Gone fishing for Easter

Just a little note to any subscribers or regular visitors that I haven’t forgotten you. I’m fine and I’m not giving up blogging just yet! I’m just enjoying Easter holidays with my schoolboy who is rather good company these days.

We’ve visited Fountains Abbey in North Yorkshire, Coram’s Fields, the British Museum, and Chartwell so far! We’ve also been playing quite a bit of Lego Star Wars on the Nintendo.

I’ll be back from Tuesday onwards with plenty of new stuff, including some posts about our days out and our shiny new National Trust membership. It’s burning a hole in my pocket because I want to be sure I get my money’s worth!

Here are a few photo highlights of the week.

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Have a very happy Easter weekend!

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Why we shouldn’t reward children for good attendance at school

This is a rant – prepare yourself!

If you have a child in school, you might understand the constant haranguing they give you about attendance. At the end of last term, I got a note saying that my son had a 97.13% attendance rate (or something like that – they definitely did it to two decimal points) . It said that they wanted to remind me about how important attendance is. I was annoyed by this. His slightly less than perfect attendance record was because of illness – one day for a tummy bug and another for an ongoing investigation for which I provided the school with a paediatrician’s note.

To my ongoing frustration, at every school assembly, they go through each class in the school and announce their attendance rates. Then, the class with the best attendance gets a trophy! At the end of term, pupils with perfect attendance get to stand up in front of the school to be applauded.

I’m aware that Ofsted sets a target of 95% attendance for schools, and schools who don’t work to improve attendance can be penalised. But surely the strategy of rewarding the children is not only completely useless, but also dreadfully unfair for the children?

First of all, many children have less than perfect attendance because of illness. Particularly in the infant school years, bugs are rife. So why should children miss out on a reward because they were forced to stay home puking or trying not to scratch their chicken pox?

Worse than that, what if a child has a chronic illness that causes them to miss large amounts of school? How is it fair to make them feel bad about that further by them never being rewarded for good attendance?

It’s not a child’s fault if they’re ill. Not getting sick does not deserve a reward.

Furthermore, surely the attendance targets are meant to mitigate truancy that is caused by parents. But condescending notes and passive aggressive reward schemes at assemblies are not going to fix the problems. If parents, rather than illness, are causing truancy, there are a few likely causes:

  • They’ve gone on a term-time holiday. I personally believe everyone should be allowed these or schools should have different term times to make holidays affordable. But that’s an argument for another post. Anyway, if a fine doesn’t deter parents from term-time holidays, an attendance trophy sure as heck won’t either.
  • Parents are unwell themselves or in some sort of dire straits with their relationships or finances. These parents probably won’t even come to the family assembly to receive their attendance-related browbeating. And they probably won’t read the condescending notes written on tiny slips of paper and stuffed into their child’s bookbag either.
  • Parents actually just don’t care. I think this is probably pretty rare, but it can happen. This sort of parent will not be motivated to change their behaviour by whether their child’s class gets an attendance trophy.

So, in essence, the notes and trophies are completely meaningless gestures meant to appease Ofsted and other onlookers that the school is acting to prevent truancy. They are going for the low-hanging fruit by guilting and worrying engaged and conscientious parents about their children’s rare days of missed school.

True action to prevent truancy that is actually preventable (i.e. not caused by genuine illness) would involve improving the link between school and parents. I think I’m a fairly engaged parent, and I’m extremely eager to support the school in educating my child. But I also often find the school run intimidating and isolating. Everyone’s rushing. Everyone talks to the people they already know and don’t always put on a friendly face.

I can’t imagine how difficult that might be for someone who was truly struggling with personal, health, social or financial issues.

I don’t have a solution for how things can be fixed. But I do think that schools should focus their efforts on working with social services to truly prevent truancy. I also think they should work harder to build a sense of community within the school and a sense of rapport between teachers and students. How about having the odd social occasion that doesn’t involve more bleeding fundraising? I would love to speak to my son’s teachers when we weren’t all busy and running off to the next thing. I don’t even know the teaching assistants’ names.

So, yes, this is a rant. But it’s also an appeal to stop using an ineffective and excluding method to improve attendance. In order to participate in any community, people need to feel like that community is ready to accept and support them. Building such a community is where the real work of improving attendance could be done.

Does your school reward attendance? Do you think it works?

Keep Calm and Carry On Linking Sunday
Two Tiny Hands

Kidzania London: Great educational fun for kids

This half-term I took my 4-year-old to Kidzania London. This unique attraction at Westfield in Shepherd’s Bush is a whole city entirely run by kids. It has shops, food outlets, emergency services, and more. The aim is that kids get to try out real-life jobs in a fun, hands-on way.

How it works

Kidzania has around 60 different role-playing experiences, set out in the format of a sort of miniature city. Upon entry, kids are given 50 “KidZos”, which is fake money. Some of the roleplaying experiences cost KidZos to play, and other experiences earn KidZos.

Each of the experiences is completely kids-only. Parents cannot even go inside the rooms where the children do the different activities – they have to watch through the window! Or, if your children are 7+ years old, you can leave them to do it on their own, and either relax in Kidzania’s parents’ lounge, or go shopping in Westfield. Kids wear RFID bracelets and the whole place is secured so older children are safe enjoying it on their own.

Each admission to Kidzania is for 4 hours, and their website expects you to do around 4-6 roleplaying activities in that time. We actually managed to wedge in 7 activities despite a bit of queueing, so I was very happy with that.

The best way to explain exactly what it’s like is to write a little bit about each activity my son did. This of course will only offer a taste of what’s on offer.

