Monday, December 13, 2010

A soundtrack to Christmas

Looking for a soundtrack to Christmas? I would like to give a plug to transit jazz , a really talented group of musicians who take their inspirations from traditional Christian music, and well- and not so well-known Bible verses.

Their music is easy to hear and to listen to (ie it's nice to have playing at dinner, and stimulating to actually listen to), with vaguely familiar refrains which infuse a sense of the sacred with the profane (in the old sense of the word...).

Whether you hold strong Christian beliefs or not; if you like jazz, or if you would like to like jazz, have a look and a listen!

The sum of innumerable privileges

It is coming to that busy Christmas end of year season here.  In Australia, the weather really heats up, the temperature rising in tandem with the excitement of children anticipating a period of surprises and treats.  For me, Christmas is always a period of reflection and evaluation, as the year draws to a close replete with images of new life welcomed in surprising and unconventional circumstances, ancient promises made and kept, and the tenuous vulnerability of life and relationships.  At this time of year, above all others, I am acutely aware of being the sum of innumerable privileges.

"Of those to whom much is given, much will be expected."  I don't know the origins of this expression, but it has been a theme in my family for as long as I can remember; the implication being that those with talent or intellectual or material wealth have an obligation to give of themselves, and to make the most of their opportunities to unselfish ends.  And this is something I strive for.  And yet how can I hope to give in accordance with the abundance of privilege I have? Privilege I did nothing to earn or achieve.

I was born in a time of peace in a stable democracy.  I am a part of the dominant culture, speaking the dominant language.  I grew up in a loving and supportive family with many excellent role-models.  I received easily, willingly and happily an outstanding education.  I was blessed to have outstanding teachers.  I attended university with a minimum of fuss, and at a reasonable cost.  My gender is, to all intents and purposes, irrelevant.  I have excellent health.  My children are healthy, happy and amazing.  My husband grows more impressive - in thoughtfulness, character and integrity.  The debt I owe to life, or humanity, or the future is humbling.

I know that in the quest for an easy pun I was a bit of a meanie about Michael Grose in an earlier post. In fact, I opened my first can of blogging worms....but 'tis the season of good will, and he has a lot of practical, straightforward, and positive ideas.

Please enjoy this "Best Of" compilation which I received via email today. Also, if your appetite is whetted, he's now on Facebook (for those of us who indulge in that guilty pleasure....)

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Reading and families with pre-school children. Survey No 2, 2010. ::

The State Library of Victoria is running a survey of parents with children under school age. I've done it - it's very straight forward, unintrusive and only took about 5 min to complete. Participants will be entered in a draw for $500 worth of books. Sounded good to me!Reading and families with pre-school children. Survey No 2, 2010. ::  (This survey is now closed - Antonia)

Reading Rockets: What teachers say, what parents hear

This link goes to the heart of Parent Teacher Kinight's initial purpose. I wonder if we can think of some more "What teachers say - What parents hear" scenarios? What have been your experiences of parent teacher interviews? I've now had the opportunity of sitting on both sides of the table, and trust me both seats can be very uncomfortable!
Reading Rockets: What teachers say, what parents hear

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

My Favourite Childcare Book

The Australian Baby and Child Care Handbook, by Carol Fallows, is the book I keep coming back to.  It is full of commonsense and pragmatic information and advice.  It isn't filled with silly, overexaggerated, attempting to be funny anecdotes about one person's pregnancy experiences (a la Kaz Cooke's Up the Duff, which I acknowledge is very amusing).

This handbook does deal briefly with pregnancy and birth,however, as its title suggests, its main focus is on childcare.  Topics covered include preparing for babies on a budget, (and how refreshing to read a book that does not encourage you to buy all sorts of unnecessary gadgets and gear for the newborn!), stages of development and how to play with your baby, (again, without encouraging parents to buy heaps of things - Fallows is adamant that for the first six months, a baby's favourite toy is his or her parents.)  There are also  lots of ideas about what sort of games children at different ages like to play.  I often dip into it for inspiration about activities to play outdoors, or using music, or ways children can help with household tasks.  (I have also found it invaluable for ideas about dealing with behaviour issues like whinging, sibling rivalry and dawdling!)

Some of the features I like in The Australian Baby and Child Care Handbook are the developmental tables which indicate what most children should be able to do by ages in terms of motor skills, language and cognitive development.  There is a comprehensive and easily understaood section about first aid and common childhood ailments, as well as a long appendix of support services available state by state. (Although because I have the second edition, which was published in 1998, many of these resources don't have a website listed - it may be time for an updated edition....).  There are brief but unobtrusive anecdotes from real parents on the sides of most pages, which you can read if you want to.  They do help the reader gain perspective and realise that raising children is a 'the same but different' for everyone.

