The significance of numbers

Numbers can be significant markers along the journey of life. Think about it; we celebrate birthdays such as the sixteenth because it means the progression into adulthood. But why sixteen? It could be that it is the legal voting age and so reaching that milestone is worthy of celebration. Another number that is often used as a marker is eighteen. But it pales in comparison to twenty one. Perhaps part of the fascination with that particular number is that it holds a particular association with luck. In the game blackjack, one of the ways you win is if your cards total up to twenty one. Twenty one is the age associated with maturity and adulthood, with growing responsibilities. Reaching that age implies reaching a particular stage in life.

As one progresses further along the journey of life, we tend to mark our progression by decades. We reach our thirties and then our forties. Perhaps the most significant marker after that is our fifties. After all, it is at that particular stage in life that we can move on part of the way to the next rung.

Century.

The age of fifty is not so much thought of as five decades, but as reaching the midpoint of a venerable century. A person turning fifty is seen as having attained a wealth of experience and has attained some stature, so his our her opinion on matters holds more weight than someone who has turned twenty one.

We can extend the attachments to number significance beyond humans to objects too. A company that has been in existence for forty years is more reputable – or viewed that way anyway – as one that is recent.

The London Underground’s Victoria Line turns fifty this month and its achievement in ferrying millions of passengers in that time is commendable. At the same time, it has opened up employment opportunities to millions. You can live in Brixton while working in Walthamstow. You can enjoy different work and recreational opportunities.

One of the recreational opportunities you can enjoy around Finsbury Park is the gift of music. If you are ever looking to learn a musical instrument like the piano, a good starting point is the pianoworks website, where you can find out about piano lessons in N8 and N4. It’s only a short hop away from the Victoria Line, but you needn’t worry about travel – the piano teacher comes to you! Now that is a 100% winner!

What do you want for your children to attain by the particular milestones?

Don’t work out what to do; just work!

When you are sat down at a lunch or dinner with someone that you don’t see very often, what do you talk about? You may find that invariably conversations stray to the subject of work, the kind of issues people face, relationships with colleagues, and in this day and age, probably funding cuts and how they affect jobs. And why should people not talk about work? After all it is the thing that most people spend their waking hours on. When you wake up in the morning you are primed for work, the travel in, the journey on crowded train rides et cetera. Some people even commute two hours to work from the outskirts of the capital, taking advantage of cheaper housing in suburbs and the higher salaries in the city. And that is two hours each way. Take a eight or nine hour job, tack on four hours of commute, eight hours of sleep (or less) and you can see how much of a percentage work takes up in our daily lives.

But what if you are out of work? Even those who are unemployed – not in education or employment or training, known as NEETS to the government, social conversations can be about work. The only difference is that conversations centre around the lack of work rather than the quality of work. And conversations are likely to take place in the virtual world rather than in the real world.

But what can you do if you find yourself in the latter situation? The thing to do is to make yourself go out and still meet people. Find opportunities to volunteer at charity shops. Because it is important to still keep maintaining that drive to get yourself out of bed, to keep up the routine of getting prepared for employment, even if volunteering is not paid, so that when a paid opportunity develops – maybe you get offered a job somehow – that you don’t get lulled into being “not bovvered” about it because the thought of getting out of bed and ready in the morning is too much.

As a Harringay Ladder piano teacher tells us, practice and getting into a routine makes a difference. Don’t think about doing something; just do it! That is a good skill to impart to children; to spend less time considering job decisions before applying for work, and to actually do the pondering after you are in the job!

World Cup lessons

How did a country with four million people beat a country with over sixty million people to get into the finals of the World Cup? That is the question posed by everyone, and let’s faced it, if you haven’t faced one person talking about it, or come across such conversation while on public transport, that it is conceivable that you have spent the last month in hibernation, missed the scenes of jubilant England celebrations in pubs all across England, and have instead been living in a basement. You can’t have really missed it, and avoided all the back pages of tabloids and broadsheets chronicling the highs and lows of the Lions.

