Why science matters if you’re a parent

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Science: legitimate playing for grown-ups

I didn’t get along too well with science when I was at school unless you count scraping a grade C in Higher Biology as academic success, which I don’t – particularly as it all left my brain the minute the exam was finished.

Anyway I’d always defined myself as more of an arts-type of person long before I could even have given science a chance. In short it never really captivated my interest.

What might have helped would have been some sort of friendly introduction to the subject that made it creative, fun and relevant before I started studying them at high school. Otherwise when the time comes you’re just confronted with a series of seemingly pointless experiments, confusing formulae and terrifying terminology that will bore you rigid if they’re not explained properly or made interesting. Continue reading

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The Beatrix Potter guide to being a bestselling children’s author

Peter Rabbit and the flopsy bunniesThose slender pocket-sized animal tales by Beatrix Potter certainly had a place in my childhood but I don’t remember having a strong attachment to them. Of course by the 1980s Peter Rabbit was an established icon so it’s difficult to remember a true impression of these books without being influenced by what is already known about these stories.

 

Fast forward 30-odd years, more than a century after Potter’s first book was published professionally, and my five-year-old is discovering joy in these stories from himself (thanks to someone giving us a second-hand edition of a Beatrix Potter collection). Despite the old-fashioned, sometimes clumsy language (that I really don’t enjoy reading aloud), Toby was quite taken with the antics of Peter Rabbit et al. I, too, discovered a Potter story that I’d not previously heard of, The Tale of Mr Tod, which earned countless re-tellings at bedtime. He still enjoys these stories now, two years later.

So I was delighted to learn that a previously un-aired Potter story, discovered in the archives two years ago, is to be published 150 years after the author’s birth. Better still, Kitty in Boots (because that is what it is to be called) is to be illustrated by none other than Quentin Blake – someone who I hope will be as memorable as Potter 100 years in the future. Blake’s illustrative style is of course very different to Potter but his gift for interpreting stories and characters visually will certainly help this tale resonate with contemporary audiences. Continue reading

Five alternative Scottish poets to enjoy on Burns Day

Among the many things I’ll take to my grave will be the first lines of some of the more famous Robert Burns poems. For this I can thank the Scottish state school system and its annual ritual of making kids learn Burns poetry and recite them for a panel of judges on or around Rabbie Burns day on the 25th January.

It sounds quite torturous, doesn’t it? But in actual fact I quite enjoyed doing things like that at primary school and it turned out I was quite good at it (not exactly a useful life skill though) winning certificates for renditions of To A Mouse and the rousing Scots Wha Hae if my memory serves me correctly.

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Toby and his Burns certificates.

 

I was slightly tickled to discover that some 30 years later Scottish schools are still encouraging this tradition. However I’ve noted with mixed feelings that the kids are no longer given Burns poems but alternative Scottish poems with more familiar themes and topics. These choices still encourage and teach Scottish language but are perhaps less impenetrable than some of Rabbie Burns’ work.

While I think it’s important to familiarise children with challenging material from history, perhaps by introducing Scottish poetry in more accessible forms, a more positive relationship with the genre and the language can develop. Toby has certainly enjoyed learning and speaking these poems, fully embracing this new Scottish vocabulary. He’s come second in his class at reciting them too and I’ve always been impressed with how hard he’s worked to memorise the material. This year he’s really striving to win. Continue reading

Me-time reading: The Book of You

Square-book-pic-from-Penguin[1]It’s that time of year, isn’t? When all good intentions are readily abandoned in favour of all those more comfortable habits, which quite frankly make you you.

The wine is opened. The granola is substituted for the instant gratification of toast and jam. And as for those morning runs. . . Well it’s been a bit chilly, and surely that power walk to buy booze counts? Ok, so maybe that’s just me.

It’s understandable that we feel the need to reassess some of our habits after the over-consumption of Christmas but maybe we’re demanding too much of ourselves to expect a date on a calendar to serve as a catalyst for any extreme change in our habits. After all, we don’t all wake up on New Year’s Day suddenly free of all the emotional baggage or behaviours that have, over a lifetime, become entrenched in our psyche. As the saying goes, Rome wasn’t built in a day. Continue reading