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!

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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?

Four Fab Years

We now have a big four year old in the house!  Properly pre-school since this year marks the year Kazuo will start school.  He is so proud of being four and being so big.  We have had a delightful four years so far with our wee guy and we are so glad to celebrate his arrival in our midst.

Finally Four!

Sunday was Space Birthday Party day.  Kazuo had been looking forward to it since Christmas – it does serve to mitigate against the post-Christmas blues, having a birthday so soon after.  But I am wondering now if it just prolongs the gifts-and-celebrations high and makes the crashing back to earth ever so much more difficult – for parents and child.  I will admit that my expectations were high…and my sense of disappointment when I realised that perhaps the social situation I have created for my little one has stretched him a bit beyond his limits (despite my best laid plans) is very keen.  So I agonised a little about whether my desire to make things fun and sociable for him were actually making it hard for him to be his best person.  I should have read this good advice first and chilled out a little:

  • Be forgiving if she forgets her party manners at times, but do remind her to thank the guests as they leave and hand each child a party favor.
  • Set expectations early and increase those expectations each year. Each year your child will be able to handle a little bit more responsibility during the party, building good social skills along the way.
  • For many children, the day of their birthday party is one of the happiest days of the year. They have been anticipating the party for weeks, and as excitement builds, the chance of a meltdown increases. If this happens to your child during the party, be kind! Children can be overwhelmed at birthday parties, and your job is to help your child calm down and get back to the fun.
  • Don’t show anger or say anything to ruin their happy day.

(Birthday in a Box)

Anyway, to keep things ticking along and not allow for too much wild running about the house time (oh, for a summer birthday when we could run around the garden with impunity!), I packed in the crafty activity:

Crafty Activity

We made foam rockets, sandpaper t-shirts with rockets and aliens on them and alien/space superhero masks which took a fair bit of parental involvement, but seemed to work out pretty well.

Then it was nibble time at the space food station (apologies for the low-light snaps on the iPhone, couldn’t find the camera on the day):

Food station

A quick game of pass-the-parcel and then it was moon-landing-cake time:

Moon Landing Cake

We had four guests from preschool and two ‘home’ friends – it was a lovely mix and Kaz had a wonderful afternoon.  Thanks to everyone for coming and celebrating our boy with us, he is lucky to have such good friends, and so are we!

Last night was ACTUAL birthday dinner – which followed a rather happy birthday at preschool.  Family gifts were unveiled which were very gratefully received, and our very tiredy boy went off to sleep like a light.  The thing about birthdays that I rather like more than the intense anticipation of Christmas (which the doctor pointed out last night) is that it is about the achievement of a little more maturity and development – a milestone for all of us – and for the wee guy, the realisation that a lot of his new peers are only just turning three now, and need his help to become ‘big’, a new level of self-awareness for him that I hope will foster a sense of empathy as he makes his way through life.

Happiness for four!

Magic Enough

The happiest Christmas ever! We have had so much delight getting ready for the magic of the festive season this year.  When we put up the tree, the little guy danced around the room in between hanging decorations singing ‘this is going to be the happiest Christmas ever!’  He loves every little tiny detail and has been as full of wonder at the lights in the trees on the drive home as at the treats discovered in the advent calendar bags each evening.  The moment we turned on the tree lights, he darted across to the main light switch, turned them off and sat in the middle of the rug with a beatific smile on his face, letting out a rapturous sigh.

My heart lifts with the magic of a story that has been told so often that it permeates the fabric of our culture and gives us a wealth references to share with one another.  We love a good story at our house and as an erstwhile teacher of literature and drama, it thrills my heart that the wee one needs little encouragement to read a story, begs often for us to tell him the stories of our lives and has recently been making up a raft of his own rather marvellous narratives.

I also love the magic of our reality – the mysteries of the world around us are revealing themselves to scientists daily, in ways that are sometimes more surprising and revealing yet more mysteries than we could have imagined. The world is an amazing place and it is our firm conviction that there is plenty of mystery and magic in the real world without needing to adhere to myths or tales as anything other than good narrative to illustrate rather than explain the world.

