Much of Helen's reading has consisted of older classics: Kenneth Grahame's The Wind in the Willows (1908), Arthur Ransome's Swallows and Amazons (1930), Noel Streatfeild's Ballet Shoes (1936), J.R.R. Tolkien's The Hobbit (1937), James Thurber's The 13 Clocks (1950), Gillian Avery's The Warden's Niece (1957), Madeleine l'Engle's A Wrinkle in Time (1962), Maurice Druon's Memoirs of Zeus (1964), Berlie Doherty's Children of Winter (1985), and Karen Cushman's Catherine, Called Birdy (1994). (She didn't read these in chronological order!)
Modal shift in action! Seeing individual children at Larkrise taking up cycling or walking is great, but this photo gives a feel for the broader picture. I did a count and there were twenty bikes more than would fit into the school's cycle parking: this rack was eighteen over capacity and the other was two over! (Normal was fewer cycles than spaces.) And it's still happening: there are still people planning cycle training for their children, trying to buy bikes, and so forth. There are also families who have switched from driving to walking, and increasing numbers of older children being allowed to walk to school by themselves. more
I had thought all my early childhood books were gone — sadly, at some point when I was a teenager I culled them as too childish, leaving only the "young adult" ones — but my sister saved our copy of Gerald Durrell's The Talking Parcel and has given it to Helen, who loves it. Reading that brought back memories, and I think this must have been one of the books I read many times as a child. more
The details are unclear and the story may be legendary, but the great mathematician Alexander Grothendieck apparently once picked 57 as an example of a prime number. So a Grothendieck prime is a number that looks like it's prime but isn't. more
We've had five days of remote learning so far, and everything seems to be running pretty smoothly. Helen's teachers and school have put in an impressive performance, especially given how little notice there was of whether schools would fully open. (The government delayed announcing a lockdown till the night before we were scheduled to reopen — and after many other schools had opened for a day.) more
Neither "open" nor "shut" are actually possible options for schools now. more
Helen's been back at school for three weeks now and I've started going in to work two days a week, and that's all gone very smoothly. Old routines have come back quickly, and the most remarkable thing is just how normal everything seems. 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
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
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
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
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
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.)
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