Learning Through Play…

“I blog about my job as a happily married mum of 2, and about my job as a secondary school teacher. Often the two aren’t so very different.”

Whenever I sign up to blogging related websites, there is always the section that asks for a description of your blog. That is what I always write. I guess in some ways you could argue that as a qualified teacher, I have a degree in ‘learning’ but it’s not this that makes my 2 jobs so similar. My own children are 3 and 1 (nearly 4 and nearly 2, but we won’t split hairs!), whereas the children I teach are 11-16, but when it comes to learning, there are so many similarities:

  • Their brains are all like sponges. Children’s brains can’t help but learn. It’s just up to us to help guide them towards learning the right things
  • All children like a consistent approach to things with clear boundaries, guidelines and expectations
  • All children like a challenge and encouragement
  • The higher your expectation of children, the greater their determination is to succeed. If they feel they can do something, it’s more likely they will.

With all this in mind, it might sound like I’m trying to come across as some kind of expert, which I’m most definitely not. There is no degree in parenting, and there isn’t one right way, I just find that because of the studies I have done for my profession, I often approach areas of parenting in the same way (although I can assure you there are no mark schemes for my children’s artwork, and there is definitely no naughty step in my classroom!).

The focus of this post is learning through play, and it’s impossible not to have my teacher hat on at least some of the time when I’m writing it. Sometimes I have to try really hard to separate the teacher from the parent, but most of the time they complement each other really well.

One of my pet gripes as a teacher is when it’s nearing the end of term, and the students will come running across the playground to my classroom shouting “Miss, Miss, it’s our last lesson, can we have a fun lesson today?” This basically translates as “Miss, we all wish we’d already broken up for the holidays, so are you going to be a walkover and let us do sod all today?” My gritted teeth response to this is always the same: “Yes, of course we are going to have a fun lesson today.”

My popularity doesn’t usually last for long. As soon as I have a room full of 30 teenagers, eagerly waiting to see if I’ll be the coolest teacher by showing them an 18 certificate film, only to see their exercise books out on the table and an activity waiting to be completed, I prepare myself for the inevitable groan, and wait for them to get over it before continuing with my lesson (which usually is quite fun, to be fair – I teach music so it’s all pretty hands on)!

I do however have 2 lesson activities which stick out in my memory. A fundamental of teaching today, relies upon a teacher’s ability to identify before they plan their lesson, what it is the children in their class will learn by the end of their lesson. It is then their responsibility to plan activities in the lesson to ensure students are aware of this, and have a measurable way of assessing whether it has been achieved or not.

I had a Year 8 class (12-13 year olds), and I wanted to introduce them to the concept of chords. My husband, who is also a teacher suggested this activity originally but over the years I’ve modified it. When they came into my room, there were a whole list of foods displayed. They had to create three different menus from the foods. They were baffled but also intrigued as to why they were being asked to do this, but did it nonetheless. At the end of the activity, they were all discussing the idea that some of the menus worked well, others were a matter of taste, while some were wrong. Just wrong! While they were still discussing this, I began playing some different types of music, and before they had time to realise, we were bringing in musical theory and the concept of chords, and musical taste.

The other one that sticks in my mind was a Year 10 (first year of GCSE) class. They sat down, I loaded up YouTube, and began playing them some selected X Factor and Britain’s Got Talent auditions. With only a small amount of teacher input, my class had, within 25 minutes discussed what made a successful musical performance, and collaboratively created a set of assessment criteria very similar to the GCSE mark scheme. Off they they toddled to prepare for their own performances, confident in the knowledge of what was expected from them.

My lessons don’t always run this smoothly, but the key to the success of these both times? Two things: Engagement, and the fact that the students didn’t necessarily realise that what they were doing was ‘learning.’

I’m not going to mention my job again, as I’m confident that the Tots 100 Blog Hop was not anticipating talk of GCSE mark schemes, given that the prize includes a load of Mega Bloks (although I have to say they came in very handy for a lesson I did on musical structure…)!

When it comes to helping my own children learn, I’ve always tried to encourage them to find out things for themselves, rather than just telling them the answers to their questions outright. Encouraging them to think about things, form opinions etc. as ultimately they will remember more things by ‘doing.’ Don’t get me wrong, I would never knowingly risk them coming to any harm, but neither am I afraid of them getting a little scratch, if they will remember how they got it and therefore not make the same mistake again.

