Thursday, 29 March 2012

Quack is the word

A beautiful sunny day, as it is when I am writing this, makes you want to go and have a walk somewhere nice. However, not today since I am tired after taking part into the setup of the NCT Nearly New Sale on Saturday morning and then going to the Finnish School in the afternoon. I also decided to pop in to Sainsbury’s to buy cheaper petrol and some toddler essentials since they had advertised a campaign and I drove by it anyway.

Unlike today I was more energetic one Monday not long ago and headed to take some photographs of the Kirby Muxloe castle. The castle itself is closed during the winter but one can enter the precinct and walk around the moat and marvel this castle that never was to be after its commissioner was on the receiving side of Richard III’s wrath. I took Number One Son with me and was secretly hoping that he would find the ruins exciting. Sadly, this kind of reality only exists in the heads of passionate parents and not in the real world. It is clear that the knight days of my son lay somewhere in the years to come. Perhaps when he will be seven...

Apart from trying to snap passable photos of the castle across the full moat I had to keep eye on Number One Son who was visibly exited of all mallards, Canadian geese and other water birds swimming in the moat. He went scarily near the bank of the moat and, as the little boys do, didn’t want to hear any warnings or take no for an answer. He had to be guided farther away from the water and by doing so I made his interest in going around the castle vanish. He happily bounced back the same way we came and managed to bother Mr and Mrs Mallard on the way. The only part of the castle that made him existing was the modern wooden bridge built to take the visitors inside the now closed entrance. This was more because he enjoys running round, hearing the sound of his tapping feet and viewing birds in the water than due to any deeper interest in wooden or castle structures.

At the moment mallards (kwack kwack!!) share the same enthusiastic response as the airplanes in the sky (airplain!!), daffodils on our way to the nursery (flour!!) and our car that shares its colour and name with Lightning McQueen (Vrom Vrom!!). The physical signs of joy – the lightening of his face, the happy giggle and the energetic jumps up and down – show that these simple things are more important for young children than any structured ‘learning experiences’. The castles can wait while the quacks rule!

Thursday, 22 March 2012

‘Getting it right for boys’

The other day I got a surprise call from the headquarters of the local Children’s Centres. I was persuaded to take part into this special event in Loughborough to hear about boys’ development. First I was very reluctant since I had other things to do on that day. However, they sent me a leaflet by e-mail and I realized that this was about how boys’ learn in general. I thought this could be useful later and also help in understanding men in general. Archaeologist Husband could not make it but made it clear I should go and tell him afterwards what it was all about.

The talk was given by Neil Farmer who has written a book about the subject. He argued that boys develop later than girls during their early years and this should be taken into consideration when planning early education. After all, the preschool starts at three in UK and the reception classes take the children in at four. In Finland the ages are six and seven respectively and the slower developing children who have no special learning difficulties normally have caught up by then. In addition, in special cases a child can be considered especially mature or immature for learning and can start at a proper school a year earlier or later, at six or eight.

Neil Farmer told us how the children have to develop their general bodily coordination and balance in order to be able to sit straight in one place on a chair without twitching and moving around. Boys and girls have different brain chemistry, which makes girls more controlled and with a longer attention span, Boys need more stimulus and their Reticular Activating System gets overloaded much more easily and thus even as adults men can hear and remember less instructions without their brain becoming jammed. Explains why women are better in multitasking...

This all means that like Number One Son some boys do not appreciate story time or sing-a-longs but prefer to climb the furniture and play with cars. This was great news for me and Archaeologist Husband. This meant that our pride and joy was not simply misbehaving in front of the nice ladies who want to sing ‘Old McDonald had a farm’ or read The very hungry caterpillar and make children to sit down. When Number One Son is giving a tantrum and refusing to sit down in a circle, he is just conforming to a common male behaviour pattern that is totally natural. His eagerness to show ‘rigid play patterns’ with toy cars and trains as the female speech therapist put it in her assessment may be simply part of behaviour pattern recognized by specialists as a way small boys behave. All the time he is climbing frantically as a small monkey he is just learning his way!

Check Neil Farmer’s book Getting it right for boys in Amazon

Thursday, 15 March 2012

A suitable museum for a toddler

On an especially rainy day we had decided to visit the Newarke Houses Museum in Leicester. This museum promised to tell the history of Leicester during the 20th century – a fitting destination on a week when the Queen visited the city. It also incorporates the Royal Leicestershire Regiment Museum. Something that in itself did not sound especially riveting - especially not for women and children.

Photo from Wikipedia

Number One Son loved the museum and I and Archaeologist Husband were very engaged as well. The many staircases and multiple floors allowed Number One Son run enough to burn his energy and the museum had many different quirks and corners. It has a reconstruction of a city lane with a cobbled pavement aligned with a pub and a grocery shop. A separate cloth shop has a children’s corner with a little shop of their own to play with. The relatively dull sounding regiment museum had a reconstruction of a World War Two trench with a dark, but not too dark, corridor with the booming noises of war and a periscope.Number One Cousin was mesmerised and kept returning again and again; she really liked the periscope.

