Tag Archives: learning

Tutoring Tales

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The very warmest of salutations to you, lovely reader, on this long-awaited day of Fri.  On an unrelated note, my brain is very fuzzy and I am in desperate need of coffee.  Would you like anything from the kettle?

To supplement my rock ‘n’ roll writer’s lifestyle (ahem), I tutor some kids in English and Maths.  The kids are aged between six and ten, and I love them all to bits.  Some of them have their “challenging” moments, and to be perfectly honest I’m not always in the mood to rehash the five times table, but there’s no question that I love my job.

I also love the bizarre (but usually fairly sound) wisdom that my students come out with.  Here are some of the funniest, sweetest and weirdest things my little ones have said during lessons.  (By the way, I put a couple of these on Facebook as and when they occurred, so apologies for the repetition.)

1) The would-be dinosaur owner

Child: did the dinosaurs go to heaven?
Me: oh, yeah, definitely.
Child: do people in heaven get to have dinosaur pets?
Me: probably.
Child: you’ll go to heaven before me, because I’m only six and you’re about a hundred. Will you save me a dinosaur?

Yes, you evil little legend. Yes I will.  Although I should point out that I am twenty-five, which is A LOT nearer to six than it is to a hundred.  I wouldn’t usually mind too much about something like that, but we were at the ends of a Maths lesson…

2) The future feminist

Me: So what kind of characters do you usually find in fairy stories?
Child: Baddies and witches and a Prince Charming.
Pause.
Child: Why isn’t there a Princess Charming?
Me: I don’t know. Why?
Child: Because us guys are sometimes stupid and we need girls to help us.

The cutest thing about this one is that the kid genuinely wanted to know.  It was obvious to him that men need saving as much as women do, and he was baffled by the notion that men didn’t get a chance to swoon and women to ride in and kill the dragon.  Feminists, rejoice and be glad: this kid is a winner.

3) The paranoid artist

Child: I can’t finish colouring this picture in.
Me: ‘Course you can.
Child: No.  No, I can’t.
Me: Why not?
Child: I’ve been poisoned.
Me: …with what?
Child: Poison.
Me: Ok.  Who poisoned you?
Pause.
Child: Robert Mugabe.

Either this kid has been watching too much evening news, or he is an incredibly well-disguised political enemy of Zimbabwe’s current government.  I sort of hope it’s the second one.

4) The sibling swapper

Child: My brother is so annoying.  Do you have a brother?
Me: Yep.
Child: Do you get annoyed with him?
Me: Nah.  We used to wind each other up when we were your age, but we’re very close friends now.
Child: Is he nice to you?
Me: Yeah, he’s very nice.
Child: Can I borrow him sometimes?  You can borrow mine.

Seems fair, doesn’t it?  No?  I’m not allowed to abduct a six year-old boy who can burp the alphabet in exchange for my twenty-three year-old brother (who is pretty busy with his degree but would totally be up for this because it’s an excuse to play with Lego)?  Well, I wish someone’d said.  

5) The one who won’t be fooled

Child: Mum says I need to know about Maths for when I’m a grown up.
Me: She’s absolutely right.
Child: She says if I don’t know Maths no one will talk to me and I’ll have to wear a big pink badge saying “I don’t know Maths” and people will laugh at me.
Me: …
Child: I don’t really believe that, though.  I think I just need it for looking after my money and stuff.

God bless that mother, trying so hard to capture her son’s imagination when all she had to do was tell him the truth.  Apparently, six year-olds are ok with their future financial responsibilities.  Who knew?

Have a glorious Friday, you lovely thing.

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The Boy Scout Attitude

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Hello dear reader, and welcome to…what day are we on now?  Thursday?  Friday?…oh.  Monday.  That’s a shame.  Anyway, how on earth are you?

Like most people, I love the idea of being prepared for stuff.  Wouldn’t it be great if we were the kind of people who always had a spare pen and a packet of tissues?  Wouldn’t it be brilliant to be able to reply “yes” whenever someone at work is pleading for painkillers? There are people out there who are reliable, dependable and always able to help.  (Writing that bit has made me realise that I’m basically describing my mum here, which is nice.)