There are so many toys I could review here in an attempt to demonstrate how my children learn through play, when they are having fun, but are also picking up crucial skills. I could talk about the wonderful structures they’ve created with their Play Doh or their Duplo, or the valuable life lessons they’ve demonstrated when I’ve been sneaking a peak at them playing with their Little People toys, like the way my 1 year old son made his sister’s Fifi toy hold on to the handrail as he walked her down the stairs, as these are valuable experiences, and ones that have been very frequent in our home. But what about the times when they’re not holding someithng in their hand. Surely they don’t have to be holding an object for it to be called playing?

What about those endless games of ‘I Spy’ we’ve had in the car? Thanks to them, my 3 year old daughter can identify what letter of the alphabet most things we see begin with, while my 1 year old son, enjoys telling everyone what colour the things are.

What about the fact that my daughter absolutely loved saying Bonjour and Au Revoir to all the locals on our holiday to France last year? While I’d love to claim credit for this, I feel Delphine Donkey (Peppa Pig’s penpal) deserves it far more than me, not to mention the fact that we had to spend every travelling hour looking out of the window for her! What it has done though, is give my daughter a keen interest in learning more about the concept that we all live in different places and do different things. Like a beginners guide to culture!

I’ll end with this picture, which my daughter made at pre school and then had to talk about in circle time. Apparently it’s a very intelligent picture because of what she said, although I feel I may need to tell you what it is, as I wouldn’t say she’s a budding Picasso just yet!

We have a caterpillar at the bottom in blue, green and orange. It’s sitting at the bottom of the yellow and blue flower with the orange middle bit. Above and to the right, we can see the caterpillar has changed into a butterfly (using the same colours as the caterpillar). We have a sun in the sky too, shining down on the flower, so that it can make food to help the caterpillar get big and be able to turn into a beautiful butterfly. Her preschool were very impressed that she was able to draw a picture and pretty much explain the concept of photosynthesis, aged 3!

I can assure you that teacher or not, I have not explained this process to my daughter, and I think it’s at this point that being a teacher does go out of the window. If I’d turned up at pre school and my daughter had given me this picture claiming it was a picture of me, it would have still had pride of place on the fridge!

Why don’t you go over to the Blog Hop on the Tots 100 website and check out the rest of the examples of ‘Learning Through Play.’ Thank you for stopping by here!



The Gallery: Hair

I love hair! As a child, I always wanted one of these, although I never got one:

I’d spend hours each day, doing French plaits and making my Sindy dolls look like they’d ‘just stepped out of a salon!’ When my daughter was born, I was really looking forward to being able to do those girly things for real one day. If she ever wants one of these doll’s heads she can have one, as long as she promises to share it!

My daughter has amazing hair! People stop me in the street to ask where she inherited it from. They clearly look at my uninteresting mop and presume it must be her Daddy. If we’re all out together and they see him with his poker straight hair too, I sometimes get inquisitive looks, but we honestly don’t know where the curls have come from! At the moment she loves them, (apart from when I’m brushing it through – thank you to the inventor of the Tangle Teezer for making this part of my day slightly more bearable!) although she keeps asking if she can borrow my GHDs and whether she can have pink GHDs when she’s 5, and she did get upset at swimming the other week when someone called her ‘spaghetti-head!’ I’m sure as she gets older she’s going to go through phases of not liking them so I’m making the most of it while she does!

My son hasn’t inherited the curls, but I didn’t want him to be left out if I’m talking about hair so here we go:

Pop on over to Tara‘s blog at Sticky Fingers to see the other ‘Hair’ posts!

Silent Sunday…


Mummy’s Little Swimmer!

Apologies but I have to warn you that this post is purely indulgent! One of the reasons I started blogging in the first place was because I’d read other people’s blogs and I thought it was a really good way of documenting your children’s development. Somebody’s blog always managed to brighten up my day or make me realise that in the grand scheme of things I probably was quite normal. I really enjoy blogging but I don’t do a new post every day because my life really isn’t that interesting, so I only blog when I have a purpose. My purpose today? To boast – my 3 year old daughter has learnt to swim!

I couldn’t swim until I was nearly 11. I only remember this because I went to a primary school with its own swimming pool so we had lessons every week. Those students who could swim wore a white swimming cap, while those like me who weren’t able to stay afloat for a whole length had to wear a red cap and bob around in the shallow end while the teacher taught everyone else – I know this could never be allowed to happen now! I got my white cap in my final half term of primary school.

This meant that I did miss out on quite a bit though, I never went to water parks, rapids, or even the diving boards, so I always wanted my own children to be confident around water.

