Midday

Still summer is glorious. Had been hoping to get outside, have a chat and be creative with a pencil, but the weather is just not playing ball. This is midday…..

The school at home project has allowed this Dad to see some practical evidence of the progress and issues which son has with his learning process. The level of insight that is just not provided to parents from schools. Maybe in class sizes approaching 30 this type of insight is just not collected.

After these 3 months I have a better grasp on the dyslexia position. The feedback from school has been limited to

  • He has reading problems,
  • He is doing quite well in spelling tests.

That’s it…. Nothing else in just under two years.

So what insight has the last 3 months provided.

  • His reading has developed. I would estimate that he can read unaided about 50% of words. If he takes his time he can try to sound some of the missing words out, eventually arriving at a word he’s heard of before. The other words at school he’s been guessing or just ignoring. At home he’s happy to ask for help with words. Even allowing me to read out particularly difficult sections,
  • His dyslexia is more pronounced when he’s doing handwriting.
  • He finds it easier to type out answers. It’s a long process as his typing is not quick. He also struggles to see when the predictive text function selects the wrong word.
  • With certain word patterns it doesn’t matter how many times he sees the word, it’s like he is seeing the word for the first time.
  • When he gets tired the dyslexia flares up with greater force. Regular breaks really help. The optimum time appears to be 20 minute work blocks with short breaks.
  • Number dyslexia is still a problem. 6’s and 9’s are easily switched, especially when a decimal point is introduced into the number.

I’m not a trained teacher but I have a valuable quality which many teachers don’t get in UK schools. Quality time. Time to focus on one pupil. That is something which is not permitted under the current government led approach. An approach based on schools operating like automated production lines. That must be another vote for homeschooling…..

Whitby

It feels like it’s been an eternity since we last took in some seaside air. I think it’s just under two years. TWO YEARS…. That must be my longest ever inland run. Especially not great when you are a seaside child, born on the North Yorkshire coast. One day with patience.

This is Whitby. Here’s a few random facts about this beautiful little town.

  • Captain James Cook lived here and his famous ship the Endeavour was built here.
  • Whitby has some of the best Fish and Chips on the planet.
  • The black semi-precious stone Whitby Jet.
  • Bram Stoker developed the idea of his Dracula book here. The opening chapters are set here. Also the idea of Dracula taking on the form of a huge black dog is based on local legends.

When I was a kid we would come here on a day trip by train. While my parents went about doing parenting things, I would be sent up the 199 steps to The Abbey which is in the background of the second photo. My job was to hunt for Dracula’s grave. I never did find it but maybe next time.

I’m not sure that time wasting parenting excuse would have any chance of success with our son. More chance of him convincing me to go. These days we come to Whitby for the chips, the ice cream, the beautiful beach and a bit of dinosaur fossil hunting. This part of the country has been named Jurassic Coast for the number of discoveries it yields. This is one of ours.

So let’s hope it’s not long before the fossil hunting is back underway.

Drama

You take your eye off the veg patch for a few days and an Amazonian Forest starts to form. Clearly rain rather than warm sunshine is the secret to greenery. Now where did I plant the spring onions?

An email from school made me smile. I notified school of the hospital issue and told them that Son would be out of action for a while. I would speak to school on Monday with an update. Then on Friday night the email at 11.30pm. Son had apparently failed to satisfactory submit work for one subject on Friday. Son immediately guessed which was the only subject that would do this. Why is it always DRAMA. Why is Drama always a drama. Following a rather snotty midnight parent email the teacher quickly apologised on Saturday. On the plus side there are only 2 more weeks to the summer holidays. After that Son has elected to drop the subject (assuming he goes back). So only two more hours of Drama left. How much drama can be squeezed into those 120 minutes…..

Bleak

It’s another bleak old day. Definitely a two jumper day. July 4th was the day when many places like pubs reopened in the England. Well in some parts, rather briefly. A local attraction here opened at 10am and closed a couple of hours later due to the bad weather and high winds. Definitely a two jumper (sweater) day.

Definitely a day for no house work. Disney Plus movies, warm drinks and giving son the attention he needs.