These people seem to have all the answers, because they have thought of every possible outcome of their day before they left home.  To disorganised eejits like me, these people seem to have a prescient affinity with the universe that allows them to foresee and deflect crises. In reality, these people just have their heads screwed on properly, and they are prepared for life because they’ve learned from experience.  For instance, experience tells a British person to always, always, always take sunglasses and an umbrella, just in case.  If you are the kind of person who learns from situations and equips yourself for similar occasions accordingly, then you are a winner.

Sometimes we can’t help but be equipped a certain way, because of who we are and what we do.  For example, I am a writer, so odds are I’ll have loads of pens and at least one notebook on me.  One of my friends, who is a child minder, always has plasters and formula in her handbag.  A friend of mine who works with animals always has hand sanitiser and antihistamines with him.  Where we go and what we get up to dictates how prepared we are for daily life, and to a certain extent this is true of our personal lives, too.

Where you’ve been in life prepares you for emotional situations.  Just as the sensible girl takes a pair of flat shoes along on a night out because she knows that her stilettos will fail her, people who’ve had their hearts broken a few times tend to equip themselves with caution when entering a new relationship.  If you have been brought up to be emotionally expressive then you will be well-equipped to offer someone support and a hug when they are sad.  If you have ever embarrassed yourself on national television, you will be perfectly able to comfort your child if they mess up a line in their school play.  That’s a bit of an extreme example, but you know what I mean: what happens to us equips us.

We have to learn to be Boy Scouts about bad stuff that happens: think of each experience as a badge you’ve earned, which equips you to deal with similar situations next time, and to help other people going through the same thing.  Be prepared.

On that note, I’m off to buy some wellies for a camping trip this weekend.  Have a glorious Monday.

Staying Alive

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Hello there, you valuable member of society!  How’s it going?

Yesterday was my first in a two-day training course in paediatric first aid (or PFA for those in the know, darling).  It’s a strange experience, because it combines something incredibly important and worth knowing (i.e. how to save a life.  Thank you, The Fray) with something quite amusing: twelve strangers in a room spending all day pretending to resuscitate the world’s creepiest doll.

First aid is truly vital, and ordinary members of the public save lives all the time by knowing its procedures.  I am truly grateful to have this opportunity to learn more about it, and I only hope that if I am ever in a situation where I need to use my newly-found skills, I will be able to stay calm enough to remember what the heck I’m supposed to do.  Having said that, yesterday’s training gave me several moments of amusement, and I would like to share a few of them with you.

Firstly, the trainer was a lovely woman who was clearly very passionate about her work, but she was also pretty odd.  For example, she was explaining the importance of sensory perception when approaching a patient: “what can you see?  Blood, perhaps?  What can you hear?  Is their breathing a bit shallow or too quick?  What can you smell?  Maybe they’ve been sick.  What can you feel?  Are there any swellings or possible broken bones?”  All very sane and sensible advice, you might think.  Absolutely.  But the poor woman ruined her point by adding in the serious, long-suffering tones of someone who has genuinely had to deal with this scenario before, “Not taste, though.  That’s the only sense you mustn’t use.  Never taste your patient.”

Secondly, as you may already know, current thinking on CPR is that you should give thirty chest compressions followed by two rescue breaths, and the compressions should be in a tempo of 100-120 compressions per minute.  Roughly speaking, this is a similar tempo to the Bee Gee’s hit Stayin’ Alive, which is a bit tongue in cheek, but makes it pretty memorable.  The only problem with this handy hint was that every single person in yesterday’s training session almost failed the CPR section, purely because we kept humming the song to ourselves and losing count of how many compressions we’d done.

Last but by no means least, our trainer was also one of those people who has some verbal peculiarities.  Some of them are the kind that would usually drive me up the wall, such as saying “pacific” when she meant “specific”.  However, there was one oddity that endeared her to me forever: when lecturing us on the importance of abdominal thrusts (also known as the Heimlich Manoeuvre),  she kept referring to them as “abominable thrusts”.  I am ashamed to say that I had to excuse myself more than once to go and have a giggle in the corridor.