I had a perfect water birth with my daughter and I’m sure it’s been said somewhere that if you’re born into water, you don’t fear it. I’m not however sure where I read this or if it’s true. I had the same intentions for my son, but didn’t quite make it to the maternity unit in time and had him on a toilet floor in the hospital foyer – I’m not sure this counts as a water birth technically!

My daughter has been having swimming lessons since she was 13 months old and we go swimming as a family at least once a week, and she is confident around water. This was evident on holiday last summer, when she was so keen to just get stuck in with all the other children, no fear at all! This was her first swimming outfit bought as a joke by her Godmother, but it still makes me smile even now!

She then went through a phase of only wanting to wear her swimming costume around the house…

Until recently, the thing that had been stopping her from swimming properly was a fear of getting her eyes wet. I bought some goggles that a friend recommended and I have to say that if you have the same issues, these goggles worked a miracle. She was diving down to the bottom of the pool fearlessly, instantly! I’m just so proud that last week, in her swimming lessoh, she swam an entire length of the pool, front crawl, no arm bands, no floats, just her. She was putting her head in and out, with the correct breathing technique (something I haven’t mastered even now!) and her glow of pride as she realised what she had done, made me well up like I haven’t it ages. It’s a moment that’s ingrained in my memory, that I wish I could have filmed.

We haven’t been swimming since yet, but she’s so excited about showing Daddy her new skills, so here she is trying to demonstrate in the bath – that’ll have to do for now!

Thank you for indulging my proud Mummy moment!

What a Great Grandma!

This is my Grandma, aged 95, holding my daughter aged about 10 months. Despite her age, she is fit and healthy, cycles 2 miles every week to get her shopping (we all offered help on an almost daily basis so she didn’t have to do this, but she absolutely insisted, and actually enjoyed it)!

This is my Grandma 18 months later. She lived in a very old house with a winding staircase, and unfortunately suffered all her life with unexplained fainting. About 6 months before this photo was taken, the two issues came face to face, which resulted in her losing consciousness after fainting on the stairs. This led professionals to decide that aged 97, she was no longer capable of looking after herself, and she was forced to move into a residential home straight from the hospital.

Although she’s smiling in this picture, having to leave the home she’d lived in all her life, not even being allowed to go home to sort out her own things, destroyed her. I like to think that if I ever have to live in a residential home, it’ll be the one my Grandma is in, it’s fab, chandeliers hanging from the ceiling, coffee bar, sherry and cinema evenings, and not the faintest odour of wee anywhere, but unfortunately, it’s not her home, with her things, or her independence.

My fondest childhood memories without doubt are the ones where I stayed at my Grandma’s house. I saw her a lot, and loved the time I stayed there because she was the grandparent who always let me have the extra treats, stay up until past my bedtime, said “I’ll let you do this, but don’t tell your mother,” (Yes as a parent now, I can understand why this grated, when I inevitably did tell my parents!) but I loved every minute I spent with my Grandma, from the treats, to the fact she actually wanted to sit down and play games with me, to the brook she had at the bottom of her garden which we used to paddle in for hours at a time. I’m proud of my Grandma, but the problem is I’m desperate for my own children to see how brilliant she is.

My Grandma will be 99 in a couple of months, and to me she’s still amazing, but I’m writing this post, because this morning I went to see her in the home. It was quite emotional for me, because it was the first time she couldn’t remember my name, She recognised me instantly, and the children too, and her eyes lit up in a way the staff said they hadn’t seen for a very long time, she just didn’t know what we were called, or possibly, even that we were family. She also can’t really speak properly any more, or hear what you’re saying unless you use an actual foghorn.

I haven’t been to see my Grandma since November, and I feel terrible about this because she is only 45 minutes away, I always seem to blame the fact that it’s difficult with the children, but is this really a valid reason? Getting out of bed at silly o’clock is difficult with the children. Bathing my son because he’s decided to eat half of his own poo, and smear the rest of it over his face and put it in his ears is difficult. Leaving them at nursery is difficult, but I don’t shy away from these things, I wouldn’t even think about it.

I just find myself faced with a dilemma. I have a very small family. I’m an only child, my parents just as well be as they don’t have anything to do with their siblings, so it really is just my Grandma in addition to my parents on my side, but it doesn’t matter how hard I try, my children are never going to know my Grandma in the way I do, or should that be ‘did?’

Their experience this morning went something like this: Before we got there, my daughter was really excited about drawing Great Grandma a picture. She spent about 15 minutes on it, before carefully writing her name on the back. It was a picture of me with blue hair and pink eyes, but hey, it was my daughter’s so clearly I had a proud Mummy moment telling her how fantastic it was!

