Category Archives: parental involvement

Summer ideas for Maths activities

There is a common misconception that maths is just about numbers. Yet maths is so much more than this. Pattern recognition, problem solving, structured thinking, comprehension, interpretation of quantities and critical thinking are all skills required to investigate even the simplest of mathematical questions. But most of all, maths is about questioning, trying ideas and challenging ourselves.

All children are born with the “curiosity bug” and love a challenge. In fact, children are adept to mathematical problem solving from an early age. The summer holidays provide a fantastic opportunity for learning in different contexts and through more playful channels. So this summer why not nurture your child’s maths abilities?

I have written a few tips and ideas for the latest Families Warwickshire magazine. Visit the website to find out how to have fun with your children this summer, while at the same time helping them to sharpen their skills. All activities are designed to develop core skills that will help children gain a solid background in maths.

Families Warwickshire magazine



A 9 year old’s view on Nigeria, education and everything else

We are in the car, the three of us. The children are quiet in the rear seat. It is 11am and the BBC radio 2 news is on. Michelle Obama has delivered a radio address to draw attention to the plight of the kidnapped schoolgirls in Nigeria. Naturally the event is on the news bulletin.

Mum is this true?” asks my daughter.

What?” I say absent-mindedly.

Some girls have been kidnapped. Is this true?

Once more she has caught me off guard. I know how this is going to unravel. She is going to bombard me with questions. In between her feelings are going to change from being worried, concerned and a little bit frightened to being upset and finally she will become determined and offer a solution or two.

Yes” I reply with hesitation. The truth is that she has not been aware of the situation that is being going on for three weeks now. Is this a good time  for us to talk about it. But we are in the car. I am driving and she is sitting in the back. This is not the ideal set up for introducing my daughter to a complex issue, which involves history, tradition, religion, poverty and inevitably lack of education.

Apparently the news has alerted her. “Are there kidnappers for real?

Yes” I attempt to reply, but before I actually mutter a word she moves on to the next question.

Has such an incident ever happened in England?

I can see now that she is nervous and uncomfortable. 200 school girls have been abducted on their way to school. She can relate to them. She probably thinks that this may as well happen to her.

I try to reassure her. No, this has never happened in this country. This event took place in Nigeria a country in Africa. A militant group, who believe that people and particularly girls should not attend school kidnapped the girls. They think that learning is a sin.

Mum, will my sister get kidnapped?” asks my son, his voice slightly trembled.

I reassured him that no such thing is going to happen to his sister. “In this country we value education,” I add.

My daughter is now really engaged. She has a strong learning ethos. It is simply inconceivable to her that girls will be abducted simply because they go to school.

“Mum I am really upset. No, I am frustrated. I so wish to have a meeting with them. Explain why we should learn and grow our brains. Explain that what they have done is unacceptable. And have they thought about the poor parents?”

We talk about how the parents may feel and the she asks the obvious question “Are the girls alive?”

“I do not know,” I say.

“How are they going to find the girls?”

I say that a lot of countries, the UK included, have offered their help. It is now a global team-work effort that takes place. Satellites are monitoring the vast Nigerian forests in the hope of pinpointing the location of the girls. Once the location has been identified, trained people will find the girls, free them and hopefully capture some of the criminals.

Apparently she is not satisfied with the plan. “Is that all?” she says and then adds “but this may take ages”

“I am sure that they try some other things as well. But I really do not know. When we get home we can read the news and find out more” I offer.

And then she simply asks, “What can we do to help the girls?”

To this question I have no convincing answer.

One thing is for sure, celebrity involvement and twitter hash tags may raise awareness, but can certainly no help these girls.

I asked my daughter if they had discussed this incident at school. It turns out that they hadn’t.

Our car conversation reminded me once more how children are wired to be socially sensitive about issues affecting the world. This particular incident offers so many opportunities for discussion and reflection. It was a disappointment that it had not been discussed at school.

But it also made me realise my responsibility as a parent to engage my children with social issues. At home, it is our priority to engage the children in discussions and listening to their views. But we do not tend to use current affairs as our starting point. Raising socially aware citizens is not rocket science, but requires providing opportunities for discussing current affairs and engaging with the children’s views and opinions. They need to be aware of the inequalities in the modern world, see cause and effect and be able to express their views, propose solutions and strategies.

So what should our next topic be? European Parliament Elections?