So, having unsuccessfully reassured you that I’m mature enough to save lives, I will go back for a second day of training and hope for better things.  You have yourself a merry little Wednesday.

Commute Like A Champion

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Good morning, dear reader.  How are you?

If you are a London-based commuter my heart goes out to you on this, the first full day of the tube strikes.  What a nightmare.  During the last strike it took me three hours on loads of horrible buses to do a forty minute journey.  In hindsight, I wish I’d just hired a Segway and had a bit of fun getting to work.

Given that public transport is not huge amounts of fun at the best of times, I have decided to compile a list of ways to improve our lot.  After all, if we are obliged to spend a couple of hours a day on trains, buses and enchanted broomsticks, we may as well have some fun with it.  You’re a very busy person and your time is precious, so don’t waste those hours being bored or annoyed.  Use the time to your advantage.

  • That is Fascinating

Music is great, but if you’re listening to a podcast by these guys, for example, you will be learning about all kinds of fascinating things just by sitting on a train.  Granted, when I listened to their podcasts on the way to work I tended to have a perpetual “surprised and intrigued” face that looked a bit odd to other people, but it’s hard to beat the feeling of having really learned something before 9am.

  • Story Time

This one might just appeal to me and my friends because we’re all silly drama types who like making stuff up, but it’s basically a fun extension of people watching: make up stories in your head (ONLY in your head) about your fellow passengers.  This one is particularly fun when there is an old lady on board, because I like to think that it’s the queen in disguise monitoring her loyal subjects.  This is especially fun when you get to “Green Park – alight here for Buckingham Palace” and the old lady gets off the train.  What more proof do you need?

  • If You Had To

Again, this is almost definitely something that my friends and I are peculiarly drawn to, but it does pass the time.  You have to select three people from the individuals in your carriage/on your bus whom you would spend the rest of your life with: marriage, kids, mortgage, everything.  (Again, this is just in your head or, if playing with friends, in VERY quiet discussions.)  The joy of this is that at each stop your selection pool changes, and the joy of playing this with male friends is that they take it incredibly seriously.

  • Magic Tricks

If you commute for long enough you learn all sorts of transferable skills.  You can essentially teach yourself Houdini-esque body contortions by boarding a train bound for Marylebone from Aylesbury before 8am, and ladies tend to get very good at applying make-up in extreme turbulence.  Think of your commute as an opportunity to hone these magic tricks of yours, and be proud of yourself for mastering them.  I personally am at Level 6: Liquid Eye Liner on the DLR.

  • Make Someone Else’s Day

This is as fun for you as it is for the other person: smile at someone (BRIEFLY – this is England, for heaven’s sake), give up your seat, help an old lady with her granny shopper or a mum with her pushchair.  It  takes two seconds and you’re making someone else happy.  Plus, you know, you can legitimately feel pretty smug for at least half an hour.

  • This is My Stop

I have actually done this one on a lift before, but one day on a tube train (two seconds before my stop, obviously), I really want to open my handbag, peer into it and say “have you got enough air in there?”  I will then close my handbag, look at the other passengers suspiciously and draw my handbag closer to myself in a fit of protective fear before sweeping off the train with a haughty sniff.

Have an absolute cracker of a Tuesday.

Chance is a Pretty Fine Thing

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Good morning, reader!  How are you feeling?  Ready for your weekend, I’ll bet.

Let me tell you a story.  Once upon a time there was a beautiful princess (i.e. a very good friend of mine) who had just come out of a horrible relationship.  Her ex-boyfriend had lied to her, stolen money from her and shown her no respect.  Out of shame and sadness, the princess had hidden most of this behaviour from the world, including the nasty boyfriend’s best friend.  The princess had always been good friends with the ex’s best friend, who was horrified when he discovered how badly his friend had been treating the princess.  In a fit of chivalry, he ditched the nasty friend, rushed to the princess’ side and vowed to support her – just as friends, you understand – with anything that she needed.  They rapidly became very good friends.

