adoption and the suzuki method

A small disclaimer – because I’m over-anxious about my blogs and no-one likes to be sued! These views are my own, and come from my 20-month experience as a Suzuki parent in a SECE class, as well as a couple of days’ observing SECE training this summer, and a few weeks under my belt as a Suzuki teaching partner. In short, this post represents my understanding of the Suzuki method, and the effect it’s having on our family – it doesn’t necessarily represent the views of any trained Suzuki teacher. Thank you for reading!

Shortly after our boys came home to us, I signed them up to a local Suzuki music class. As a former music teacher, I’d always shied away from paying for something I felt I could do myself – but the Suzuki approach had intrigued me, and felt like something very different to what I would naturally do at home.

The boys seemed to like music – both in their foster home and once they moved to us – so I was very excited when they were offered a place in a Suzuki Early Childhood Education (SECE) class, for which there is usually a sizeable waiting list.

What I didn’t realise was just how much the Suzuki method would support me as an adoptive mum – and my boys as adopted children.

It will help if I briefly outline what the Suzuki method actually is. What it isn’t is the method by which I – and probably most people – was taught to play an instrument. There are three main beliefs underlying the philosophy:

Every child can learn – the idea that there is no such thing as ‘genius’, that everyone possesses ‘ability’, and it is how this ability is nurtured which determines what we achieve.

Ability develops early – right from inside the womb, we are listening, growing, developing. You’re never too early to start learning from your environment!

Environment nurtures growth – and therefore the environment has to be a good one – stimulating and engaging. Children must see excellent modelling from others in order to develop their ability.

These beliefs are implemented in Suzuki classes through four principles:

  • Children learn from one another (the classes are mixed age, from newborns up to school age – younger ones learn new skills by watching older ones, and older ones learn empathy by watching/helping younger ones)
  • Success breeds success (once you’ve felt the joy of doing something well, you want to do it again and again – and try succeeding at new things too!)
  • Parental involvement is critical (unlike many preschool music classes, parents play a full role in SECE classes – singing, playing and modelling all the activities so that their child can learn from them)
  • Encouragement is essential (sometimes the goals we set children seem too big and impossible to them, so they get easily discouraged, but with Suzuki, every small step is praised, nothing is overlooked)

A helpful way to summarise it is to think of it as the ‘mother tongue’ method. How do you learn your mother tongue? By listening to those around you as they talk to you, by copying, by listening and copying some more. It develops from the womb. In the same way, Suzuki believed that if a child was surrounded by music, he would learn it naturally.

Learning the Suzuki way has had a massive impact on Monkey and Meerkat’s musicality. They’ve just turned three and can sing in tune, clap/beat in time, and read simple rhythmic notation. They can pause, wait and anticipate when a particular sound or action is required in a song. They can respond to music with an awareness of different timbres and textures that many of my Year 7s used to struggle with. Their musical achievements have surpassed those of Mister and Missy (who weren’t Suzuki-educated) at a similar age.

But I’m not here to tell you that. I’m here to tell you the incredible impact that the Suzuki method is having on my children’s wellbeing – and on me – as we navigate the tricky terrain of adoption.

Dr Shinichi Suzuki (1898-1998) developed his philosophy following the Second World War. Appalled by the awful acts he’d heard of, saddened that the human race could perform such despicable acts against one another, he believed that, through education, humans could become better people, and work to build a better world. And he felt that music, with its emphasis on encouraging empathy and mutual respect, could play a big role, saying “Music exists for the purpose of growing an admirable heart”. So it’s no surprise to discover that, for my boys, the Suzuki method is helping them to develop their whole character.

Firstly, nurture is of immense importance and can often override ‘nature’. This is not to ignore the genes that will obviously have an impact upon an adopted child’s life, but it is to say that the ‘nurture’ (good or bad) that has occurred since birth will significantly shape that child’s future. The genes do not need to be the end of the story. Suzuki believed that there is no such thing as ‘genius’, that we all possess immense ‘ability’, and it is the nurturing of this ability which determines our futures. This, of course, is an incredibly affirmative philosophy for any adoptive parent, as they’re aiming to give their children great opportunities throughout life and encouraging them to raise their aspirations. I don’t know how my boys’ lives will pan out, but I do know that they’re already surpassing my expectations of them musically, so why not socially/emotionally/academically?