Breastfeeding and weaning are covered, as is preparing first foods and dealing with fussy eaters.  There is some very sensible advice about adjusting to new parental roles and relationships, as well as organising one's time and home, and creating a safe environment for babies and toddlers.

I love this book's comprehensiveness and its sensible, friendly and supportive language.  I would recommend it to all new and expectant parents as an invaluable family resource. (I just wish it had a sequel that dealt with school aged children!)

Buy or Borrow?  Buy buy buy! Worth its weight in gold!

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Steph Bowe

I heard Richard Eady interview Steph Bowe on Radio National's Life Matters last week.  What an amazing young lady!  Steph chose to exchange shool for distance education at a young age in order to have the flexibility to pursue her passion for writing.  She has her blog in which she reviews recently published Young Adult fiction, as well as articles she's had published elsewhere.  She has also publised a novel, Girl Saves Boy.  I was so impressed by the interview I heard.  Steph appears to be a delightful person, grounded, motivated and ambitious, without being in the least pretentious nor cynical.

I spotted Girl Saves Boy in our local high school library the next day, (my son is in the chess club - I don't just randomly hang around school libraries checking out teen fiction!), and couldn't resist a look.  I read the first 30 pages or so, and was completely absorbed.  It's really good; well written, with interesting, complex characters meeting in dramatic, yet believeable circumstances.  I am looking forward to chess next week so I can read some more...

If like me, you are feeling a little bored with adult fiction at the moment, it might be time to go back and investigate teen fiction (or YA as it's known today).  There has been plenty of great fiction published since we were teens. Have you read John Marsden's Tomorrow When the War Began series? Or Paul Jennings' The Nest (nothing like his short stories).  Morris Gleitzman has been busy since the days of Blubbermouth and Worry Warts.  YA fiction is worth (re)visiting.  Which authors would you suggest?

Steph Bowe's Hey! Teenager of the Year

This is Steph's blog. She reviews recently published young adult fiction titles. Her reviews are thoughtful and well written, she writes with a very authentic voice. This blog would be a great resource for teachers, librarians, parents or anyone looking for inspration about good books for teens. Steph Bowe's Hey! Teenager of the Year

Steph Bowe: published at 16 - Life Matters - 18 October 2010

This is the interview which sparked my interest in this remarkable young writer. I will also post a link to her blog. Steph Bowe: published at 16 - Life Matters - 18 October 2010

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Michael Grose - 'Thriving' on our insecurities...

Yes, I agree, that's a harsh title...but it serves a purpose.  Firstly it fulfils my pathological addiction to groanworthy puns; secondly it introduces Michael's most recent book; and thirdly it sums up the the discomfort I feel about the way Michael Grose appears to be utterly commercially driven.

Michael Grose is an Australian parenting guru, who has been steadily churning out books, DVDs, parenting programs, seminars, syndicated newspaper columns, school newsletter inserts and more recently a blog and e-newsletter.  He has been writing for at least the past 20 years, and his own children are now grown up, and making their own way in the world.  His books include Raising Happy Kids, Great Ideas for (Tired) Parents, One step Ahead: Raising 3-12-year-olds, and, most recently, Thriving:Raising Exceptional Kids with Confidence, Character and Resilience.  His books are available through mainstream bookshops, and his webpage, Parenting Ideas, (there's a link on the right hand side of this page).  Most libraries also have a copy or two of some of his books.

My husband heard Michael inteviewed on the Radio National Life Matters program earlier in the year, and was impressed enough to mention it to me, and to remember the title of the book.  This was a strong enough recommendation for me to go out and buy the book.  And I'm glad I did. But I wouldn't buy another one unless it was on special.  I'll explain why soon.

Thriving is acessible and enjoyable.  It sets out Michael's theories about parenting, which are fairly straightforward and uncontroversial: we should focus on nurturing a family rather than needy individuals, children should pitch in and help out from an early age, parents are boss but corporal punishment is inappropriate, etc etc.  He justifies these and gives helpful strategies for achieving them.

The book is astutely structured.  The first chapter is dedicated to explaining the importance of balance in parents' lives, as opposed to becoming a martyr to our children. (He had me onside immediately!). He suggests that our order of priority should be 1.Me  2.My marriage/partnership 3.My family. After disscussing the importance of building one's own resilience as a parent, the book is divided into sections on building confidence, developing character and promoting resilience in kids - all worthy aims.

Thriving is well written, easy to read, undogmatic, and presents some good ideas, and if I was to buy only one Michael Grose book, this would probably be a good one to choose (being the most recently published, it would also be the easiest to source too!).  But I think this one would be enough, as I am quickly discovering through my further reading of his books and online publications, the information and ideas in Thriving are not all that different from his earlier work.  I borrowed Great Ideas for (Tired) Parents from my local library, and discovered that although it was first published almost 20 years ago, all the underlying ideas and suggestions are the same as presented in Thriving.  Michael's thinking doesn't appear to have evolved or refined to any great extent in 20 years.  He is just repackaging and reselling the same ideas, which is probably very commercially astute, but I feel it is a little unethical.

