September 26th, 2010

Are our schools overly competitive?

By Elaine Halligan

From the moment your child is born, the conversation from coffee mornings to dinner parties can become unhealthily preoccupied with the topic of schools, and for many parents this can almost leave them bordering on an obsessive, compulsive disorder!

“Overly pressurised” and “far too much competition“ are the phrases that come to mind. Competition is healthy if it means we are teaching our children to do their best and strive to improve, and in this process we need to teach them how to handle failure and to regard it as an impetus for improvement. Competition is good as long as you don’t devalue yourself or others in the process -i.e. what are they prepared to do in order to get ahead? The recent “Blood Gate” scandal last year with the Harlequins rugby team gave our family much fodder for discussion as we analysed the nature of competition in sport. We are highly competitive on the sporting front and winning is important but not at any cost if it means we end up devaluing ourselves by cheating.

We can have a huge impact as parents on the way our children view themselves. This is built over time -you can’t ‘quick-fix’ it. If you only focus on and praise achievements the child will come to feel that something is wrong if they don’t come top/win the race/ get voted as class captain/ get a leading role in the play. The child who gets 7/10 in a spelling test and can’t report back to his parents the result through fear of disappointing them, will in time view themselves negatively and this will impact on their self esteem.

What does this all mean for you if you are in the process of choosing schools for the first time or at secondary level? Always match your child’s needs to an individual environment suited to them – this is the hardest part as many of us may not understand or accept our child’s temperament; character; strengths and weaknesses –both social and academic.

Be careful of labelling an educational environment as overly pressurised. There is only too much pressure if indeed your child is struggling and not sufficiently supported in that environment. If your child is academi­cally able, is in good work habits and has the ability to be organised the environment will be right for him.

Be aware of the impact on children of prizes and comparative grades. In reality prizes often go to the same children every year and many know they are never going to get a prize so forms no kind of incentive, and can lead to feelings of hopelessness. Comparative grades are the kind where your child is ranked in class as opposed to their own performance being looked at on its own and against the last effort. There are many high performing schools that have no prizes for academic achievement . Instead they recognise the achievements of the pupils whether sporting; in the arts, or the school community or in contribution to the liberal work the school has been involved with

How well rounded will those pupils be when they move into the adult world, knowing from the exam grades obtained how well they have done and also being commended for their activities outside the classroom!

Do your research; follow your beliefs and value system and stay calm in the face of other’s rising hysteria!

By Elaine Halligan

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September 15th, 2010

Music Practice - Can it be a real joy for a parent?

Girl playing violin

By Ann Magalhaes

My 7 year old is a Suzuker! Since she was 4 ½ she has been learning the violin using the Suzuki Method, a method I chose because I have a few friends who themselves learned the Suzuki way, and highly recommended it. Her school had a very inspired teacher who was introducing a new programme and I thought it would be great for her to start to learn such a beautiful instrument. For those unfamiliar with Suzuki, the method requires a good deal of involvement from a parent. I attend a weekly private lesson, and a weekly group lesson, with the occasional music camp thrown in for good purpose! At home, my role is to be the teacher/coach — avidly looking out for a beautiful bow-hold, or listening for just a bit more smoothness in a piece.

I really love the idea of Suzuki! The teaching ethos is about focusing on the positive before adding what needs to be improved. It’s a very motivating way to learn a musical instrument, and books have been written to support parents in being great coaches. But, the reality of it is that it can often be challenging. I often wonder if parents with kids who learn by a non-Suzuki system have an easier time of it, and perhaps they do. I have an amazing daughter! Most of the time she is cooperative, kind, hard-working, creative … all great things. When she wants to practice, she plays beautifully, but when she doesn’t want to, she has an incredible ability to go from angel to tyrant in 0.6 seconds – way faster than an F1 car.

About a year ago I realized that the problem wasn’t her motivation, but quite possibly, the problem was me, and how I was being with her during her practices. About the same time I was reading The Price of Privilege, an amazing book about raising children who have been raised with every luxury, to have self-esteem, confidence, ambition, and healthy relationships.

Only twelve pages in, I read “Intrusion and support are two different processes. Support is about the needs of the child, and intrusion is about the needs of the parent.” I instantly related this to violin, and saw that I was being an intrusive mother. Her violin practices weren’t about her! They were about her looking good to the teacher, showing that she had practiced, and that she had learned something new. There was nothing about the joy of playing a beautiful piece of music, the fun of making new sounds, or simply screeching away at the bow to sound like a cat! No, practice was about ticking boxes, and being able to say that 5/7 days, she had practiced! Little shock, then, that practices quickly spiraled into hellish arguments!

I had to think pretty quickly about how I could switch from being a nagging intrusive mother to being a helpful and supportive parent! Now, instead of saying something like “OK, play Go Tell Aunt Rhodie”, I say to her, “which piece would YOU like to start with?”. I now sit down with her before each practice to ask her about which pieces she will play – along with the piece she is learning. I remind her that I am going to sit down, and listen, and offer support when she needs it. Rather than constantly jumping in with nagging and criticism, I can now sit and listen to her play, and this has helped her to in turn listen to the coaching that I am required to offer!

Another quote from the same book reads:

“It’s odd that my mom is everywhere and nowhere at the same time.
Being everywhere is about intrusion; being nowhere is about lack of connection.”

I realized that I had been everywhere during her practices, helping to make it a ritual that was not fun at all!! The actual process of developing good habits around lessons and practicing has taught me so much more than how to play Twinkle Twinkle! I have learned a lot about how to be a better parent, and in doing so, the space for connection has opened up, and practicing is becoming a real joy

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