sunday night

Sunday nights are different now that I’m not having the Sunday night blues… I love to sit now and plan how my week is going to pan out and reflect on how the previous days have worked out. This week has been busy, with a busy weekend as well and I’ve loved thinking back about how many friends it included..

On Friday night I went to see Educating Rita in the Lyric with a really good friend. We had front row seats and as we took our seats I was thinking we might actually be too close. But no, the seats were perfect. I could hear them sighing when they needed to, see every facial expression and almost smell the books on the fabulous set. I’d not seen the movie and that was just great as it all unfolded in front of me. Literally. I’ve never been so moved by a play in my life. The story of a longing to learn really resonated with me. I love that Rita didn’t know what she wanted to know, but knew there was more to know.. That’s the great thing about this life we are in – there is so much more to know. Apart from the actors being so well chosen that I couldn’t imagine anyone else ever in the roles, and the script being crafted to fit an NI audience, the story itself was so fitting that I spent so much of my time simultaneously thinking of the parallels and enjoying the show.

In my first year of university I studied English.. I have all the famous writers gracing my bookshelves.. but I can take as much pleasure and meaning from a well chosen quote on a facebook photo to be honest. It depends on the moment and the frame of mind that you are in at the time as to what you read in to the words of others. I was clearly not in a good (literary) place during A level English, as one of the texts was the play ‘Joan of Arc’. I didn’t read it.. didn’t get past the first 2 or 3 pages. That might have been a problem by the time I got to sit my A level.. I can’t remember the question on the ‘drama’ paper – but I recall the outline of my answer – I very succinctly and (in prob about 2000 words) outlined how I refused to answer the question under the drama section, as it wasn’t really a play, but political view points given names of characters.. no marks obviously, but I got it off my chest. And so my dalliance with words began.

Today I was lucky to attend a lecture by Professor Robert Winston at Queens as part of the NI Science Festival. The topic was ‘what makes us happy’, but I’d say 90% of the content was not necessarily on the topic, but directed at me and the fab friend I was with. I have always loved the prof, and have many of his books (quite a few more after today). He appeals to the student in me and makes me want to know more. Everything trips off his tongue as though he’s not really having to think about it and you don’t see time passing as you listen to him. The fact that I can listen to him is no mean feat for me. Anyone who ever sat in a lecture theatre with me will know that my concentration span is crap. Totally crap. I either slept (no matter how interested in the subject I was) or had to write my notes upside down under the line and back to front in order to keep me awake. Really. I’m unfortunately the type of person who reads the executive summary of the 200 page report and skims the appendices and has taken enough in to do me…

Almost as good as the content today, was the company. I am lucky to have some really wonderful friends. By wonderful, I mean not just in quality of friendship, but in who they are as a person. Without exaggeration, I think A (you know who you are) might in fact be here to change the world. I certainly feel more enriched by being in her company.  If Lucy was old enough to drink wine (or Southern Comfort) with A and I, she’d tell us that we knew each other in a previous life (Lucy’s views on this from the age of 2 are a whole other story, but one I might write some day). I hope we all have friends like that that, who although we are very different people, on different paths, with different views, have similar beliefs, the same heart, and a shared understanding.

In between my literary and scholarly events this weekend, was a night with lots of gin and dancing. I call it balance.

But it too, was filled with lovely friends. I think that if we learn nothing else in this life, we need to learn people. Everyone is different, that’s my mainstay belief, and you should ‘know’ each one of your circle in a different way, but definitely know them. Life is enriched by people and shared experiences. Contrary to popular belief, its not money that makes the world go around, but friends putting their hand on your bum. ( there’s a story here about me climbing a mountain with my best friend, our kids and several other families as part of a family support event,.. at one of the tough steep bits I could feel a wee hand under my bum, giving me a wee lift up, even though she literally has no blood in her.. there was no words, just a wee hand on my bum. I love her). But here, I climbed a mountain!

Professor Winston subscribes to the evolution theory. There’s a lot in that – I’m not sure where it all sits with religion – he has written a book on that that I must get round to reading, but my current attention span is ‘Take a break’. My issue with it though is the survival of the fittest part. What I’ve learnt is that you survive best when you’re supported by people, and supporting them in return, not competing against them.



21st century children – language, learning and literacy (and me)

I’ve been asked to speak at a conference next week, which is entitled ’21st century children – language, learning and literacy’ and I’m chuffed to have been asked. The audience are providers of early years and childcare services and I’ve been asked to speak on sustaining a quality business..

So in relation to my field of interest, how is this linked?

If we assume that the attendees know how to deliver a quality Service, we need the service to be delivered by a business that works efficiently, professionally and in line with best practise. The business should also be there for the long haul.. ie not dependant on short term public sector funds, but with a strategy for growth, learning and development.

Thankfully I love this stuff.. the stuff most people hate.. the tape. if you see it, not as tape, but in fact as a guide, a safety net, its ok.

But if I’m truthful, the biggest link to ‘learning’ is for me. I’ve spoken to conference delegates before. Hell I’ve written other people’s speeches for conferences before (including 3 Ministers and a secretary of state for Northern Ireland in fact), but these are my words. spoken by me. and that’s a bit more daunting. When I was sheltered by the public sector world, if the topic was boring, it was because it had to be.. but if this one is boring, its because my words were.. why did I agree to this?

