Getting Helen started on new books can be difficult, so it's a lot easier when she reads longer ones. She read Carole Satyamurti's retelling of the Mahabharata, which is 900 pages long and took her nearly three weeks, and then launched straight into Stephen Fry's Mythos, which kept her out of mischief for six days. And now she's started on Gustav Schwab's Gods and Heroes of Ancient Greece. (more…)
Helen is rarely an avid reader. If she gets stuck into something she'll go through it eagerly, and she can reread books or entire series she loves, but otherwise she'll pretty much never sit down and start reading if there's playing to be done instead. Most of her reading is done in bed, before going to sleep or (in these days without school) on waking up.
The major constraint on her reading is scariness, which includes broader emotional stress - Hugh and Jonathan parting in Brother Dusty-Feet (which I had to read the last chapters of to her) was almost as bad as Pheasant being shot in The Animals of Farthing Wood (which she abandoned). Once she knows a book she's usually ok to read it again (though she's stalled at "Riddles in the Dark" in The Hobbit, which I've read to her). (more…)
Helen was not convinced that the two times table contains the same number of numbers as the seven times table. [A conversation she initiated herself going to bed, out of nowhere.] She understood the idea of using a bijection to show two collections have the same cardinality without counting them - I modelled it (conceptually, not physically) with smarties, buttons and a lot of string - and she could see how 2n <-> 7n works, but (not surprisingly) it just seemed wrong to her. Just wait till she finds out the rationals are countable! (more…)
Being involved with a school provides a good example of scaling problems. A lot of things that seem intuitive or simple at an individual level are difficult or complex at larger scales.
One key number is 30, the approximate number of children in a class (Helen's has ranged from 28 to 31). The other is 450, which is roughly the number of children in her school, a two-form entry primary school with an attached Early Years unit. (more…)
It will be some time before reopening schools in England (for all children) is practical. They're just starting to do that in Australia, where infection rates are less than one hundredth of those here (with around 10 new cases a day instead of 5000, despite more aggressive testing). But we can think about how that should be done, once infection rates are much lower and a robust test-and-trace system is in place. (more…)
It's important to note that what we and many other parents and carers find themselves doing now is not traditional home schooling. It has been thrust upon us, with little warning, rather than being deliberately chosen, and we are in more or less stringent "lockdown", unable to go on outings or meet up with other families. And our school at least is providing solid remote learning support — home learning plans, videoed storytelling and singing assemblies, links to other resources, and so forth. (more…)
I'm firmly convinced that graph theory is a perfect subject to teach to young (primary school) children. It allows an introduction to core aspects of mathematics - abstraction, generalisation, formalism, proof - in a context where there's a concrete visual representation and without requiring significant prerequisite knowledge. It offers the possibility of building to more difficult material (matchings, Ramsey numbers) and methods and tools (variables, induction, reductio), but also a range of topics which can be introduced independently at a low level of complexity (graph colouring, paths, simple functions). (more…)
Helen complained that she wasn't doing any history. I had to break it to her that reading books on the First and Second World Wars, a historical novel set in Tudor London, and a loosely fictionalised art history survey counted as doing history, and that if she were to study history at Oxford it would actually be described as "reading history" - and probably wouldn't involve re-enactments of the Great Fire of London. (more…)
Air pollution and road danger are among the greatest threats to children's health and lives in the United Kingdom; both are aggravated by motor traffic outside schools at pick-up and drop-off times. School Streets schemes offer a way of reducing this, through traffic restrictions outside schools during key periods of the day.
Road danger and air pollution are the primary concerns, but other gains from such schemes include getting more children walking or cycling to school, improving their fitness and health, and reducing congestion on the road system more broadly.
Oxfordshire County Council has plans to implement School Streets schemes at a number of schools, with Windmill being the first. These are pilots, and if successful would be used as models for other schools. Here I discuss the state of proposals for Larkrise, as the school I am most familiar with. (more…)
The last six months have been dominated by a few series and rereading of favourite books, but have also seen Helen tackling her first really solid novels.
Books that Helen has read and reread include Alf Prøysen's Mrs Pepperpot Stories (a chance secondhand dicovery), Pamela Travers' Mary Poppins books, and Hans Magnus Enzensberger's The Number Devil. (more…)
If your school tells you to cram times-tables or fractions into your child, but they don't want to do that or don't enjoy doing that, don't make them multiply. If they don't enjoy the maths they are doing at school, don't try to force them to do it at home, that's only going to make them dislike it even more. Instead, play games with them, do things with numbers and shapes yourself, show them mathematics unrelated to anything they do in school, and give them fun maths books to read and videos to watch. I realise this is harder for most parents than my previous "don't make your child read" injunction, because fewer parents enjoy mathematics themselves than enjoy reading, but if you are maths-averse yourself think of this as an opportunity to learn something new alongside your children. (more…)
Helen's school has lost its maths awards and gained a "house" system. One of the reasons I preferred Larkrise to other schools was the absence of anything like that, so I can't say I'm very happy about this. (more…)
There's a Humanities 2020 campaign with a manifesto that begins:
Primary schools have a duty to equip children for the challenges of the 21st century. We believe that the primary school curriculum in England is failing to do this or to fulfil the legal requirement for a balanced and broadly-based curriculum. Literacy and numeracy dominate the curriculum while other vital aspects of learning are often ignored. This is wrong.