Everyone has been struggling to deal with the loss of the Lions to Croatia. But coming back to the question, how did a country with few people beat a country with an established football team and league, which is arguably the best in the world?

In answering the question, the assumption is that ratio-wise, a country with more people should produce a country with more quality players. In this case you would be right to assume England should have won. But it is not really the players that decide victory. Victory is done to a variety of factors. More of these factors can be found in Croatia. The most important of these is desire.

Footballers in Croatia have to ply their trade overseas to succeed. Of the world cup team representing Croatia, the majority play outside of their country. For those who hope to make it overseas, by being the best in the country, competition is fierce. The most important quality to succeed is hunger. There are many young people training in poorly constructed areas. Prospective footballers have to raise money even sometimes to take part in tournaments. When you have invested a stake in your own success, then there is more drive to succeed.

So it is desire and heart that gives an individual the edge. Taking a reference from a different field, in the realm of classical music, when the strings of the piano, which were suspended on the wooden frame, were switched to a tougher, metal-backed frame, this expanded the potential of piano music by allowing more notes and chordal music to be played. (You can read more about this in the Piano Lessons N4 website.) And without the electric guitar, which toughened up the sound of the acoustic guitar, we would not have the various kinds of music that we have nowadays. It was metal that gave the music mettle!

What can we teach our children then? We can highlight to them that size does not entirely matter, but quality does. It is not the size of the dog in the fight, it is the size of the fight in the dog!

For information that sticks, look for meaning

School trips. Love them or hate them? I suspect that it depends on which side of the equation you are on. The children that go on them would likely be excited at the chance of doing something different, away from the classroom, and not having the “boring” learning, of information thrown at them that they would be forced to absorb in order to pass a test.

For the adults, it might mean anxiety at being out of the classroom, in an environment where you have little control, and have to establish control, in the face of excited students who are seizing upon the opportunity at freedom.

It is funny how adults and children have two different perspectives.

Trips are important though. They are difficult to co-ordinate, involving shepherding children on public transport to places, doing headcounts, making sure children are safe, and generally cause high levels and anxiety for the organising adults. For the children though, it is a meaningful experience and a chance to attain information and internalise it in a meaningful way.

Imagine the students reading about historical events in the classroom. They may have read about the battles in France in Ypres, or Flanders, and learnt how many people died in these battles. But to them, the numbers are just that; statistical information that needs to be recalled for the purpose of writing an essay or passing an exam. But take them on a school trip to Flanders, where you can see the poppy weaths laid out over the fields, and they get a meaningful sense of scale of the wars. Look at the scenery around and visualise what life might have been like, with bombs raining from the sky, and history comes to life and is made more meaningful. And long lasting.

We can take the same approach to anything we encounter in life. By trying to look deeper, and going beyond the obvious factual information, we can create a deeper sense of relevance and meaning. Playing music on the piano? According to Piano Teacher in Finsbury Park, rather than looking at the music as a list of information and instructions on which keys to depress, try and understand the motivation of the person writing it. Why is the music alternately loud and soft? What is the composer trying to depict? What are the circumstances behind the composer’s life? These questions spin off more thought and discussion beyond “Play these sections loud and soft”.

Meaning is everywhere in life. Meaning gives us relevance. But to find it, look beyond the obvious, first-layer of information. And when you find meaning, the information becomes more internalised, relevant, and sticks for longer.

World Cup lessons for children

The World Cup is in full swing and is commandeering the attention of both adults and children alike. Each day the group stages feature two or three matches that take up the whole afternoon and engage everyone’s attention. Children, in particular, sit enraptured with their favourite superstars. You don’t need to be a fan of a particular team to appreciate football, even though it helps – you can watch it just for the game, the love of it, or perhaps to see how matches unfold, like a sports drama. How your team – or the team you support – does, is not necessarily affected by your wins, even though it helps. If you win a few and lose a few, then your fate is dependent on the other teams in your group – which is why you will probably watch them too.

