Category Archives: Education

Is life really as rewarding as a smiley face chart?

On Friday, Ladybird proudly came down the steps waving a ‘star of the week’ certificate, wearing  a shiny sticker and a huge grin. She’s been waiting for her second appointment with the headteacher, rather like Sir Bruce waited for his moment with the queen, for some time.

Pickle came out the same day pulling Jasper, the class bear behind him. This was a reward too, for also trying really hard with his writing.

‘But my star of the week is better isn’t it?’ Ladybird asked, flapping the certificate wildly in the air and accidentally whacking a passing dad in the stomach.

Ladybird really loves the whole rewards thing. There seem to be a few different schemes at school, the mechanics are all unclear , but Ladybird seems to have it sussed. So far she’s filled her smiley face chart and brought the bear home. There was also an unfortunate incident when Pickle was ‘star of the week’ and the headteacher accidentally called Ladybird up in assembly too. Granny managed to dent the disappointment by making her a ‘star of the weekend’ certificate instead.

Ladybird’s always responded well to bribes, let’s call them incentives, at home, with smiley face or sticker charts. At school the stickers seem to be handed out at the teachers’ discretion, which I’m guessing gives them the flexibility to use them as they need them, but as a friend told me this can lead to inconsistencies. Her twins are in different classes, both did the same cooking project at home – one teacher gave one of the twins points, the other teacher didn’t. So my friend had to ask for the points, otherwise how could she explain this one away at home?

I ran into similar problems with my own discretionary ‘beads in a pot’ system, yes it’s  as sophisticated as it sounds. Pickle wasn’t the least bit interested by my revolutionary ideas so I quickly downgraded their target of 20 beads to 10 – getting him beyond negative bead equity seemed impossible at one point. But Ladybird quickly starting working the system, or lack of it. A bead offered for putting their yoghurt pots in the bin, would see Ladybird then putting her lid in the bin, and Pickle’s, and then a random bit of rubbish on the floor. ‘That’s an extra 3 beads isn’t it mummy?’

As another friend pointed out, rewarding children for everything means we’re not bringing children up to do things simply because they need to be done, which leads me on to Pickle. Pickle finally managed to make it up to ten beads, while Ladybird had totted up two sets a while ago, so off we popped to the 99p store where they were let loose to buy any, highly breakable, toy they wanted. But I instantly felt guilty that Pickle was only buying one piece of tat and so let him get two things. Ladybird wasn’t at all happy, she’d earned that extra present and there I was changing the rules.

But for Pickle, a little boy who really doesn’t like carrots, the stick seems to be a stronger motivator. If I promise him a smiley face for tidying up, he politely declines, ‘I’m alright thanks, I’d rather play’, but if I tell him he’ll get a sad face if he doesn’t help, he leaps into action. His teacher tells me he tidies away at school without even having to be asked, so I’m going wrong somewhere, but that’s another story. With Pickle I’m constantly giving him the slow 1-2-3, though I’ve often got no idea what the consequence will be if I reach ‘3’ – usually I don’t need to worry, the threat of the stick works with him.

Although my friend is right, sometimes we do have to do things in life without a reward at the end of it, these carrot and stick systems we have at school and home do reflect life. I mean, a meal out on your boss is a nice way of knowing your hardwork’s been noticed – but there’s no greater motivator than the threat of getting the boot.



Filed under Activities with children, Education, Uncategorized

The twinlings learn to read

Book Shelf

I had mixed feelings about the twinlings starting to formally learn at such an early age. To me the pace seems pretty ambitious, especially for reading. In many countries the twinlings wouldn’t have started school yet and studies find seven is a good age to start education. That makes sense to me. But despite this research and  my anxieties about pushing them too far to early, the twinlings have taken to reading, numbers and writing with gusto. And so we’re doing our bit at home to help them along.

As big readers ourselves, spending time with books is no hardship. I have this dream of a typical Sunday, where we eat a healthy family dinner, in my daydream Pickle shuns alphabetti shapes and turkey dinosaurs to enjoy a vegetable or two, with no tantrums. Then we go for walk in the countryside, without Ladybird asking where the cafe is and Pickle asking to be carried. And this utopian scene culminates with us returning home and sitting down in a comfortable and companionable silence and reading our books. I can but dream. But as Captain Sensible wisely told us, if you don’t have a dream, how’re you going to have a dream come true?!

Initially they both resisted the idea of having to read their daily school books to me, because it had always been me or QPR* doing the reading. I started off by compromising with them – I’d read it first and then they’d read to me. They gradually got used to this idea and now they’re happily in the routine of reading to us before a bedtime story. There’s also a bit of competition going on between them. Ladybird every now and again pulls ahead and is moved onto the next level and when Pickle catches her up he comes home bursting with pride. Last night she sat next to us while Pickle read and couldn’t help whispering (loudly) the words that Pickle was having to sound out.

One of the other big transitions has been the discussions we’re now encouraged to have about the stories.  It turns out there’s more to learning to read than just the words, things that I take for granted, like which bit is the title, the beginning and the end. But I’m finding it’s too many prompts; What do you think this story is about? Who’s the main character? How would you feel if this happened to you? What’s going to happen next?

It all feels pretty unnatural at times and the twinlings end up ordering me to ‘just read it, read it.’ It’s something I’d like to get better at. There are lots of reading aids and schemes out there all with the aim of helping us to make learning to read fun for our children, so I’m going to be looking at some of them and giving some feed back on how they’ve helped us in future posts.

*DH has undergone a name change to QPR as I was being asked who DH was – his new name shouldn’t leave anyone who knows him guessing!

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Filed under Education, Learning to read

Are summer babies really at a disadvantage?

My summer baby

For me, a summer birthday meant parties in the garden and a small pause between the next avalanche of presents. It always seemed like a good deal to me, but a recent report claims summer babies are at a disadvantage. Leaving me thinking perhaps a birthday party indoors is a small price to pay for an academic and sporting edge.

With my two summer babies still adjusting to school I was intrigued to read more about the report by the Institute of Fiscal Studies.The twinlings’ school definitely acknowledges the differences in ability across the year – the younger ones are in a smaller group reducing the pressures of keeping up with the older ones. And even if that doesn’t help the twinlings it definitely eases my anxieties.

The report claims children with summer birthdays are more likely to be regarded as below average, less confident and feel less in control of their own lives – a disadvantage that is forecast to last a lifetime. Cheery prospects.

The biggest differences are of course between August and September born children. A small relief then that the twinlings have July birthdays, except they were actually due in August and were four weeks early, so does that, according to this report, make them even more disadvantaged?

One comment on the BBC website that made me chuckle, was along the lines of ‘duh, I thought everyone knew’, from a very smug person who’d managed to plan their children’s births early in the academic year to give them a headstart. As well as wanting to point out to the poster that nature isn’t always on our side, it made me reconsider my summer party theory as a case of misplaced priorities – especially as it’s always raining in July.

So I decided to see how this has panned out in reality. David Cameron, I found, is an October birthday, arguably he’s had a few other advantages alongside his month of birth. But I found both Barack Obama and Usain Bolt have August birthdays. So it’s not all bad news for those born in August if these two are anything to go by.

And as for my two summer babies, only time will tell.

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Filed under Achievement, Education