Thursday, 30 September 2010

It takes a village ...

I've just got back from the youth club I help run in the village. I can't get over the change in one of the kids since the summer holidays, let's call him Tom. He was tricky to have around last year, very competitive, not a team player and a bad loser. He invariably got into a fight with one of his friends. His parents were convinced it was always the other boy's fault, we weren't. There was a sigh of relief on the days Tom didn't come.

But this term Tom is a changed boy – polite, cooperative, calm and ready to join in with the others. I initially put it down to growing up, but one of the other helpers had another theory. Tom had a new friend in the village and had spent much of the summer with his family; their influence had made Tom easier with himself.

I've seen this happen a number of times in the village over the years: one family taking a friend of their son under their wing and providing the stability and the guidance his own family were unable to give at the time. A bit like informal fostering, or an extended family. I'm sure this has always happened the world over, but it's not something that's considered when we think about raising children. Perhaps it's time to be a bit more conscious of the old saying "it takes a village to raise a child".

Friday, 24 September 2010

Gareth Malone's Extraordinary School for Boys

In a three-part series on BBC2 Gareth Malone rose to the challenge of raising boys' reading ages in Year's 5 and 6 in an Essex primary school. His approach? To get boys interested by doing things that interest boys, then identify the few who still aren't engaging, find out what motivates them and use that to challenge them to participate.

His strategies included lots of exercise, going outdoors, competition, debating, camping, tree climbing, den building, re-enacting battles, involving parents, boys stocking the library, dads reading to the boys around a campfire, and boys writing and performing their own play.

After eight weeks, the average reading age had gone up by 5 months, with one boy improving by 20 months, ie finally reaching his expected reading age.

It took a brave headteacher and open-minded staff to try out this experiment. While other schools may not have the budget and the cudos that comes with being on television, the principles underlying the programme can be used anywhere. It just takes courage, imagination and resourcefulness.

Children learn best when they enjoy learning. This approach can make school a better place for boys, for girls and for teachers.

Sunday, 6 June 2010

Black Fatherhood in the 21st Century

I was recently invited to the House of Commons to the launch of a campaign on Black Fatherhood. The event was hosted by David Lammy MP and the Runnymede Trust. There were about fifty people in the audience, many of whom were involved in groups already doing great work on fatherhood.
David told the audience that he had been concerned about fatherhood for many years: his own father had left when he was 11 years old, he explained the effect this had on him and his family, and how it had felt like a personal betrayal. He recognised that a lot of people in the black community had private conversations about affects of fathering on family life, and said it is time to be brave enough to talk openly about it. In his speech he explained the particular challenges that face the black community – it is well worth reading.
David has started making these conversations public by producing a video showing discussions about fatherhood with black men of all ages and backgrounds. I found it really hardening to see a group of black professional men sitting on the House of Commons terrace discussing the effect their fathers had had in their lives.
One of the fathers in the audience was sporting a black t-shirt with 'I am the Dad' across the front. It turns out he's set up an organisation of the same name, has a band called Green Jade and is releasing the single Fathers Day in time for Fathers Day.
I met some of the other good people from organisations promoting fatherhood, you might want to check these out: Mighty Men of Valour, 100 Black Men and DadsHouse.

Saturday, 15 May 2010

Think Long-Term

Last week I addressed an 'A' Level Citizenship course at Oaklands College, St Albans on community involvement. We looked at the why and what and how of community work, identified areas each student could get involved in locally, and discussed community cohesion and social capital. The advice I gave them was:
  • get involved, but don't let it take over your life
  • enroll others, but understand their interest and commitment will vary
  • recognise projects have cycles
  • think ahead and plan for the project to continue without you
The following day I was helping at the youth club, set up as part of the Creating Safer Communities for All project in Leighton Buzzard, and was given the opportunity to practise what I had preached. The youth club had had a good first year, but then two of the five founding volunteers had moved on and it had taken a while to recruit some more. We just thought it was sorted, when changes in personal circumstances of three of the new volunteers meant they were unavailable. Also the mum who'd taken on the leadership of the club was getting tired. Her partner, wanting to protect her, was all for her packing it in. My view was rather than getting despondent, we needed to make it more manageable, get more people involved, make a rota to reduce the burden and train people to take over.

So that's our plan. And on the first night of the new rota, a mum came by and said she wanted to get involved. A couple of days later a friend told me about her 16-year-old sports-mad stepson who is great with younger kids, but needed some focus. She's going to talk to him about helping out.

Considering these good omens I think it's going to turn out fine.