With the football game having such an impact on a short space of time, it is no wonder that kids have an emotional connection with what they see on screen, and may be affected with what they have viewed, whether consciously or subconsciously. If they viewed the Champions League game last month where Sergio Ramos tackled Mo Salah in order to take him out of the game, and escaped unpunished, they may have assimilated the message that is okay to play physical, and to win at all costs. Is this the message that we want to imbibe our kids with? It is finding a balance between teaching them to be tough, and teaching them to dish out physical play, and everyone draws the line in different places.

One of the most inspiring games was the Germany vs South Korea game. On paper, the defending champions were stronger, but the South Koreans displayed that tenacity, confidence and the will never to give up fighting that they ground out a 2-0 shock win. The Germans, who had triumphed previously, were perhaps a little too reliant on past reputations and might have thought that alone would have been enough. Some may question whether Neuer’s actions sabotaged his team’s chances, like the conductor, pianist and music composer Antonio Salieri sabotaged Mozart’s, but nevertheless it was an inspiring game because it can teach our children you should never take anything for granted, your past reputation counts for nothing, and if you keep trying and working hard, you can achieve a good result.

New ideas can arise from the old. Germany is in a transitional stage, bridging the old with the new, and maybe from the ashes of this team a new improved one will arise.

Enjoy the rest of the World Cup everyone!

Teaching, Knowledge and Assessment

Are exams a good thing or bad thing? It depends on whom you speak to. As children grow up and enter the academic world of school, they enter periods of testing and exams and homework. Most people would agree that exams to a certain extent are good, because they give the students something to focus on and apply their knowledge. A lot of school involves the dissemination of knowledge and facts, particularly in the early year of Maths and Science, but the sole memorisation and replication of these facts does not necessarily guarantee a wise student – merely one who is good at parroting back information.

The problem with exams and test is that schools and other education providers can get too involved with literal facts and the accumulation of them. The students are judged by how much information they have soaked up and can reproduce. But that is not necessarily learning; it is learning for assessment. And teachers end up teaching to the test – in short, teaching about things that may eventually be used in an exam. It is a very narrow-minded method, of selectively teaching information that is going to be assessed, rather than giving a broad range of education.

Why do they do that? Well, when you are choosing a school for your child, what do you look at? You look at its Ofsted ranking and its GCSE results, or where possible, how the school ranks in terms of SATS tests achievements. Better results suggest that the school is better – although they may only be teaching towards the test. In many schools, there are exams, and then there are mock-exams to prepare for the exams, and then a further round of mock exams. The students sit a battery of tests and are expected to find out why they made mistakes, and then plug the missing information into their brains. Learning for examination, and learning by examination. Schools have to do this because of the political game of attracting enough students to qualify for funding.

Learning a skill puts this style of learning into perspective. If you are learning a musical instrument like the piano, you have to work out reading the notes, hand-coordination, and develop that sort of fluency by going slower and being comfortable to doing many things at once. And once you have managed that, then you think about doing piano music exams. If a piano player were to learn and sit for an exam the same way as the school system seems to be going, they would merely be playing the same songs over and over again, entering themselves for exams over and over again, and hoping to pass – rather ineffective.

We should consider removing too much assessment in the school method, giving teachers the freedom to teach knowledge for its sake, rather than teaching to the test! The knowledge gained is more relevant, has more meaning and is likely to stay with the student for a longer period of time..

Teaching Children the art of balancing

Among the useful life skills we can teach or children is the skill of learning to balance. Because life is about balancing. And when I speak about balancing, I don’t mean the physical skill if riding a bike or going about on a scooter. I refer to the skill of leaning on one set of rules on one occasion, and on another set at a different time.