Let’s talk about sex

I have been watching BBC3’s Tough Young Teachers with great interest.
To the layman it must have been an educating experience. An insight into a secondary school environment, albeit a particular one, with the focus on what goes on behind the scenes of our children’s learning.

But as a mother of two primary school children, I was really shocked to find out that the teaching of sex education was left to two unqualified teachers, barely out of university with no relevant training in the subject of sex and relationships education. The two tough young teachers were as clueless and embarrassed as their students. I cannot help but wonder, is this an accurate portrayal of teaching sex and relationships education in England?

Currently sex education is not compulsory. However many schools (primary and secondary) include the topic in their PSHE curriculum, but according to OFSTED the provision is patchy. Which to some degree explains the bleak picture that the statistics reveal:

  • The UK has the highest teenage birthand abortion rates in Western Europe with rates of teenage births to be five times those in the Netherlands, double those in France and more than twice those in Germany. Albeit according latest figures the number of teenage pregnancies is decreasing year on year
  • Violence in teenage relationships is increasing
  • A “page 3” culture prevails in many parts of the society and shapes cultures and attitudes towards women
  • An increased sexualisation of children

The picture painted by the statistics makes me anxious. Obviously sex and relationships education urgently needs a shake up. But with limited budget and ever increasing pressures is designing a modern, age-appropriate and effective curriculum a priority for schools? Will head teachers be able to put in the time and resources required? Or will the curriculum be set just to ticking yet another box?

For a start teachers should be trained to be able to talk comfortably and confidently about sex matters. They should be able to convey the message that sex education is not an embarrassing topic and engage in intelligent conversations with their class.

But I am convinced that even the best designed and delivered school-based programmes won’t have an impact, unless schools engage with their parent community.

Here is why. Research with young people shows that they want to discuss sex matters with their parents. In addition to that, parents want to talk to their children about topics related to sexual matters but they lack the vocabulary and feel uncomfortable.

If you add into the equation that inevitably the family environment shapes the attitudes of children and young people, it becomes obvious that only well informed and confident parents can support and guide their children effectively.

Sex education is indeed a sensitive issue but unlike any other subject taught in school, it can empower young people to take charge of their lives and deal with the pressures and can set the foundation for children to become confident adults.

I feel that as a matter of urgency, it is parents that need to be educated about talking to their children about sex. So what are we waiting for?

Please share any experience you have with your child talking about sex. What support do you think you would need to help you support your child?


Parents as educators of sex and relationship education: The role for effective communication in British families, Health Education Journal July 1, 2013 72: 417-430

The Family Planning Association

Magnetic money

I often overhear  the children talking about their day at school. So I know that the last few weeks both of them have been enjoying their science lessons. D in Y4 has been learning about forces, while P in Y1 has been investigating the properties of materials. The common theme between the two topics is magnetism, so a couple of days ago I grabbed the opportunity and asked the children to help me with a “Magnetic Money” investigation.

This is what it is all about: Children investigate the magnetic properties of 1p and 2p coins. It is not as straightforward as it may sound, because as they are going to find out soon some coins can be magnetic, while others are not. This does not depend on the value. So they need to solve the mystery. When is a 2p coin magnetic?

For this activity you are going to need:

1p, 2p coins (make sure that you have a mixture of old and new coins)

Fridge magnet

Sheet of paper to record your findings

Hint: In 1992 the composition of 1p and 2p coins was changed from bronze to copper-plated steel. As a result coins produced after 1992 are magnetic. Older coins are not.

Here is a “transcript” of the discussion I had with my daughter.

Me: Are these coins magnetic? Let’s find out.

D tried a 2p coin. The coin was attracted by the magnet.

D: Oh this is magnetic.

Me: Do you think that all coins are magnetic?

D: Yes. My hypothesis is that all coins are magnetic!

So she tried another 2p coin and to her surprise this time it was not attracted by the magnet.

D: Oh this is so strange. This coin is not magnetic…

Me: Why do you think that this coin is not magnetic?

D: Because it does not stick to the magnet

Me: Why is that? Does it mean that the two coins are different?

D: They look the same to me.

She put one on top of the other. She points that the two coins have the same diameter.

Me: What about their thickness?

D: Oh, one of them is slightly thicker. Is this the magnetic one?

Me: What about the weight?

She balanced the two coins on the tip of her two middle fingers

D: They feel the same.

