Our first term done and dusted

It was relief all round when we reached the end of our first term. The last week or so was hard work, with Ladybird’s energy levels deserting her, leaving her in tears at the classroom door most mornings. So it’s been great to see the tiredness thaw and more buoyant and energetic children re-emerge over the holidays.

The end of term and the Christmas celebrations brought a selection of highs and lows. On the downside, we had a spate of illnesses and then our evenings were marred with getting the twinlings to write out their Christmas cards. On the first night Pickle sat diligently writing his, but after a while told me:

‘That feels like I’ve finished. Have I done 15?’

He’d written two. We worked at a pace of two a night, Ladybird normally destroying at least one for every card that made it into an envelope. Ladybird has made quite a few friends in the older years, and she got quite a few cards from these girls – but I hoped they’d understand that my patience didn’t extend beyond getting cards out to their class.

On the plus side I loved their first nativity play. The twinlings were innkeepers dressed in well, peasant costumes really. On stage they shielded their eyes from the dazzling lighting, as they peered out trying to spot us in the audience. It was a big step forward from their sing-song at pre-school last year, where they stood at the front, Pickle hands in pockets, yawning and looking at the ceiling. He remained tight-lipped this year but he was actually doing the actions, with just a few seconds time delay. Progress, though, definitely progress.

Thank you to everyone who’s been following our first term and for all the positive feedback on the blog. I started this blog with the aim of keeping family and friends up to date with our progress at school, I’ve seen my viewing figures grow and grow and have picked up some readers who don’t know us too, which is lovely. So happy new year to all of you and I hope you continue to enjoy the blog in 2012.

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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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Anyone for school dinners?

School dinners

When you think of your school dinners, what do you remember? I recall thick, stodgy jam roly-poly, glistening in the stark, stripped school hall lighting. Of course, there’s also the fur-ball my friend Tracy found in her beefburger – the beginning of a lifetime of vegetarianism for most of us, except strangely Tracy.

But generally school dinners haven’t  left much of an imprint and the same seems to be true of Ladybird. She only ever remembers what dessert she’s had, but searches and searches her mind for what her main course was and always returns a blank. So I was looking forward to the parents lunchtime special for Reception children so I could see it all for myself.

Pickle and Ladybird were really excited to show Mummy, Granny and Grandad their school. We filed into the hall and wedged ourselves onto the tiny stools, like hippos perching precariously on daisys, only to discover that not only was there no-one to take our coats, there wasn’t waitress service either. Up we got, slowly, to visit the hatch.

It was a big day for Pickle, his first school dinner, and I was hoping for his seal of approval to give me a one day a week break from scraping houmous from the netting inside his lunchbox. He was keen to assert himself with the dinner ladies and nipped any crazy ideas they might have of serving him vegetables, by handing them his plate and announcing ‘I don’t eat gravy’, in a tone that I think conveyed the point there are many, many things he doesn’t eat.

Friday is fish and chips day. The fur-ball incident of the late 80s means I’m still seeking out the vegetarian option, which I found in the form of macaroni cheese, a side salad, bread and a flapjack – all washed down with a fine, chilled water. Looking at my compartmentalised dinner tray it didn’t feel like Jamie Olivers made much of an impression on children’s cuisine. But I’m sure they work on a tight budget and probably haven’t got great facilities either.

While I’d eaten a mid-morning snack, just in case, Grandad had skipped breakfast to build up his appetite, a risky strategy I thought, but one which paid off with immense satisfaction at his fish fingers.

Mealtime was brought to a close by a friendly looking dinner lady coming to our table announcing we could now ‘scrape’. Maybe it was the gloves, but I couldn’t get the thought of a cervical smear out of my mind after that.

The lunchtime brought ups and downs, Pickle approved of his fish and chips and agreed to try it again, phew. Ladybird found the disappointment of not getting to play with Granny in the adventure playground too much and we had to leave her sobbing in the queue for her scrape.

But as far as two courses for £2.50 goes it wasn’t bad and crucially, no fur-balls.

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Our First Parents Evening

School Report

When I headed off for the twinlings’ first parents consultation evening I was braced for news of angry outbursts and answering back. But it turns out the twinlings are saving all that for me.

So I’m unashamedly blogging about a good school report, working on the theory that my embarrassment of late when being hollered at in public places could do with being diluted down with a shot of pride.

I wasn’t ever what you’d call a model pupil. The feedback in my school reports and at parents evenings was always the same – ‘talks too much’. My parents really didn’t need anyone to tell them that. One primary school teacher was so fixated with my ‘verbal diarrhoea’  that she spent a meeting that was meant to be about my sister,  discussing her incredulity at my ability to talk for England. I’d obviously made a lasting impression – this was four years after she’d taught me.

At 38 and studying for an MA I’ve finally got it. In fact I’m even shocked by the girl who sits on her phone for most of the lectures, lectures she’s paying for. I’m not quite in the territory of answering the lecturer’s questions with one arm raised, the other anchoring me to the desk while I squeak ‘me, me’ , but you won’t catch me chatting in class these days. So who knew that to keep me quiet I needed to wait until I was approaching 40 and paying a princely sum for my tuition.

The twinlings on the other hand seem to have taken to the school set up early on. In their classroom, I tried to get comfortable on the little person seats, feeling like I’d drunk the ‘eat me’ potion in Alice in Wonderland. Spread out in front of me was the massive grid of tick boxes and standards the teacher is constantly on the look out for, thankfully she translated it from jargon to some lovely anecdotes of what they’d been up to.

