Category Archives: Children

School Prejudices Against Left-Handed Children

Left-handed couturier scissors

Left-Handed Couturier Scissors by Garrett Wade on Flickr. Some rights reserved.

I have documented before how schools fail left-handed children and the experience of our own children at one school. (They later had worse trouble at another school where the Head said they should just adapt to a right-handed world and didn’t even believe you could use computers left-handed.)

This followed my own experiences in the Seventies when my secondary school failed to be supportive, not least in the use of fountain pens and also the enforced use of chairs with hinged desks that were only suitable for the right-handed. Some of that probably contributed to a chronic neck pain problem.

I might have hoped things would have changed. Not if my children’s schooling is anything to go by. And I now read of a school that forces left-handers to eat right-handed on the grounds of it being part of a social development programme, even though this caused one child to have tics and a stammer.

I would dearly like to hear some comments from educators on this issue. It’s outrageous. If schools think that simply providing left-handed scissors in the classroom is sufficient provision, they are deluded and complacent.

Cornwall Holiday Highlights

One reason for light blogging in recent weeks has been pressure of work. But we have also had a fortnight’s holiday in East Looe, Cornwall. One night near the end of the two weeks I jotted down some of the highlights. Here goes:

Food – a supermarket that sells Dark – yes, dark! – Chocolate Hobnobs again.

The Smugglers’ Cott must be the best carvery we have ever visited. A choice of four meats. Not just beef, pork and turkey, but lamb, too. And the beef was offered in rare or well done joints. The kids asking for ‘a piece of crackling for my mum, please’.

Being introduced to the Baobab fruit at the Eden Project, especially when its powder is added to a Pineapple and Coconut Smoothie. The most refreshing drink of the summer, and apparently an energy booster. Will it help us keep up with Mark?

Kelly’s award-winning fish and chips. Beware the Trip Advisor reviews, many of which are based on the over-priced eat-in restaurant: the takeaway is excellent.

Moomaid ice cream: when a dairy farm made losses on milk sales, it decided to use it’s milk production differently. They tried cheese, and then struck gold with ice cream. Cornish ice cream is great anyway, but this beat anything else we tasted. No additives, so the choc mint crisp flavour is white, not green. Shame the Eden Project stopped selling it, because Moomaid wouldn’t drop their prices to uneconomic levels (they must have learned their milk-selling lesson, but how ethical and Fairtrade was the EP on this issue?).

WorshipSteve Wild trying everything to involve our children in worship at Riverside Church. Bringing Horace the Frog with him. Asking them to pick a favourite hymn (a lost cause when the church only used 1982’s Hymns and Psalms and still the 1936 Methodist Hymn Book). Purloining Jaffa Cakes for them from the refreshments area before the service ended. Mark hearing ‘Battle Hymn of the Republic‘ as an actual hymn for the first time, but nevertheless singing, ‘Glory, glory, Tottenham Hotspur‘.

Place – I’ll mention it again: the Eden Project. Stunning is an inadequate adjective. We want to return. Twice.

Looe itself: even with all the tourist shops, it retains an old charm. Fishing trawlers share harbour space with pleasure boats.

Rebekah's sand art with the word 'family'

Rebekah’s sand art

Family – aside from the four of us and Rebekah’s sand sculpture of the word ‘family’, the good was to see cousins. My cousin, his wife  and son. Debbie’s cousin , his wife and children. The bad – my mum falling and fracturing her hip on our second day here, the burden falling on my sister and her family, and us powerless at two hundred miles’ distance.

Father’s Day

Call me an unreconstructed softie, but this post by Chance Scoggins could cause the fall of precipitation on the faces of even the most hardened of Dads. (HT: Vicky Beeching.)

Well, OK, not everyone; one commenter on Facebook described it as

Complete mush and the usual patronising Internet twaddle that gets over emotional people interested. Thank goodness there’s plenty of love in my family without this ‘Barney The Dinosaur’ drivel.

While that guy returns to his Chuck Norris DVDs and his Mark Driscoll books, I’ll tell you why it touched a nerve with me. Yes, there is some gooey stuff in the article, like the point when Mr Scoggins’ little daughter says, “Daddy, when I was still in heaven, I wished for a Daddy like you.” But give the little lass a break. It may be inaccurate, but hear the heart of a small girl who feels utterly safe with her father.

It’s like this for me. I didn’t get married until I was 41. I had had the odd girlfriend and one broken engagement, but mostly I was the kind of man who attracted the “Let’s just be friends” response from the fairer sex. For me, it was never a case of when I got married, but if I got married. And then to marry at an older age meant lengthened odds in the parenting stakes, and shortened odds in the disabled baby stakes.

For a long time, I’d wanted to be a Dad. I have a sister and no brothers, and I felt that strange male desire to keep the family name going. I would have felt like I was a failure if it hadn’t happened. I know that’s irrational, but that’s how I felt. I wanted children, and I especially wanted a son. For different but equally strong emotional reasons, my wife wanted a daughter.

