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 LyricsMode.com

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