This is why Santa, that very jolly fellow who zooms about the skies with his magic reindeer, and spies on the children at preschool through the CCTV cameras, and sends emmisaries to the Christmas Fair to hand out pre-emptive gifts on his behalf, and is apparently able to get into our house even without a chimney as they have the technology these days, will not be coming to our house this year…or any other year.  We are those parents.

So, we were prepared to apologise if our little one broke the spell at preschool with his assertions that ‘Santa is not real’, but our feeling is there is enough magic in the world for our boy to retain his sense of wonder AND not lose faith in our explanations of how-the-world-is, based on a sense of disenchantment (fleeting perhaps) when it transpired that we had sold him a story as truth.

However, it seems this year that the apologies are not required – yet anyway.  He has been far more willing to accept the stories about Santa from outwith the home than our assertions that Santa is not real.  We have put Santa in the same camp as monsters, fairies, ghosts, baby Jesus, angels, ogres et al – all part of the mythical story repertoire that we cherish.  But I think for now this has just served to further confuse him and remind me that his little world is still expanding daily and he is so willing to believe anything – another compelling reason to maintain an honest line with him.

My only moment of pause was when he assured me that he would be very sad if Santa did not come to our house on Christmas.  Lots of things make our children sad.  We cannot shield them from all disappointment, we need to help them learn adult tools for absorping the disappointment and finding a happy equilibrium in spite of the reality check.  We will hug him if he is sad, remind him of how wonderfully fortunate he is in our lovely – real – magical world and help him to gain perspective while hopefully continuing to foster his delightful sense of wonder.

While the Cat’s Away

This summer the Doctor took flight for parts very southern for a month and the wee one and I had to keep ourselves occupied on the weekends in his absence.  We had a lot of happy adventures.  The time passed rather quickly in reflection, though as we counted the days it did sometimes seem like an eternity.

We had a day at Cairnie Fruit Farm which involved a large strawberry…

…finding our way around the maize maze…

… and some very gleeful moments on the trampoline.

Another afternoon was spent at the Science Centre in Dundee, which was hosting an exhibition of robots – the wee guy is quite the Star Wars fan (without having yet seen the films…that can wait) and he was very excited to meet these two…

…and have a go at manipulating these little robots…

…and have a go at making Iron Man hands on our way out.

This led to some inventive play with the old Duplo blocks when we got home.

We had a sunny afternoon at the beach…

…a lovely lunch at the Cocoa Tree in Pittenweem…

…and picnic tea on the beach after preschool…

…and celebrated Mama’s new job with some cheery flowers at home.

We counted the days…

…and finally Dada came home!  We missed you Dada, we are SO glad you are back…please don’t go away again.

Olympic Odyssey

Like most of the country, we eagerly anticipated the advent of the London 2012 Olympics.  We managed to secure a few tickets for the odd event, and took an unprecedented ten days off work and other responsibilities to make our own Olympic Odyssey journey south…It was a bit of a whirlwind…and the dust is only just beginning to clear in this post-Olympic haze that is settling over the nation…but here are a few highlights of our trip to London.

Our first event was football – Spain v Japan – at Hampden Park in Glasgow. The wee guy thought it a bit of a lark at first, but when we realised that the concessions didn’t take card and we only had £7 between us for 6 hours of spectator activity, it became a bit of a challenge.  He managed brilliantly, and we were all a bit starstruck being in an actual live Olympic venue for the first time:

Next up was the cycling road race in Richmond Park, which we watched with our lovely friends the Ryan-Pryors who live nearby and hosted us for lunch and a stroll in the park to take in the peleton wizzing past. 

Our final family ticketed event was the Volleyball at Earl’s Court.  The players were fiesty and the spectators even more so.  Somehow the stands were packed to capacity with Polish fans for the Poland v Lithuania match and they made for an electrifying atmosphere.

