Our Schoolboy

In January, just as he turned four, we had the slightly agonising task of deciding whether Kazuo should start school this summer, or defer until he was five and a half.  In England he would start this year as all children begin school in the academic year in which they turn five. In New Zealand it would be next January, after his fifth birthday.  But here in Scotland all children born July-Nov start when they will be turning five, all children born Feb-June wait to start the following year when they will be five at the start of the academic year, but children born Dec-Jan May start when they are Four or Five and the govt offers them an extended year of preschool funding if they defer.

It seemed, on the first exploration, that the academic, social, physical and emotional developmental advantages associated with deferral would follow him right through to tertiary education, making it seem like a no-brander to defer. However, when we considered our limited options for finding Kazuo a slightly more stimulating environment for another year of  preschool, coupled with his eagerness to learn new things and the charms of our newly refurbished village school – starting school this year won the argument.

No sooner had we made this decision, but we discovered we were expecting another little family member to arrive about a month after school was due to start, meaning I would be able to be home on maternity leave for all of Kazou’s first year at school.

As the year progressed, it became quite clear we’d made the right choice for our wee lad. His other two ‘besties’ we’re also graduating from preschool, smoothing the transition and not leaving our boy feeling left behind. He also came along in leaps and bounds both in his interest in alpha-numerical learning and in social skills.

But the fact still remained that, whilst being quite chatty and sociable when in a safe environment, he is still quite apprehensive about new experiences and social groups and so much of the summer was spent in a state of increasingly nervous agony about the prospect of starting school – often heightened by the fact that it was all anyone else seemed to talk about.

Finally the big day came.  He was SO proud of his new uniform (with the smiley sun, Mama’) and after a back-to-school playday in the village hall the previous week (which had both intensified his apprehension and smoothed over some of his fears) had at least given him a sense of who his new peers would be, he was quite bold and excited to be heading off to school.

We had the inevitable anxiety and tears on the first couple of mornings, but these transitions were mercifully eased by the wonderful Aunty Kelly, whom we had persuaded to extend her summer hols in order to be after-school nanny for Kazuo and to see us through until we brought the new baby home from the hospital ext month.

It is quite wonderful to be able to report the school is going swimmingly. Kaz confidently reports that it is much more fun and interesting than preschool (which he loved). He has a very kind senior buddy who helps him through the minefield of gathering his lunch each day and plays with him and his new friends in the playground during breaks. He has begun soccer club and thoroughly loves running about after the ball in the QPR kit Grandma and Grandpa sent. His class has outdoor education lessons at nearby Craighall Den every Wednesday and he loves to be outdoors exploring. His fascination with words and numbers has taken off and he is regularly sounding out words he spies on everything from cereal packs to junk mail. Our evening reading sessions are a delight!

We are so glad and grateful to have a big schoolboy in our midst – the next big life milestone will be turning into a big brother in a few week’s time. Let’s hope that is an equally smooth transition!

My first day!

Growing

Hi friends.  In the silent months since I last really told you about what we have been up to we have just been muddling through.  The lethargy of growing another person has probably made for a rather dull time for the wee guy as I have not been up to much on the weekends since January really.  But then, the weather has kept us indoors longer than usual this winter too – perhaps not a winter of discontent exactly, but definitely of harsh conditions. But while the tiny pre-person has been growing, so has our other little one.  Thankfully, his obsession with Lego and creating new things – and his growing skill in doing so – has meant that those quiet weekend mornings have flown by in a flurry of creative construction.

For helping to put out fires.

We have ventured out at least once a week (if not more) – though not always in the most clement of conditions.  We picked the coldest day for a long time to take a stroll around Cambo gardens recently – at least with full body covering the wee one was happy to go adventuring, and find hidey spots wherever he could, the bamboo was an ideal little cave.

Cambo bamboo

Just as the weather started to warm up, a lovely treasure trove arrived from Nana, including a very handsome cardy that will probably do a couple of winters – it is always such a treat to receive a present from Nana – though I suspect that the dinosaur sticker book was the real attraction in the parcel!

