Today was a stressful day for my second son, who is 15 and now in Year 10. After just two full terms in school, having opted in to do GCSEs, he had his first exam - English Literature Paper 1, quite an ask for a first ever exam, particularly for a boy who is not really keen on reading and has minimal interest in English Literature. Still, he was willing to give it a go, but he came home very despondent in time for lunch, having sat the paper. I hate the system that makes my boy feel like that. I know he is not alone. So many young people feeling they just aren't any good. "All that time I have spent," he said, "preparing for that exam. And in the end it all comes down to those 105 minutes." Yes, that is the nature of this ridiculous system, my son. They do not see you, the naturalist and conservationist, the sporty guy you are, riding your mountain bike and socialising with your friends, playing your guitar like a pro, lost in music, or drawing on your iPad. They do not see your caring nature, your empathy, your willingness to help, your joy in the outdoors, your skill in the kitchen, your kindness to your brother. In emotional empathy you'd score high. But it all comes down to those 105 minutes. Today I am mad at the system all over again. We will all applaud and celebrate those that do well, that measure up in the 105 minutes .... But too many will not. And that is what makes the system wrong on too many counts. Do not be too discouraged, my son. I treat him to a McDonalds at his request to cheer him, and send him out on his mountain bike to enjoy the sunshine. Paper 2 on Friday, but we'll worry about that tomorrow!
Whilst he is in his exam, my oldest son has chosen to study at home again. He has two exams tomorrow, so is swotting up on Physics equations. He is one of those fortunate people who just seems able to remember things, but he is putting in the work. My third son, aged 12, wakes up with a list of things he has planned to do today. After breakfast, he settles down to some Maths. This year, he has chosen to follow an online Maths programme called Conquer Maths, which he enjoys working on independently. Whilst he is doing that, my smallest son and I go into the garden where we attempt to rig up a model cable car. This has been lent to us by a friend with whom I was discussing his current play with regard to schema. In recent weeks I have observed my 6 year old wanting to rig up a zip line for his teddy bears from our upstairs window down to the garden, which he and his brother did successfully. I have also observed him propping up some lengths of drainpipe and pouring water down.
If we observe our children's play carefully, we will see patterns which we can explore and encourage. If you are not familiar with the word 'schema', it "is generally used to describe patterns of repeated behaviour which children use to explore and express their developing ideas and thoughts through play and exploration." So begins the excellent book "Again! Again! Understanding Schemas in Young Children" by Stella Louis, Clare Beswick, Liz Magrew and Lisa Hayes (Edited by Sally Featherstone). I recommend it.
In their book, they identify some of the most common types of schema seen in children's play and exploration, and give suggestions as to how we can recognise and support schematic play. My friend and I discussed last week my son's trajectory schema, and she lent me the cable car to encourage and support his explorations. He enjoyed watching and helping me rig up this little cable car, which was fairly complicated. In the end, we got it working reasonably well, and he and his brother enjoyed winding some Lego minifigures up and down in the sunshine. They talked about ski lifts, and the possibility of building a Lego resort around the cable car, then considering how it might be possible to build a Lego cable car. My smallest son suddenly suggested he might like to make some furniture for his teddy bear .... Out of clay, or maybe out of wood. He thought perhaps this was something he could do with his Grandpa.
By this time, my second son had come home, quite despondent post-exam, and after leaving him alone for a while, I chatted to him about how he felt it had gone, and we talked a bit about exams and schooling etc. I asked what he might like for lunch to cheer him up, and he wanted a McDonalds meal. We live very close to a McDonalds, so his three brothers and I trooped up there and brought home McDonalds meals for them all. (Not for me, 1) because I try to avoid McDonalds as much as possible due to their use of single-use plastics, and 2) because I have joined Slimmer's World, and am trying to lose the weight I have gained from being unwell and inactive this winter. Jacket potato for me!)
After lunch, my 12 year old did some more of his chores, and the older two went off for a bit of a bike ride to get some fresh air and exercise. My smallest son and I sat out in the garden and looked at his new Eco Kids Magazine to which I have recently purchased a trial subscription. This months' edition is about the Mekong River. He especially liked hearing about the giant ray and catfish which inhabit the river, the largest freshwater fish in the world, because this ties in with his ongoing fascination with the oceans, sharks and underwater creatures. We talked a lot about the geographical location of the river and the threat to habitat and wildlife, and we constructed the little model white shouldered ibis included in the magazine.
After this, he came inside to play and look what he chose to do ....
Do you see the ongoing schematic pattern to his play? His 12 year old brother was by now sat at the computer continuing an epic piece of writing he is working on about his tennis hero, Andy Murray. After this, we had to pop out to Boots where I was very glad to find Apple Cider Vinegar in a glass bottle, something I have been looking for. My 12 year old was looking at some sportswear he has been saving up for, and my smallest son found a soft toy he wanted to spend some pocket money on. He was working out how much he had in his money box, how much I would need to lend him, how he would pay me back and how much change I would need to give him.
Now it was almost time for me to nip up to my Slimming group. The two younger boys watched a few episodes of Tinga Tinga Tales, which they love. They recognise echoes of Rudyard Kipling's Just So Stories in these tales from Africa, and my smallest son has created a few of his own, narrated to me and illustrated himself.
Another tennis squad training session for my third son this evening, more physics equations for our eldest, chill out time for our second son and the littlest was busily improving his Lego watch tower from yesterday, talking all about it to our friend who came over for dinner. The boys played in the garden before sharing a story together, as I was busy, and then heading off to bed.