Secondly, the environment around us needs to be a good one, in order to nurture growth. Adoptive parents know this only too well, having heard and seen many examples of a poor environment on a young and formative child. They never give up hope that the environment they are providing for their children will encourage them to grow and develop into all they were meant to be. The environment of the Suzuki classes themselves is calm, respectful, joyful and encouraging, and this challenges me to reproduce this through the week as I play or eat with my boys, get them dressed or clean their teeth. Before you start to imagine the calm, dream-like environment of the Desert household, let me tell you that I am, by nature, incredibly impatient, snappy and irritable when my children cross me. We are by no means a calm household! But, with the encouragement of the Suzuki philosophy, we are trying!

Thirdly, parents are critical to a child’s development. A parent is the most important model a child has. Think about it: when an old friend comes to the door – someone you know but your child doesn’t – and you greet them warmly, doesn’t your child warm to them too? When the friend is invited in, won’t your child be happy to play with them and get to know them, because they’ve seen you model that this person is ‘safe’ and ‘OK’? On the contrary, when a cold-caller comes to the door, and your manner is stiff and abrupt (well, mine is!), doesn’t that also breed anxiety in your child, who’s watching you all the time, looking for signals from you as to how they should respond?

Suzuki strongly believed that, for children to see the value of something and want to do it for themselves, they first had to see their parents valuing it and modelling it. If you take your child along to a music class but refuse to join in any of the songs, do you really have a right to feel frustrated when your child doesn’t either? They look at you, see that it’s not something you value enough to do yourself, and think to themselves, “This is not important – I won’t bother!” On the contrary, in a Suzuki class, parents are encouraged to play a full part in all the activities – singing, clapping, playing, dancing, moving – both to model how these things are done to a child who is not yet ready to do them for himself, and to communicate to their child, “This is of value – this is important – I rate this enough to be doing it myself”.

Of course all parents need to consider what they are modelling to their children – but for adoptive parents in particular, who are aware that some of the behaviours and thought-patterns presenting in their children are very deeply engrained, the need to be a strong, positive and consistent role model in their children’s lives is an urgent one. The Suzuki approach has definitely affirmed my role in the lives of my boys – otherwise I may have started to feel quite helpless when confronted by some of their more challenging behaviours.

Finally – for now, although I could go on much longer – every small step is encouraged. There is a 2-month-old boy who attends one of the Suzuki classes I have the privilege of assisting with. He can’t sit up, let alone sing or clap or dance; a non-Suzuki observer might think it ridiculous that he be there at all. But every week he is becoming more awake and alert. Every week he is starting to respond to the music – either by turning his head towards the sound, fixing his eyes on the instrument being played, or watching the older children play and dance. This might be overlooked by a non-Suzuki educator, but a Suzuki educator would know better. A Suzuki educator would know that, as we develop our language by being surrounded by it, so we develop musical ability by being immersed in it. I can’t wait to see what this little boy is doing in a year’s time!

Suzuki families are taught to be observant, noticing every small step, reminding their child of the small ‘successes’ they had that day, and encouraging them to keep watching, listening, learning. In fact, parents complete a journal at the end of each session, outlining a couple of ‘positive’ steps their children made during the class. This encourages us to stay focussed on our children throughout the session, and not plan meals or write shopping lists in our heads!

This process of observation has helped me to observe my boys outside Suzuki lessons too. It’s not one of my skills as a parent – it usually takes me months, if not years, to work out what my children are doing and why – so developing a practice of careful observation in Suzuki classes has really helped me to spot trends and patterns in my boys through the week. I watch more, I listen more, I notice their play and interactions more – and this helps me to focus on what they might need from me and their Dad as they grow and develop.

Has anything about the Suzuki method jarred with my adoption training, or parental instincts? Well, aside from the back ache resulting from carrying two non-walking twins around in a circle for numerous songs in the early days when I couldn’t allow others to pick them up, not much. There is, however, an interesting idea within the Suzuki philosophy that we are not to ‘over-praise’ our children, the basis for this being that children ultimately need to be motivated by their own sense of pride/success, rather than doing things purely for others to pat them on the back. Over-praising a child, according to the Suzuki philosophy, can lead them to become demotivated.

While I agree with this from an educational perspective, when our boys arrived with us – and even now – I hugged and kissed them a lot, and used verbal encouragement/motivation as much as I could, partly to make up for lost time (the 14 months before they came home to us), and partly to build attachment, to reassure the boys that they were home and they were ours. To start with, holding back on this during Suzuki classes felt unnatural. But of course this has to be balanced with ‘encouraging the small steps’ so, 20 months in, I feel we’ve now found a good balance, and I praise my boys when they need that encouragement, and hold back when they need to feel that surge of pride coming from within themselves. And the whole Suzuki approach is teaching me to know the difference.

The gentle Suzuki patterns of modelling, repetition and encouragement are transferable to so many parenting situations – but adoptive parents in particular will find the approach therapeutic for them and their children, giving them a philosophy to underpin their parenting, week-in, week-out.

