer in east Sussex.

This place is fantastic for kids.  There is a miniature railway that you can take a ride on, with Stations at strategic places around the site.  There is a collection of classic cars and motorbikes which even includes the impressively creepy Hearse used in the original Dracula film which was found in a barn, restored in the 1960s and is now used by a local funeral company.

The gardens are pretty, there is a house to walk
 through with a huge collection of waterfowl paintings, and woodland to play in with examples of ancient house reconstructions.  Best of all for my boys though (apart from the railway) is the amazing collection of wildfowl which you can feed with grain bought from the gift shop.  There are about 147 varieties of wildfowl in the world (ducks, geese and swans), of which 125 are found at Bentley.  The collection was built up by the former owners, who gifted the core of the estate to the people of East Sussex when they died.  My favourites are the Hawaiian Geese, which were nearly extinct until a breeding program brought them back from the edge.  Hundreds of the geese bred at WWT sites including Slimbridge and Arundel, plus those raised at Bentley, have been returned to Hawaii helping to bolster their numbers in there home country.

After a happy day of feeding the ducks and geese, riding on the train, enjoying a cup of tea in the cafe and admiring the house and garden we finished in traditional Autumn style with leaf throwing (all lovely and clean as there were no doggy visitors on site).

The different types of wildfowl had interpretation panels explaining about their habitat, where they came from and so on which provided a good opportunity to explore different species and look at world geography and habitats, but most importantly this was a lovely hands on opportunity to enjoy  tame birds that fed happily from the boys hands, or around their feet, a very special experience for all of us.

Notes: the site is wheelchair and pushchair accessible for the most part.  Guide dogs are allowed around most of the site but not in the wildfowl walk.  There are toilets, a disabled toilet and baby changing facilities.  Parking is ample.  Hand sanitizer is provided as you exit the waterfowl walk, but I would recommend heading up to the toilets after you have finished with the birds to wash little ones a hands with soap and water.  There are picnic benches in the play area and there is also a cafe and a gift shop.

Friday, 17 October 2014

Our outdoor classroom

 So we're nearly at the end of the first half term of our 'official' home education.  To be honest, very little has changed for us as we have always enjoyed a wide variety of educational experiences.  We do up to an hour of written work on most days using maths and literacy workbooks, but it's not all in one go.  A couple of pages after breakfast before we go out, a couple more in the afternoon when we come home, and maybe a couple more after dinner.    The workbooks probably aren't completely necessary as there is so much learning going on without them, writing labels on pictures, adding up scores in our magnetic fishing game, singing number songs and so on.  For me though the books  feel like a good way to add to our paper record of progress and both boys enjoy showing daddy what they have completed at the end of each day.  Perhaps because they see both Matt and myself studying, doing what they call home school is just a normal thing for the boys.  When I'm helping Ollie with a page from his maths book, Toby will sit next to us with his colouring book concentrating just as hard on that as Ollie does on the numbers. Yesterday Ollie was talking a bit loudly and Toby said 'Shh I doin my school work' as he sat drawing faces on his little whiteboard.  Toby also likes collecting up the work books from the kitchen table and saying 'I put on Daddy's desk now, he look later'.

What forms the backbone of our learning however, and the thing the boys most enjoy, is the outdoor learning.  This can be learning about seasons and weather as they ride their scooters through the park, or something more focused such as a bug hunt.  We are fortunate to have an amazing park a short drive away with all sorts of different habitats, lots of water ways, formal and informal flower beds and an amazing collection of trees which are often helpfully labelled.