His website is worth a quick look, it is divided into sections for parents and educators, and there is a sale on this week.

Verdict: Buy or Borrow? ......Borrow! (But worth reading)

Next week:  The parenting book I have found most useful during my children's 'early childhood' phase...

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Tripod - 'Bard' Lyrics

This is the closing song from Tripod vs the Dragon, which I feel encapsulates the spirit of the kids (and adults) who play/ed D&D.

Meet you by the art room door
In a circle on the hallway floor
Teacher held you back again
Drawing ogres in your textbook margin
Keeping your eyes down and dodging oranges
On the bus trip home
Every day you're battle-scarred
You'll grow up to be a bard
You'll grow up to be a bard

Hurt yourself at sports again
You're not made for mud and wind
Limping home through quiet streets
Sprinkler spits a snare drum beat
Kids down on the vacant block threw rocks at you
For talking to yourself again
Days like this are way too hard
You'll grow up to be a bard
You'll grow up to be a bard

You'll tell your own daughter stories
She'll get some dice of her own one day
They can trademark the name all they like
It's all ripped off Tolkien anyway
'Cause dragons and dungeons go way back
They go back a long, long way
And they won't go away
They won't go away

Meet you by the art room door
In a circle on the hallway floor
Made up a new map last night
It's got a dragon and a wizard fight
Once the ranger and the theif get here
We can lock the door
Shut the noise out from the yard
then we can let down our guard

You'll grow up to be a bard
You'll grow up to ...
You'll grow up to be a bard
You'll grow up to...

Lyrics provided by

D & D rules O.K.!

This is the message of Tripod's hilarious show Tripod vs the Dragon, which I saw last week.  For the uninitiated, D&D is Dungeons and Dragons, a role playing game (real life, in the broadest sense as opposed to virtual/second life type role playing....), that was very popular amongst a certain demographic during my highschool days, the late 80s/early 90s.  The typical D&D player was male, smart, apparently quiet, secretly funny and is now employed by multinational engineering firms, software companies, insurance companies or google. And up to three of them, I suspect, have formed Tripod!

D&D is played using a pair of 20-sided dice, and a series of very complex instruction manuals which are referred to constantly as the players choose characters and establish their strengths and weaknesses in areas such as courage, intelligence, fighing ability, loyalty etc.  A quest is undertaken, with the random rolling of the dice determining the characters' fates and degrees of success in achieving their goals.  As you can imagine it is very complicated, and games could last many days!   I have fond memories of a group of boys in my class at school who could usually manage to find a quiet, warm corner to settle into with their dice, rule books, and complex, specialised jargon.

This is the culture embraced and celebrated in Tripod vs the Dragon.  A trio of male friends, now adults, meet weekly for an afternoon of Dungeons & Dragons, dropped off by their wives with plentiful supplies of soft drink and chips.  They, and the audience are drawn into their quest, and follow their adventures.  The set is quite sparse, an armchair, a keyboard and a huge white sheet suspended midstage.  The story is told through song and semi-scripted comic patter.  Being comedians, Tripod engage in repartee with the audience, and it isn't always clear what is spontaneous and what is planned.  Much of the action is presented through shadow effects with lights on either side of the sheet.  The effect is brilliant, so simple yet innovative and hilariously entertaining.

I won't tell you much about the story, suffice to say that it's a fairly standard quest of our heroes (a priest, a magician and a fughter who wants to be a bard), seeking to destroy a dragon, having adventures of the mind, body and heart on the way....

The closing song epitomises the message or, if you like, the moral of the story, that it's ok to be a 'nerd', and have specialised, eccentric hobbies and pastimes; it is possible to transcend a highschool life of being a library refugee, but do you really want to?  As someone who was friends with D&D players at school, (despite never being invited to play), I was filled with a warm nostalgic glow!  A night of happy, rather than cruel or sarcastic, laughter was just what the doctor ordered!  I came out feeling refreshed and uplifted.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Taking Shape and Taking Aim

I am back in the blogosphere after a very busy holiday.  We began with just a few science workshops booked at our local library, but the days quickly filled with visits to and from friends and relatives, days at the beach, and explorations in Brisbane.  The fun continued for the adults as we had a night away to see the hilarious musical comedy "Tripod vs the Dragon", which features my current favourite singer Elana Stone (see the link below) as the dragon. It was a fabulous show.  In fact I might just do a post about it later this week, and if you're wondering how it could possibly be relevant (aside from the obvious Knight vs Dragon puns - groan), all will be revealed soon!