***

For more info, please see:

http://www.musicatheart.co.uk/ – the very accessible website of our SECE teacher here in York

https://www.musicmindgames.com/ – Music Mind Games, some of which are used in Suzuki classes

http://www.musicinpractice.com/ – Sue Hunt, experienced Suzuki teacher, shares invaluable practice tips and games for children and parents, and you don’t even need to be learning the Suzuki way to use them!

http://www.britishsuzuki.org.uk/ – the British Suzuki Institute

http://internationalsuzuki.org/ – the International Suzuki Association

 

 

Advertisements

what i’m into – april 2017

It’s been a silent month on the blog, and I know many of you were wondering whether I’d passed across the Jordan due to excessive Creme Egg consumption during March. Thank you for your concern, and I’m happy to report my status as ‘alive’, although with far fewer teeth than one month ago. Here’s what I did in April, in between unwrapping (and demolishing) foiled eggs.

Books
suzuki.jpgI properly read Everything Depends on How We Raise Them, which I mentioned dipping into in January. It was good to complete as, overall, it did give me a broader idea of the Suzuki methodology for teaching Early Years – but the numerous sweeping statements, and lack of evidence to back up many of the claims left me wanting more, so I hope I can find a few more thorough Suzuki textbooks to guide me through. I’ve yet to blog about how our experience of Suzuki has benefited our adopted boys – perhaps this month, fingers crossed? (I realise this is a fairly hollow gesture, coming from the girl who has blogged approximately not-at-all since the last ‘What I’m into’, but hey.)

hunter.jpg

I also began my first ever Hunter S. Thompson book – suggested to me in my Year of Books by an ex boyfriend. (And of course you always do what your ex tells you – that’s a thing, right?) It’s interesting – but more next month, when I’ve finished it. Suffice to say it’s not my usual read but I’m rather fascinated by it.

Food

As hinted last month, we dabbled in a bit of low-carbs eating this month: a crustless quiche went down well with half the family, and courgetti was a hit with everyone (most of the kids didn’t notice it wasn’t spaghetti), although no one told me how much courgettes shrink during cooking so next time I’ll purchase a small allotment’s worth. This is the spiralizer we have in case you’re thinking of investing in one – it works a treat and is easy to clean – even for someone allergic to washing-up like me.

I think the low-carbs interest wore off later into the month as I realised that no one actually wanted to eat like that apart from me. So I took down an old May edition of BBC Good Food magazine, and tried a few things like spinach and goat’s cheese puff (success with two-thirds of our family), black bean meatballs with stir-fried noodles (100% family approval rating – this doesn’t happen often) and a flexible leftovers tortilla, which I planned for a Monday so we could use up the veg from our Sunday roast. Although, of course, after several years of making roast dinners and never cracking the secret of how many veggies to cook, this happened to be the one Sunday where I got it so very nearly right, and therefore had precious few leftovers for the leftovers tortilla. So it was just a tortilla. And not a very authentic one. The kids’ Spanish teacher looked at me rather oddly when I said there’d be tuna and pesto involved.

In the same magazine, I also rediscovered this amazing recipe for mac ‘n’ cheese which is just SO good and I don’t even care that it’s not the right season for comfort food.

We loved being the guinea-pigs for our friend Guy’s new pizza oven over at his bistro. The sourdough pizza base is AMAZING, and the toppings all fresh and yummy. Local friends, if you haven’t been to Guy’s then hurry round as quickly as your feet will carry you – it’s pizza and a cocktail for a tenner on Wednesdays throughout the summer. Happy times.

Articles

Not a huge amount this month, but two Marathon-themed stories stood out for me. One was an old college friend, Jackie, who got married early on the morning of the London Marathon, then ran it with her new husband, dad and cousin. Why? Because she’d been diagnosed with cancer just days after her now-husband had proposed to her. She took up running as part of the recovery, and has now done several runs to raise money for cancer charities.

The second was from a friend who didn’t even run, due to unexpected ill health this year, but his perspective is refreshing and inspiring. Read Ed’s brilliant article on putting Jesus above running.

Oh yes, and this article about why women clergy lead so few large churches gave a lot of food for thought.

Music

This month has seen me enjoy the Pitch Perfect soundtracks (again), Norah Jones, The Carpenters and (always) the Postmodern Jukebox.

BUT April was dominated by the sound of my 7 year old Mister tinkling the ivories, learning to play by ear. He shows little interest in learning the pieces in his piano book, but loves playing Vindaloo, which a friend taught him last year, so I decided to give him the first three notes of Bless the Lord O My Soul to see what he could do with them. With a bit of assistance here and there, he got it sounding great! We’re now on to the Match of the Day theme tune, which he’s nearly mastered. The challenge is finding more pieces in C which can sound good with one hand – and which he knows. Any suggestions, please share!