By this point the wee guy was pretty spectatored out and so we were intensely grateful for the diversions of the iPad.

And when things got just too much altogether, he and I ventured out for a spot of retail therapy, burning off steam and doing a little crazy posing with the Great Britain Hand.

But the real Olympic excitement for Kazuo came on the morning that Dada was off watching Weightlifting with the grandies at Excel.  He and met up with my friend Karen and her lovely girl Kit for a playdate at Coram’s Fields and then headed to Kiwi House for lunch in the BBQ zone.  We plonked ourselves and the tots down next to this fellow – who had just won yet another medal in the Equestrian arena.  Kaz eyed his medal up for a while and Mr Todd invited him over for a little chat – it was a delightful exchange, especially since K was quite forthcoming about his own medal that he had gained at Legoland that week.

It was an eventful week or so and with the paralympics making an appearance at the end of the month, we are glad to have such a wealth of wonderful sporting endeavour to inspire us.

Whiling Away the Winter Days

The winter days are lengthening finally.  We no longer leave for work and drive home in the dark.  But there is an icy grip on the land still, and whilst darling little buds are appearing in the garden (pinch me, I have a garden, with buds in it!) we are still cosying up for the final weeks of winter.  And the light has been low enough to warrant some mellow afternoons with candle power…and trains in the living room…and the toasty glow of the gas fire…and the eeiriness of a little iPad entertainment…

Wintry afternoons also call for a little home baking with Mama – and the wee one and I have tried our hand at gingerbread, choc-chip-cranberry-oatmeal cookies, muffins and shortbread – rolling and cutting out is the best part (apart from the gobbling down later).

There have been wonderful arty outbursts – wads of paper and oodles of ink later…

…and on the rainiest of days we have gathered together all the birdy friends in the living room for impromptu picnics…

…it seems that Pukeko are particularly partial to carrots…

…and of course, when the cars are out, sometimes they just need organising into a massive convoy…

So we are whiling away the winter days indoors, but also heading out into the chilly gardens and parks in anticpation of everything thawing out soon.  It has been the mildest of winters, so we have been lucky enough to spend much more time outside than previous winters – but the short days must also give way to warmth and hours of daylight to venture out after work and those days cannot come too soon!

Construction Zone

Another catch up from me…a couple of weeks ago our lounge was taken over by tiny construction workers.  Kazuo has been fixated by all things building and constructing for some months now, and when it came to celebrating three years of his little life (yes, three!  A big pre schooler…) he asked for a digger party.  He also said that parties are a bit scary – but equivocated from not wanting anyone to come, to wanting everyone he knows to turn up.  We settled on the three-friends-for-three-years rule, and hopefully that will set a relaxing precedent.  On the day before his birthday we set up a few construction zones in the lounge…

…put out some adult/kid friendly antipasto, fruit kebabs and drinks…

…sang happy birthday to our boy – who blew out the candle and then swiped an oreo-cookie wheel from…

…his digger cake.  Now I am no cake decorator – as my past year’s efforts will show – so it took both the doctor and I to construct this crazy overly yellow creation…and I think the best thing about it was that you could tell it was a digger – sort of.  I think I might be able to get away with this very amateur approach to cake making for another couple of years, and then I will either have to bow out to the professionals, or revert to the olde worlde manner of just baking a cake and throwing some icing on it and not pretending to make it look like anything other than a cake!

The next day – the actual birthday – was a work/preschool day.  Kaz started preschool the week before and has LOVED the transition – we are so pleased with how much he has grown up over the past few months and how rapidly he has made himself at home in the preschool class.  He took in birthday cake to his new friends, and then we came home for favourite-bolognese-dinner,  birthday cake part II and presents from the family.

So many changes have ocurred this winter for little Kaz – he is a charming, sociable, inquiring, entertaining little person and delights us daily with his observations of both his real and imagined worlds.  Happy Three Years Kaz, we think you are fab!