Wednesday, 31 July 2013

Summer break?

We seem to have got to the last day of July in an awful hurry. How do I let myself get so busy when it's supposed to be the start of the summer break? I can already feel the end of the holidays looming towards me instead of stretching away into the distance. Others, according to the media anyway, have the opposite problem - they have the boredom of the holidays with which to contend, the coping with the kids, and the entertaining of them without breaking the bank and so on. Here I am, desperately trying to find two minutes together to just be with my children, and savour their summer. I can't be the only one who isn't dreading the holidays, but the speed with which they'll fly by, can I?

I had to turn off a BBC Radio 4 Woman's Hour article this morning when I got very angry with Carol Vorderman of all people. She was promoting the use of her Maths tutoring website over the summer (well, she would, wouldn't she) and was arguing a case for keeping up learning standards during the holidays so our kids don't revert to 'where they were' at the end of the spring term - the so-called summer slide. She was implying that without using such websites or providing them with a holiday tutoring programme, our children would not read, write nor do any Maths, not really learn anything, over the summer. Really?

I shouted at the radio before switching it off that they learn all the time. Yes, Carol, even out of school - imagine that! Why doesn't she know that children don't limit their learning to within school hours - it's simply not how they work. It may not be formalised, classroom-based, attainment target-adhering learning, but it IS learning. And it's important to give our children this different pace. If we say that learning can only take place in formal settings with screens, or pen or paper or teachers and white boards then we have a very narrow and incomplete view of learning indeed. Learning in the summer vacation can be the most marvellous, unique, holistic, progressive, penetrating, enduring kind there is. 

I will not be fooled by the advertisers' boredom-buster solutions that insist we need to keep our children entertained or learning Maths or otherwise occupied to stop them from driving us insane. Most parents know that giving their school-aged children time is the best thing they can do for them over the summer. Time for sports and games, for playing outside till it's too dark to see the ball, for reading what they like for fun, for making and tinkering, or learning to shuffle cards. Time for perfecting their tying of bows, learning the rules of backgammon, for creating masterpieces with Lego, or for baking biscuits. Time for learning a few chords on the guitar or playing a harmonica in a hammock, helping with chores, or for taking day trips to new places. All these experiences can feed into their learning, and actually consolidate their school-gained knowledge and skills across all curriculum subjects and beyond.

This radio programme was a wake-up call for me; reminding me to take a step back and not feel guilty about the fact that I'm not tutoring or providing school-work for my children during the summer break. Instead, I choose to reflect on what my children are learning during their time off. When they're out digging in the dirt, collecting snails, counting how many times they can bounce that ball against the wall, or reading endless comics - they're learning. And when September comes around, I know they'll be ready - with their pencils sharpened, their shoes polished and with renewed academic energy. That back-to-school feeling can be great - but only if children have had a chance to actually leave the place, and that kind of learning, behind for a bit.

Monday, 15 July 2013

We absolutely love, love, love Hotel Birthday

When Daisy first told me that she'd like a hotel-themed birthday party - inspired by the stories of Kay Thompson's Eloise (a rawther posh six-year-old who lives in The Plaza Hotel, New York) - I must admit I couldn't quite imagine how it was going to work. But once we'd plotted and planned a while, we knew exactly how to temporarily transform our house into a rawther posh hotel, and we knew that all the party guests would absolutely love, love, love to attend its grand opening.

Hotel Birthday's exterior looked very smart indeed - with a bunting-style sign, a red carpeted entrance and a smartly dressed Bell Captain (actually Daddy) waiting to welcome everyone. All rawther grand, oui?

Once inside, the visitors were invited to ring the bell for service - *ting*, and sign the Guest Book.

Then it was out to the cool and calm Courtyard Garden for a drinks reception; classical music tinkled sophisticatedly in the background, and a make-your-own cocktail bar sat ready in the corner. The guests loved, loved, loved creating their own concoctions with fresh fruit pieces, sprigs of mint, ice cubes, fruit juice topped off with lemonade or fizzy water. And yes, those personalised glasses were oooooo - rawther popular and taken home by the guests at the end of their stay. 

Once refreshed, the guests played a few jolly team games in the hotel Lobby. First up was Over and Under - where sets of hotel keys were passed backwards between teams - over the head of the first person in the line, then between the knees of the next - and so on. This was all rawther difficult - especially for those guests wearing frothy skirts; the keys kept disappearing amongst the frills, frills, frills.

This was followed by a hectic and hilarious hands-on game called Towel Team. Here, the guests helped out Housekeeping by folding and piling up the hotel's fluffy towels as quickly as they could. The team with the neatest pile won, won, won the game. 

Then each team had a chance to make a tower of luggage in the Lobby - the tallest tower won the contest. The cardboard-box-suitcases were rawther light and tricky to stack - so the teams had to use their ingenuity to come up with a design that would win the competition, staying up by itself until the adjudicator had measured its height.

After a short general knowledge quiz in the hotel Lounge, the guests played a special version of Roll-a-Six. When a Six was rolled, the successful guest put on a hotel bath robe, shower-cap and a sleep-mask before trying to retrieve a hotel chocolate from a pillow without using their hands. Not at all sophisticated, but the guests had lots of silly fun and they all loved, loved, loved having a sweet treat or two.

After an elegant tea of sandwiches and the like, served in the Garden, the guests retired upstairs where they could enjoy a foot bath and cucumber eye-treatment in the Spa Room, and they could propahly prepare for the Dance; accessorizing and beautifying themselves in the Dressing Room.

At last, the happy and energised guests tumbled back downstairs and had a laugh, a dance and a well-deserved ice-lolly in the Garden Ballroom till the end of the party. All agreed that the whole affair had been rawther wonderful. Ooooo - we all love, love, love Hotel Birthday.