I am working to establish some sort of form to the substance in the blog, and will be introducing some regular features:
Monday's Experts will review and critique the works of various parenting, educational or social commentators.  I've got Michael Grose, Maggie Hamilton and Steve Biddulph in my sights at the moment.  Let me know who or what you would like me to read on your behalf too!

RANTonia will give me a chance to let off steam about current or enduring issues that irk me.

Stories from the Chalkface will feature guestbloggers from the world of education, writing about a topic of their choice.  If you are a teacher or a teacher type person, I'd love to hear from you.

'Bobilee' Elana Stone on 'Rockwiz'

Monday, October 11, 2010

Single Dad Laughing

This is a blog that has exploded onto the parenting scene. Dan is very thought-provoking, and is certainly generating a lot of debate. This week he has focused on bullying, and ways of dealing with children who bully. He points out that bullies are also in need of love, because their actions are driven by more than a simple 'it seemed like fun at the time' motivation. He has received some interesting feed back from former bullies, which suggests that he is striking a chord with some of his readers. Single Dad Laughing

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Reading Rockets: Reading Comprehension & Language Arts Teaching Strategies for Kids

Reading Rockets is a national (USA) project that looks at how young children learn to read, why so many struggle, and what caring adults can do to help them. A good site for both parents and teachers!
Reading Rockets: Reading Comprehension & Language Arts Teaching Strategies for Kids

Monday, September 6, 2010 - It's great to be a dad!

I have been struggling to find good websites or blogs that are relevant to parents of school age children or teenagers and that aren't part of a government site. (Not that there's anything wrong with .gov sites ;)) Earlychildhood sites proliferate, perhaps because of the baby boom of the past five or so years. I guess as the children of those bloggers grow up, perhaps their websites will evolve too! The link I've included below is a comprehensive site based in New Zealand. It is well worth a look. - It's great to be a dad!

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Fathers' Day

Yesterday was Fathers' Day in Australia, and perhaps in other countries as well. Fathers' Day and Mothers' Day leave me a bit cold, to be honest.  I don't appreciate the way shops thrust their marketing down our throats, implying that we should demonstrate our love for our parents by buying expensive gifts.  It must also be a very hard day for people who have lost parents or children, or who have been unable to have children, or who are going through complicated divorces etc.  Indeed, these celebratory days may serve to alienate and exclude more people than they include!

But I digress! The point of this blog is not for me to rave on about social issues that make me feel vaguely nauseous.

My previous post sparked some discussion about homework and how it can be best made relevant, and of best use to families.  With this in mind, and in acknowledgement of yesterday being Fathers' Day, I am reminded of a conversation I had with a student a fortnight ago.

I have recently started doing some supply/casual/substitute teaching at a local highschool.  During a recent lesson, I noticed a girl quietly finishing off some work from another subject.  When I asked her about it, her face lit up and she proceeded to tell me enthusiastically about her science assignment.  As part of a unit about electricity, the year 9 class had been set a practical assignment to build something that included electical circuitry.  They had a number of optoions to choose from, including solar powered vehicles, burglar alarms etc.  The girl I was speaking to had chosen to build a dolls' house which had electric (LED) lights in each room which could be operated in various configurations with different switches.  Instead of taking the simple way out and just poking the LED lights through a cardboard box and cutting out windows and doors, the girl and her father had worked together to build a beautiful two-storey, wooden dolls' house.  It took them many hours of work, designing, cutting, sanding and assembling the house, not to mention the electrical wiring and circuitry.  And what a lasting monument to a solid father/daughter relationship!  At a stage of life when tradition has it that parents and children are least likely to get along, here was a homework assignment that helped to bring them together! I wonder of the teacher, when he or she set the assignment, had it in mind that it could provide such pleasure to a father and daughter.

(P.S. I realise that some readers' hackles will be raised by my positioning of the apostrophe in Fathers' Day, but I see it as a time to celebrate all fathers and father-figures; fathers as a class, not as individuals.)

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Frank Furedi on authority in schools - Life Matters - 2 August 2010

Frank Furedi on authority in schools - Life Matters - 2 August 2010


Welcome to Parent Teacher Knight! 
The broad aim of this blog is to help teachers and parents better understand each other and to facilitate better home/school relations.  I really hope that you will take the opportunity to participate in discussions, and share ideas and strategies with other parents and teachers on this site.

This blog will feature links to useful sites, reviews of new and old parenting books, and other helpful resources.

To kick us off, I am posting a link to an interview with Frank Furedi, a British sociologist.  He has some interesting points to make about about how parents and teachers should work together to take a leading role in educating and mentoring children.  He is supportive of both parents and teachers, which seems like a good place to start!