Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Prep - Now in the 'too hard' basket.

The school year is almost at a close and parents will be busy attending end of year celebrations, awards ceremonies, class excursions and teacher farewell parties.

Many parents however, will be readying their child for their first year of school next year, having attended the interviews and the information nights over the past few months. These parents will have expectations regarding their child's Prep year based on their own experiences of Preschool or the experience of any older children they may have. Most have now been told that things are changing but don't completely understand how.

If you are one of these parents, I am here to tell you it's time to throw all of those pre-conceived notions in the bin. Now.

Prep is moving into the new curriculum and it resembles nothing we have ever seen before. Well, not for this age group anyway.

The advent of Naplan has created an unrealistic view of our children, particularly those in Queensland. Here in this State we did not have Prep when Naplan was first introduced. We had Preschool which was play-based and encouraged children to gain social skills and had a basic introduction to the world of learning. It was fun. It helped you make friends. It encouraged you to love the educational experience and it was not compulsory.

Prep is not compulsory either....yet!

As a result of the way our system in Queensland worked, we should have tested our students at Year's 4 and 6, not 3 and 5. If we had compared ourselves at this level, we would have faired very well indeed.

Statistics have shown that a student graduating from Year 12 in Queensland is no less likely than a student from another State to get into the University of their choice. Surely this is where we should be looking. This is where comparisons should be made.

Then there is the fact that 4 out of 5 children in Indigenous communities never learn to read. Besides the accurate observation that this statistic is appalling, placing those students (of which there are many) into the same pool as those who live in Brisbane and go to an elite school, was unwise and extremely unhelpful.

Regional testing, rather than national testing, would have been more beneficial.

Regardless of my feelings on the inequities of the Naplan testing and our over-reliance on results from tests taken on one particular day, the truth is, learning in Queensland is about to become a completely different ball game.

Prep students (aged 4-5) will now be required to do homework every week. They will have very limited access to play based activities and even then, a scholastic outcome is necessary. Students will need to be able to read, write sentences (including punctuation), tell the time, use fractions, add up money and do maths using word problems.

What teachers are telling me is that this year, our Prep students who are currently trialling the National Curriculum, will be at the same levels as those starting Year 2. What they are also finding, is that students are behaving badly, boys are not performing at expected levels, kids are resisting going to school at all and the general mood in the classroom is more sombre.

My question is this. Why are we making our children develop a dislike of school in the first year of their education?

I realise that Kindergarten is being promoted and there is a push for every child to be enrolled in a dedicated Kindergarten program within the next few years. What I found when questioning Kindergarten teachers, is that the curriculum there is also changing. To match the increase in learning for Prep. Prep will, of course, become compulsory before long, and our children will be tiny little educated beings.

The change in focus, from social and emotional learning, to scholastic basics, will have repercussions. Perhaps those will be beneficial in the long term. Perhaps they will be yet another layer of pressure on children too young to cope. That remains to be seen, and won't be fully understood for a good many years yet.

In the meanwhile, if you are a parent with a child about to enter the education system (whether it's Kindergarten or Prep), make sure you are pro-actively involved.

Encourage friendships where possible by staging play-dates and outings.

Talk to your child often about how they are FEELING, not how they are learning.

Keep up with the homework but don't allow it to get in the way of a bit of fun in the afternoons and don't turn it into too much of a chore (believe me, it will feel that way already).

Keep up sporting activities but do not fall into the trap of over-doing it. Stick to one sport or extra-curricular activity per term, any more and they will be in danger of burning out.

Encourage your child to do their best but try not to let them become too competitive. At this age, they should not care how they are performing in relation to their peers.

Above all else though, love them, cuddle them and laugh along with them.

It's the first year in a very long journey. A journey now much tougher than it used to be. Try your very best to make it a bit more entertaining than it really is.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Charity with a conscience.

Someone told me today that this week is Men's Mental Health Week. I haven't checked yet but it's probably true. Last month we had Movember, which was straight after Ocsober, and don't forget that this month we have Buy Nothing Day coming up and Human Rights Week in early December.

It's starting to irk me. While I have no objection to highlighting issues, dilemmas, people and facets in society, I absolutely abhor the marketing that goes along with it. Some of these awareness days come without pressure to buy (obviously Buy Nothing Day is one of those) but so many now come with merchandise attached and it's getting annoying.

Which doesn't mean I don't buy it!

I currently own enough coloured ribbons to make a rhythmic gymnast jealous, enough message filled rubber bangles to fill more arms than there are in this house and have a collection of pins and pens that rivals Officeworks. Is it just me? Am I the only one who feels guilty walking past a table full of Red Cross merchandise in front of IGA or a shelf full of Autism Awareness items at the bank?

If there was no guilt attached via labelling I wouldn't own any of those things and instead would probably have more money to actually donate directly to the cause.

Frankly, we should always be asking our friends and neighbours 'R U OK?'. We should be getting regular check-ups to ensure prostate cancer, breast cancer or diabetes is diagnosed early enough to manage or eradicate. We should always respect and admire our Grandparents and be aware of ADHD, Autism and human rights violations.

Does anyone remember the days when you bought something you actually NEEDED in a shop and the store would donate 10c or something similar to a cause they chose? I could put my change in a bucket or a plastic dog and know that I was helping out. Now I receive multiple phone calls every month (yes, I know I can go on the registry to ban these calls but if I don't buy the tickets it's obvious that fires in rural areas will get out of control!), am latched onto in shopping centres by crazed activists and have to run the gauntlet of merchandise in places where things are not usually sold.

It's getting harder to have a conscience. Harder still to remember which cause we are supposed to be thinking of today. Frankly, it's getting harder to care.

