Two children's books on batman bedding. The larger book on the left is 100 Things to Know About Space and the other book is Grandpa Was an Astronaut by Jonathan Meres.
School Days, Thinking Out Loud

World Book Day

Before I launch into a rant of sorts, please know that this isn’t anti World Book Day. What they stand for and what they aim to do is brilliant. World Book Day is the world’s biggest campaign to provide every child and young person in the country with a book of their own. Their twitter biography sums it up:

The biggest annual celebration of books and reading in the UK & Ireland. Share a Story with us on 7 March 2019. A charity, sponsored by National Book Tokens. @WorldBookDayUK

Our school isn’t dressing up for World Book Day this year and I’m cool with that. Instead, the children have been asked to take their favourite book into school. It’s perfectly in keeping with the whole ethos of sharing a story, building a love of reading, getting kids excited about books and seeing what a huge range of stories and factual books there are.

Yet some parents still moan. If they’d had to dress up there’d be other parents moaning. I think it comes from the everyone-else-is-dressing-up-why-can’t-we zone while completely missing the point that every child in the school will still have a free book token and a chance to share their favourite book with their class.

World Book Day’s current campaign is #ShareAStory. It’s not #SendYourKidToSchoolInARandomCostumeThatsNotNecessarilyInABook or #BuyABookCharacterCostumeFromTheSupermarketEvenThoughYourChildsNeverReadThatBook or #WearYourFavouriteFancyDressOutfitRegardlessOfWhetherOrNotItsInABook

It isn’t about dressing up. That’s just one of many ways in which schools can mark and celebrate the day. Write a story, find a fact in a book, design a book mark. My kids have dressed up some years but other years they’ve had a pyjama day at school for a day of bedtime stories. The years we’ve dressed up, we’ve talked about their favourite books and did what we could with clothes and props we already had. Think Iggy Peck the Architect (patterned knitted jumper, skinny trousers, daps and a pencil behind the ear) or Jesse Aarons from Bridge to Terabithia (jeans, raglan top and a crown made out of twigs).

I know that my children and I are coming at this from a place of literary privilege. I grew up in a home of books, we had regular tips to the library, I saw my parents read for pleasure, my best friends enjoyed the same boks as me, I had books as gifts, we had day trips to Hay on Wye, I ended up studying books at university (English Lit) and there are books in every room of our home. I read to my children and they read because they want to. When the new Health Visitor first visited after my youngest was born she glanced around the living room and said “you’ll be fine, you’ve got books”, to which I said “none of them are about parenting”. “It doesn’t matter,” she replied “it makes a difference.” The sad thing was, most of the houses she visited didn’t have books.

Not everyone lives a life immersed in books. I know mothers who taught themselves to read as adults. At Christmas in a toy shop I was browsing the children’s books when I overheard a woman say to her friend “no, she wouldn’t want a book as a present, that’s boring” and my heart broke a little. 4 in 10 boys and 3 in 10 girls aged 11-13 who took part in a 2010 National Literary Trust survey did not own any books.

Spending just 10 minutes a day reading with children of all ages can make a crucial difference to their future. Literacy matters. The National Literacy Trust research showed that children who don’t own books were two and a half times more likely to read below their expected level than children who have their own books* (19% compared to 7.6%). It helps to put important campaigns like World Book Day into perspective.

Schools have enough to deal with and your misplaced outrage about fancy dress or late notice about taking in a book isn’t going to be their top priority. Remember it’s also the season for belated St David’s Day Eisteddfodau, British Science Week and bloody Red Nose Day.

Of course, all the Matildas and Boys in a Dress, the Tigers Who Came to Tea and the Highway Rats are delightful. A gaggle of primary aged children in fancy dress is a wonderful thing. There’s joy and creativity in making outfits. But if your school isn’t dressing up for World Book Day, don’t be a dick about it. Dress them up on the weekend or this evening if you’re really gagging to take that photo for Instagram. Even better, just read a book with them, find out what their favourite book is and why.

My boys both chose books that are space themed, which isn’t surprising as they both want to be astronauts (the youngest wants to be the first ventriloquist in space, please tell me no one’s beat him to it). Both books are signed by the authors because they’re both from different literary festivals. They’re not the books they’re in the middle of reading but they’re important to them. One’s a book of facts and the other’s a story.

This quote hit the nail on the head more succinctly than my waffling diatribe:

If your child’s World Book Day costume costs more than a book, STOP RIGHT THERE! Make something from a cereal box, and BUY A BOOK instead.**

If you found yourself cursing World Book Day as you stressed over a costume last night, take a moment to be grateful that your child has access to books. If you fumed about your school not letting you show off via your offspring’s costume today, take a moment to be grateful you had one less thing to stress about and that your child has access to books. And if you don’t give a shit about books or which children have access to them, I’ll take a moment to be grateful for World Book Day doing what they do.