All this time P is playing with his magnet and coins and is shorting out magnetic and non-magnetic coins in two piles. He does not look interested in our investigation but he is obviously intrigued by the way the investigation is going. So he decides to intervene. In fact, they just had talked about magnetism the previous day at school, so he had something really useful insight to add to the discussion.

P: I know why! They are made from different materials.

D: Well done P! That could explain everything.

Me: What do you think you could do next?

D. I will try all other coins and sort them out.

So she tries all 1p and 2p coins and end ups with four piles of coins.

Me: How can we predict if a coin is magnetic or not?

D:That’s tricky, because we can not tell what material is made from just by looking at it.

She was really puzzled and could not come up with any ideas

Me: Look at the dates on the coin. What do you notice?

She records the dates of the coins in a table.

D: All the magnetic coins have dates after 2000. There is only one made in 1999. The non magnetic coins are really old.

She looks at one coin dated 1971.

D: Cool! This is  older than you.

Next I gave her a new pile of 1p and 2p coins.

Me: I want you to sort this out for me please. But there is a catch, you are now allowed to use a magnet this time. I want you to predict which coins are magnetic.

D: That’s easy-peasy mum. I only have to look at the year they were made.

She checked the dates and then uses the magnet to confirm her findings.

This is such a simple activity but D really enjoyed it so much that she plans to demonstrate it in her next science class.

Throughout this investigation D recorded her finding in a table with three columns

Value – Year – Magnetic?

When trying this at home encourage your child to use appropriate vocabulary such as Hypothesis Prediction, Investigation

Maths and me

When I was in school Maths was my favourite subject. That was in the eighties when the teaching of Maths only involved numbers and formulas. I was doing very well and that was giving me the motivation to try harder. I was getting satisfaction from my achievements and could see the magic in Maths.

Needless to say that in a class of 35 students, I was the exception.  I was so excited about Maths that was oblivious to the other children’s feelings about the subject, … and adults for that matter. For parents were teriffied of Maths as well.

Most of my friends hated Maths. My best friend could not see how they related to real life, so she simply did not care. She was a girl after all, and we all knew at the time that  girls do not do well at Maths. Other friends found it hard, boring and dry and they demonstrated negative attitudes towards the subject. But that was ok as well. We also knew that only exceptionally clever people can do Maths.

(source Flickr, Some rights reserved by Sean MacEntee)
(source Flickr, some rights reserved by Sean MacEntee)

Twenty five odd years ago, it was ok not to be good at Maths. Only a few children were expected to perform well. This is what teachers, students and parents believed. In other words a blend of stereotypes was in the air and you just could not get away. I am still puzzled at how I escaped this mindset.

Back then people believed that you could either be good at numbers and calculations or you simply could not. If you could do well at Maths or to put it differently if you had the gift of Maths, then it was inevitable that you would perform well. The notion of putting the effort, working hard, practicing and developing your skills was not applied to the learning of Maths.

At the time there was little research about how children learn. The prevailing belief was that only few people can do Maths. The rest will become Maths illiterate.

Fast forward to the present day and little has changed. The students of the eighties are the parents of 2013. Inevitably, they  have been carrying their lack of confidence and negative attitudes towards Maths for so long that they simply cannot let go.  The majority of them had a terrible time with Maths. So the resilience of the stereotypical image of Maths should not come as a surprise.

As a parent and educational professional interacting with other parents I see this all the time. It still strikes me as odd that people are happy to declare that they do not understand Maths or they cannot do basic calculations, while at the same time would be embarrassed to make an equal statement about not being able to read or write.

But now we know that everybody (regardless of their sex, ethnic origing and socioeconomic status) has the potential to do well at Maths. All it takes is gifted teachers, engaging lessons and above all parents that regardless of their own experience in school put a positive spin on Maths and encourage their children to put the effort to do well.

How was it for you? Did you like Maths at school or was it a traumatic experience? Please share and I will collate your views in a subsequent post.

Parent View and engaging parents

It is now well accepted that parental involvement at school benefits a child’s learning and wellbeing. However, the role of parents in their children’s education as equal stakeholders has not been fully recognised.

Ofsted has been slowly involving parents in their OFSTED inspections. To that end they have developed Parent View, an online questionnaire for parents to give their views on their children’s schools.

Yesterday they launched a toolkit for schools to help them promote Parent View and engage more parents.