The museum also has a civil war panelled room, a space the toddlers happily ignored, but allowed the adults to learn about the siege of Leicester. The museum also has a small movie theatre showing a film of the transformation of the city centre. This made me partly sad seeing the lovely houses replaced by the Haymarket shopping centre. Naturally, if the slums of Leicester extended this near the clock tower the loss was not regrettable. But if any of the houses was like the Turkey House it was a pity since the Haymarket centre is not the most beautiful of modern buildings. The absolute hoot in the film was the 1950s vision to build a monorail to the city centre. Because of cost this remained an architect's dream.

The absolute golden nuggets are the toy and game room with a play area for children. Even if the toddlers could not run in the cute gardens there was a plenty to do for them.

Thursday, 8 March 2012

Talking is cheap but not necessarily easy

After the New Year I became impatient with Number One Son’s progress with speaking. Although we had tried to apply strategies suggested by the assessment speech therapist in order to encourage him to put two words together, he seemed to have stalled after mastering the colours and most of the numbers between one and ten before Christmas. The start of the preschool is looming after Easter and communication skills would help. The nice speech therapist had hinted that they could visit Number One Son in the nursery and give him further support. This seemed to be something to be followed before the preschool.

A call to the NHS to discuss his further needs resulted with the realisation that the key worker had changed and with the key worker the tone had changed, too. Now they only offered a reassessment and further strategies for the parents and the nursery assistants. The reassessment was going to take place at some time during the current school term – and then we heard nothing for a while.

As not much wiser I started to wonder aloud in the local SureStart centre about the changes in the song sheet the speech therapy professionals had shown. This resulted with some behind the scenes phone calls and a suggestion to attend a Speak-a-boo sessions. I was a bit weary with the latter since they are really meant for the parents or carers of much younger children than our almost three-year-old. However, we thought we needed a direct contact with any speech therapist and so we have now attended two sessions.

To begin with there was also another late speaker but he did not attend the second session on a bright, warm day. This was a pity since it was nice to meet people in the same situation and exchange experiences. No matter if the most participants have babies less than one year old since the direct discussions with a speech therapist and her observing Number One Son have been really helpful. Our son has also started to show signs of wanting to speak more and the new strategies actually come in at the right moment. It made me wonder why the services did not target the parents of late speakers as a group with some group sessions of our own.

The pity in this late speech development thing is that the early education being in vogue with the government together with the early start of ‘formal’ schooling in Britain mean that Number One Son will probably not be at the right stage for neither formal early education in the preschool nor the beginning of the school. However, socially it will be beneficial for him to stay with his peers. There is also ways for us as parents to change our ways and try to support him. In the end, as all the speech therapists have explained, nobody knows why some boys start speaking late without any apparent reason. We just have to try to ensure he makes most of what he has and the other children plus nursery assistants and teachers understand that he will improve with more time.

Thursday, 1 March 2012

You don't have to be a Sherlock to find a birthday venue but it helps

It is the time of the year when Number One Son grows older officially. He will soon turn three and it was the time to consider how we are going to celebrate his big day. We have been regularly invited to the birthday parties in the village and I and Archaeologist Husband thought that we really should have a proper party. Our tiny home and its front room could perhaps conveniently accommodate three toddlers playing, with their parents, and the small square of lawn in the garden is too tiny for a bouncy castle. It just did not occur to us how difficult the practical side will be.

Photo by the parish council

Our village has a proper spacious village hall so we thought that a couple of months in advance of the big day willbe enough and allow us a sensible time to make the preparations. We just had not fathomed how popular the hall is with different parties. Both suitable weekends were fully booked, the former with a company for training, which was slightly irritating since I just wonder if they really need a full Sunday in those circumstances. We were advised by the nice lady from the parish council to book in the future during the previous September when the diary for the coming winter and spring will be issued to avoid disappointment.

Luckily, I managed to secure a promise from a friend that we will be able to hold the party in their large garden if everything else goes pear-shape. I was also remaindered of the village scout hut, which is available for hire. From one lady in the NCT coffee group I could get a telephone number for another lady who turned out to be the beaver leader. She actually did not know who was taking the bookings since they had just had a new chair. Thus, I was duly given another telephone number for the leader of the local scouts in order to get the correct telephone number for the person responsible for the bookings. After leaving a message to an answer phone I received the correct mobile phone number and could make an enquiry.

After a couple of days I was contacted again and was told that our favourite day was already taken. In the meantime I had been reminded in the playground about the local church rooms so I had already started tracking down the church booking officer. Luckily, the names and telephone numbers of the wardens were provided on the notice board by the church so I could leave another message to an answer phone of a church warden in order to get the correct contact details. One day while I was away Archaeologist Husband received a telephone call with the right name and telephone number. A telephone call, a public liability insurance check and two occasions of sending forms back and forth later we now have a booking. Just the invitations, activities and equipment hire, food and decorations to go...