When we arrived, she couldn’t wait to see Great Grandma’s reaction to her brand new Hello Kitty hairband. Clearly this was met with disappointment as my Grandma hasn’t been into the outside world since 2008! Then, as we were walking down the corridor to get to her room, a lady came walking along, embraced my daughter and son and said how beautiful she was, and how much seeing them had brightened up her morning. She also thanked my daughter for drawing her such a beautiful picture. The trouble was, this was a lady with dementia, who used to work in a nursery years ago. She got escorted off by the staff, but kept on managing to escape them to come back to us. I had managed to subtly wrestle the picture back so it could be given to the correct resident!

Eventually, we tracked down my Grandma, my daughter gave her the picture, my Grandma smiled in gratitude, but as she did so, her dentures fell out! While I was trying to explain why this had been able to happen and discuss whether the tooth fairy was going to run out of coins as a result of the mishap, I hadn’t noticed my son investigating the effectiveness of another lady’s zimmer frame as he was hurtling towards yet another lady’s bedroom, so it’s fair to say that we were most definitely breaching the peace! I’d taken a few toys to keep the children occupied, but it’s tough that my Grandma, despite being completely mentally alert, has poor hearing and speech, so we can’t really communicate that well. For the children this is even worse as they are too young to understand this.

This morning, I could have taken the children to a soft play centre with my friend, we could have stayed at home and done baking or painting or play doh, we could have gone to the park, and given the choice, I’m confident they would have chosen any of the above over going to see Great Grandma. I’ve considered going without the children, but I know this would disappoint no end. So why did I and will I feel I should continue to go? Is it because I know that it will have made my Grandma’s day, even if she won’t remember it tomorrow? Is it because I feel it’s important to try and enable my children to have distant memories of their Great Grandma? Is it because I want to go? Or is it a purely selfish issue of conscience for me? Is it right that I take the children despite the fact that they get bored, don’t want to be there and/or cause complete mayhem?

I’m not sure what the answer is, I’m definitely not the only person in the world who has an elderly relative. I asked my daughter as we left, what her favourite part of going the Great Grandma’s house was, her reply was “I liked the chocolate biscuit, and when her teeth fell out!” So hopefully she’ll at least remember something for a while, even if it is the sudden, public loss of her artificial molars!

Either way, and whether I’m doing the right thing or not, she is their Great Grandma, and my Grandma and she’ll always be great to me!

The Gallery: Actually Trees Are Kind of Cool!

I guess Tara Cain might be very jealous of me for living so close to the heart of the New Forest. However, given this information, I’m probably running the risk of being barred from taking part in the Gallery when I confess that I’ve never been that bothered about the trees. Sure they’ve been there, but I’ve never been wowed by them, so this week’s theme really got me thinking. If someone can have a passion so strong for trees, then I must be missing out on something here, right? So over the past few days I’ve been really trying to pay them a little more attention, and I’ve been trawling through my photos looking for ones with trees in. My husband’s recently started watching programmes like Planet Earth and Wonders of the World too, so all of these things combined have forced me to start thinking about the natural world around me. This has led me to realise that actually, trees are kind of cool! So here’s some reasons why I’ve just realised that I do in fact quite like trees:

1. Walking through this arch of trees on my Wedding day was really special:

2. ‘Chees’ (and ‘Wowers’) are 2 of my son’s favourite things to look at, and will stop an impending tantrum instantly if he happens to see one. Thankfully, we have this fab picture from Next in our lounge:

3. It can’t be coincidence that both of my children’s first recognisable pictures have featured trees:

4. I say that trees have never particularly wowed me, but I remember the first time I saw these trees, and I got very excited. Every time I see palm trees they make me feel happy and relaxed as they remind me of being on holiday:

5. Being someone who only has to say the word ‘sun’ in order to burn, they help protect me when it’s hot, but can also form an excellent hiding place!

6. Our favourite family days always take us somewhere, where if you look around, has more trees than humans.

In addition to the above, I can’t forget the fact that as a child who grew up in the country, climbing trees was pretty much the only thing you’d find me doing if I had any choice. I wish I had a couple of the photos my mum has of me in the most dangerous of positions, and also, the Bramley tree in my parent’s garden keeps them and me in apple crumble all through the winter, and has done for my entire 31 years. Shame they don’t have a custard tree though!

It’s got to be said, even since I started writing this post, I’m thinking of more and more reasons why I should be giving trees a bit more thought. You’re right, Tara, trees are pretty amazing, thanks for making me think about it!

Silent Sunday: It’s All Too Much!

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