Friday, April 25, 2008

Cutting and drawing

We have been doing lots and lots of drawing and cutting lately. The children tend to either make snips into the sides of a big piece of paper as Isla has here, or manage to cut or tear a strip and then cut piles of tiny pieces.

The children have also been doing a lot of collage at playgroup as they have been making the effort to provide collage materials every session. I've improved my own supply of collage materials too - stickers and gluesticks, etc. But often we don't get around to that at home.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Book - the Homework Myth

I have a new author I am reading at the moment, and I like his stuff.

He is an American educator called Alfie Kohn. I've got two books of his off Amazon in the last few weeks. The first was recommended by Bern, who had had it from the library - "Punished by Rewards: The trouble with gold start, incentive plans, A's, praise and other bribes." This book essentially debunks Behaviourism, which is a theory which says that people are only the sum total of their behaviours, and the best way to get them to do something is to train them by offering a 'goodie' for doing what you want, or a 'stick' for failing to do it.

He uses examples from teaching, raising children, and the workplace, and it's very readable. To sum up, he explains how extrinsic motivators (anything that's outside of the task or behaviour itself) only make people do a worse job, and take shortcuts - that is, do the minimum they can to get the 'goods'. Alternatively, if a person is intrinsically motivated (that task is worth doing for its own sake) then people are likely to do better, work longer and harder, and enjoy it more.

(Sounds a lot like me and reading education books!!! But then, I only read the ones I'm interested in.)

I highly recommend it. We own the book, so can lend it when we have finished.

The other book of this author's I'm reading is "The Homwork Myth: Why our kids get too much of a bad thing." Again, this is based on an American schooling model, but I don't think it's so far of what we have in schools here. In summary, 6-7 hours of school a day is actually quite long enough for kids to learn the academic things they need (although the teachers may have to make good use of that time). Time spent doing homework is usually time wasted because: 1) it is often 'practice' work, and either the child already knows how to do that task and doesn't need to practice, or they don't know how and the teacher really needs to be able to give them instant feedback, or 2) it takes up time the child could better use on activities of their own choice (like cooking a meal - in our house anyway - or reading for pleasure, or playing a board game), and especially the chance to make decisions about how to use their time.

Also, the author claims there is absolutely no research evidence that more hours doing homework helps kids to learn more or better. I haven't looked into the research myself.

Here's what I think about homework:
1. When your child is young, read to them every day. And when they get a bit older, keep reading to them every day. Also, let them see you reading (be a role model) and take them to the library so they can choose books. But this must always be pleasant. If it gets to be a chore, take a break and do something else.
2. Talk with your child. And listen. If this is a 'conversation', so much the better. 'Conversation' is a special kind of talking where each person's input depends on what the other person said in their turn. This means it includes so many high level thinking and emotive skills I don't think I could list them. The best time to have a conversation is when you are doing something else.

That's it.

Having said that, my kids' school gives homework, and every year the teachers say that they have some parents who want more homework, and some who want less. I'm in the second group. New entrants bring home a reading book every day, and that's just fine - since we were going to be reading anyway! If the child wants to read it, well and good. If not, just read it to them. That's just as good. (We would also read other books.) After all, they don't have to learn everything about reading this very day.

My favourite kind of homework the kids have had is 'choosing' homework. Sophie and Elanor often had this in year 3 and 4, and its a compromise to appease both sets of parents I suppose. In this, the child chooses a task to complete during the week. A long list of suggestions are given (like, 'bake a cake', or 'make a model', or 'read a book and write about it', or 'learn an instrument') but the kids can alternatively choose anything they like. They do have to write a few sentences about it, and 'evidence' is good (especially in the form of food to share with their table group). Sophie once made fudge, and we took a photo of it for her homework book (and took the fudge to school). Elanor once made a collage. Then she talked about it with her table group. Fabulous!