This photograph reminded me of old times. Pre parenting days. When I went through tough periods. When I went through challenging times. Times when I seemed to stumble and constantly lose my way. I would need to reset my inner self. Take a breather. Back then I would book a climbing or walking trip. A weekend in the wilderness. The bleaker the better. That’s what I needed to do my personal reset. Yes I would be tired on my late Sunday drive back but normally I was in a much better mind set. Ready to rumble again.

Fast forward to 2020. Those climbing and walking trips are no more. Single parenting means no timeouts. No weekend long resets. Just keep going. Any internal resets have to be done on the hoof. So with some uplifting words from a friend swirling around my mind, I find myself outside. Sat on the garden fence with a hot drink. Taking a few minutes to breathe. Imagining walking through the bleak landscapes and starting a reset. Yes definitely time to go again.

Hedge

A completely random photograph of our hedge…..

A hedge which has many roles. Too many to list but I guess the main ones are

  • Photosynthesis,
  • Making more hedges,
  • Survival,
  • Home for wildlife,
  • Boundary marker,
  • Barrier to try and keep a dog this side of it,
  • A Barrier to try and keep a football this side of it,
  • Boost to Son’s feeling of security,
  • Something to look at,
  • A home of long lost toys, balls and garden gnomes,
  • And now something to photograph.

Our brush with hospital this week reinforced one issue. Many people including single parents often have few backup options. Plan B’s are rare. I was sat trying to get my head round what would I do if son had to stay overnight on the ward. I wouldn’t leave him (wasn’t allowed to leave him alone). So how was I going to

  • Bring in a change of clothes,
  • Fetch stuff to entertain him (his iPad and a charger),
  • Bring some food and drink which son would actually consider having,
  • Fetch my phone charger,
  • Feed the pets, let the dog out into the garden,
  • Put a new parking ticket on the car,
  • Bring my reading glasses,
  • Check that I had locked the back door……

Yes in normal times I would have a couple of family options. But these are not normal times. They are either unavailable or would take many hours to arrive. No other immediate options. Thankfully son was allowed to go home at 11pm. But it’s a stark reminder that many of us operate with the most fragile foundations. I was lucky as at least an option existed, even though it was far from practical. Too many people have zero options. That’s a sobering thought.

Open your eyes

Looking through a few flower photos and guess what I found. Another appearance from our friendly garden visitor. This unexpected find brought a much needed smile.

The unexpected hospital visit was tough. It was physically and mentally tough for our son. Hospitals are not pleasant places at the best of times but during a pandemic. Just awful.

It was a routine procedure but it made me face some demons. Waiting for news in the building where my mother died and where I found out my partner would be dead within days. Too many traumatic memories flooded back. Sat by myself in a waiting room. Yes it’s ok to cry.

Those memories and the clear unpredictability of the future made me realise what is so important to me. The things I need to cherish and make the most of. No more trying to email when talking to our son. It’s such a bad habit, you miss out on so much and son can see the lack of focus. Quality time MEANS quality time. It took something so unpleasant to clear my mind and refocus my priorities. Your never to old to open your eyes.

Differences

Wild Strawberries growing under the blueberry bush. Certainly wasn’t expecting these to grow here but with an open mind, this is such a result.

The decision to abandon mainstream schooling is in our son’s hands. It’s his life. His risks. His anxieties. His dreams. His future. So ultimately he decides. If it was my call then I’ve made my mind up. It would be homeschooling from September. That viewpoint has hardened with the last two communications from school.

The first was a summary of the schools position. Basically son is low attainment and has significant educational needs. Progress will be difficult. His educational needs are best met in the bottom set. With effort he may still be able to get a few qualifications. He is best following the normal teaching programme with no specific interventions (which would eat into tight school budgets).

Ok….

Then the next communication was his school report for the year. It painted a slightly different picture. To quote a few phrases from his individual teachers

  • Strength for creative writing,
  • Worked hard to produce some fantastic work,
  • Excellent attitude,
  • Will progress very well in subject,
  • His remote learning has been great,
  • He is a star,
  • Class work of the highest standard,
  • Superb young historian,
  • Considerable talent in the subject,
  • Very good understanding of the subject,
  • Pleasure to teach.

Ok….

Two conclusions here. One is that the report comments are standard across all the kids and so they mean nothing. Just a way to keep parents happy.

OR

The report comments are the reality and something is seriously wrong with schools overall assessment.