New cardy face

We have been using sticker charts with small rewards for Kaz for over a year now, and for the most part, they result in vastly improved behaviour.  The only time it didn’t work was in an attempt to encourage more milk drinking.  After two days, he announced that ‘I will drink milk when I am five Mama’ and abandoned the sticker chart altogether.  No carrot dangling of reward was going to do the trick!  Latterly, the rewards have become Lego of the very low-price variety.  Which has been a powerful incentive.  (Apart from in the milk department). Some time back Kaz announced that he would like an X-Wing Starfighter as his next sticker chart reward.  This seemed a bit grand, usually the rewards are almost tokens… So we discussed the behaviours we would be looking for (spontaneous use of ‘Please’ and ‘Thankyou’ and staying in his own bed ALL NIGHT – something that is still a bit hit and miss really) and that it would take a LONG time to achieve the reward he was after.  However, after nearly two months of stickering, and MUCH improved behaviours, the day of the X-Wing finally arrived.  He was so excited…after it was earned and ordered, he asked about it every morning, the buildup was just like Christmas.  It took us all about an hour and a half to construct it (largely because we were just guiding him through the process) and for once, it may stay fully assembled – most of the other Lego articles are deconstructed and pooled for extra creative play not long after being introduced.

The X-wing is here Mama!

As an educator, I tried a range of differing discipline styles in my classroom and boarding house.  Mostly I veered towards positive strategies centering on catching and rewarding good behaviour. Occasionally, due to the culture of the institution I worked in, or the nature of the infringing behaviour, there was the inevitable need for punishment as well.  But I have never been a fan of any kind of punishment that did not fit the crime, did not address the actual perpetrator, and did not help to encourage improved behaviour.  There has been a lot of debate in my homeland lately regarding the anti-smacking laws – or the removal of the use of the legal defence of  ‘reasonable force’ in parental crimes of assault against children.   I am not intending to wade into this debate.  From a personal perspective, I don’t intend to ever hit our children, and so I hope to employ other (hopefully more effective) ways of encouraging them to behave in the manner I would prefer.  Of course, this is easily said when the behaviours we are seeking to modify are those of a preschooler.  Ask me about this again in 10 years time!  One thing that worries me about using incentivising tools is that children become – as they get older – rather adept at producing the behaviour for cynical ends.  This is already a little evident in Kazuo’s negotiations.  But each stage – and each new challenge – requires a little more thought about how to bring out the best in this little social experiment we are producing.

What are your thoughts about how to bring out the best in children?

Farewell to the Television

TV For Sale June 09

Today we say goodbye to our cable contract.  Yippee!

Since I noticed Kazuo being attracted to the vivid and constantly changing images on the television, I have made a point of keeping it off whenever he is awake.  And to be honest, I don’t turn it on during his nap times anyway.  So really, the only time it has been turned on over the past couple of months, has been when Akira has been watching sport in the evenings.  So it seemed a waste to be paying a premium for previously essential viewing like HBO and BBC America.  We just don’t go there anymore.  Though I suspect in the winter we may miss the Discovery Channel…

But the AAP has also issued a media statement that urges Pediatricians to advise parents to avoid TV fpr their children until after 2 years… and then to be involved and discerning media-savvy parents who discuss what is viewed/found online with your children.  Although this is an example of ultra-conservative over-protection that is prevalent in this country, for once, I agree.  And the idea that the child’s room should remain an electronic media-free environment makes excellent sense.

The PBS has also summarised some of the research on this issue, and it seems that most of the issues with early childhood viewing are related to adolescent obesity, sedentary behaviour, attention deficiencies, slower language development and other developmental delays.  Much more research needs to be done into these areas as the jury seems definitely out on how linked TV exposure is to some of these problems.  However, given that there also does not seem to be any major gain in watching TV for the very young, I am happy to take a conservative approach with Kazuo for now.

We had long periods without the TV when I was growing up… and I do not feel that having or not having TV made any real difference as our lives were active, imaginative and full of healthy play.  That is what I want for Kaz in the long run.

In the short term, we stand to save big time on the cancelled cable… and might invest in a decent PC with a good video card so that we can watch the odd sporting/nature/comedy programme online in the winter months.

Bye bye telly… we will not miss you in our lounge!