So this is a rather good opportunity to take a look at the platform – is it a useful tool for parents and schools or just a bureaucratic gimmick and a waste of money?

When Parent View was first launched almost two years ago, it received a cold welcome from the teacher community, while the National Union of Teachers expressed their concerns about the actual purpose of the questionnaire.

Parent View is a simple tool, where parents are asked to give their view on the following 12 questions, from ‘strongly agree’ through to ‘strongly disagree’.

  •     My child is happy at this school
  •     My child feels safe at this school
  •     My child makes good progress at this school
  •     My child is well looked after at this school
  •     My child is taught well at this school
  •     My child receives appropriate homework for their age
  •     This school ensures the pupils are well behaved
  •     This school deals effectively with bullying
  •     This school is well led and managed
  •     This school responds well to any concern I raise
  •     I receive valuable information from the school about my child’s progress
  •     I would recommend this school to another parent

These questions touch issues that really concern parents – quality of teaching and care, dealing with bullying, and ultimately creating a safe learning environment for children to learn and flourish. These are hot topics that we are all discussing in informal as well as formal settings.

The answers to those questions could potentially draw a picture of the school and the environment in which the children spend a big chunk of their day. But can this questionnaire provide an accurate and fair description of a school?

The Teacher Union claims that Parent View is open to abuse by angry parents. Although some parents may see it as an opportunity to express their anger or dissatisfaction with the school, I do not believe that they have the critical mass to skew the results.

I think the main problem is the platform’s limitations. Given that this questionnaire can only provide qualitative data, it does not really provide a context for interpretation.

In addition to that I have some issues with the actual questions. Are the parents well equipped to judge quality of teaching or appropriateness of homework? Can they really comment on school management? The answer to both questions is most probably not.

Engaging with the parents is crucial. Their feedback and insight can really benefit a school, but I cannot see how Parent View can help schools improve their teaching and provision, as it can only provide fragmented information if not of dubious credibility.

I am a firm and passionate believer of involving parents in a child’s education. Parents can provide   useful insights and support teachers. Schools ought to engage with them in meaningful ways and seek their feedback. After all, we, teachers and parents, are on the same side – we care about the children, their wellbeing and education and want the best for them.

But I don’t think Parent View provides a platform for engaging the parents and allowing them to express their views. It is a rather rushed and certainly not well-thought attempt to tick the box labelled “parental involvement”.

Parent View can only provide a superficial outlook of a school, which may well be inaccurate. This certainly defies its original purpose and the DfE’s intentions.

Have you been asked by your school to fill in the Parent View questionnaire? What are your thoughts?

Resources for Reception class children – reading

My son started in Reception this September, so as a modern 21st century mother I had already done my research and found two resources for us to use at home. Having tried them, I would recommend them to anyone with KS1 children who (a) would like to find out more about phonics and reading in school and how to support their children and (b) want some free resources to help children practice and revise.

Learning sound letters with a cute giraffe

I had already come across Mr Thorne does Phonics resources through the TES website. So it was a few months ago that I found out about a new section Geraldine the Giraffe. This is a great resource for reception children as it aims to teach them letter sounds using a fun and engaging way. Geraldine is the cutest giraffe, but a bit clumsy. She is willing to learn and really tries hard. But with her big giraffe tongue, sounding out is not that easy for her and it takes a few unsuccessful attempts before she is able to master her sounds, which add an element of fun to the experience.

Although at a first glance it may not convince the parents, I can see that my son is not only totally engaged but he learns as well. Each video presents a sound and it is only a few minutes long, just the right length to keep him engaged. As soon as he would get back home from school, we would check the Geraldine video of the new phonic sound of the day.

In each video Geraldine has to go on an object hunt and find things that begin with the specific sound. This is the highlight of the experience for my son, as he is full of anticipation for the things that Geraldine will bring back.

Reading with Biff, Chip and Kipper

Now that he has moved on and can read books I use the digital library of the Oxford Owl Tree website. They are the creators of Biff, Chip, Kipper and Floppy and publish the scheme books used in many primary schools. This is primarily an excellent resource for parents, as it provides tips and advice on helping and supporting young children in reading and maths.

Most of their books are also available on the website as ebooks and are accompanied by activities to encourage comprehension of the story. There is also audio so that children can listen to the stories.

I would really like to find out more about resources for supporting EYFS learning. Please feel free to share websites and books that you have come across and like