After several months of this very sweet friendship being strictly platonic and respectful, some courtiers (i.e. me and the girl’s parents) clocked that a pretty serious mutual crush was afoot.  Through subtle prodding and gentle encouragement – which mainly took the form of blatant chivvying – we got the girl to admit how she felt, and eventually she told him, too.  I believe his exact response to her declaration was “Thank God”.

I like that story for two major reasons: firstly, the girl in question is very important to me, and she really, really deserves that fairy tale ending.  Secondly, it was excruciatingly obvious to the rest of us that those two were nuts about each other, but in their respectively awkward situations they didn’t believe that the other person would or could feel the same.  The only way to find out conclusively was to take a chance.

Here is the thing about chances: we take them all the time without realising.  You cross a road because you expect to get to the other side (unless you are one of those mavericks who doesn’t wait for the green man, in which case you’ve really taken your life into your own hands).  We make suggestions in meetings at work, we pipe up with answers in lessons and we make jokes in the pub.  Nine times out of ten nothing terrible comes from these situations, but very occasionally your suggestion might be off-piste, your answer wrong and your joke unfunny.  We take the risk because we’ve calculated that the chance of a negative outcome is pretty small.  That’s brilliant, but we only got there by doing the research: the school kid gets cleverer by being brave enough to put their hand up and give answers every day.  The funny person discovers that they can make people laugh by making those quips or comments whenever they come to mind, and getting a good response.  We reduce risks all the way through life by playing to win from an early age, and learning from the situation when we lose.

As we get older, the chances that we take are much bigger: job applications, going travelling, proposing to someone, getting a mortgage.  Sometimes these are terrifying, but the principal of confidence still applies: we go for these things because we know, deep down, that we can do this.  There is always the possibility of defeat, but we are also very sure that success is obtainable, if not certain.  We take a chance because the chance is there to take.

It’s important to jump at opportunities because it builds up your confidence to tackle those same risks over and over, and build up your odds of winning: it’s the same as raising your hand in a classroom.  Doing it over and over again will make you wiser and more capable of dealing with wrong answers.  (As someone who is friends with a lot of teachers, I realise that it might also drive your educators mad, but you need to learn as much as possible.  Also, this is mainly a metaphor.)

Take a chance on something this weekend. It doesn’t matter how small or large it is: see that film you’re not too sure about or declare your love to someone; book a plane ticket to a faraway place or read a different newspaper.  It’s up to you.  But your weekend is so much more likely to be awesome (or at least memorable) if you use it to do something new.

Enjoy your Friday!

Stuff I’m Definitely Going to Teach My Kids

Hello, reader!  I hope you know that by getting this far on a Monday you are a champion.  Mondays are rubbish, and you are clearly owning this one already.  Good for you.

Yesterday I wrote a blog about stuff we the mid-twenties team are too old to do now, and my house mate Ash wrote a brilliant response about stuff she knows she shouldn’t do, but still does: take a look at it here.  Ash and I both have birthdays around the corner, which could explain why we have ageing and childhood on our minds.  As Ash points out in her blog post, when you’re younger your birthdays are milestones of opportunity – you can drive now, you can drink now, you can drink in America now – but as the milestones go by you start to look back and see what you can’t (or shouldn’t) do anymore.

It might seem a bit rich for two girls in their mid-twenties to make grand, tragic statements about the perils of ageing, so my apologies to anyone who thinks that we’re drama queens.  I can only defend us by saying that a) we are so recently past the last “good” milestone that we are still adjusting to the idea of birthdays being bad, and b) we are drama queens.  We have our own tiaras and everything.

Today I have decided to take a more positive approach about this loss-of-childhood thing: I have thought about what kind of childhood I will want my kids to have, and what kind of lessons I most want them to learn.