Geeky muso moment alert: the link above is the original version, or at least closer to it than the current version of the theme. As I listened, I’d never spotted quite so many Afro-Caribbean elements to the music, and used this as an opportunity to enthusiastically educate (read: bore) Mister with details of post-war immigration to the UK and how fusion music develops. Fun!

Screentime

The Producers Poster

This month we watched a couple of Matthew Broderick films – the cult 80s classic Ferris Bueller’s Day Off and the 2005 version of The Producers. Yep, my life doesn’t really involve staying up to date with films. We enjoyed both, though, especially Ferris. Oh, and I did make it to the cinema to see Beauty and the Beast – there’s one current film for you – which was pretty good.

On TV I caught up with ‘Child of our Time’ on iPlayer, which I find intriguing and frustrating in equal measure – intriguing insights, but frustratingly short – I’d love to have heard more on each teenager. And, along with every other person in the country, I blubbed my eyes out to Rio Ferdinand’s moving documentary on becoming a single dad through bereavement.

In other news…

I did a talk! A real, live one with a mic and audience and everything!! And it took me approximately seventy thousand hours to prepare. If this is ever something I end up doing more of, I’ll need to build a time-machine. The theme was ‘Saying yes to God’, and I covered eight reasons we often say ‘no’ to God, countering each with a Biblical truth. Maybe I’ll put it into some blog posts in the future…the mythical future where I remember I have a blog, and manage to convert all the blog posts in my head to real, actual blog posts that people can read. You know the one, right?

I went to see Evita with some friends – how exciting! 2017 WILL be the year I go to more theatre productions.

I ran a successful school disco, reminding myself just how much junk food small kids can put away, and updating my knowledge of chart music in the process.

And THEN my daughter’s Reception class put on an Easter performance and it was the cutest thing and made me cry like some massively hormonal mama four days after childbirth. Honestly, those kids could do nothing but lift a single finger in the air and I’d be weeping inconsolably. Having had two kids pass through Reception, the kind teachers are used to it by now. By the time this whole sorry debacle is replayed with child no.4, I swear they’ll be handing me a box of tissues on the way in.

We enjoyed SUMMER this month too – notable by its absence for the rest of the year. It lasted approximately 2.5 days and was glorious. And by glorious, I mean 15 degrees. We packed in as many meals outdoors as we could, including a homemade cream tea. Have now packed away shorts till 2018.

I enjoyed my annual phone chat with my godmother, who I rarely see. She’s wonderful, and I basically treat our conversations like a free therapy session. We spoke for five hours, into the wee hours, and it was all totally worth the shatteredness the next day.

We were visited by a new health visitor who is also a MAN, and I got a little bit stupidly excited about this. It made me wonder whether being excited by gender stereotypes being reversed is, in itself, a form of gender inequality. Answers on a postcard?

I did a whole load of gardening this month, which (shhh, don’t tell anyone) I’m actually starting to enjoy. It started as a necessity in that we have sizeable front and back gardens, a massive border which resembled the aftermath of a hurricane due to a Giant Hedge being removed some time ago, and a husband who is more likely to learn where the sewing box is kept and proceed to make outfits for all six of us in this season’s colours and fabrics than to pick up a spade. But now I find myself wandering slowly round friends’ gardens, nodding and ‘mmm’ing as they explain what everything is, when it was planted, how well it flowers, how many slugs they had to fend off last year, and so on and so forth. I’ve found myself recognising a few plants when meandering the grounds of stately homes, and learning how to comment on them by name in a casual “Of course everyone knows this” tone of voice, when just a year ago I couldn’t tell a hydrangea from a hyacinth.

I’m a bit of a Project Madam, and tend to start things I don’t have time to finish. This month I determined to finish updating the kids’ scrapbooks (a ridiculous Project which I’d never have started if I’d known how many kids we were going to end up with). And I actually managed this – if you understand that, by ‘finish updating’, I actually mean ‘use up all the photos I’ve managed to print out’. There are still huge gaps and nothing yet for 2017 (and precious little for 2016, come to think of it), but it’s a start.

I then started on Project Two, which was to sort out our garage – a project which was started (or intended to start) a year ago, and which has taken up more hours than I care to mention. It doesn’t sound exciting, but I could just die with happiness at the beautiful amount of space it’s created. Anyway, the project ran a little bit into May, so you’ll just have to wait till next month for the Before and After photos.

