Sunday, 29 March 2020

A dog's eye view of lockdown

Hello.  I'm called Blossom.  I'm not sure if you've noticed, but there's something going on around here.
For some reason, the humans are staying in the den and not going out on patrol.
My soft place in the den.  They call it my "BED"
 In normal times, they get up in the morning and we go on our first patrol then its time for breakfast.
After that they go on patrol to other places.  Daddy goes on "HOSPITAL" patrol and Mummy and the small ones go to "SCHOOL" patrol.  They call it "WORK".  I am on guard duty at the den.  Fay comes at lunchtime and takes me on fun patrol with all my dog friends.  Later everybody comes home and we have a lovely evening together with the pack, though sometimes they go out to another patrol which they call "SCOUTS". 
This is my Mummy.  I love her.
 For the last ten days though, Mummy has only left the Den twice, and not at all in the last week!  I don't know what's going on but I really love it!  Daddy is taking me on patrol in the morning, and then he's out at Hospital Patrol all day, but Mummy and the Small Ones stay in the den with me!  A couple of times the Small Ones have taken me for a quick patrol to the field but I don't understand.  I want to run and bounce with the other dogs but they keep me on the "LEAD".  At least I'm out and about a bit though so I can keep an eye on everything.
This is my "sun place".  I sit here to keep an eye out for any cats or squirrels who come near my den.  Also it's lovely in the sun.  I sometimes fall asleep a bit.
 So what has this meant for me?  A LOT of cuddles!  I get to have a cuddle with Mummy whenever I want to!  I bring her my toy or I nudge her with my nose or my paw.  This is my way of signalling to mummy that she is spending too much time on the "COMPUTER" (she thinks she is still on patrol, but hasn't worked out that she's still in the den).  After that, she invites me onto her lap and I nudge her until she's stroking or tickling just the right bit.
This is my favourite toy at the moment.  I usually destroy toys but this one is proving quite tough.

me looking thoughtful.  I'm actually distracted by a cloud.  Nobody needs to know that though.

Thursday, 26 March 2020

Thoughts on Home working and what we're all doing in the shut-down.

I posted yesterday about Home Learning and how to support the children during this shut-down.

In the meantime, what have I been doing?  As a teacher I am technically a key worker but my underlying kidney disease, vasculitis and immune suppression mean that I am classed as "extremely vulnerable".  I have been home-working since last Wednesday, and as of Monday evening am on the list of people who are not supposed to leave the house for 12 weeks.  

 Each morning I have started with my home-working teaching tasks while the children have been busy with their work.  This involves working with my Year 2 colleagues to compile appropriate work for the children to do from home in each of the subject areas.  As parents email the work in, we note it, respond, post something on the school twitter-feed, post the answers for the parents to be able to mark their work and generally follow up.  We're also taking the opportunity to catch up on paperwork and planning across the school.

After I've done this, I move on to virtual Scouting.  I'm running a Cub Pack and a Beaver Colony so I'm regularly posting activities or badge work that children can be getting on with at home.  I'm looking forward to running a virtual meeting on a video-call platform too so they all get to see one another.  We'll probably have a go at that next week.  

In my County Scout role I'm rearranging adult training modules so that people can pick up on them after the shut-down, but also supporting people to use this opportunity while they are at home to do some e-learning and get their training validated.

Once I've done this I move on to writing.  I'm trying to warm-up my skills a bit by entering writing competitions.  I know that I'm unlikely to win any prizes but the discipline of a deadline and trying out writing in different genres is quite refreshing.  I've entered a Travel Writing one so far, and am now working on an entry for a humorous poetry competition.  Also the fact that I'm stuck indoors, I can stretch my wings a bit here on my blog.

Each day I'm also making sure that I get some exercise.  I've returned to my old favourite Claire Sweeney Slimming World DVD but also had a go at Joe Wicks does PE this morning with the children.  I'm attempting to tame a mature and somewhat wild garden, starting with a patch that Miss Busy has asked to adopt.  Also, the house hasn't been so clean since just after we moved in.  We do have some decorating to do but, while the sun is shining, the garden gets priority.
Plus, of course, spending time with my children.  Making sure that they are getting some of their schoolwork done and not spending all day in front of a screen.  Making sure that they are okay.

What are you all doing during this shut-down?  What does your day look like?

Wednesday, 25 March 2020

Thoughts on "Home-learning"

Schools are closed and many of us are cooped up in our homes with our children.
Miss Busy doing yoga as set by her teacher
That's no bad thing.  We all lead over-busy lives, racing around from activity to activity.  While nobody wants this Coronavirus and we all wish it would go away, while nobody wants to be forced to stay indoors and not be able to work (and for many people - earn money), this time of enforced confinement may be the reset button they were looking for in their lives.  It's certainly a time for us to re-establish a connection with our children.  

