Dec 172009
 
Mathematics homework

Image via Wikipedia

The twins had finished their homework, and had gone off to play. Next to me the little one struggled on valiantly, ploughing through maths, reading and several worksheets before moving on to rehearsing her lines for the upcoming school Christmas concert. She could hear her sisters playing in the next room, but was keen to keep Miss happy by getting all her homework. It was too much.

Since school restarted in September, when the little one, who’s six-years-old, got a new teacher, we’ve seen the volume of homework she brings back each afternoon increase. Now it’s reached a level that’s bordering on the ridiculous. A six year old is already tired after being at school all day. The last thing she needs when she arrives home is big chunk of homework. To her credit she does it diligently every day, except Friday, which is thankfully homework free.

As I help her with her maths, reading and writing, I can’t help thinking that enough is enough… that outside school hours the priority for young children should be to play and have fun — to learn through non-academic pursuits that expand knowledge, promote problem solving, stimulate imagination, develop spatial awareness and all those vital things that you can’t teach in a classroom. Instead they have homework, which after a long day at school leaves them mentally exhausted, tired, cranky, and almost incapable of constructive play.

Continue reading »

Nov 232009
 
Fresh vegetables are common in a healthy diet.

Image via Wikipedia

The girls came off the school bus beaming from ear-to-ear, waving little booklets at us and talking nineteen-to-the-dozen.

Their conversation… if you can call a one-directional avalanche of competing phrases tumbling from three over-excited youngsters a conversation… revolved around fruit and veg. School was introducing a new programme called Food Dudes and they explained that for the next sixteen days they would be trying different fresh fruit and veg in school, and getting “prizes” for eating it. Sure enough, the next day they came home having tried some cucumber (no challenge there then… the girls love cucumber, and regularly devour vast quantities of the stuff), and eager to show us their food dude trinket.

To date they’ve collected a wrist-band watch, a plastic drink bottle, fridge magnets, a pencil case, a pedometer, a rubber (eraser), twirly straws and other bits of paraphernalia for trying an assortment of fresh foods. They’re also keeping a food diary detailing all of the fruit and veg varieties they eat at home and at school every day for the sixteen days — which they’ve stuck on the fridge using their Food Dudes fridge magnets and fill in diligently every evening before bed.

Continue reading »

Sep 182009
 
Truancy hotline road sign.

Image via Wikipedia

I’ve been reading a lot lately about the hand-wringing and guilt parents go through when considering whether they should take children out of school to accommodate a family trip or holiday.

An article in the Times last month claimed that in the UK some 1.5 million school-days were taken for family holidays last year, 325,821 of them without the appropriate authorisation from schools.

Those are pretty big numbers… but I don’t necessarily buy the assertion that this is such a big problem.

Who, these days, can afford to take their family holiday during the school breaks… when prices for flights, ferries, accommodation, attractions and practically everything else are inflated to the max? Not to mention the fact that, if you travel in peak season (i.e. the school holidays) wherever you’re heading is bound to be crammed with throngs of tourists. Thanks but no thanks!

I can see how children bunking school without the school or their parents’ consent is a crucial issue that needs to be tackled head on, and how missing a stint during the latter years of secondary school, with exams looming, might not be the best idea in the world. But seriously, if a child is out for a week here or there during primary or early secondary school, what are they really going to miss?

Not a lot, I’d venture… and think about how much they have to gain.

Continue reading »

Sep 072009
 
Carpenter school bus
Image via Wikipedia

Column for 02/09/09

I woke up early. Outside the rain, which has been such a prominent part of this summer, pounded on the window and I decided that another five minutes under the duvet wouldn’t hurt.

When I finally surfaced the weather hadn’t improved; resigned to the fact I plodded down to the kitchen for my compulsory caffeine fix before putting the girls’ school lunches together. The mind-numbing routine of school mornings was upon us once again.

The rain kept falling as the girls had their breakfast and we checked and double checked that they had all the bags, books, pencil cases, lunches, water bottles and other paraphernalia that a new school year demands. So much for my recent prediction that the start of school would bring some long overdue sunshine. If anything it just started to rain harder.

After one last check to make sure they had everything we headed out of the house to find a flood forming outside our front gate. Just as the bus pulled up I grabbed my wellies and ferried the girls across the pooling rainwater so they could climb aboard with dry feet. I waved them a hasty goodbye and ran back indoors to dry out.

Continue reading »

Sep 022009
 
birds of the night

Image by Adam Foster | Codefor via Flickr

Column for 26/08

It’s getting darker noticeably earlier in the evenings again.