As some of you know, we had a daughter, and then a son. I never knew how much I would adore having a daughter, and I don’t think my wife knew how much my wife realised how much she would love having a son. I love having a son, too: we have a common understanding. It’s great to go to football and cricket together, or watch rugby. I love the fact that he has inherited my talent for Maths. My wife gets on a wavelength with our daughter, and I see them connecting in special ways, too.

Childbirth is precarious, and we certainly saw that with our two. Both were born by Caesarean section. In our daughter’s case, it was an emergency section. Debbie was a week and a half overdue, and was taken into hospital to be induced, but little or nothing happened. The medical staff increased the hormones being pumped in, hoping this would bring on labour, but all that happened was that our daughter’s heartbeat started going all over the place. We went to theatre quickly.

In our son’s case, we had booked an elective section for health reasons with a supportive consultant, and were relieved to have done so, because the cord was around his neck. We could have lost either of our children at birth.

So I never care on Father’s Day whether Debbie has organised big presents from the children, because nothing can beat two blue eyes looking into mine and saying, “I love you, Daddy. You’re my real Daddy, my only Daddy, not a step-Daddy and I won’t have another Daddy.”

Inside, I blub. Even though I too can’t bear Barney the Dinosaur.

Happy Father’s Day.

Bullying And The Church

Physical bullying at school, as depicted in th...

Physical bullying at school, as depicted in the film Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Children who use self-deprecating humour are more likely to be bullied, according to research reported today. Perhaps it was no surprise when the teenagers at Knaphill Methodist recently led some prayers in worship on the theme of justice that the word which kept recurring was ‘bullying’.

I read the article I’ve linked to above out of interest for my children. But as I read it, I thought about church experience. Preachers are told to identify with congregations and not to make themselves sound too superior. So – especially in a British cultural experience – it isn’t surprising if we use self-deprecating humour in sermons. I certainly have. However, one minister told me that it was the church where he most used that kind of humour as an attempt to make a bridge to the congregation that he was most despised. I have heard and read too many stories to believe this was an isolated case. Congregations bully leaders; leaders bully congregations.

So – is the advice wrong? Why does bullying exist in the church? And what should we do about it? We have our ‘safeguarding’ policies for the sake of children and vulnerable adults, but some people who do not fall into either of those categories can be targetted in some churches. When a minister is bullied, I have seen it ‘solved’ by moving the minister away. Nothing happens to the perpetrator. When congregations are bullied, there can also be a failure to acknowledge the issue. It’s like asking a school what it’s anti-bullying policy is, only to be told, ‘We don’t have a bullying problem.’

Sorry, but it’s not true. Houston, we have a problem.

Schools Fail Left-Handed Children

I have blogged about this before a few years ago, but now my suspicions – no, fears – are confirmed: school teachers are not adequately prepared to support left-handed children. Being left-handed myself and having two left-handed children, I find it monstrous that in a society where computer use is essential, schools don’t even know you can use a PC (Windows, Mac or Linux) left-handed. All three of the schools our children have attended have not known this basic fact. In two of them, they were receptive when we made an approach as parents. In their last school, the Head flatly told us it was impossible to use a computer anything other than right-handed. She didn’t like it when I then threatened to bring in my brother-in-law, who is in management with Microsoft and who is also a school governor elsewhere. She told us: “Left-handed children just have to adapt to living in a right-handed world.”

Will someone please explain to me why this prejudice is acceptable, when we have long rejected the cruel way in which left-handed children were forced to write right-handed, and given corporal punishment if they didn’t comply? Just what is the difference?

I know this isn’t on my usual topics of Christianity and ministry, but I’m angry that children should be let down like this.

Joel Versus Poverty

I have told a story on here somewhere before about making a visit to a school with our children, where we witnessed a display in the entrance hall about a link the local community had with a Ugandan village. The local people there relied on growing and selling chillis to eke out a meagre existence. Our kids were 7 and 5 at the time, and we had to explain huge issues, because they couldn’t initially believe that people lived in such desperate straits in our world.

Later, when we got home, Mark (then 5) announced at the dinner table: “I’ve changed my mind about what I’m going to do when I grow up. I’m not going to become an author, I’m going to save Africa.”

Trying not to show considerable surprise, nor wishing to pour cold water on his noble ambition, and secretly pleased, we asked him how he proposed to do this.

“I’m going to open supermarkets all over Africa where people can buy the food they need to live.”

“But where are they going to get the money to buy the food? The people you want to help don’t have much money.”

“That’s easy,” he replied – as only a child could. “I’ll open money shops as well.”

Mark retains his passion for Africa. He still doesn’t spend much of his pocket money or other gifts he receives.
Why am I retelling this story? Because another young boy in a Christian household is doing the same. Read Joel Vs Poverty. The difference is, Joel is getting into fundraising for TEAR Fund as a result. Not only has he written ‘Poor Box’ on an old cardboard Frubes container, he has decided to do a sponsored run on 23rd June. He has a page on Virgin Money Giving where you can donate to the cause.

There is a hashtag on Twitter to help you follow what’s happening, and it’s #TeamJoel. However, the important thing is not only to do clever social media things, but to use them in the service of giving and of changing our world.