1) How to Bake
My mum is wonderful for many reasons, but I think one of my favourite things about her is that she taught us all how to bake.  I can whip up a sponge cake in half an hour (including cooking time.  That’s right.  Don’t hate me ’cause you ain’t me) because many years ago my mum took the time to show me, and to have fun with her daughter as well as teach her a great life skill.  Baking is one of the few loopholes that allows grown-ups to behave like kids: you can make a mess, you can make incredibly unhealthy but yummy food, and you can decorate the crap out of said food with glitter and icing.
Baking also results in being able to feed people nice things.  It’s probably the Irish genes coming through, but I love making people birthday cakes, biscuits and what have you.  Ash (who is, if anything, even more obsessed with baking than I am) would agree with me that one of the greatest joys in life is giving people cake.  Such a simple activity results in so much joy.  I want my children to have fun learning to bake, and to spend the rest of their lives using that skill to make themselves and other people happy.

2) Creativity is a Super Power
Speaking of my mum and baking, I have to take this opportunity to say that the woman makes INCREDIBLE cakes.  Kids’ cakes, wedding cakes, beautiful cupcakes arranged in a weird tower thingy: you name it, she can do it.  Look at these:600133_10151800790980083_1127455735_n photo (5)646_112469255082_353_n

The woman made a DINOSAUR CAKE, for crying out loud.  That is the closest thing to a super power that anyone could have, in my opinion.  She passed her amazing artistic abilities down to us in varying degrees, but the most active artist among us is my brother, who paints stuff like this:

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It makes me sick that he can paint so well, and I can’t even draw stick people.  These are just two examples of the kind of creativity that makes my jaw drop, but my life is full of people who excel at singing, acting, writing, dancing and all manner of other things.  I want my children to understand that having a creative outlet is a wonderful thing that allows you to process all kinds of thoughts, emotions and impulses, and that creativity in others is something to love and respect.  Which leads me neatly onto my next lesson…

3) Respect
This is a big one, and it covers all sorts of things.  If I ever have a daughter, I want her to respect herself.  I want her to ignore global media’s insistence that women are supposed to be as thin, tall and beautiful as possible.  If I have a son, I want him to respect himself too.  I want him to shun masculine stereotypes and just be himself, not what society tells him to be.  I want my kids to respect their family, their friends and their colleagues.  I hope that my children will understand from an early age that it is not acceptable to take their stress out on other people, and that every person they meet deserves to be spoken to politely and listened to attentively.  They will say “please” and “thank you”, they will not judge others based on race, religion, sexual preference or appearance, and I’ll be damned if they ever do the unthinkable and jump a queue.

4) Learning is for Life, not just for Christmas
My family is full of people who learn like it’s going out of fashion.  As far as I’m concerned, my maternal grandfather knew everything there was to know, and he instilled a passion in me for knowledge and understanding.  Similarly, I have absolutely no idea how my dad’s head can contain all of the information that it does, or how he has had the time to acquire so much knowledge.  My eldest sister is passionate about travel, and she loves exploring far-away places and learning about their cultures.  This also ties in with my genetic predisposition to read everything I can, which I sincerely hope my children inherit.  Life is a long and fascinating process of discovery, and I want my kids to love learning.  Curiosity may have killed the cat, but wanting to understand the world we live in is a wonderful trait, and I prefer dogs to cats anyway.

5) Passion
If my genes are anything to go by, my children will be stubborn, impulsive and in all likelihood addicted to coffee by the time they’re sixteen.  They will probably be very sociable and prone to excessive sarcasm.  That’s all fine.  They will also, I hope, have dreams and ambitions.  I want them to have the commitment and energy to pursue their passions, and to encourage others to do the same.  I also want them to love people whole-heartedly, and to avoid the commitment-phobic, “we don’t want to put a label on it”, casual relationships that dominate my generation.  I don’t know how things will have changed in the dating world by the time my kids are of age to fancy people, but if they have the self-respect and ability to love that I want them to, then they will know better than to accept sub-standard relationships and undefined entanglements.  If that fails, then hopefully the future father of my children will have a shovel at the ready to discourage would-be unsuitable suitors.

There are loads of other little bits and pieces that I want to teach my children, such as how to ride a bicycle and where babies come from, but these five lessons represent my future parenting priorities.  I also realise that this blog has essentially been a vehicle for me to extol the virtues of my lovely family, but I don’t think that’s surprising given that they are the people who shaped my childhood.  I owe them a lot, and I can’t wait for my future children to meet them.

Have a cracking Monday!