Am I getting old? Yes, absolutely. I’m surprised I haven’t hit my forties yet with all this plant-recognition and garage-sorting and general fuss over keeping up with the music the young people are listening to. Next month I’ll have bought a sports car and pierced my navel.

How was your April?

Linking up, as always, with What I’m into over at http://www.leighkramer.com – check out her post, and others!

what i’m into – march 2017

Books

Don’t faint or anything, but this month I managed TWO books.

Image result for a praying life image

When my brother, one of the most quietly radical Christians I know, said that A Praying Life had revolutionized his prayer life, I determined to read it. I started it two years ago, got seven chapters in and lost interest. It seemed a bit predictable and repetitive. But I always vowed to take it up again – and, very quickly, it became brilliant. Paul E. Miller is so insightful, with lots of original things to say about everything from anxiety to cynicism to suffering – all whilst encouraging us to develop (or rediscover) a childlike dependence on God. Seriously, every Christian should read this book.

Image result for a curious incident book image

Then, a little late to the party, I read The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, something I’d been meaning to read since Gordon Brown was at no.10. (Remember him?) It was just as wonderful as I’d expected, and took no time at all to finish.

Image result for my rock my refuge

(PS I’m still going with Tim and Kathy Keller’s My Rock My Refuge and am only a day behind – woohoo! I thoroughly recommend this if you’re anything like me with daily Bible reading, i.e. need a (dated) kick up the backside to establish a habit!)

Food

After my February ‘What I’m into’ post (which now seems to have vanished – I blame the kiddoes…), where I bemoaned my limited vegetarian vocabulary, my veggie friend Hannah pointed me to her very helpful blog, which contains recipes, meal plans and tips on cooking for vegetarians and vegans. I’ve found it helpful not only for taking recipes as written, but for reminding me what can be done without meat – for example, veggie fajitas, which are so yummy and child-friendly. I took this recipe and adapted it, adding in a few bits we needed to finish up, and baking the rolled fajitas in tomato sauce with a liberal helping of grated cheese on top. Everyone wolfed it down – this happens very rarely in a household where half of the residents change their food likes and dislikes on an hourly basis.

Marinated tofu in black bean sauce was OK, but tofu is a lot more expensive when marinated, and I didn’t think it added much to the dish (protein, obvs, but little flavour). Pretty colours though:

IMG_20170322_171851

This vegan jambalaya went down well, especially the Quorn sausage. Does anyone else feel like they’re cheating when they use Quorn though?

The veggie star of the month was Mushrooms Cacciatore, which I served with rigatoni. The lingering cooking time, the veg and the wine, all combined to make a really rich, flavoursome sauce for the pasta – and, most importantly for meat-eaters, we didn’t miss the meat!

I was intrigued by a GP friend going on a High Fat, Low Carbs diet experiment – you can read his blog here. I’ve been aware for a while that processed carbs are not the best, and our dependence on them could lead to some serious health issues in later life – but I was intrigued by the High Fat part. This website explains more.

The recipes looked fun, and we got round to trying the Chicken and Coconut Curry, which we served with Cauliflower Rice instead of the usual white rice, and the Hamburger Patties in a Creamy Tomato Sauce, which was served with a huge pile of buttery fried cabbage instead of a bun. I felt properly full after each of these meals – although I understand from my friend that following this diet to the letter will result in some carb-cravings. I also bought a spiralizer this month, so am looking forward to trying courgetti, squashini and all sorts of other veg-based fillers…more in the April edition of ‘What I’m into’!

Articles

Not exactly an ‘article’, but Jen Wilkin’s incredible talk on raising a child to stand out rather than fit in just blew my mind this month. So much practical guidance in here, without any sense of judgement or weariness. I strongly recommend this for any Christian parent – it’s around an hour long.

I also enjoyed this article from the Guardian on a couple who adopted out of choice rather than necessity.

And, in a month where World Book Day had many parents (me included) reaching for the wine whilst simultaneously trying to hide under a rock, you can’t beat Hurrah for Gin’s hilarious commentary.

Music

This is just WONDERFUL!

…and I’ve discovered that the chord that makes Carole King’s ‘Up on the roof’ so wonderful (a 2nd inversion major 7th, if you were asking) can also be inserted into ‘The Splendour of the King’ for a rather nice, slow-but-powerful end to a worship set! Oh my goodness, is there anything better than Carole King and James Taylor combining their wonderful musical talents? I love how Taylor looks like he’s wandered in after a spot of gardening.

Oh look, I even picked up a guitar myself this month. Pic taken by one of the minions, mid-singing, hence dodgy expression.