Most of us leave the children's education to school.  We occasionally glance at or support homework, and we turn up at parents' evening, but we aren't really involved with their learning - that's school's job, right?  Now we are being asked to support and guide our children through all their learning tasks for a protracted amount of time.  Many schools are trying to support the parents and continue managing the task of educating by providing work each day and asking the children/parents to submit it.  As parents, how do we manage this?

First, I think it's important to remember that you are the parent and you know your child.  You have a few options here:
1) stick to the school timetable, or create your own strict timetable.  Use the school's materials or some you have provided or sourced yourselves.  You can either work with your child, ensure your child understands the task and supervise them, or rely on your child to stick to the timetable.
2) use the materials the school has provided, or materials of your own, but throw the timetable out of  the window.  Opting instead for a "as long as you get everything on the list done, you choose how long to work on it and when to do it" attitude.  This works well with children who are largely independent, but you can also encourage children to come to you for specific tasks or if they need help.
Miss Busy helped me out by trialling an activity I set for my Year 2 class.
3)  Ignore any "formal" learning materials.  Take this time to connect with your child, trust that they will fall into a natural rhythm and that they will be learning through living.  Encourage creative activities, but don't be too hung up on curriculum or formal lessons.  If you are following this option, you should let your school know your intentions.  During this time of shut-down there is nothing to stop you doing things your own way, but teachers, who are working hard to provide and follow up on set work will be concerned about you and your children if they don't hear anything.

They are also working on the 30 day lego challenge
I've personally gone for option 2.  My children are independent enough that they know how to access the work that school has set and are keen to complete it.  The main rule is that they must do these activities before they play any computer games or watch TV, but they can do them in any order and I encourage regular breaks.  We are only on day 3 but already the way they work has evolved.  To begin with, Miss Busy was trying hard to stick to normal school hours of working.  However, I noted that she was sneaking on to games on the computer in between school activities because she had finished them in less than the allotted time.  When I pointed out that she didn't need to wait until "the lesson was over" before moving on, and that she could start before 9am if she wanted to, she was liberated.  This morning she started at 7am, got all her school tasks done by 10am, played on the computer for an hour, made the lunch, and is now playing in the garden.  
Miss Busy's portrait of Henry VIII
Mr Build-it has loved the independence to work through tasks at his own pace and has very much enjoyed e-mailing his work to his teacher.  Today, however, he was traumatised by a music task which involved singing, and encouraged children to submit a video of them singing a song.  I tried to assure him that this was not compulsory and that nobody would even know if he had sung the song or not, but he felt that if school had set the task, be must complete it, even if he hates having photos taken or singing where people can hear him (despite the fact that he has a lovely singing voice and is happy to play the piano to an audience!).  There were many tears and he put off starting any of the school work for some time, to evade getting to the point where he needed to do the music.

So how to manage this process when you are also supposed to be working from home:

Steps to success:
  • make sure your child has somewhere to work / concentrate / focus on whatever activities they are doing and the tools they need - sharp pencils, rubber, ruler, pens, art material, access to computer etc.
  • check in with your child regularly to ensure that they know what they are doing, help them if they don't.  Depending on your child, it may be a good idea to have them working next to you as you will be able to help them focus.
  • Ensure they take a break.  If they are struggling to focus, they need a change of activity, a breather or a snack.  In school they will be regularly moving from talk-partners to independent work, from carpet (whole class) to desk, snack time, assembly etc.  Up to year 3 they rarely sit still for more than about 20-30 minutes at a time.
  • Once their fixed "work" is done, celebrate!  Whether this is by taking photos of the work to send to the teacher, sharing it with Gran via a video call, having an hour to play on the computer or a star on a chart.
  • After this formal learning is done, make the time to spend at least an hour doing something with your children, whether this is a new hobby, gardening, housework, playing a board or computer game, reading, playing Lego, an exercise DVD or something completely different.  Spend time together and show that you value their company.

Monday, 23 March 2020

Covid19 - Time to stay at home

Since my last post, which unbelievably saw the traffic viewing my blog explode to more than 900, the government's advice has evolved rather drastically.  Like... from primordial slime to vertebrate evolution in just over a week. 