So, in the spirit of giving with Christmas on it's way, this week I am making a new pact. I will not buy a single item of merchandise marketed by a cause. I will instead put the same amount of money in the slot, without taking any unnecessary, environmentally disastrous item home with me. From now on I will only buy pink things if I really need them.

I will remember to look after my physical and mental health and remind those I care about to do the same. Call my grandparents regularly and continue to encourage our politicians to support reforms in our country and others where human rights need work.

Passive charity is not as effective as you might think. It's certainly easier. It's still much more effective to actively give. To seek out organisations you have a passion for and find out how you can contribute to their cause. It's not even that hard.......it's just not as easy as buying pens.

This Christmas, give some money to Kiva for a loan that helps start small businesses in areas of need. Use Oxfam Unwrapped to buy gifts that help save lives instead of buying useless kitchen items for those we love, believe me they won't be offended. Better still, donate to Wall Of Hands which teaches literacy skills to Indigenous children in Australia, or donate to Jack Thompsons Foundation, which funds the Homelands Housing Program (where Indigenous Australians are taught how to build homes on their land using the 'living ground'. The living ground is the materials found directly on the land the house will sit. Soil, wood, rocks etc...) or if you have a specific area you are interested in, donate there.

This Christmas, and every day until and after then, lets make a difference - minus the merchandise.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Why word of mouth is still our most powerful tool.

I haven't written a blog for a while and I am sure you are all missing my input in life and it's goings on. There have been many, many issues that have popped up in the mediasphere (yes I made that word up!) and any one of them could have been a great subject for a blog. The Occupy Movement springs to mind, as does same-sex marriage/civil unions, Qantas and several others but you all know how I feel about jumping on the 'cause' train. My mantra has always been to only write about that which I am confident in sharing an opinion on and only write where you can affect change.

Hence, my first post in a long while will be about shopping.

I know, it sounds inane. So many issues the country is facing and I choose shopping! In this issue though, there are many things happening, and they are happening locally with devastating effect.

This week, it was announced that those who had purchased a Reef Card would lose a full 5 months off the year due to the sale of the company. I can't decide if that should be illegal, or should just remain in the 'ignorant new owner' category. Surely, when purchasing a business, it is common-sense to continue with any 'local deals' or discount programs until their expiry? If they had chosen not to renew the program next year, fair enough. But to close the card down with no notice given, in a location which relies on the local trade during the upcoming wet season reeks of stupidity.

Now there are a multitude of people holding useless cards who are quite rightly extremely annoyed! To those people I say this; contact Fair Trade Australia and lodge a formal complaint. There are templates available online for this purpose through Fair Trade Australia and they will ONLY act if formal complaints are received.

I realise it's an added annoyance and takes time but it's worth it. If you sit idle and complain amongst yourselves, nothing will happen except you will get angrier. If you complain officially you can be assured that it will be followed up and feel better with the knowledge that you have done all you could do to rectify the situation and try to stop it happening again.

Someone recently said that we are a nation of whiners. We are not a nation of protesters. I disagree. That may be true of some generations but my family have shared a past peppered with strikes, marches and sit-ins. I belong to a complacent generation who has not fully understood the sacrifices made by our ancestors to ensure we have the ability to have our say. Sometimes we forget that we have a voice at all. That is what the Occupy Movement is founded on. The emergence of the silent majority as a vocal majority and the fact that their voice has an impact.

Still, I digress. This post is supposed to be about shopping.

This week another, lessor known event happened in our city. The Baby Barn announced it is closing down. This may not seem like a big deal to many (especially those without children and babies) but it is part of a trend. The baby and children's store in Edmonton (Juniors) is for sale. If it doesn't sell soon, it too will close. With the apparent glut of babies in the region you would think that stores dedicated to the latest Phil and Ted gear and the expertise of staff would be a necessary retail outlet. WRONG!

The advent of online shopping is one factor, yes. The bigger picture is much more terrifying for retailers than that however. We have evolved.

No longer do we appreciate the expert guidance of a salesperson for the information we require. Now, we Google it. We look up the products, research online and more often than not, enter a store with a goal and pre-ordained product in mind.

Target, Big W, Kmart and most other generic stores are filled with everything we need. From technology, to baby equipment, to toys, to clothing, manchester and kitchenware.

Most change-rooms are empty as the generic mode of shopping now allows a purchase directly from the rack in the right size. Exchanges welcome. You can stand in the baby department for a full hour and not a single staff member will offer assistance. You have to find them and ask, nicely. At which point they tell you it is not their department and attempt for the next half hour to find the sole 15 year old in charge of prams. Then after purchasing the pram, you realise when you get it home that you have no idea how to open and shut the darned thing and it doesn't even fit in your boot (I say this from experience).

I bought a pram from the Baby Barn once. They took it to my car without a box, showed me how it worked, let me practice putting it in and out of the boot, and all before accepting a single dollar from me. It's called service.

So, what does it all mean?

Will it be the end of personalised service and friendly staff? Will we be struggling to find a qualified individual to help us make decisions? Are we doomed to buy more useless cards couched as 'locals deals' when they are plainly a deal for the operators?

I hope not.

The only way to ensure it doesn't happen is to shop smarter. Find the experts in every field. Make sure they are local. Ring them a few times to make sure you will get follow up service as well. And finally, don't accept bad service, from anyone. Complain, in writing if need be. Make sure that voice you use in social circles is used when it really counts.

This will not work if you don't do the most important thing in the whole equation. Give praise. If you do receive good service, announce it to everyone. Write a letter to the boss. Anything. Word of mouth is still our most powerful tool as shoppers. Use it wisely.

In keeping with my own advice I would like to recommend the following businesses; Harley's Educational Superstore, Piccone's IGA, Juniors, Silk Cafe, Bang Espresso, Caffiend, The Green House, Blondie's Kuts and Kurls and Donaghy's Butchers in Edmonton.