IMG_20170311_104830

Screentime

We had a rare Whole Evening Without Other Agendas at some point during March, so decided to watch Fargo – it was engaging enough, but I didn’t feel it lived up to its synopsis, with characters under-developed and plot-line not intricate enough to grip us.

In other news…

Don’t get too excited, but this month we made the switch from margarine to butter. There you go, you can exhale now. (Truth be told, I only really made the switch so I could buy a pretty butter dish.)IMG_20170404_212539

Once again, we failed to buy a sofa. (This is a saga which has lasted two years now, and counting.) We moved the old one out, moved a ‘new’ (second-hand) one in, moved the ‘new’ (second-hand) one out, and then moved the old one back in. The Hokey Cokey has nothing on us.

We had a fun weekend with the grandparents, including a visit to a safari park and a fantastic imaginative play centre. And we also had a visit from some old friends we hadn’t seen in years.

My two wonderful Japanese friends came round and prepared the most incredible sushi feast for us and our kids. Shhhh, don’t tell them….it’s the only reason I make friends with Japanese ladies!

I helped a friend move house. And spent a ridiculous amount of time preparing a talk and didn’t do any laundry or tidying for a week. Well, not much. My mind boggles as to how anyone does talks week in, week out. Guess God’s teaching me a bit of empathy for my other half then 😉

Oh, and I used my PTA perk of a Booker card to stockpile Creme Eggs, my absolute favourite chocolate!

IMG_20170309_125328

How has your March been?

Linking up with Leigh Kramer’s blog – go check it out!

free clothes, being on telly and school discos – all what i’ve been up to recently

OK, this blog doesn’t tend to feature ‘newsy’ posts. I prefer to write about issues, thoughts and ideas I’ve been having, rather than over-personalise it, or turn it into some boring online diary. But I’m aware that posts have been a little irregular of late, and the fact is that some quite unusual and exciting things have been happening in Real Life, so here’s a little summary for you if you fancy. If you don’t fancy, feel free to close the window right now (and thanks for the extra blog stats).

Free clothes!

I won a prize draw after submitting my review of Skipton’s retiresavvy web portal! The lovely Mumsnet and Skipton Financial Services picked my name out of a hat to win a £250 shopping voucher which, after much deliberating, I chose to spend at a clothes shop which shall remain nameless and which, in all honesty, was probably the wrong choice but, hey, for the next couple of months I will look extremely fashionable.

TV appearance!

There was a thing on Twitter about chocolate addicts being needed for some BBC documentary and – well, you would, wouldn’t you? Turns out my chocolate addiction is pretty epic, and I’m now going to feature fairly heavily in the programme. Look out for Trust me, I’m a doctor, BBC2, late July, if you want to pre-empt the next day’s tabloid headlines: “BENEFITS MUM USES YOUR TAXES TO FUND OBSESSIVE CHOCOLATE ADDICTION”. They paid me in chocolate, though, so all good.

School disco!

Not only Mister’s first ever school disco, but my first ever organising of one. Seemed to go OK. Most of the essential ingredients were there (sugar-heavy tuck shop, enthusiastic DJ, dance competitions) but it turns out that Time Warp is no longer welcome at your average school disco.

And it seems that today’s kids don’t go anywhere without getting their nails done, so we set up a nail bar and tattoo parlour. (Temporary tattoos of course – what do you take me for?) Actually ‘bar’ and ‘parlour’ are stretching it a bit. A few teachers and parents sitting behind a school desk trying to make chit-chat with the kids probably sums it up more accurately.

Blogs!

Two friends of mine independently started writing blogs within 24 hours of each other. And they are both bloody amazing, if you don’t mind me saying. If it was a blog-eat-blog kinda world, I’d be out of business straightaway but, as it happens, they’re very happy to share cyberspace with me. Please go and read them, I promise you won’t regret it. Kate has an incredible family of 7, through birth and adoption, and shares her adoption story with humour and honesty. Jo is an amazing single mum, widowed, sufferer of MS – and has a lot to teach me about strength, resilience, perseverance, and trusting God through the difficult times. Go say hello on their blogs!

Adoption!

Oh yeah – and we went into a room filled with a whole load of scary grown-ups who weren’t actually that scary and they asked us questions and we talked and talked and then they went and said we could adopt a child. 🙂

storytime sounds – a review

storytime2

Although I know the value of imaginative storytelling, I’ll be the first to admit that it doesn’t come naturally when I’m with my kids – so I jumped at the chance to review this new, free app from notonthehighstreet.com. Launched in the summer, ‘Storytime Sounds’ aims to “bring an extra element of fun to story time for families with kids aged 3-7”. It’s designed for iPhone, but works equally well on iPad. The app was launched with five story themes (Pirates, Lost World, Fairytales, Space and Monsters), but a new Halloween theme was added recently.