Aviation Academy

We made a beeline for this because my son was rather keen on the notion of being an airline pilot. He went into the room himself with a group of other kids and they dressed him up in a cute little pilot uniform.

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Inside the room I could see (through the parent viewing window), that they had a fully simulated plane cockpit. My son thought it was the coolest thing ever.

Paper recycling

My son has a thing about recycling – not entirely sure why – but I thought he would enjoy learning about paper recycling. He went into the room on his own and the teacher there showed him how they mash up old paper, soak it and then form it into new sheets of paper. He got a piece of handmade paper to take home.Making paper.jpg

Ice cream factory

This was sponsored by Wall’s and the kids got to make a mini milk. They had miniature versions of the machines in the factory and my boy seemed to enjoy it. He got given a badge to take home.

Smoothie making

Same concept as the ice cream, but with smoothies, sponsored by Innocent. This one had a good layout and I could see everything that my son got involved in. He really enjoyed trying some of the fruit and then making a machine work, which spat out a smoothie drink box that he got to keep and drink.

Fire & Rescue unit

This was the absolute highlight. We had to queue for a while – and if I went again I would go to this first thing to beat the crowd – but it was so worth it. First, the kids watch a video about fire safety and what firefighters do. They get to wear cute little firefighter uniforms.

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Then, they ride a miniature fire engine across the city to where there is a model hotel “on fire”. They have toy fire hoses that squirt real water and they all get to help put out the fire. The whole scene was really cool because the city also has Ambulance and Police experiences. So all of the emergency services turn up to play different roles and help with the fire at the hotel.

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City tour bus

Not really as hands-on as the rest of things. You basically just ride a miniature tour bus (much like the fire engine) around the whole city. You know, on a tour! But my son obviously loved it because BUSES.

Textile recycling

I already mentioned about his love of recycling. The textile version of it looked really fun because the kids got to use tablets to sort the clothes for recycling as if they were working in the factory. They also sorted some real clothes by hand and learned all sorts of things about the process. He was given one of those rubber wristbands to take home – which is one of his favourite ever things – he has a growing collection of them from wherever we go!

What I liked about it

I think Kidzania is a very fun place for kids. I saw children of all ages there, really getting involved and loving the feeling that they were in charge and doing “grownup” tasks. It had a great Disneyworld sort of atmosphere that made you feel as if you were immersed in an alternative world. However, the kids were all learning about real-world professions and getting an insight into how the world works generally. I think this was immensely beneficial for my 4yo, as he is just on the cusp of having a deeper understanding of the world and things like this steer him in the right direction.

The notion of spending and earning money is useful – although my son was a little too young to care about that bit. I looked after the money for him and if I hadn’t, it would have been lost for sure! However, I think the roleplaying itself and putting kids in control was even more useful than the training of tiny capitalists. Learning and trying out new skills filled my son with confidence. It was also helpful for me as a parent to step back and let him get on with it. I was prevented from hovering and helping him when he didn’t really need help (as I’m sometimes wont to do).

Without exception, all of the staff there that ran the different sessions were amazing. The staff are all DBS checked, but beyond that, I don’t know what their training was. But these people managed groups of 6 to 8 children of varying ages almost effortlessly, and with great fun and humour. My son is known to challenge authority figures but he behaved beautifully for these people.

It was also lovely that some of the experiences gave a small token, like the wristband or the badge. Very nice to get souvenirs that don’t cost extra!

Some points for consideration

The child admission is £32 during school holidays, and £29.50 off-peak. I think that this is fairly good value, especially if you have an older child who you can leave to go around on their own. That amounts to fairly cheap babysitting! Also, that sort of price is in the usual range for any theme park or attraction in the London area, and Kidzania is definitely as much fun for kids as any of them.

However, I’m less keen on the £16.50 adult admission price. Kidzania has a parents’ lounge where you can go and drink coffee and use the wifi. If I could have done this, I wouldn’t have minded the admission price. But as I had a child under 7, I had to follow him around everywhere. It was pretty hard work standing outside all of the venues while my son enjoyed himself. I think there should be a cheaper price for the parents of under-7s.

On the upside, this place would be perfect for catching up with a mum friend. You could bring your kids and chatter away without interruption while the kids do their activities!

Another thing to consider is the food situation. The website says that you can’t bring your own food, but this wasn’t policed. There were many people blatantly picnicking, and in the end I envied them. The only food outlets were a coffee shop, a crepe trolley, a “diner” and a GBK fast food counter.

We didn’t go to the diner because the seating inside looked odd. Children were sitting down at little bars and there seemed to be no place for the adults to sit. I wanted to sit down and enjoy lunch with my son, so we chose GBK, which had more tables (but not enough, I should note).

Unfortunately, the GBK burger was one of the worst I’ve ever had! It featured 2 dry overcooked patties, presented wrapped in paper with no plate or basket – only a tray – to put it on. And it was very expensive. I paid £21 for two burgers (one child-sized), one fries and two drinks.

I would urge Kidzania to assess their food outlet options and also to “legalise” picnicking. If you are planning to visit, perhaps you’d like to avoid visiting at a time when you would need lunch – I certainly can’t tell you to break the anti-picnic rules.

The verdict

I think Kidzania is definitely worth a visit if you are looking for a unique, immersive and educational attraction for your kids. It’s great for ages 4 and up – and even better for ages 7+ because the kids can go round and let their parents relax.

The Kidzo money that they earn is also good anytime. So if you don’t earn enough on your first visit to buy anything at the Kidzo store, you can save it up and use it next time.

Disclosure: I received 2 admission tickets in return for this review, but I retain editorial honesty.

Keep Calm and Carry On Linking Sunday
Tammymum