Why is balancing important? It is because as adults we give children many layers of instruction. Depending on perhaps how liberal a parent it, the instructions can come more positively-wrapped, or a series of admonishments. “Stay close.” “Don’t do that.” “Don’t go there.” When we give children a seires of instructions that we expect them to follow through, in their minds they will be working out the reasons for these. Why does Mummy not want me to go near the tree? Because she is afraid I may fall. Why does Daddy want me to stop at the end of the road. In fact, why is he hollering “Stop!” at me when I know to stop? Because it is dangerous.

The unfortunate thing about negative parenting – or what appears to be negative anyway – is that compounded over time it can just bury the child under a series of Not To Dos. And repeated over time, it does foster a spirit of not trying, because everything is dangerous. If we repeatedly rein in our children, and curb their spirit, affter a while they do it to themselves.

Growing up, I knew of a friend that had often been told by his parents not to do this and that. Perhaps it was because he was the youngest of three children, and their instructions to him to keep safe (“Don’t do that) were more a way of keeping him reined him while they tried to manage the other two children. Slowly this friend grew to adopt the spirit that had been trained on him. But when he was in his teens and seemed to his parents to be developing into some sort of anti-social spirit (he is fine by the way), they were trying to encourage him to go out and make more friends. “Go out and socialise! Go meet more friends! Leave your room and meet new people!” Unfortunately the advice he was receiving was in direct contradiction to what he had been previously taught.

We give instructions to children because that is the quickest way of getting them to do something that is safe. Some of it is positive, some is negative. Sometimes there are two different sets of rules for social situations. We sometimes, for example, encourage children to give their best and try their hardest. Yet, at a birthday party for a friend, sometimes we have to teach them the skill of letting the birthday boy or girl win at a game of say, pass the parcel. We have to teach the children which rule to adhere to, and the skill of balance – knowing which one to choose.

We encourage children to be compliant, but sometimes we have to encourage them to be creative and go against the grain too. The Classical composer Richard Wagner was trained – as most musicians were – in the past generational ideas of harmony, and while his earliest work displayed a strong influence of the past, he realised that it was artistically sterile to merely repeat what had been done already, and if he did so, his own self would merely be subsumed in a long ancestral line of artistry. He needed to break free, and this is why as his musical work progressed, it broke free of the past structures of harmony. But Wagner could not merely write chromatic and dissonant music in a complete break with the past. Otherwise his music would be completely at odds with the status quo and he would have been an outsider inhabiting a different world to his surroundings. It was in the balance of new ideas with old existing ones which produced his best masterpieces, one where new ideas of harmony blend with traditional ones. Wagner found his balance. You can read more about this from the piano teacher crouch end blog.

Balancing is the switching between two sets of rules as the situation dictates. In life we are often given set rules but none of them are fixed; only situational. The skill of balancing is an important one to pass on to our children.

Daring children to fail

It seems that we are such a goal-oriented society and measure our progress by the attainment of success, that we have forgotten that in failure there is much to learn to.

Think of a child making a Lego set. He or she follows the instructions, and then perhaps after a nunber of steps encountes a point where the pieces do not fit as the diagrams intended.

What do you do? Should you just break up the whole thing into the constituent blocks and then start all over again?

Strangely enough, this is how some people approach their learning.

Some piano players that I have encountered, for example, are so intent on getting it right, that when they make a mistake, they merely keep returning to the first bar, and try playing again from the beginning hoping to get a complete error-free version.

The problem with doing this is that you get familiar with the opening stages of the process. You don’t really learn as much as dealing with the difficult stage. What you are doing is repeating the process and banking on, or gambling on, that the next time you do it right something will magically sort itself out.  You have not really learnt to deal with the obstacle, as you have attempted to do the thing again and hope it will be right.

Imagine if you were that child playing with Lego. You hit a snag and somewhere something must have gone wrong.

What should you do?

You should retrace your steps, until you get to the point where you can identify what you have built does not match with the instructions. There you learn where you went wrong, how you misintepreted the instructions, and how to watch out for that step again if you ever decide to build your model from scratch.