We want young children to be literate and numerate, but much more than that. We affirm that every child is entitled to rich, stimulating and engaging learning experiences. We want children to have more opportunities to be creative and to build on their sense of curiosity. We would like to bring more joy and imagination back into the classroom.
This is something I fully endorse. The major concern I have with the campaign is its conception of the humanities as History, Geography, Religious Education, and Citizenship. (more…)
Kenneth Katzner's Languages of the World is being updated and since I'd reviewed the previous edition I'd been asked for comments on that and had my copy lying around. Browsing through it with Helen, she decided that Georgian was the most attractive script, so we transliterated and translated the first word (ღმერთსა / ghmertsa = to God) in the sample text, with the aid of Google Translate and Wikipedia. We're not about to learn Georgian, but I think she understands the difference between transliteration and translation now.
The last couple of months have seen an explosion not in the scope of Helen's reading but in the amount of time she spends reading. She'll almost always prefer friends or games, but she can read for an hour at a stretch in the right circumstances. (When I was in Year 1, I used to sit and read in the playground while everyone else ran around. I'm glad Helen is more sociable than that!) (more…)
I snuck into the Oxford Reading Spree, a one-day conference for teachers on books and reading, which I knew about because it was being run at my daughter's school and organised by one of the teachers there. (more…)
Four years ago I mused about possible second languages for Helen and mentioned that I had tried talking to her a bit in German. And German is the language we've progressed most with, though sadly not very far. (more…)
Helen has flat out refused to log on to the Rock Stars Times Tables site her school has provided all students access to, because — going by the demonstration and explanation of it they were given in assembly — she thinks it is about high scores and competition. (more…)
Helen is still going back and rereading them by herself, but we're slowly moving out of picturebook age and I can't see us buying many more. So now seems like a good time to offer up a list of our favourites. These are some of the ones we loved, and which we read and reread and will probably keep. They are in no particular order below, but grouped to make my commentary easier. Most of them are classics, but there are a few lesser known books and authors in there. (I will cover non-fiction in a separate post.)
Learning to read is not something that ever finishes. I'm still learning new words and improving my understanding of morphology, etymology, syntax, style, and so forth. But Helen can read now, in the sense that the problems she faces reading are mostly the same ones an adult faces, albeit at higher frequency and in a different mix, rather than the basic decoding she was struggling with a year ago. (more…)
There are many different metrics for measuring text complexity. The two I find most interesting are Lexiles and ATOS Book Levels, because there are online tools that give these measures for many popular children's books. (The Lexile scheme seems to have better coverage of American books and the ATOS one of British books.)
When I was barely seven, and we lived in Sydney's Upper North Shore, I used to walk home from school not just by myself but taking my year and a half younger sister with me. (more…)
Helen's school has a "Golden Assembly" each Friday, in which one child in each class gets a Golden Award. Every Thursday she asks me, a bit wistfully, questions like "do you think I'll get the Golden Award tomorrow?". And now she's started talking about it at other times, too. (more…)
I never did end up running any kind of pre-school maths circle, and once the children started school there hasn't really been spare time in the week for such a thing. But some of my thoughts about teaching mathematics from two and a half years ago have progressed.
One of my principles is to try to avoid things that will be covered in school. (more…)
If your school tells you your child is supposed to read to you four times a week, but they don't want to do that or don't like doing that, don't make them read. (more…)
I got a new kindle for my birthday, so I deleted everything off the old one except the children's books, renamed it, and voila! Helen now has a kindle. And she read her first book on it - Roald Dahl's The Twits - pretty much in one sitting. (more…)
Helen's school uses Oxford Reading Tree graded readers, as do apparently 80% of English schools. ("Nobody ever got fired for choosing IBM.") I mostly ignored these when she brought them home, since she was happy to read them at school and we had more interesting things to read, so I missed the clear "Stage N" on the back covers and it was a while before I realised these were graded into quite narrow bands. (more…)
If we moved back to Australia and then came back to the UK in ten years, I don't think any of Helen's friends would remember me. I'm just not that salient a part of their lives. A more interesting question is, would I recognise them after ten years away — what are all these little children going to be like at fifteen? They all seem as distinctive as anything now, but the evidence on personality persistence is limited, and tends to only involve broad features of temperament.
