Banish the myths, feel the magic

19th March 2004 at 00:00
Where's My Peg? A parent and child guide to the first experiences of school

Save the Children pound;5.95

Order from:; tel: 01752 202301

Parents First

By Garry Burnett and Kay Jarvis

Crown House Publishing pound;8.99

Let Your Children Go Back to Nature

By John Hodgson and Alan Dyer

Capall Bann pound;12.95 Auton Farm, Milverton, Somerset TA4 1NE


Inviting Families In: a guide to organising family learning events

By Rachel Johnstone

Mosaic Educational and Southgate Publishing pound;9.95. The Square,

Sandford, Crediton, Devon EX17 4LW (

There's a natural tension in the relationship between parents and schools that no well-meaning statement about partnership and co-operation can completely overcome. Though parents may be outwardly reasonable about school rules and demands, somewhere deep inside there's an atavistic defensiveness.

At school, a parent's precious child is a member of the pupil body, a point on a scattergram. Of course he or she has the right to individual attention, but if that's at the expense of others, well, sorryI The standard school approach is to win parents over by explaining what goes on in class, when and why, and how they can help. Where's My Peg?, a pack from the charity Save the Children, is a good example of how to do this in a lively and effective style. The pack consists largely of material for parent and child to work with together. There are pictures to talk about and colour in, and games and activities to cut out. There's also, on a separate sheet, a "checklist for my child's first day", actually a list of baseline skills which, if they're mastered before school starts, will make the school's job easier and the child's life less stressful. "Fasten their own coat", for example; "use a pair of scissors"; "hold a pencil".

Parents First, by advanced skills teacher Garry Burnett and Kay Jarvis, who runs lifelong learning courses for parents and is a school governor, covers the entire school career. It is effectively a comprehensive handbook of activities by which parents can help their children to become learners. "A home that nurtures a learning culture teaches children that education is important and is to be valued," states the introduction.

The first part of the book deals with "support" issues: raising self esteem; listening to children; talking to the teacher; providing good conditions for learning at home. The second part, Learning about Learning, introduces parents to current theories about learning styles, multiple intelligences, thinking skills, memory and recall. The whole is set out in lively style, with bullet points, numbered lists, quotes and reminders.

The tone is a little earnest. Here, for example, is one of the suggested "questions for the teacher". "You say he is having difficulty with maths.

What different teaching strategies have you used that suit his learning style?"

There's no doubt that parents who take this book on board will be helping their children do better at school, if that's what they want. It's committed to the school agenda, though, and care will be needed if the book's ideas aren't to be pushed to the point of turning children off. It would be worrying, too, if busy or less confident parents who didn't do everything suggested felt they were letting their children down. What parents need above all is unequivocal reassurance that the essential elements of support are love, attention, talking, listening and respect.

Oh, and lots and lots of play-acting and fun. Parents who can manage to provide these in abundance are doing fine.

Which brings us to Let Your Children go Back to Nature, and its claim to offer parents and teachers "an attractive means to ameliorate the deadening demands of the national curriculum". In fact, the suggestions in this book fit well into every aspect of the national curriculum.

Based on work sponsored by the National Trust with children in Devon, it shows how children can be involved in a series of magical "quests" involving myths, stories, role play, music, dance, poetry, games, art and crafts and dressing up. There are dragons to be slain and heroic deeds to be done. "The time of trial has come: all who feel brave enough to take up the Quest have assembled, and the Enchanters prepare them for the ordeal with campfire tales of the great deeds of past heroes and heroines."

Here's a way by which children can recapture the childhood that too often has been stolen away: a time of adventures in the wilderness, with wooden swords and magic garments. It's a book and an idea that's educational at a deep and true level.

Finally, have you ever thought of inviting families to school for some kind of event involving everyone: a set of activities, perhaps, from face painting to bike maintenance? Inviting Families In, part of a toolkit published by Effective Partnerships with Parents (EPPa), gives you all the practical advice, with case studies, you'll need. Get a copy and wave it at the headteacher or chair of governors.

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