If you do ever make a mistake and then decide to start from scratch, you may think your perserverance is a positive factor, but actually it is not. You are merely masking a lack of initiative to solve problems by hoping hard graft can make up for a lack of perserverance and the will to develop intelligent problem-solving skills.

Daring to fail is not a bad point. It gives us the opportunity to gain maturity and intelligence by overcoming the problem ahead of us.

In life, everyone frequently hits a snag. This presents an opportunity for growth. This is what we should teach our children. Dare to fail, dare to make mistakes, so that in overcoming them we grow. You don’t need to produce perfection. If you don’t try for the fear of making an error, you have lost out on the opporunity for growth.

Teaching children the art of conversation

Have you ever had a closed conversation? You know, the type where you try to demonstrate interest in another person, but end up getting rebuffed by short, simplistic answers, which appear to signal irritation and that you are wasting another person’s time by getting in the way of more important activities they would prefer to be doing.

You: How are you?
Child: Fine.

You: How was your day?
Child: Okay.

Some children are not aware that their responses may constitute closed answers. They may not realise that it is hard work on the part of the person asking the questions to keep thinking of ways to keep the conversation going. Perhaps children have not learnt the social skill of this yet, that in an interchange both parties have to contribute.

You: How are you?
Child: Fine. What about you?

You: How was your day?
Child: Okay. What about yours?

Teaching children this structure of social exchange is a good life skill we can impart to them. In the above examples, it is just three simple words they can utter, but the empowerment is not in the words, it is the knowledge that by using such phrases, they are signalling intent to continue with the conversation and showing maturity in being able to do so.

Children from as young as four can be taught this skill. We should not expect that this kind of social skill comes without being taught, but we can show to children, demonstrate through role play, that this is how adults sometimes participate in an exchange too.

Children can learn that when someone asks them “How are you?” the correct response would be “Fine; how about you?”

When the adult that initially asks this is a conversation receives the response then the onus is on them to keep the conversation going, because the child has already fulfilled the obligation in continuing the social exchange.

The response may not necessarily be “How about you?” It can be a question, anything else that pushes the conversation back across.

“I’m fine, what did you do today?”

“Not bad. Have you been busy?”

An exchange that goes back and forth, allowing both speakers to provide information in turn is a meaningful exchange. We should teach our children meaningful exchange in order as an important skill.

It all starts with something as simple as “How about you”.

Managing Screen Time

If you feel like blaming your children or teens for their fixation on screens, just think of the times when you, as a sensible adult, have stayed up too late, against your better judgement, watching something unmemorable on television. Or the times you’ve been lured into checking out just one more Facebook post or YouTube video. If we, the mature adults that we are, find it so easy to get sucked into Screen World, just imagine how much more tempting it is for our children and teens. It’s only when we are in charge, when we are the deciders of what happens in our homes, that we are able to do our job of transmitting the values, skills and habits that we believe are important. When we are not in charge, our children’s immature values will prevail and will be reinforced.

I’m sure you’ve read or heard the advice about making parenting less stressful by ‘picking your battles’. What this usually boils down to is avoiding situations that would result in your child or teen whingeing, complaining, arguing, pleading, crying, slamming doors or throwing himself on the floor. The problem with picking our battles is that it’s the opposite of the teaching and training we need to do in order to transmit our values, skills and habits. In this context, what I mean by teaching is making sure our children and teens know what they should do. And by training I mean guiding them into the habit of doing what they know they should do.

Children often resist this teaching and training at first because changing habits is rarely easy. It’s natural for children to react to new routines and habits and rules with some complaining, crying, arguing or even tantrums – at first. So let’s not view this annoying behaviour as a ‘battle’ to be avoided. Let’s think of these negative reactions as immature ways of expressing uncomfortable emotions. A tantrumming child hasn’t yet learned how to express his upset in words, or perhaps he is so overwhelmed by the strength of his emotion that he temporarily forgets how to control his actions. Or it could be that this sort of misbehaviour has worked in the past, at least some of the time, to get your child some of what he wants. Whingeing or shouting or arguing might have bought him a bit more time to do what he wants. Or he might have noticed that sometimes you give up out of frustration or exasperation. Or maybe he’s learned that the crying and whingeing are guaranteed to get your attention.