I was interested to see whether the app helped me become more imaginative with storytelling, and also to see how my 3-year-old and 5-year-old engaged with it differently. Whilst we don’t own an iProduct ourselves, our kids love playing with Nanny’s iPad whenever we see her, and we’re not always sure that what they’re doing is particularly educational. I was keen to download something which could lead to more creative interaction on the iPad, something which we could enjoy together as a family – rather than the more isolating batch of individualistic games our kids often play on it.

storytime

Firstly, did this app help me to make up stories with my children? Yes, it did. I was slow at first, but soon got the hang. Each theme contains nine sounds – enough for a decent story, not so many to become perplexing – and are wide-ranging enough to allow for a variety of characters and situations. They are also – this is important for a music teacher – decent sounds. Not bad at all for a free app. A small but important feature is that the sounds can be used simultaneously – so, for example, you can simulate the sound of not one but three witches cackling. You can have galloping horses and a fanfare. Again, with my music teacher’s hat on, this creates some very interesting textures within a story’s soundscape: moving from quiet, sparse sounds to busy, dense bustles of noise as the action develops. Some sounds were more of a struggle than others to get into a story (air lock, anyone?), but this is a minor niggle.

Secondly, how did our children use it differently? The three-year-old enjoyed sitting and listening to Mummy’s made-up stories (less discerning than the five-year-old perhaps?), and enjoyed joining in by pressing the sounds that I pointed to. The five-year-old started to make up his own stories – not long, not particularly coherent, but that’s not really the point is it? Both children also enjoyed simply playing with the sounds, experimenting, without the need for a story.

And thirdly – does this app have the potential to engage our whole family as we use the iPad together? I think it does, yes. We will be able to tell new stories, developing them and lengthening them as appropriate for our growing kids. Of course they will become more proficient at telling us stories, too. And I expect we’ll also be able to use the sounds to tell familiar stories, those from books or films.

Halloween-Final

Those who designed the app were particularly keen to know how we enjoyed the Halloween sounds. Those of you who know me, or have read enough of this blog, will know that we don’t celebrate the darker side of Halloween in our family (and yes, there is a light side: more to come later this week!), but I have to say that I found the Halloween sounds imaginative and well-chosen, and certainly wasn’t uncomfortable using them to tell my children a ‘scary’ story. It verged on the darker side of a fairy tale, that was all. So thumbs up to the Halloween sounds, too.

I would love to see an Android version for those of us who haven’t yet sold our souls to Apple. It would also be brilliant to be able to mix and match sounds from different story themes, to further the weird and wonderful possibilities! Altogether, a great free app: why not download it now? (And, when you’ve done so, those helpful peeps at notonthehighstreet.com have even written a short story to start off your own storytelling – if you’re as hopeless a storyteller as I am, why not have a read?)

on education, nostalgia, memories and real life: a trip back to school

Today, I offer something different from what I usually write. Last week, I was fortunate enough to be given the chance to sing at a concert at my old school, to say goodbye to the retiring Headteacher and Head of Music. We had a day of rehearsals and reminiscing, and this is my attempt at describing how it felt.

I say goodbye to the kids and, although God knows I need the break, I still feel a little sad. Their tiny bodies, their inquisitive minds, their hearts and souls are so tightly bound up in my own identity right now, that to part feels painful. I know it will be better To Arrive than To Leave.

And it is. Four hours later, I’m two hundred miles away, sitting in the lounge of my school friend, eating pasta and drinking wine. Four of us are catching up, entrenched in our lives Now, although we met Back Then.

Morning arrives, my wake-up call not the being jumped on by small children, but the being rudely awaken by my phone. And then – we’re there. My visitor pass displays my maiden name. There is no husband, no kids, no married name – I am back to where I was. For one day only.

When I first see her, I notice she is a little older, hair a little longer, jokes a little quicker, showing the experience of nearly 18 years’ teaching – but otherwise just the same, this lady I admired so much that I followed her choice of University, college, career. I take my place in the Altos, and belt out the lines with confidence and experience of adult choral singing. But when she speaks, I take note – no less eager to please than I was back then.

There are greetings, as if coming back to old friends. Those we never spoke to, because they were a whole two school years away from us, are now contemporaries. People have sensible jobs. Actuaries, university lecturers, local government employees. The one we all envied has achieved her dream of West End stardom, and had a decade of glittering career – but now her life is filled with school runs and nappies and tantrums and fussy eaters, and doesn’t look a whole lot different to mine. We connect over mutual parenting stresses: our lives have converged at last.

