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.