What we can learn from other parents – Michael Rosen, Margaret Goldthorpe and Anne Atkins.

At the start of the Autumn Term 2014, the Guardian Newspaper ran an article on Michael Rosen, Poet, former children’s laureate, broadcaster and scourge of the Coalition government, to coincide with the publication of his latest book, Good Ideas: How to be Your Child’s (and Your Own) Best Teacher.  The article is worth the read, here, covering in a few hundred words both Rosen’s own life story and the reasoning behind why he felt it was time to write anew on parenting.  I suspect he is so much luckier than most parents, given the 40 years of practice he has had been a Dad, and as a result much more relaxed now perhaps than he was with his first born. Indeed as the article alludes, his second son Eddie died, aged 18, of meningococcal septicaemia in 1999, and we are left in no doubt that father Rosen faced grief full on at that time.  It left him very much believing that with your children, “What do you do every minute, every hour… that’s what matters.”

Michael Rosen’s book is deeper than this, not just about living life for the moment, but being there with your children, catching them when their curiosity is piqued and running with them to explore ideas and celebrate the learning that follows. I share the same philosophy, and in terms of behaviour agree with author Margaret Goldthorpe in similar vein, when she reminds us that we should ‘catch children being good and praise them for that’. Margaret writes for schools rather than parents, helping teachers understand how to build better relationships both within school and with parents, so it’s not quite so easy to highlight one book that says it all. However, her ‘Stay Cool in School’ helps those working with 7-11 year olds how to put across some difficult messages, such as ‘handling the desire to show off’ or learning ‘to admit we were wrong’. What I like about this book is that the core messages come through understanding the issues that Jesus Christ highlighted through his ‘Sermon on the Mount’.

‘Stay Cool in School’ does not require the children to have Christian beliefs. But at a time when we are challenged to be espouse British values, it is no bad thing to have a look at the underlying christian beliefs that underpin our society.  Having a better understanding of the way Jesus of Nazareth said we should live is no bad thing around Christmas time, very much a time when children are curious about belief and faith.  Whether it be for adults or children, it’s no bad thing to consider the moral and ethical implications of Jesus’ advice for our lives in 2015, and help guide us in choosing the kind of politics we want our country run by, following May’s general election.

It’s Christmas Eve as I write this blog, stimulated by a wonderful article written by Anne Atkins, on why she is looking forward to a school christmas dinner up in Durham, where her daughter Rosie sings as a chorister at Durham Cathedral. No adult here by the way, Rosie is of school age and following in a very strong family tradition of singing for her supper, schooling and all. You can read that article here, in which we learn how Anne’s grandfather and father, herself, and now both husband and children are bound together by a tradition of caroling through the generations. What Anne highlights as part of her article is that Rosie could not have followed in her family’s tradition of singing at King’s College Cambridge, because that is a male only choir, true of many other great choral foundations. As a result, Rosie Atkins has had to travel 200 miles North to ‘earn her living’ at the Chorister School, in Durham Cathedral’s back yard.

Anne Atkins spoke at our Speech Day at the start of this last term, and gave us 3 bits of advice for the future – 1.  Dare to dream your dreams! 2. Let your dreams develop! 3. Never, never, never, never give  up! She clearly runs her family fortunes by these, or otherwise neither Roise or Mum would be looking forward to Christmas dinner on Christmas Day at school. I know just how ridiculously hard it is to train a voice to be good enough for cathedral choir; it’s not something that happens to a child, any more than does great acting, sportsmanship or academic achievement. What works for many is that that path to success has been trod before by members of the family, be they parents, grandparents or even more distant relatives up the family tree.

There can be no better time for most of our families than Christmas, a time when generations do indeed come together, if not in person, then enabled by the extraordinary developments of technology over the past 20 years or so, via web, app, twitter and webcam. What Rosen, Goldthorpe and Atkins show us in common is that wisdom comes through experiences, bitter or sweet, and not necessarily in equal measure. What their own experiences teach us about parenting is that there are no easy answers, but a pretty decent set of route maps visible to those that want to use one.

And finally…if there is one other Blog post of mine I’d want you to read before the close of the year it is this one: “You have only failed if you have given up. Until then, it is called Learning”. You see, Christmas comes with all sorts of family games and competitions, when some of the family members can’t understand why they keep hitting the snake (rather than the ladders) or run out of digital lives  or can’t quite get their Q to hit the Triple letter score. And I know, from that same generational experience that Anne Atkins refers to, that it is only a matter of time and practice before the ladders, lives and scrabble of life become available for those who strive.  Perhaps 2015?



About jameswilding

Academic Principal Claires Court Schools Long term member & advocate of the Independent Schools Association
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