Of course no pressure at all by the lovely lady who asked me to speak – ‘you can make all those things less frightening for people’ she said.. (all I’m hearing is ‘be a keynote speaker’ they said,…’it’ll be fun’ they said…).

It is a serious topic and one I want to do justice.

..but what will I wear?!

All joking aside.. what will I wear?! I have a dinner dance to attend this weekend (I know – you are of a certain age when the phrase ‘dinner dance’ is trotted out).. I visited a friend yesterday and we were talking about the underwear curse of fancy events. So this morning I’ve been trying on underwear like a mad thing. If you know me well, you will know my roller shutter door story.. if you know me really well you will have been outside the loo as I’ve tried to  get myself back in to the hook and eye underwear. If you don’t know me, I apologise – you have now just got the strangest image in your head.

so, back to the conference. Its not about me or what I’m wearing. Apparently. Mums are good at bringing you back to earth with a bump. I got all As at GCSE and one B – Mum wanted to know if I would be resitting the B.. I had an inspiring conversation with a business advisor about my latest ‘hare brain scheme’ and I’m not to ‘get carried away’ by (all that positivity). We didn’t do positivity in our house. That’s not to say it was a negative place to live, but you didn’t get a chance to get a big head about something if you did well. I hope mum doesn’t read this – she’d be gutted.. but its true.

So I am determined to be positive with my kids. That is not easy.. take this morning for example..

I woke Amy at 7.15 (not 7am as my phone battery had died and we rely on it to wake us, unless the cat needs a wee) – that did not go well

Amy got water in her ears in the shower – that did not go well

Amy did not like the tights in her drawer (any of about 8 pairs) – that did not go well

Amy’s bra strap was twisted – (you’re getting the picture).

..and meanwhile I’m doing the ‘come and sit on my knee and I’ll hold you tight until you feel better’ routine and inside feeling ‘why could you not have had a shower last night when you were asked to’. We have a poster you see which has all the times and days for showers so that nothing is a surprise (this was a good idea at the time). We’ve done all the posters for ‘how I’m feeling’, ‘options of things to do to calm me down’ etc.. I am all learnt out when it comes to autism, but the thing they cant teach me is how to feel about it.

Anyway.. the bit about the conference title that is so interesting to me is ’21st century children’ – why is language, literacy and learning so different in these times? we are a family of teachers (mum says I am a frustrated teacher as I have the buying sticker books obsession without the job to justify it) and I suppose when my granny was teaching in the wee white school in Killyleagh there were probably equally as many children as there are today who found learning difficult, but they didn’t have a word attached to them. And that was probably better. You see the word comes with a bit in brackets after it, that is never written down and never said, but always thought..

She’s autistic (that’s why)

He has ADHD (that’s why)

She’s dyslexic (that’s why)

but that is not why.

Everyone learns in a different way. Everyone. Some people are unfortunate enough to have their needs boxed off with a word, but I truly believe that their needs aren’t ‘special’. How their needs are met may be different, but they are the same needs as anyone else’s.


Our World of Learning

Not just a clever expansion of the acronym ‘OWL’.. but that is good.

Learning is what motivates me. I love to learn. I love the process of learning. I love learning about obstacles to learning and I have two children who find learning difficult, both for different reasons. This is ‘my world of learning’.

Amy is 11 and has autism. I struggle with that descriptor on many levels not least because it doesn’t describe her, but draws attention to some traits which are difficult to manage. Difficult to explain to others perhaps, as I think we manage quite well. That’s not to say that it is easy – it isn’t, but neither is Sudoku and there are less books and facebook pages dedicated to it. It pains me to see families hiding under the ‘autism family’ banner. It does not define my family any more than it defines Amy. Its not an excuse, nor the main topic of conversation when I meet friends. Neither do I feel the need to stick it on the back of my car. Amy has dandruff too.. who wants to know that? So we don’t hide under it, we don’t advertise it, we are not intimidated by it, its just there. Amy was a tiny baby (1lb 2oz) and we are grateful for everything she has achieved as her chances were slim. As is she.. she’s a petite wee pet and people assume that I am her childminder.. (read into that what you will)..

Lucy is 6 and doesn’t ‘have’ anything, primarily because you need to fail before the system wants to know why.. Since Lucy was a toddler I’ve known that things just don’t come easily to her. Her milestones were late, although it clear to anyone who spends time with her that she is a smart cookie.. she just thinks differently to most people. I love her observations on life and indeed those could be the subject of a blog of their own – her wit and wisdom for someone so young belie the fact that she cannot read and knows few letters. She can talk the talk though. I’m going to try my hardest to help her to learn in a way that will work for her. Lucy is so like me and yet so unlike me.. learning came easily to me, in fact I may have been lazy as I knew I didn’t have to work too hard. I’d love the light to click on for Lucy as it would open the world to her. To be fair, if it doesn’t click no one might notice, as Lucy is the most enchanting wee soul and will sail through life anyway.

I’m particularly interested in autism, ADHD and dyslexia – the aetiology of these conditions fascinates me and indeed my thesis for my degree was on automaticity in dyslexia – little did I know that 20 years later I’d still be fascinated by this. It’s scary now how many children in a class of 25 are affected by one or more of these conditions. The impact on their learning, not just in school, but in life, socially and in the world of work is immense. I intend to focus my attentions on the lifespan of learning within this arena – wouldn’t it be lovely if the tags didn’t need to be used and the needs of each person at each stage of their life were paramount, whatever they were, but at this stage that would be a pipe dream. But leave it with me…