It is all so strange and so other, and it will take me several days to process all the emotions. A few months ago, I visited the place I lived after graduating, and that felt like an age away, but this is two life stages before that. It almost feels like it never happened – and yet, as I re-connect, I find that so much of me comes from this place, so much of me was formed within these walls, through these people.

When I sing, I hear a voice next to me, booming out with frustrating accuracy. It is imagined of course, she is not really there, but I want her to be. She was my sixth-form friend, my choir buddy, my fellow musician – and our paths have taken us in different directions. Until this moment, I am unaware just how much of my early musical development is down to her.

When I meet my former teachers, I am aware that I am giggly and talk too much, unsure whether I’m adult or child. I feel guilty when I check my phone, naughty for wearing jewellery, rebellious for having loose hair. He, of course, hasn’t changed – slightly less hair, slightly greyer – still the utterly inspiring musician, passionate about training up youngsters in the art. Now I understand what he does and why – but of course back then I took it for granted.

The concert begins, and it’s the ’90s all over again, but with hair straighteners and a Florence and the Machine song. We sing ‘My Way’, and, although it’s been 15 years, I believe I could do this without music. The notes find their way into my voice as if it were yesterday – only now I sing the words with conviction, feeling Old and Experienced. Life has been lived, mistakes made, lessons learned. As I ponder this, it feels arrogant. In another 15 years I will look back at my 33-year-old self and remember her as naive. At 48 I will scoff at her and think “Now I know what it means to live” – and I will do this again at 63, and at 78. But, for now, I’m remembering the last 15 years. The dreaming spires. The boy who broke my heart. The failed interviews. The work politics. The developing faith. The construction of identity. The boy I married. The promotion. The people who have moulded me into my adult self. So much has happened since I last sang these words, that although pitch and rhythm are unaltered, the sentiment has become alive.

Music is not one place, one time – it twists around every era of our lives, joining past and present, young and old, evoking memories sweet and sad. We sing ‘Nobody does it better’ – the altered words speak fondly of the Headteacher to whom we’re saying goodbye, but to me the song also represents my marriage, the mix tape which signalled the start of a relationship which became significant. The boys perform a Beach Boys number, a cappella, at a standard well beyond their years – and I’m taken back to teaching, and the boys I coached to sing, and the difficulties of encouraging them to do it at all. I’m singing Handel’s ‘Hallelujah’ in the same place as where I first sang it but its memory isn’t fixed in school. To me, the Messiah is PGCE choir, and church performances, and teaching, and choral singing in Cambridge.

I say a few words about the teachers who made such a big impact on me. The audience is receptive, and the laughs greater than any I was expecting. For the first time ever, I hold the Hall – the Hall where I stood as a nervous Year 7, singing the assembly hymn, or where I performed as a Sixth-Former, uneasily shuffling onto the piano stool, and always too embarrassed to acknowledge applause. The self-consciousness is gone – this is me.

For a few short seconds, I wonder about the potential of moving the family down here, to get a teaching job at this incredible place. It is ridiculous – and I feel guilty for even thinking I could give up Real Life so easily, so quickly. But that’s the effect of inserting history into the present: everything distorts. Like feeling sad that my own children won’t be educated here. History not repeating, but distorting, rose-tinting.

Afterwards there are more hugs and greetings and catch-ups, and the chance to drink wine at the school’s expense which somehow seems necessary and long overdue. The day has been a whirlwind of nostalgia and remembering why I am who I am – but I am very pleased to leave with a friend, very pleased to anchor myself in the security of a friendship which has continued these 15 years since school, and will continue into the unknown.

 

david and goliath – a song for preschoolers

If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you’ll be well aware of my slightly disturbing obsession with writing simple Bible songs for my kids. Many kids’ worship songs are too long and wordy for small children (of preschool age) to sing and/or understand. And I often find that when my kids are learning about a particular Bible story, it’s handy to have a song to go with it!

Now, it may be the blood or gore or whatever, but my 4 year old boy has been really into the story of David and Goliath recently. So I came up with this little ditty, sung to the tune of ‘Miss Polly has a dolly’. If you don’t know this tune (I didn’t, prior to having kids), give me a shout – and if enough of you shout, I may just post a little video of me singing it with my kids. Don’t get your hopes up.

 

Goliath was a soldier who was big, big, big

He could break several soldiers like a twig, twig, twig

He said, “Come and fight me if you dare, dare, dare”

But all of God’s soldiers were too scared, scared, scared.

 

David was a shepherd who was small, small, small,

But he knew that God could do it all, all, all.

He took five stones from the river bed, bed, bed –

And the first one made Goliath fall down dead, dead, dead!

 

Actions encouraged…I will leave them to your imagination!