Anyway, whenever I think about planning the future, I try to imagine what Helen will be like at fifty and I realise that I have no clue.
My plans for formal early years teaching all came to nothing. (more…)
It's amazing how fast, once you can read, literacy becomes part of your life, and it becomes almost impossible to stop yourself reading text if its in front of you. (more…)
Helen's school recently had class photos taken. We bought a copy of hers, paying £13.50 to the photography company, without thinking about it much. But there are, on consideration, two major problems with the way this worked. The first is a failure of inclusivity. The second is a market failure, where goods fail to end up in the hands of the people who value them most. (more…)
These book updates now cover the books Helen is reading herself (with a bit of support) as well as the books I am reading to her. (more…)
Like most urban primary schools, Larkrise has a reasonably small catchment area (and out-of-catchment children are selected largely based on distance), so walking or cycling to school, accompanied or independently for the older children, should be an option for almost all children. But there are some serious failings with the transport infrastructure around the school, and a little investment here could make active travel to it significantly more attractive. (more…)
Helen got 33 books for Christmas and her birthday: 8 from me, 9 from Camilla, and 16 from friends and family. Helen and I have also given everyone books for Christmas and birthdays (more…)
We have take-off with the reading! Helen was doing some of the words in the easier books I read her, but a couple of weeks ago there was quite an abrupt shift: now she's reading the books and I'm helping with the harder words, or when she gets stuck. The major constraint now is motivation, and how fast she gets tired - I can almost see her thinking as she puzzles out words. (more…)
This will probably be my last book update before Helen is reading herself, though I expect to be reading to her for a long time as well. (She's at the point where she can, if motivated, puzzle out pretty much anything with sensible orthography, and with the early reader books — Russell Hoban's Frances books are current favourites — I'm now helping her with the hard words rather than getting her to read one or two words.) Here are some of the books we've enjoyed since my last update. (more…)
Helen's school is pretty keen on getting the children reading. (more…)
I got most emotional about Helen leaving preschool three days before it happened. When I took her to nursery on Monday, we found that her name tag had already been taken from her bag hook. (more…)
When Helen leaves her nursery (Julia Durbin) in September, she will have been there for just short of four years. There have been month-long breaks for trips to Australia and shorter holidays, and she only goes to nursery four days a week, but that's still 30+ hours a week for most of her life — all her life that she has any memory of. And she is part of a tight-knit community in her preschool, the break up of which will be a huge change to her life. [The comparable adult experiences I can think of would be shifting from one hunter-forager band to another, or retiring after having worked in the same job for one's entire life.] (more…)
Four years ago I posted here looking at moving-child-by-bike options, but I never followed that up. I ended up with a Wee-Ride centre-mounted seat, which I've been really happy with over the last three and a half years. (more…)
Helen herself is moderately excited by the prospect of school but not (I think) too much so, and we're thinking this will work out ok. The welcome afternoon a couple of weeks ago went off swimmingly, despite the heat. (more…)
I started reading Greek mythology with Helen a few months before we visited Crete and the Cyclades, beginning with the D'Aulaires' Book of Greek Myths, which she picked after I read her one story from that and one from the D'Aulaires' Book of Norse Myths. (more…)
I can remember my father Hansen taking me to the Sydney university Coop bookshop (then in the Transient building) and buying me a proper Hewlett-Packard scientific calculator. That was over thirty years ago — I'm not sure exactly when, but it must have been before I started uni — but the calculator still works perfectly (and I think I've only had to change the battery once). (more…)
Helen and I did a really nice walk in the Chilterns yesterday, from Coombe Hill down to Wendover and back. This is a loop of about 6km, with maybe 130m down and then up, offering a good variety of terrain and views. (more…)
We're into short novel and chapter book territory now, so I thought I'd give an update on what I've been reading with Helen. The first short novel Helen really got into was Otfried Preussler's The Robber Hotzenplotz, which we started on Boxing Day (it was the Christmas present of one of her cousins) but finished the next day, she was so excited by it. (more…)
Yesterday I set Helen up with the iPad, only to have her come to me after five minutes saying "Enough iPad, I want to watch some Legong Dance". And so we watched nearly an hour of Legong Lasem and Barong Taru Pramana. (more…)
An update on the books I've been reading with Helen. (more…)
Walking with Helen to the Cowley Rd Tesco yesterday made me think back on how her development and changes in transport modes have affected our experience of Oxford's geography. (more…)
Somehow I missed doing a book round-up at three, so here's one at three and a half (more…)
Give me the girl until she is eleven and I will give you the woman...