This week Ollie wanted to go searching for water boatmen after watching about them on an episode of 'Minibeast Adventure with Jess' on Cbeebies.  We headed off to the park with out nets, the plastic yoghurt buckets that we use for all sorts of things, and a bug viewer.  On the way to the shallow muddy pond that I thought might be our best bet for finding some we did a lot of sensory exploration.  I pointed out herbs such as rosemary for the boys to smell and try to name, we spend a long time in the rose garden looking at all the different colours and sizes of roses and running around to find our favourite colours and smells of roses, then wove in and out of the bamboos listening to the noise of it rustling and making up stories about panda bears.  A heavy fall of sweet chestnuts provided an opportunity to investigate the prickly outside and soft inside of the cases, and peel some chestnuts, all of which had a little maggot munching away inside to the boys delighted interest.  We looked at the difference between the leaves on the evergreens and the falling leaves of the deciduous trees.  We talked about chlorophyll and why the leaves are changing colour.  We compared leaf shapes of the different types of oak growing along the path, the sharp points of the Pin oak, the deep lobes of the Hungarian oak, the small compact lobed leaves of our own English oak.  We compared sizes, lining up the leaves we had collected in order of size and hunting for the biggest and smallest leaves we could find.

At the pond we gently scooped up some freshwater shrimp with our nets, watched them swimming around with the bug viewer and then released them.  No water boatmen today, but perhaps it's getting too cold for them now.  The 'pond' is more of a silty bottomed scrape in the earth at the side of the path, so not the best pond dipping place, but safer with little ones than hanging over the edge of one of the bigger ponds.  We then went to a place where a shallow stream pours across the path so the boys could play with their nets and buckets - no expectation of catching anything, but the action of repeatedly scooping up and pouring out water is one which the boys really enjoy. We talked about why the rivers in the park were flowing so swiftly today - about the heavy rainfall, catchment areas and valleys, the water cycle and how the valleys were carved out.

If I were to write a lesson plan about the activities of the day I would be running into several pages of learning outcomes, including the numeracy outcomes involving shapes and sizes and the physical benefits of running and playing outside.  Whether little ones are in school or following the home education path, this type of activity is something which is accessible for every family.  It's incredibly cheap - the buckets were left over from buying yoghurt in a far cheaper way than as individual pots and an old tea strainer or sieve are a good stand in for a net if you don't have one.  Most of the activities require no equipment at all (just maybe a notepad to write down anything you couldn't answer at the time to look up later - despite a Biology degree, years of teaching outdoors and in a classroom and being well into a Geosciences degree I still get plenty of questions I have to look up at home, even if it's just because it's easier to find a video of rubber being tapped from a tree than to explain it).  The only thing you need is to really look, listen and experience things yourself so you can draw your kids attention to interesting things, and respond to them when they bring you things to look at.  You are a brilliant teacher and your kids love it.

Tuesday, 14 October 2014

Understanding kids schemas

 Unless you've got small children, or work with small children, the chances are that you have never heard of the term 'schema'.  I certainly hadn't until I started looking into why it was that Ollie as a toddler was lining up all his cars in order, grouping the same colours together or doing it in order of size.

A schema is a type of action that your child prefers to carry out and will repeat often.  It doesn't mean that is the only action they perform, just that it is something they enjoy.  Schemas are in some ways comparable to the idea of 'preferred learning style' that you may be aware of if you have, or teach, older children (for example 'she is predominantly a visual learner', or 'he has a kinaesthetic learning style').

This week we covered schemas in the PACT (parents and children together) course that I am on, so I thought it was a good time to share some of the basic ideas about what types of schema there are and how you can use knowledge about your child's preferred schema(s) to support their play.

These photos are from some of the ways Toby demonstrated one of his favourite schemas.  According to some sources, including my course on Monday, the behaviour he is demonstrating is part of the 'Trajectory' schema where children enjoy throwing things, shoving cars and balls along the floor and anything moving in straight lines, such as playing with running water.  He doesn't only do these preferred schema related activities, and as a parent it wouldn't be right for me to obsessively only provide toys and opportunities that matched this schema, but it is nice to be aware of why little ones do certain activities over and over again and consider it when I pick out activities.  Providing trajectory schema children with opportunities to play with running water, kicking balls with them, and throwing bean bags into a waste-paper basket are all ways of making a connection with them by playing in a way that they understand while at the same time helping their development.

Depending on the source you look at there are different numbers of schemas, but this nice website Nature Play gives ten examples.  This website would define the activities Toby is demonstrating as a 'Positioning' schema.  We show preferences for schemas before our first birthdays and often carry them with us into adult life - the first thing I did in my exam last week was to line up all my pens and pencils neatly on my exam desk, so perhaps I was a positioning schema fan myself as a child?