I strongly suspect this is a common pattern across the country. It mirrors current government thinking. If thinking is the right word to use. Basically kids with educational needs do not fit neatly into the factory production line educational approach. Minimise input costs to generate a set and limited output. Discard those items which fall out of the narrow design specification. Educational needs equate to additional teaching costs which will not be funded. Thus the best approach is to dump kids with Autism, Dyslexia, Dyspraxia, ADHD, disabilities and mental health issues into the bottom set. Conveniently forget about them. If these kids then get the odd qualification out of the system then the authorities can pat themselves on the back after a job well done. Let’s not forget the important thing, all this delivered all so cost effectively.

Maybe I am being cynical but that’s the reason I am definitely falling into the homeschooling camp.

Bit battered

Poor thing has been a bit battered in the recent bad weather. Well I still think it deserves a moment to shine.

I was having a chat with our son last night about how life has changed recently. It’s only really now that some of the implications are starting to feed through. I will only focus on one small part of the conversation as this post could have ended up as long as the extended Directors Cut version of War and Peace.

Son struggles with social settings. It’s a well established element of Aspergers. He will actively pull away from crowds and groups. One of the only exceptions to that has been Rock Concerts. He still feels uncomfortable there but for a variety of reasons he can cope. He can put his hood over his head and no one will notice. He likes the fact that rock crowds seem very welcoming of any person, any look, any characteristic. With the noise no one is likely to talk to him. When the lights go out, no one can see him. You are just one hidden person in a sea of people. Plus he really loves the music.

So far he has seen Iron Maiden, Hollywood Vampires (with Johnny Depp), Alice Cooper, Kiss, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Thunder, Shinedown, Status Quo, The Darkness, The Damned, The Stranglers and Status Quo. He’s also seen his favourite band – Alter Bridge.

Before the pandemic kicked in he was hoping to see more. The likes of Whitesnake, Foreigner, Europe, Ozzy, Aerosmith and The Who. But the pandemic changed the world. Most of these have been postponed or cancelled.

When concerts restart what will they look like. Will the days of standing shoulder to shoulder return. Will people have to wear masks. What number of fans will be allowed in. How close will you be able to get to the band. Will you need to be vaccinated before you attend. Will certain fans be excluded (age, health factors). Will all the fans want to return. Will it just be open air concerts. Will it be the new idea of drive in concerts. Will some bands just give up. Who knows.

The pandemic also changed son’s life. It has sent his social and health fears into overdrive. Changed the balance and how he sees the world. Things which were acceptable have been tipped into the no go area. Those changes might be temporary or they could be permanent. Only time will tell. But certainly his concert days are at best on long term hold. That’s the thing about Aspergers, changes in external factors can have a huge internal impact. Lasting impacts.

Regardless of any more virus related developments, I just can’t see son wanting to go to a concert this year, probably next as well. Maybe that fragile corridor that allowed him to venture into a concert crowd has been broken on a much more permanent basis. We just have to wait and see. Maybe going forward our own music festivals are the way forward. Buy a concert dvd and hold the event in our living room or garden. We can still put the T-shirts on, have the snacks, drinks and a burger. We can even turn the lights out and crank up the speakers. Best thing – no masks required. No queues for toilets as well….

That doesn’t help the concert industry. I just hope they and the bands find a way through this mess.

So maybe that’s no concerts for Dad as well for sometime. But it is what it is. I’ve been so lucky to see so much music over the years. So as I move into a barren concert period let’s pause and see what my memory is like. Lets see how many of the artists I have seen over the years, I can actually remember. The good, the bad and the ugly. I’ve set myself 10 minutes (so I might miss a few). Here goes….

Whitesnake x4, Motörhead, Deep Purple x3, Black Sabbath, Ozzy, Dio, Rory Gallagher, Tin Machine (David Bowie), Scorpions, UFO, Meatloaf x3, Blackfoot, Mountain, Alaska, Saxon, Magnum, The Firm, Eric Clapton, Tom Jones, Ronan Keating (x2) my partner to blame for that…. Blue Oyster Cult, Alice Cooper x3, Gary Moore, Deacon Blue, The Kinks, Kirsty MacColl, Pink Floyd, Nils Lofgren, Killswitch Engage, Birdland, Bernie Torme, Roy Harper, Suzy Quatro, Paul Rodgers, Chris Rea, Marillion, Runrig, Asia, Al Stewart, Neil Young, Peter Gabriel, Tracy Chapman, Terence Trent D’arby, Simple Minds, Lou Reed, Bonnie Riatt, Chrissie Hynde, Jackson Brown, Little Steven, Bryan Adams, Squeeze, Tina Turner, Extreme, Was Not Was, Lyle Lovett, plus those with son.