Our job is not to avoid our children’s negative reactions, but to teach and train more sensible reactions. We will enjoy our role as teachers and trainers much more when we remember that children are, by definition, immature. They want what they want. They believe they need what they want. Let’s allow them to feel their childish feelings. Let’s not think of their upset feelings or the resulting misbehaviour as a battle. In a battle someone wins and someone else loses. But teaching and training isn’t about winning and losing; it’s about changing habits. Being in charge is not a static state of affairs. Over time you will probably refine your values. And as your children grow and develop, their needs will change. You will naturally continue to cycle back through the steps below until your children leave home.

Assessing

Before you can decide to take action consistent with your values about screen time, you need to discover exactly what’s happening.

Assessing (and reassessing) the current situation includes deciding whether what is happening in your home fits with your values. This step also includes listening to your children’s opinions and wishes. However, you will always have the final say because you are wiser and because it is your job to guide children towards the values you believe are right.

Planning
In order to plan effectively, first you need to clarify (with your partner if you have one) what your values are. This enables you to decide which rules and routines will guide your children towards those values. It may not be easy to come to an agreement with your partner. Although your fundamental values may be the same, how you each tend to put them into practice might be very different. Consistency between parents can be difficult to achieve. But we don’t have the luxury of deciding to ‘agree to disagree’. It’s not fair to our children to expect them to feel comfortable with two different sets of rules in the same home.

As you put your plan into practice, you will find yourself revisiting these steps many times, assessing the current situation in your home to see the results of your actions. It’s tempting to jump the gun, but don’t assume a strategy is not working based on how the first week or two go. Stick with a new strategy for at least a month. This gives your child time to get used to the new rules and routines. If a rule or routine isn’t going according to plan after a month or so, you will need to pause to assess what went wrong and then decide what you want to tweak.

Getting in charge of the technology in your home and staying in charge probably won’t be easy. You will be swimming against the tide, and you may get criticism from your extended family (especially if your child’s grandparents believe that love equals indulgence), maybe from other parents at the school gates, maybe even from your closest friends. On the other hand, your family and friends may be cheering you on, and they may want to learn from you how to get back in charge.

Staying consistent will be difficult at times. Humans are not by nature very good at being consistent; we change our minds and our plans a lot. And getting back in charge can feel like hard work, for one thing because dealing with our children’s initial fury about the new screen time rules and routines can be very upsetting. You may feel frustrated, angry, guilty, confused. You may feel like giving up. You will need to keep your wits about you; you won’t be able to let your guard down. That can feel exhausting at first, until the new routines are firmly established.

Parenting as a journey is a popular metaphor. A journey has a starting point and a destination. The starting point is that you’re not completely happy with what is happening with electronics in your home: your child is too much in charge and your values are not prevailing. You won’t reach your destination in one giant leap. You’ll be taking lots of small steps. And to complicate matters, you and your partner may be at different points in this journey towards getting back in charge.

When you use the Calmer, Easier, Happier Parenting strategies, screen time problems will be significantly reduced, and most can be eliminated. Even a severe problem can be transformed. Soon it will become a moderate issue, and then it will become a mild issue. Eventually, with consistency, it will end up a very mild issue. That is probably the best result you can hope for, given that our children will always be surrounded by the influences of Screen World. But you can live with a very mild issue because your children’s objections will fade over time.

Your children and teens will find renewed pleasure in non-screen activities. You will get more cooperation and respect. You will see more self-reliance and responsibility. You will have the immense satisfaction of seeing your children and teens developing more mature values and habits. You can make all this happen.