To start with, the schools were staying open for as long as possible.  The government was hoping that we would develop herd immunity without too many of our elderly or vulnerable people taking ill.  I'm not sure what changed their minds but somewhere towards the beginning of last week two terms became all important.  
Self-isolation - if you had any symptoms of the Covid19 virus at all then you should stay home from work for 14 days.
Social Distancing - if you had any underlying conditions or were older then you should keep your distance from people, working from home if possible.

Things moved very quickly at that point.  Most notable was the crazy panic buying.  Who knew that toilet roll would become such a valuable commodity?  Supermarket shelves were being emptied faster than they could be filled as everybody prepared for self-isolation or lock-down.

On Monday evening The Scouts announced that all face-to-face activity would be suspended until further notice.  Care homes closed their doors to visitors.  By Wednesday I accepted that because of underlying kidney disease and treatment with immune suppressants, I should probably stay home from work.  I wasn't alone.  The schools, which were still open at that point, began to creak.  Children with coughs were being kept home but more significantly any pregnant staff, staff with underlying health conditions, or staff exhibiting any symptoms of Covid19 were staying at home.  These home-workers began to prepare the work that would be needed for when (not "if" by this time) the schools closed and the schools struggled on with a reduced staff.  On Thursday that announcement came.  The schools would close on Friday evening except for the children of key workers.  Measures were then announced to support workers and businesses financially through the closures.  Interestingly, we now learn who the "key workers" are in our society.  The ones that we can't do without.  It isn't the financial sector.

Today, Monday 23rd March 2020, I got a text message instructing me to stay home and not go out for the next twelve weeks.  The NHS believe that if I were to get Coronavirus I would be at high risk of becoming extremely unwell.  Now it turns out I'm not going to be the only one who can't go out.  The Prime Minister has announced further restrictions.  Nobody is to go out unless absolutely necessary - which WILL be enforced.

In the meantime, I'm working from home, educating my children who are learning from home, Scouting from home.  So more on how we manage those things over the next few days.

Saturday, 14 March 2020

Covid-19 - Why we should keep the schools open but stay away from gran and grandad.

Okay, I'll admit it.  The whole Covid-19 thing is blowing my tiny brain.  I have felt myself swaying between being a bit blase about the whole thing - I mean... what's all the fuss about?  And then hearing and seeing my husband, who is a Doctor and therefore knows a bit about this stuff, being very worried, which has got me very worried!
 Anyway, he's explained a bit about the science behind the UK government's decision making, which has finally made it make sense a little bit, so I thought I'd share.
Why we should keep the schools open but stay away from Gran and Grandad.
First, it's important to realise that for most people, when they get this virus it won't make them very ill at all, but while they've got it, they'll be able to pass it to other people.  Once they've had it, they will be immune and they won't get it again and therefore won't be able to pass it on to other people any more.

What the government are hoping is that the healthy people amongst us will pass it around between us, not get too poorly, but develop immunity.  Once enough people are immune, the virus will no longer be able to race through the community any more.  While that's happening (and they haven't really explained this bit very well) we should keep away from vulnerable people (the elderly, immune suppressed or people with underlying health conditions).  If they get it, they could get very poorly.  If they shut the schools, parents still need to go to work, so where will the potentially infectious (though not ill) children end up?  That's right, they'll be passing the infection to their elderly grandparents.

That's why the government are not "locking down".  The danger is that in places like Ireland, where they are locking down and keeping everybody home, fewer people are getting the infection and therefore fewer people are becoming immune.  As soon as they lift the lockdown the infection has the potential to spread again.

Bear in mind that the government scientists are constantly keeping this situation under review and may change the advice if they feel it makes sense to do so.

I don't pretend to be a scientist and would welcome comments and arguments but for the first time this is beginning to make sense.

Sunday, 26 January 2020

Malvern Hills - what a view!

I cannot believe I've lived in Herefordshire for five and a half years, call myself a walker, and yet have never walked in the Malverns!  Not to worry, this oversight has now been corrected.  The plan had been to get up early and get up there to watch the sunrise from the top.  Unfortunately, we had a late night so decided to have a relaxed get up and then go.  It would have been better to go early because the car-park was packed when we eventually arrived!
 We parked opposite the Malvern Hills Hotel.  It's £4.40 for all day parking but you don't mind that when you know the money is going towards upkeep of the paths.
It's a short but steep walk from there up to Herefordshire Beacon (sometimes also called British Camp) where you can enjoy 360 degree views of Herefordshire and Worcestershire, and on a crisp morning like last Sunday it was absolutely gorgeous.

From there we walked around the west side of Hangman's Hill, through the Silurian Pass and along the east side of Swinyard Hill before the steep ascent up the south side.  Here we stopped for lunch.