In high school, Katie and Rowena are also getting homework, but not as much as we were led to believe before they started the school (as far as I know). What is noticeable is that the subjects they like they will do more work for, and we have dinner table conversations about many of their subjects as a matter of course ("what are you doing in Maori lately?") which seems to head off any problems. All good so far anyway.

Highly recommended, and an easy to read book. He may be 'preaching to the converted' though, so I'd be interested to hear the impressions of someone whose kids were struggling.

(This post was a bit of a book chapter in itself - congrats to any reader who is still with it!)

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Train trips

We have had a couple of trips to do with trains in the last two weeks.

Firstly, Cara, Grace and I took the bus to the train station to watch the trains come and go. If you go right up on the bridge (on the way to the stadium) you get a good view, and it's fully fenced, so the kids can safely run around.

Yesterday we went to the station again, but this time we took the train to Johnsonville! This is a great trip with little kids as there is lots to see, plenty of tunnels, and it's only 21 minutes. We had morning tea in the mall, and then came back again.

Cara has a strong interest in trains - Thomas & Friends especially! - and our train set gets lots of use. The girls are also interested in tunnels and tunnel shapes. So this trip was great extension of those ideas.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Shakespear Day

Today is Shakespear Kay for 6th formers at Katie's school. Here she is with her friend before school. Small groups from each English class are acting out a scene from a Shakespear play. I don't know who Hannah is being, but Katie is Lady McDuff. (She looks far too cheerful.)

The costume cost $40 to hire - not sure of the place as Kate got it herself. I could have made something suitable, but I would have needed a 'running start' - been able to see some examples, and possibly a pattern, and some spare time! In any case, it would have come in for about the same cost I suppose, but you get to re-use it if it's your own.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Also working on... block book

This is the other thing I have been busy with just lately. Getting photos for my block play book.

The manuscript went to the editor last month.

(When I say 'manuscript' it sounds quite substantial. To put it into perspective, this is a small book - about 8000 words, A5 format, and lots of photos. You can all have a copy for Christmas!)

I got it back this week, and now have to make changes. What I have just realised is that I need to have all the photos, with notes on where in the text I want them inserted, by middle of next week at the latest. This is so it can go to the designer, and be signed off shortly after that.

So I sat down at the start of the week and worked out what shots I had that are usable, and what other shots I still need. I went off to get some more photos on Monday morning, and will need to do so again tomorrow.

Of course, I can't just tell the kids what to build - I have to play, and wait and see what comes up. (So... I could tell them what to build, or build the things myself, but that's cheating!)

I've got a photographer working with me for the last few shots, and to do some editing. She's a friend of mine, and it's great to have someone to collaborate with.

We haven't got a good 'cover' shot yet though. Fingers crossed for tomorrow!

One of my regular readers (Hi Mum!) just brought to my attention that I haven't blogged for a while.

(My other regular reader was too polite to mention it. Ha ha.)

When I looked at the last 3 posts, the reason was immediately obvious. Apart from the cool concrete mixer photo, I was talking about my masters course. That has pretty much filled up the corners of my life for the past month or two, and is likely to do so for the next little while as well.

But I handed in my first essay on Monday, so have chilled out for the week at least.

It's actually pretty boring writing about how you haven't been writing.... so I'm not going to do it. And I'm carefully embedding this post in between other, more interesting posts, so it can exist, but hide behind them like a bashful wallflower!

Camps, camps, camps

It must be school camp season. First Sophie was away near Nelson for 5 days. Then Elanor went up the Kapiti coast for 3 days.

Right now Rowena is away on her Maori classes Marae Noho (that's a marae sleepover) for 3 days. Not so far away though - just down the bottom of Bidwill Street.

Katie told me at dinner that she has a camp in the first week of the holidays too - in just over a week I suppose. It's the kids camp she has been a leader for a number of times, but that doesn't mean I had remembered it myself! So that will make a clean sweep.

(Oh, I forgot to mention that Kate and Rowena went on a youth group camp for a weekend last week too.)