Do you have a child who likes to hang upside down from play equipment?  According to nature Play this is the 'Orientation' schema.  Objects to manipulate and opportunities to play with their whole body climbing and swinging would be things an Orientation schema child might enjoy.

I found a useful PDF free to download from an organisation called NDNA which gives examples of schemas and how to support them.  One of the schemas they refer to is 'Rotation' which is apparent in children who enjoy spinning around, turning the wheels on toy cars, playing on roundabouts.  Did you have a baby who sat watching the washing machine go round?  Then rotation might be one of their preferred schemas.  The NDNA PDF suggests providing them with lots of round objects to explore, including clocks, balls and wheeled toys.

Both my boys enjoy lining things up, but they also both enjoy moving things around - usually in a toy pram, wheelbarrow or bucket.  This is part of the 'Transportation' schema and we found that providing containers for moving things around, plus lots of small objects to put in them, made for good games.  For example playing shopping and using a basket to carry objects from one sofa (the 'shop') to the other sofa ('home').  I also use this schema to get the clean washing put away because the boys enjoy charging to and fro with socks and t-shirts to put away in their drawers, rushing back to me before I've finished folding the next item.  It helps me, but more importantly they have fun and it also supports their skill in grouping items and feeling good about being part of the running of the household.  It did backfire one time when Toby was just turned two and diverted from putting socks in his drawer to stuffing them in the toilet!

In many respects the boys have shown similar preferences in schemas, but they also have their own individual styles.  Both boys for example enjoy the 'Connections' schema, building train tracks and megablock structures, but we all found Ollie's preference of the 'disconnect' element of this schema frustrating.  Insistence that you build a train track or building for him, only for him to smash it apart so you build it again may have been a natural part of his learning, but it was also really irritating for us as adults, and devastating to Toby when he came on the scene and started demonstrating that he loved the 'connection' part, patiently building miles of tracks or amazing towers.  Fortunately as he has got older Ollie has become more constructive than destructive.  He wasn't being 'naughty', it was just he enjoyed the 'oh no, here comes a disaster' game, but nevertheless I am quite glad to see it taking a backseat to other interests.

Another schema is 'Transforming', where children enjoy watching changes.  You can support this by doing kitchen chemistry experiments such as playing with home made indicator solution and adding vinegar and bicarb to watch the colour changes (boil red cabbage and the resulting liquid is a great indicator solution), or mixing paints together to see what happens.  Even exploring an ice lolly as it melts in their mouth is a great way to demonstrate transformations.

The final two schemas on the NDNA PDF are 'Enveloping and containing' and 'Enclosing', which have similar elements.  Enveloping and containing seems to refer more to enveloping themselves - playing fancy dress or making dens for example, while enclosing is more about putting items in boxes.  These are also favourite play activities for the boys, they love to roll on the floor wrapped in a blanket, hide objects or each other under fabric, hide in the same spot over and over during hide and seek, squeeze into small spaces or repeatedly fill and empty containers.  You may see this in yourself as an adult if you like to draw boxes around the things you have written, or your favourite season is Winter because you can wrap up in layers.

As you can see from the examples of my own boys, kids do not only display one type of preferred behaviour, but they can seem to be obsessed little creatures when they do perform the same action over and over again.  In our times of over-diagnosis of behavioural abnormalities for every action that we observe I thought it was important to write about schemas however so that they can be seen to be just another normal, and in fact necessary, part of how children develop and that if you are a new parent watching your little one line up the peas on their plate they are neither a genius nor an obsessive compulsive nor autistic, they are just a little kid doing what little kids do who like the positioning schema.  And if they prefer to throw train tracks than build them, they don't have ADHD, they are just preferring the trajectory schema to the connections one.  The best we can do as parents is to get down on the floor with them and provide varied opportunities for play but perhaps with schemas in mind, such as directing the large heavy object throwing towards something equally fun but less painful such as bean bags.