 In theory we would walk down the north side of Swinyard, back to Silurian Pass, past the cave and then around the east side of Herefordshire Beacon.  However, as we descended Swinyard, Little Miss Busy realised that she had lost her camera somewhere on the route.  With much ranting (me - this is the second camera in a year), we emptied out the bags (dropping and leaving the dog lead in the process) and retraced our steps.  Eventually we made it back to the bottom of the Beacon, where I was so busy trying to drag a penitent child along, that I accidentally misplaced the dog!  More steps retraced until we found her and celebrated with joyous cuddles.
Unbelievably, as we eventually returned to the car-park, a lady approached with a broad smile and Little Miss' camera in her hand - she had recognised Blossom from the many photos on the camera.

Despite our mishaps and the general busy-ness of the Malverns, this was a genuinely fabulous walk and I can't wait to walk more of the Malverns.  This little range of hills that separate The Shire from the rest of the world are a treasure that I'm sorry to have overlooked thus far.  Only 35 minutes drive away from home, with the world laid out at your feet.

Wednesday, 15 January 2020

Helpful little hands

I know that I'm not the only one who gets frustrated about this.

My children, lovely though they are, are content to allow me to wait on them hand and foot.  If I want them to do something, even something which to me is obvious and which I know they are perfectly capable of completing, then I need to specifically ask:
It's dinner time.  They know its dinner time.  We got in from school and, while they dropped their bags in the hall and slumped with their tablets, I got straight on with making the dinner.  Now I have to ask them to please lay the table.  At the end of dinner, they go off immediately and play, or watch TV.  I guess they assume that the fairies will clear the table and carry everything back through to the kitchen.  So I have to ask them to carry some things through.  It always seems to come as a surprise!

Don't get me wrong, they are willing to do it.  It just doesn't occur to them that they should, unless I ask.

I decided that the best way to clarify our expectations of them, was to write them down.  Our children are aged nearly nine, and ten and a half.  Here's what I expect them to do:

I'm printing and laminating this list.  One copy in the kitchen and one in each of their bedrooms.

I'm doing this for two reasons really.  One is that I think children who feel useful are happier.  The other is that I will feel more supported.  And I don't like nagging, so making the expectations clear will hopefully lead to less of that!

How much do your children help out around the house?

Wednesday, 8 January 2020

On Blossom

Today I'm going to write in praise of Blossom.
Our Tara, a somewhat grumpy Collie Cross rescue dog, was an enormous part of our family from 2008 until 2017.  She was so special that we didn't think that we could ever love another dog the way we loved Tara.  
After 6 months without a dog we were also talking about how being a dog owner can restrict you a bit on holidays.  We go away in the camper van and that meant that things like shopping trips or trips to the cinema, theme parks or museums are often out of the question because you can't leave the dog in the vehicle on a hot day.  We thought we would leave getting another dog for a while.  
Three months further on, we realised that we had a dog-shaped hole in our family, and that we needed to fill it.  We could live with the restrictions and make it work.  I started searching for the new family member.
There were a few criteria: 
  1. It needed to be camper-van sized.  Tara had been quite a large dog.  When all five of us were in the camper van on our holidays it began to get a little crowded.  Once the bed was down in the van, there wasn't all that much space for her (she was too wet/muddy/sandy to be allowed on the bed).  As she got older it was increasingly noticeable that when she got out of the van in the morning she was a bit creaky and needed a good long time to stretch.  Our new dog had to be a smaller breed to fit with the camper van lifestyle.
  2. It needed to be active.  We are an active, outdoorsy family.  We need a dog that can cope with a long day walking cliff-paths, roaming in the woods or climbing a mountain.  A lap dog would not be suitable.
  3. We wanted to choose another rescue dog.  We knew that we had made a wonderful new life for Tara.  On searching, however, I was confronted with the fact that many rescue dogs come with the tag, "not suitable for a family with young children".  Because of their uncertain backgrounds, many dogs can have attachment issues, or are nervous or uncertain or have unknown temperaments.  Tara had been one of these but a lot of hard work and training had paid off, and while she was still grumpy with other dogs and with men with deep voices, she was fine and affectionate with everybody else.  I had a full year of pretty intensive work with her before the children came along.  I wouldn't have the luxury of all that time to work with a rescue dog this time.  We realised that we were going to need to get a puppy.  We could then be certain of its background and would be able to train it from the beginning to fit in with our family.
  4. Timing - I'm a teacher so am lucky enough to get six weeks off in the Summer.  It would be ideal to get the dog towards the beginning of the holiday so that we would have several weeks to work with it before going back to school and passing pup on to a dog-walker on the days when I was at work.