This is proper dark — not the "light obscured by banks of horrible black cloud" that has been the hallmark of a summer that simply never happened. We had one week of nice weather towards the end of June, and then the heavens opened. I know Ireland’s famous for being green, but this summer has been ridiculous.

No wonder the travel agents are seeing a surge in business. It’s enough to make anyone want to hop on a plane.

But back to the darkness…. it’s getting properly dark much earlier. Yet another reminder that we’re running out of summer with just the occasional glimpse of sunshine.

Perched out beyond the western edge of the time zone we tend to enjoy a little bit more light than our neighbours to the east (when the clouds don’t obscure it, that is). In midsummer I can be outside at 11pm and there’s still a glow in the sky to the west. It’s not light, but it’s not quite dark either — more of an elongated twilight. But despite a daylight extension courtesy of our peripheral geography, the nights are definitely starting to draw in.

Like everything else that life throws up this presents yet another dilemma for parents. With the school term literally around the corner, do you start to re-establish school-time routine and get the kids to bed earlier, or do you let them stay up later to wring every ounce of potential out of the rapidly evaporating holidays?

Continue reading »

Jun 232009
 
WASHINGTON - APRIL 17:  Pope Benedict XVI spea...

Image by Getty Images via Daylife

So the Archbishop of Dublin, Dr Diarmuid Martin, has said "it is no longer tenable" for the Catholic Church to manage 92% of all primary schools. What a revelation! And it’s taken the Church until now to work that out?

Dr Martin, of course, is furiously back-peddling, squirming to try and salvage some form of "face" in the wake of the damning Ryan Report into what it described as "endemic" child abuse by clerical institutions in Ireland, and the public backlash that has ensued both here and abroad. But there’s no face to be saved… the Church’s reputation is in tatters. Any parent worth their salt will tell you that its involvement in even 1% of our primary schools should be more than "untenable"… it should be absolutely criminal!

Those are emotive words because, quite frankly, when it comes to the safety and security of my children I am emotional!

Continue reading »

Jun 172009
 
School's Out for Summer

Image by Jagrap via Flickr

The little one was staring intently at the calendar this morning… her lips moving silently as her finger traced the days. She "shushed" me when I asked what she was doing, turned the page to the following month and kept on counting.

When she finally finished I asked her what she’d been doing. "Seeing how many days there are ’till my birthday," she said, brimming with excitement about an event that was still more than a month away. She was already making lists of who she wanted at her party, what sort of food she wanted, what games we’d play, even what she was going to wear.

That’s when it hit me… there was something coming a lot sooner than her birthday, something big that had approached under the radar and was now almost upon us. I grabbed the calendar, and the letter full of dates from where it was pinned by a magnet to the side of the fridge.

Sure enough, there it was in black and white: the kids only have two weeks left in school before they break up for the summer holidays! Two weeks… and then they’re home for more than two months.

Continue reading »

Jan 102009
 
Batt O'Keeffe
Image via Wikipedia

With the excitement of Christmas and New Year behind us the kids are gearing up to going back to school. Their partly looking forward to seeing their friends again, and partly mourning the fact that the holidays are coming to a close.

I can sympathise with them, in part because I still recall the conflicting emotions of going back to school after the Christmas break from my own childhood… but mainly because of the clash of sentiments it causes for me now as a parent.

Back to school means back to routine: getting up early, making school lunches (a personal pet peeve of mine), organising the kids, getting out of the door on time. The return to school imposes structure on the fluidity of life… and on one level that’s a good thing. At the same time structure and routine are always going to be more boring and mundane than disorder and spontaneity, and part of me riles against the conformity of it all.

But back to school they must go… and while spending lots of time with them over the holidays has been wonderful, for the most part I’ll be happy to reclaim the bulk of my working week as we head into what promises to be a very challenging year.

Talking of challenging years, I guess I should be grateful that the children have a school to go back to in 2009, given the cutbacks our esteemed Government is imposing on our education system. Faced with the cost-cutting initiatives spearheaded by Cork TD and Minister for Education, Batt O’Keeffe, financially embattled schools across the country are facing a very tough 2009 on the fiscal front, and will no doubt be looking to parents for fundraising and direct financial contributions. The Government will bail out the banks, it seems, but bailing out the schools falls to mums and dads.