Neither Camilla nor I are that keen on religious schooling, but I had suggested before, only half in jest, that a good Jesuit-run school would be an attractive option. And now I've seen the closest thing I'm likely to see to this for girls, in an Open Day visit to one of Oxford's private preparatory schools. (more…)
I've seen some surveys where mathematics ranks as the favourite subject of a plurality of primary school children, ahead even of art, and I'm starting to see how that could be. (more…)
I was planning a rant about the dangers of formal assessment of mathematics in primary schools, the insanity of streaming maths classes based on knowledge of times tables at age nine, and suchlike. But there are more than enough depressing stories about the UK education system at the moment, so I've tried to make this a more positive piece, about some of the things I think children should learn about mathematics in primary school, along with a random collection of ideas for actual teaching. (more…)
Our little girl (she was "a big little girl" for a while, but now insists she is "a big girl") has turned three and moved up to pre-school. The room change was a bit stressful for the first week, but she seems to have settled ok now, I think largely because her best friends have all moved with her. (more…)
Helen has made strong attachments to some of her peers, far stronger than anything I remember from my own early life (though I have very few memories from before school). Reminding her that she'll get to see her friends once she gets to nursery, or that we're going on a playdate, is almost always a big motivation for getting dressed and leaving the house. And having a friend refuse to hold hands with her can be enough to make her burst into tears. (more…)
I've tried speaking in German to Helen a few times in the last week and she's really fascinated by it. If I stop she says "say something" and wants me to keep going, and this morning she requested some German quite spontaneously. And Camilla and I have started thinking about the options for her to learn a second language. (more…)
I had had to take the day off work to look after Helen yesterday, since she was home after after having had the runs at nursery the day before. But we had a really good day. (more…)
It's early days yet, even for the UK where children start formal schooling between 4 and 5 years old, but we've already started thinking about schooling for Helen, and as part of that we visited two primary schools. The first was our local state school, the one we're actually in the catchment for and (since it's just around the corner) could be relatively confident of getting a place in (due to a baby boom, there's such pressure on schools that even being in the catchment is now no longer a guarantee of a place). The second was the prep school for a prestigious private Oxford girls high school. (more…)
Our NCT (National Childbirth Trust) parents' group wasn't so useful in providing an immediate support circle, largely because Helen arrived early, before the classes had even finished, but it did provide the foundation for a longer-term social network. We have made friends with two additional parents with similar aged children, in the same demographic (they have NCT groups of their own): I met Parker's mother through a cycling advocacy mailing list and Frieda's through her blog. But I've also spent many afternoons or mornings with Helen in East Oxford playgrounds, meeting interesting parents who I never saw again. (Though perhaps if I'd had no existing parents' group I'd have got better at asking strangers for their phone numbers or email addresses.) (more…)
I finally got around to taking Helen to the Story Museum. This is all about stories and learning from them, and runs regularly changing exhibitions. Last summer Helen seemed too young at one and a half to appreciate their 26 Characters exhibition (though it ran until February and if I'd thought about it again I'd probably have taken her then). The downside is the price: it's £7.50 for an adult and £5 for a child, so that was £12.50 for me and Helen. But there's a lot of fun stuff and we ended up staying there from 1pm to 5pm when they shut (including maybe an hour for afternoon tea in their cafe), so I'd have to say it's worth that. (more…)
The lullaby I use most regularly with Helen is the song "Donna, Donna, Donna, Donna", one of the few songs I remember from my own childhood. (more…)
Her vocabulary grows apace, but Helen has made little progress with syntax or morphology, with most utterances consisting of just two or three words lacking any inflection. (more…)
At first I was skeptical that Helen would cope with jigsaw puzzles, especially as she had a lot of trouble even with the little two-piece puzzles we tried her on first. But she's really taken to the two 24-piece puzzles she has (more…)
It's just over two weeks since my last post on language development, but in that time Helen has:
- produced her first two word phrases: "more cherry" and "daddy book". (more…)
There's supposed to be a spurt in language acquisition around 18 months, and Helen is doing that pretty much right on schedule. (more…)
This is by no means comprehensive, but I thought I'd write a bit about some of the books we and Helen have enjoyed most over the last year or so. Some of these have been given to us or recommended to us by friends and family, some of them I found reading online reviews and lists. (more…)
I occasionally play at teaching Helen the cardinal numbers one to five, not in any organised fashion but every so often when she seems alert and curious and there are no more obviously interesting things for her to play with (more…)
As well as "mama" and "da" and "bye bye", Helen has spoken approximations to "duck", "up", "ball", "cat", "dog", "bird", "banana" and (at nursery) "nappy". (more…)
Helen's been walking between Camilla and me for some time, and using walkers, and for the last week she's happily walked to other people. But now she's getting up all by herself and heading off without anyone in sight! We have a toddler! (more…)
Helen went to Australia a baby and has come back a kind of proto-toddler. (more…)
It's early days yet, but I'm starting to look at the options for moving Helen around by bicycle. The basic choices seem to be a front-mounted child seat, a rear-mounted child seat, a trailer, or some kind of front-load cargo bicycle or tricycle (bakfiets-style or modern variants on that). (more…)