Pickle is showing a preference for all things numbers and enjoys construction toys and seeing how things works. This was exciting news for all the neglected DIY chores we have around the house. My first thought was the curtain poles edging their way from the wall in the living room. Is four too young to get a drill set from Father Christmas?

Ladybird likes to read and yes you guessed it, talk. But unlike me at that age she doesn’t seem to be talking when she should be listening. Teacher told me Ladybird quite often prefers the grown-ups’ company, for a bit of adult conversation and I can just imagine the chat her teacher told me they had about the weather.

So the first of many school reports and parents evenings over. If only they could all go as smoothly as that one. Something tells me we won’t be so lucky.

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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.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-15527145

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We had a little visitor this weekend…

On Friday Ladybird came out of her classroom grinning wildly. In her wake came a Peppa Pig suitcase that she pulled air hostess-style.

‘Jasper has chosen me this weekend,’ she announced with glee.

Jasper the Bear

Please Look After This Bear. Thank You

The class bear is a new one on me. When a friend asked, ‘Are you doing anything exciting with him this weekend?’ I felt relief that yes, as luck would have it, we would be showing Jasper a good time this weekend. But what if we’d planned a quiet one? Would we feel obliged to change our plans just to show Jasper a good time? I’d like to think we wouldn’t go that for far for a stuffed toy, but I can’t guarantee it.

DH said he’d read that parents did just that, one-upmanship leading to the class bear being whisked off for lavish and exotic bear-cations. I sniffed disapprovingly at this revelation, while closely scrutinising Jasper’s scrapbook; counting the number of photos and stickers carefully added by his previous hosts. Like it or not, I’d been sucked in.

Jasper is a cute, if a little solemn, bear. He comes with three pairs of shoes, toothbrush, several changes of day clothes and some red, snow flake design pyjamas that we were all eyeing up jealously. He also brings a storybook, a game of snap and the dreaded (for me at least) scrapbook. On the plus side, no dietary requirements, he didn’t even hint at marmalade.

Ladybird was concerned with his upkeep, changing him for bed and including him in our activities. I was concerned with the scrapbook. Snapping away all weekend on my phone, Jasper was pictured at firework displays, up trees, at ballet, in the pub, scaling rope ladders and flying on magic carpets.We took him to Wilderness Woods to choose our Christmas tree and in case you’re wondering, no, he didn’t, he’s not that sort of bear.

I hate to admit it but I did get a bit stressed with the printing. I needed to print all the photos at my inlaws as our printer gives the photos a bleached, poor man’s sepia effect. But my phone’s battery gave up before I’d emailed all the photos to myself. It ended up as a team effort, the grandparents roped into it  and even DH’s cousin had to leave his Sunday lunch to sort out the printing and prevent the bickering between DH and I escalating.

Jasper himself didn’t ask for much and Ladybird was in heaven hosting him for the weekend. She walked all the way to school today without a whimper and it’s all down to the contents of the suitcase rumbling behind her.

As I snapped Jasper’s completed scrapbook shut with a sigh of relief, DH delivered a cruel blow:

‘You do realise Pickle could be bringing Jasper home again as early as next weekend.’

Let’s hope it’s a busy one.

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A hectic half term

Making two bats, two pumpkin masks, three spiders; planting two garlic bulbs; going to two birthday parties; a day in London; following several pumpkin trails; meeting Captain Barnacles and a traipse through the forest – all kept the twinlings, me and DH busy this half term.

Half-term creations

The twinlings' half-term creations

I limped my way to the finishing line of their first half term, suffering with my second cold since they’d started school. Still, despite the cold I was determined we’d make the most of our time together.

But why aren’t the half term breaks staggered? It’s got to be better for parents’ blood pressure levels. Going out was more ‘endurement’ than enjoyment – especially in the attractions’ cafes. We picked a London museum for our day trip that wasn’t, in theory, going to be as busy as the ones on Museum Rd. The Horniman Museum, name aside, turned out be a great choice, it’s got loads of hands on things for the children, but the chaos of lunch reduced us all to bickering and burning up grandparents in a scramble for a table.

We didn’t learn our lesson either, the next day at Bedgebury Pinetum we arrived hungry at lunchtime to find a queue out the cafe door. Just short of an hour and DH’s  ‘why’s it so busy, it’s only a big wood’ comment later, we sat in the drizzle, coercing the previously starving but now mysteriously not hungry twinlings into eating their sandwiches.

It was one of those days out where I’m sure DH was wishing he’d gone to work. No sooner had we got the twinlings up the hill to the play area than Ladybird hopped from foot to foot and announced in her usual delicate manner, ‘I need a poo’.  Halfway down the hill back to the toilet, my phone rings, it’s DH, ‘Pickle needs one too.’ Pickle then changes his mind at the toilet and then, once back up at the play area, reverses the decision again.

We did finally manage to escape the crowds and the din of the playground’s xylophone taking a battering  – only to realise we were getting further away from the car park and further into the twinling’s tired zone. The day out reached its peak when Ladybird got off her bike in disgust, shouted ‘I don’t like this path’ and let her bike roll down the hill into a ditch.

Oh well, it’s over now – and guess what? Yep, we were late for our first morning back. Ladybird arrived ‘sweaty’, peeled off her layers and stood in the doorway slurping from her water beaker like she’d just completed a 10k run. Looks like we need to shave some time off our personal best tomorrow.

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