I’m all for parents getting involved and raising money for schools — but for my money (if you’ll pardon the pun) such funds should surely go towards equipment, facilities and resources over and above those demanded by the standard national curriculum. Schools should be adequately funded by Government to cover all of the basics. When parents have to raise money to subsidise things like the school’s heating bill there’s something seriously wrong with the system.

Nobody questions the need to cut Government spending in the wake of the economic downturn, but the approach the Government has taken speaks volumes about the character of those we choose to lead us. When the going got tough, they  chose to target the most vulnerable in society: the very old and the very young, or to put it another way, those least likely to fight back. Of course they underestimated the backlash (they seem to underestimate most things, with the notable exception of their own competence to govern).

The irony here is that health and education are probably two of the last places a Government should look to reduce funding: the first is vital to maintaining a healthy and productive workforce today, a workforce that will help our beleaguered economy push through the recession; the second is the foundation stone on which all future prosperity will be built.

Now, Mr O’Keefe, perhaps you can explain to parents, teachers, and most of all to children, how undermining the stability of that foundation could possibly be considered a good idea.

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]
Oct 012008
 
Banknotes from all around the World donated by...

Image via Wikipedia

A new programme aimed at secondary schools is apparently going to teach our children how to budget, save and be smart with money. The programme, dubbed “Get Smart with your Money”, is a joint venture between the Money Advice and Budgeting Service and the Financial Regulator, and encourages students to explore their attitudes to money.

A “free pack”, containing a teachers manual full of activities, tips and case studies, and individual learner journals for the students, is being distributed to secondary schools around the country. The programme was officially launched last week by Minister for Social and Family Affairs, Mary Hanafin.

“Having a dedicated module on finance which helps young people to understand budgeting, planning, shopping around and how to manage their resources in order to make the most of their money is very welcome,” she said at the launch.

“Students will be able to build on their knowledge from other financial areas of the curriculum such as mathematics and business studies,” she enthused.

Given the chronic state of underfunding in our schools, both primary and secondary, and an economy that’s nose diving into the depths of recession, I can’t help but wonder if Ms Hanafin and her cabinet colleagues might benefit from a bit of fiscal training of their own….

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

Sep 042008
 

Published on in the WOW! supplement of the Evening Echo on 03 September 2008

IMG_1552 Yipee! School starts on Monday, and for the first time ever all three of the girls are going! The little one is five… and it will be her first day of “big school”. She’s all excited about it… but, truth be told, not half as excited as her Mum and Dad!

There was a time not so long ago when we were sure sending our “baby” off to school would be a heart-wrenching experience; if ever there was a time for a tear in the eye and a lump in the throat this would be it. But a long, dreary summer with three kids on top of each other in the house, constant bickering and all out sibling warfare, to be brutally honest we’ll be glad to see the school term start.

Once upon a time the first day of school used to evoke something akin to dread in the hearts of children and parents alike… but not any more. If they’re anything like ours, five year olds all over the country are positively rejoicing at the thought of their first day at “big school”. I was reading this week that the National Parents Council used to run courses for parents whose children were going to school for the first time, but they stopped them because children and schools are so much better prepared these days. There simply wasn’t the demand.

There are open days, when children and parents get to meet teachers, see classrooms and familiarise themselves with school before term starts, and improved communication between teachers, parents and children means it’s all become less of an ordeal and more of an adventure for the children.

But what about parents? If anything, the first day at school is more traumatic for them than for children today. Sending your youngest off into the big wide world without you for the first time – even if it is only the local national school – is sure to tug at the heart strings. But trust me, the prospect of a few hours of genuine peace and quiet every day is a real mitigating factor.

The twins can’t decide whether they’re looking forward to the return to school or not… but they’re more than ready for it. They’ve been wired for the last couple of weeks, which is pretty normal for the end of the holidays. Except that this year it’s been much worse… largely, I suspect, because we haven’t really had a summer. School will at least keep them occupied, and re-establish a bit of routine and order.

We’ve been talking to the little one about her transition to full time education all summer; doing our best the lay the groundwork for the coming weeks. She thinks it’s a great idea, but I’m not convinced she realises school is an all day, five days a week, week in, week out thing. Yes it will be difficult, yes there will be tears, and no doubt there will be three tired, cranky girls to contend with on their return.

But there’ll also be a mum and dad who’ve had a few child-free hours: brief respite from the constant questions, incessant demands and the childish exuberance and boundless energy that, while delightful, can also prove oh so exhausting. We’ll be able to focus on work uninterrupted, go for walks together when we feel like it… even, perhaps, go out for lunch every now and again.

When you think about it, school really is a wonderful thing!