*National Literacy Trust online survey, took pace in November and December 2010

**from an instagram post by @brightbuttonschildminding spotted on @childcare_adventures

School Days, Thinking Out Loud

To my children on the first day of school

Enjoy! I won’t cry, you won’t cry. That’s not our thing. No severe case of stiff upper lip, just a case of being a totally normal thing to happen at the start of September. I love that you love school, that you’re bright and a good friend.

You’ll get up to all sorts of exciting things this year. All of you. Trips and projects, odd crazes and funny stories. You’ll pick up fodder for anecdotes in your adult years. You’ll learn and you’ll grow.

I’m getting soppy. I should probably have started the school year as I mean to go on by laying out your uniforms and preparing your packed lunches but we’ll muddle through somehow.

And a special extra note for my step daughter: I hope you have a better first day than your dad did.

School Days, Thinking Out Loud

The Climb. Are they growing too fast?

The end of another school year is fast approaching. We’ve had the school reports and now come the moving on assemblies, leavers concerts and end of term summer productions* with photo montages and song choices selected with the sole aim of squeezing out parental tears of joy and pride.

The Climb** (by Miley Cyrus in the Hannah Montana era) gets me every year. The lyrics push me over the edge. I admit to crying every time they sing it. Turns out I’m a softy and a sucker for country pop. I’m also a sucker for a montage. It’s the best bit of any televised sports match and I love that we have the technology to do the same with our everyday non-sportsing lives.

Montage + uplifting song about overcoming obstacles + primary school children = weeping mess

That said, I’ve never been one for spouting “they’re growing too fast”, “I wish he was still a baby” and all that guff. They’re growing at the rate they’re supposed to. Thankfully. I love that they’re getting more independent because I’m lazy and they can do more for themselves. When they’re old enough and sensible enough to make you a cup of tea there’s a definite winning-at-life feel to the milestone. It’s a privilege to see them grow and develop. That’s what’s supposed to happen. Of course they were adorable when they were younger (even if in hindsight they were funny looking babies) but I don’t want to miss this stage in their lives or wish it away through some rose tinted nostalgia for the days when they were more dependent on me.

One of my favourite English teachers shared a poem with us in 6th form that stuck with me. Not so much that I actually remember the title or the poet but the archery analogy rings true. To make those we love fly as high and far as they can we have to use strength to pull them in close and steady but then we have to let them go, trust them to soar. Our kids have all had some sort of metaphorical mountain to climb this year so let’s celebrate those journeys and not fantasise about them morphing into their younger selves like Benjamin Button.

 

*A few weeks ago I asked my step daughter if she had a leavers concert. “No”, she told me and glared at me as though I’d suggested something utterly ludicrous. My husband later told me that we had tickets to go and watch her in a school show. I mentioned to her that I’d thought she wasn’t doing one. Following an audible sigh and a roll of the eyes she explained “it’s not a leavers concert it’s Summer Production” (yes, the capitals were also audible). It was brilliant whatever it was called.

**https://youtu.be/jpTYG_Sqqdg

School Days

Parents Evening

It’s parents evening week at my sons’ school. I don’t dread it half as much as my primary school teacher mate. I get to spend 10 minutes being bathed in praise for the little humans that we made. Which is nice. I liked school, my boys liked school, my boys’ teachers like my boys. I’m less keen on future high school parents evenings with their speed dating format and at least three subjects you didn’t even know were a thing.

Dropping my kids to school most mornings means I see their teachers and LSAs a fair bit. I’m not stressing about being judged by the teacher on parents evening (in Secret Teacher style)  because I’m sure they’ve already made their judgements. That said, I have brushed my hair and changed out of my leisure wear, just in case.

If my boys have an issue or I’m worried about something, the teacher and I can and do address it really quickly, not store it up for an arbitrary 10 minute sit down on miniscule chairs.

Mr VoG Mam isn’t able to make it today (poorly step daughter) which is probably for the best chair-wise. They’re not built for his bulk. My parents had their wedding reception in a primary school which has always conjured up images of wedding guests with the knees of their flares up their moustachioed nostrils.

I did have to do that I’m-a-terrible-mother thing of postponing the 4 year old’s parents evening until after half term because a work meeting moved dates. But, you know what? Both the boys’ teachers are also working mums of primary aged children so they get it (I hope).

I’m toying with a parents evening bingo of phrases like “unique sense of humour”, “a pleasure to teach”, “a credit to you”, “gets on with everyone”, “numerical reasoning” and possibly “who?”.

If they’re friendly and working their hardest then I’m happy. Same goes for both the teachers and the boys.