Losing Weight, Feeding Children

This is my church member and friend Dave Hamre. He needs to lose weight.

No, I’m not being rude. He really does. He says so himself.

But Dave is making a virtue of it. He has linked his personal slimming target to an effort to raise money for a charity called Every Child, which works for the welfare of children around the world. They keep families together, they protect children, and they ensure that children’s voices are heard.

For every pound in weight that Dave loses, he is going to donate a pound in currency to Every Child. However, he is also asking if others would like to donate to his cause. If you would like to, then please go to his Just Giving page and contribute.

Dave will appreciate any support you can offer. So will needy and hungry children around the world.

The Questions Children Ask

This video clip from the BBC comedy show Outnumbered has gone viral in the last year or two:

My reaction on watching it again this week is that many of young Ben’s questions to the vicar were all too reminiscent of the attitudes many adults have shown this last week when thumping their fists in the air to celebrate the killing of Osama bin Laden. Why not sort everything out with a quick bit of violence? These attitudes start young.

Probably the best question in the clip is from Karen, when she asks the vicar whether Jesus could have found another way apart from the Cross of saving people.

On Friday, I went into our children’s school to be quizzed by Year 1 and Year 2 children. It was our son’s class. On Thursday evening at the meal table, he told me the class had prepared sixteen questions to ask me. The little so-and-so wouldn’t give me a heads-up on any of them! His teacher was very pleased with that the next day.

Some of the questions were routine: do you marry people? What is a christening about? What does your font look like? Do you pray every day? But some were harder, and especially to give an accurate, succinct answer in understandable language. Why did you want to become a minister? Well, actually I didn’t …

After we got through the sixteen questions, the teacher invited a few additional spontaneous questions from the floor. That yielded one I could only answer concisely, and as briefly as I could in the limited span before playtime: do you believe all the stories in the Bible? A ‘yes’, combined with an explanation of needing to treat different literature differently, pointing to the different styles of books in the classroom.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, while I had questions about baptisms and weddings, I had none about funerals. The questions were about what interested and affected them.

But the honesty and directness were refreshing, and a world away from the spite and hate behind many such debates among adults here on the Internet.

Children And Communion

I was taking the bread along a row of communicants yesterday, when I arrived at three-year-old Jake. As is my habit with children, I knelt down to be nearer his height. As is also my habit, I dispensed the formal liturgical words such as, “The body of Christ keep you in eternal life,” and said something like this as I tore off a piece of bread and offered it to him: “Eat this to remember that Jesus died for you and loves you.”

He looked at me and said, “No thank you, I’ve just had my biscuit.”

Priceless. And certainly better than my own seven-year-old daughter, who took one look at the roll on the paten and said, “Is it Kingsmill?” Interesting that Kingsmill Bread’s latest campaign on its home page is Kingsmill Confessions

Introducing Development Issues To Children

My six-year-old son Mark has an ambition in life. At one stage, he wanted to be a famous author. At other times, he has quite fancied being a professional footballer, helping Tottenham Hotspur thrash Arsenal.

But his abiding ambition is even more noble. He wants ‘to save Africa’. In his simple analysis, he wants to open supermarkets across Africa, so that people can buy enough food to live. When faced with the question, “Where will they get the money?” he has a simple reply: “I’ll build money shops as well.”

Sorted. Now take over 10 and 11 Downing Street, Mark. You can do it.

I thought I’d encourage his thinking about world issues. You can’t start them too young when they already care about the poor, can you? So Mark and I set about this afternoon going around the websites of various Christian relief and development agencies, in search of suitable resources to stimulate his interest.

We gathered only slightly more than zilch.

World Vision, nothing. Christian Aid, zero. Methodist Relief and Development Fund, nada. Compassion, you can sponsor a child but I couldn’t find anything for children who are interested in their projects. Nil points.

Only TEAR Fund had anything, and it wasn’t much. It took some devious searching to find a page of ‘children’s resources’, and it hadn’t been updated since 23rd June. All of these organisations had plenty for teenagers. Apparently, you only care when you get into the church youth group.

So come on, Christian relief and development charities, where is your material to inspire primary age children? Mark and Rebekah’s school supports a charity working in Uganda, Chilli Children. Is it that you have resources but they are buried under centuries of rubble on your sites? Or don’t you think six-year-olds know that Jesus cares about the poor?

Maybe someone reading this can point me to what I’ve missed, because  Mark and I would dearly like to find some good Christian educational material for primary-age children. It must be there, but where is it?


UPDATE: following a conversation on Facebook, I have now been made aware that the Methodist Relief and Development Fund (possibly the smallest of the agencies I mentioned, except for Chilli Children) has a sister site, World AIMS.  I found this site earlier, but was put off by the specific reference to Methodist schools (many of which are fee-paying). However, if you click on ‘Resources’, you can find various items of educational material, classified according to Key Stage. (For non-Brits reading this, the Key Stages are used in the British education system, and roughly correspond as follows: KS1 is ages 5 to 7; KS2, ages 7 to 11; KS3, ages 11 to 14; KS4, ages 14 to 16.) It could be easier to find, and the name of the website put me off the scent.