I set about searching the Internet.  We researched different breeds and decided that we would like a Cocker or Springer Spaniel or similar.  I learnt what questions to ask breeders and how to check whether they seemed reputable.  At about the right time so that the puppy would be ready to collect in the holiday, I started looking.  I used  The first breeder I contacted didn't answer any of the questions I asked in my e-mail.  The second breeder had already answered them all in their advert!  They were not "breeders" in that they didn't breed for their living.  They were a family with dogs, and they tended to allow their female dogs to have two litters before they spayed them.  This meant that while they were experienced with dealing with puppies, they weren't doing it all the time.  These puppies were gorgeous, and clearly had a lot of handling as their daughter and her friends played with them every day after school.  We went to visit and Isobel and I instantly fell in love with the female of the litter.  We said that we wanted her right away, and named her Blossom.

In the year and a half since then, Blossom has made herself very much one of the family.  She is good-natured, extremely soppy and demanding of love, very sociable and energetic.  She's also absolutely beautiful and knows it.  Everybody who meets Blossom loves her.  Her little bottom almost wags itself right off when she is pleased to see you.  On the weekend she is sent to "wake mummy up" and I hear her feet as she scampers at top speed up the stairs and launches herself on top of me and proceeds to lick me until I am well and truly awake.  She is responsive to training, patient and usually well behaved, though she does still have a tendency to steal any shoes that have been left lying around.  She is very tolerant of Isobel's demands and commands.  I'm so glad we've got Blossom.  It wouldn't be possible not to love such a loving little creature but she has wiggled her way very firmly into our hearts.

Sunday, 5 January 2020

Family mini-adventure - The Gower

Today we took a family mini-adventure to Rhossili, on the South-western tip of the Gower peninsula in South Wales.  This peninsula sticks out below Swansea and Rhossili Bay faces west towards the Pembrokeshire coast.  To the South across the Bristol Channel is Ilfracombe in North Devon, though that was lost in the haze today.

We started with a sausage bap from The Causeway cafe.  The staff were great and it's dog friendly too so Blossom was well catered for. 

Once we'd filled our stomachs we headed down the path to the beach.  It's a long expanse.  I think when the tide is in it's mostly covered, but we had a good two or three hours before high-tide so we strolled along, picking up shells and playing with the dog in the fresh air.  We were curious about a timber ship skeleton not far from where we got onto the beach - I've now discovered it's the Helvetia, and was wrecked all the way back in 1887!

We didn't go all the way to the end of the beach, though we'd gone a good distance, and headed up and into the dunes near Hillend caravan park.  We played in the dunes, sliding and climbing (and eating chocolate) as we headed back South along the coast path.

Back at the car-park we made use of our Tiffin set and sat for a picnic of hot chilli, warm home-made chapatis and flasks of hot coffee and hot chocolate.  Mmmm.  

We're resolved to stop being so busy and to take many more mini-adventures of this sort this year.

Saturday, 4 January 2020

Writing Circle Exercise - The Coop

The exercises (or workshops) we do at our Writing Circle are always entertaining.  You get a title, nothing more, and then you have about ten to fifteen minutes to come up with something.  After that, we all take it in turns to read out what we've written.  They are never the same, we all come at things from different angles, with different experiences and different writing styles.  This one was no exception.  It was the homework exercise from the last meeting.  As I hadn't been at the last session and didn't know the homework title, I wrote mine in the first five minutes of the session, while waiting for others to arrive.  Rob had written a play on words between chicken coop, co-operative and military coup.  Sheila wrote about a holiday home on the beach in Australia, called the Coop.
Here was my effort:

Henrietta de Lacey-Bonnington looked around narrowly.  These newcomers needed to understand the pecking order around here.  They were asleep just now, feathers puffed up and eyelids relaxed.  If she had anything to do with it that wouldn't last long.  Henrietta cast her eye along the perch, remembering all the names: Carla Orpington, Delilah Tracey, she couldn't recall the next two, they weren't much of anything.  Finally she got to Celia and clucked angrily to herself.  There was no denying she was a spring chicken.  Her white fluffy feathers moved gently in the air from the ventilation.  Her feet were clean and smart, her comb erect and bright pink.  Henrietta's mind whirred.  There was no way she could allow the great and handsome Sir Gordon Bantham-Jones to meet this young upstart.  There would have to be some feathers ruffled.  Some good solid hen-pecking should knock her down a peg or two.  Henrietta sniffed, she must remain top of the coop.
Image result for snooty chicken in coop
photo from