Ten minutes up….

IT

Weather and more weather. Looks like an incoming horror storm.

Son was trying to understand why Stephen Kings ‘IT’ Book was not a great choice for a school book. I suspect it will be making an appearance on the school system as soon as I turn my back.

Dad do you remember that time I got you told you off not the teacher.”

How could I forget it.

It was very funny.”

******

I think that he was about 7 and in class his teacher asked what things the kids watched on TV. Most of the kids mentioned things like football, Peppa Pig, Dora the Explorer, Spongebob and Finding Nemo. That was until it came to a certain boy

My Dad lets me watch Dracula, Frankenstein, Ghost and Zombie movies…”

Understandably Teacher was not impressed. So I was asked to see the teacher after school. I was suitably nonplused until the penny dropped. Yes that is true but son failed to mention the fact that these were all with Scooby Doo….

And more school at home

The weather has definitely changed but the school at home project chugs along. It will do until the end of the third week in July. After that the so called government is telling parents to send their kids back to school in September with minimal additional safeguard, as it is completely safe. Let’s see how many kids do return….

That’s a thought for another day. Back to the present lets see what I’ve learnt from this weeks school at home project. Remember it’s not true Homeschooling, it’s schools version. They are two completely different approaches.

  • Trying to teach basic cricket skills is no fun during torrential rain and a thunderstorm. Unfortunately the house does not feature an indoor sports hall facility.
  • Clearly the Games Teacher and a certain Dad disagree on what constitutes a good bowling action in cricket. The game must have changed since I was a kid.
  • Old school French to English dictionaries have so many pages yet they don’t seem to have the exact word or phrase you need.
  • School repeatedly sending an email out to pupils with the title ‘Important information about Careers, please read‘ will mean that the email is never opened.
  • Another week and another Food Technology lesson focusing just on puff pastry. As son says “I don’t even like the stuff so I’m never going to eat it. This is a waste of time…”.
  • The school has a really good online teaching infrastructure. Probably as good as any UK school. So it’s so frustrating that with a few teachers we still have to print out a copy of a sheet. Son fills it out by hand and then has to take a photograph to send it back in. What a waste of paper.
  • Getting no feedback on a piece of work does not really help.
  • Drama is such a great lesson when the kids get to watch a ‘live’ theatre production on the iPad. Even his Dad sat and watched Treasure Island.
  • The Dead Sea is sinking at 1m per year. That’s quicker than my football team.
  • Why do all the felt tip pens instantly turn dry and useless as soon as the words ‘for art today you will need coloured felt tip pens’ are mentioned.
  • What is the fascination of doing word searches as a teaching tool. I am trying to work out how finding a word in a sea of letters will help embed concepts and theories into a young mind. Especially a mind which sees words through dyslexic eyes….
  • Without caffeine trying to undertake long division is impossible. So the following words sent shivers down my spine. ‘Dad can you check this sum, it’s 13422 divided by 317′. Really…..
  • I have a policy of not trying to interfere in son’s work but even I have a limit. My limit is where his Form Tutor asks the kids to do 20 minutes quiet reading then take a photo of the book. Sons choice of book – Stephen King’s IT. Just NO, how about a Roald Dahl book.…..
  • Why do school keep asking a kid with dyslexia to read books without additional checks and help…
  • Fukalite is a chemical compound.
  • The school iPad can survive having a full glass of orange juice spilled over it.
  • Apparently Continent’s move at the same rate as your finger nails grow… This is still quicker than how fast my hair grows back.
  • When your son is not wearing his dark blue school blazer it would be smart to put it away neatly in the wardrobe. Leaving it on the back of a chair for 3 months and in front of a south facing window is not such a smart idea. One side has definitely faded in the sunlight. Deep joy.

So that’s it for another school at home week. We can definitely do this.