Monday, 28 September 2009

Sarcophagus, Sarschmophagus

Zack's class is studying Ancient Egypt at the moment and he brought home his 'project' homework on the subject this week. Now, I do think it's a nice idea if kids gets the chance to do more than book learning on such a thing. I applaud the school for its imaginative efforts to bring the subject to life for Zack and his compadres. Where my applause starts to taper off into more of a slow hand clap is when they send him home with a list of things to "research and make" that would give even Rolf Harris pause for thought. Oh, and this is no voluntary exercise. The homework sheet states that Zack has to create his own model sarcophagus (apparently a shoe box might come in handy), an amulet and a painting suitable for an Egyptian tomb. Oh, and they threw in a few other suggestions of things that could be made if we felt the urge. Yeah, right.

These things are patently beyond the reach of even the most resourceful Year 3 child. There is no way that Zack can be expected to construct such items to anything like a presentable standard. And so the duty of doing this falls to the parent least unartistically inclined - which happens to be me, in this family.

Hannah has overheard other parents at the school gate discussing tips on how best to achieve that much sought after authentic Ancient Egyptian look to this project. It's madness.

And it's not even as though we can give up on this and let Zack fend for himself since we know that many parents will go to difficult-to-comprehend lengths to create an impressive array of Egyptological artefacts from nothing more than a bit of papier mache and a strip of sticky backed plastic. At the end of this project last year, the Year 3 children had a day when they dressed 'like an Egyptian' and poor Rachel was despatched wearing an attempt at some sort of ancient-like robe gown (which looked suspiciously like a ripped up sheet) and a necklace arrangement hastily constructed from a piece of cardboard from a cornflake box, some silver paint and a selection of glued on beads. When we got to school that morning we discovered that other children from her class looked as though they'd just stepped off the set of a particularly lavish production of Anthony and Cleopatra.

We're not going to try to compete with those parents who seem to see these projects as a form of one-upmanship but the pressure is there to send Zack in on his dress-like-an-Egyptian day with something a bit more convincing. Rachel's old necklace found its way into the dressing up box and I fear 12 months of being jostled around in there has not improved its authenticity.

But, and I have to ask this, why, why, why are the school doing this to us? And where is the educational value in it? It's hard to imagine what good the school believe will come of the whole exercise.

But Zack is enjoying these activities and is now the proud owner of a cardboard and glue amulet, even if he has no idea what exactly an amulet is.

Sunday, 27 September 2009

Mobile phones, an' all that

When I told Rachel that I wasn't allowed a Facebook account until I was 8 years old, she of course no more believed me than when I told her the same thing about mobile phones. Actuallly, she may have believed me the first time I said it, but I embrace the stereotype of the father who perpetuates gags long after they were funny (if indeed they ever were) possibly until the child has left home and started a family of their own.

I think Rachel and Zack just about get the fact that there was no internet or mobile communications revolution back when I was a child (they may even have used those words). I think they believe it in the same way that I believe that rationing existed for my parents some time around the Boer War - they accept the truth of the statement, but they have no proper conception of what a thing all this technology has created.

And what this means for me and every other parent of a Junior School aged child is that we now have to make judgments about when we permit such a technological intervention into their lives. Just when do you let a child have their first mobile phone? I have absolutely no context against which to judge this from my own experience as a child. I was on safe ground with watches. Mum and Dad would not allow me, or any of my brothers, a watch until I was eight years old. OK, so it was a crappy little wind up Timex and I soon hankered after a digital watch (note to any Hart family members reading this who still believe the story that I flung that watch under the wheels of a passing lorry on Wing Road in order to hasten the moment I would own my very own digital watch: it ain't so. I just lost it. Now move on.) But at least this gave me some idea about what age to get Rachel or Zack a watch. But a mobile phone? It hardly bears saying that, of course, some of Rachel's classmates have mobile phones, and, I suspect, some of them have had them for a while now. To be fair, Rachel apparently does not want a phone, almost disdains them - she's said so quite a few times. But Rachel is no dimwit and is highly attuned to her beloved parents' views on such matters. She knows that we think she's too young for a phone and so she reflects that back to us, quite convincingly, as it happens. I do not believe she yearns for a mobile phone, but I'm not entirely persuaded that she would not like one for herself.

So, on the one hand I have to recognise that I am a dinosaur about understanding the requirements of an 8 year old for a mobile phone, but, on the other, this does not absolve me from making a proper decision about her need for one, based both on the possible benefits of a such a thing and her need not to be the most uncool child in her year (again).

Have you noticed that even calling it a "mobile" phone, as opposed to just a "phone" marks me out as a dinosaur. My point of reference for phones is, and ever will be, a thing attached to a wire attached to a box on the wall marked GPO. This is not the point of reference for Rachel, or anyone born in the last couple of decades or so. Ever since I noticed this, I've tried to stop using the word "mobile", but I sound like a phoney, even to myself.

I really have no idea when we'll get a phone for either Rachel or Zack. I expect they'll be in the last 10% or so of their peer group to have one and they will quietly despise Hannah and me for being one of the last holdout parents. But right now I do not know if it will be 1 year or 5 before we make that move. No idea at all.

Saturday, 5 September 2009


We've been camping four times this summer, travelling to the depths of Wiltshire, the Forest of Dean, the Gower peninsula and (honestly) suburban Essex. And now Rachel and Zack have had their first full night's camping (almost) in the back garden. It seems as though they have got a taste for it.

Now, call me an old worry-mutton, but at 7 and 8, I think that they're a bit young for solo camping, even in the wilds of our back garden. This means that I either forbid back garden camping, or join them in the expedition. In this I'm torn between understanding the joys that adventures like this can hold for the 7 year olds of this world, and knowing that if I join them then I will be lying in a cool, possibly damp, garden in a sleeping bag on the scantest of mats (Rachel and Zack declaring primacy over the super comfy air beds) with the luxuriously comfortable mattress of our bed a few short, but unreachable, steps away.

And so, like a fool, I agreed to this plan. Last time we attempted a camping trip to the back garden was the day we purchased our magnificent Vango Colorado 600 DLX tent and all of us were eager to try it out. Once we figured out that we could just about fit the tent into our back garden, we found that any chance of a decent night's sleep was not possible thanks to Holly the rabbit's habit of whacking her back feet on the floor of the hutch at regular intervals. Whether she did this because she was bothered by the tent or not was unclear. But it made sleep impossible.

So why did we do it again? Hopeless naivety, in part, but mainly because the argument that the rabbits kept us up last time would not quell the eagerness of Rachel and Zack to camp.

All in all, it went a little better this time, although the rabbits' continual banging around of their water bottle woke me on about eighteen occasions. At 5:30am, Zack and I took a loo trip, whereupon the lad declared that, all things considered, his bed was a more welcome prospect for the remainder of the night than returning to the tent, and so off he trotted upstairs. Fantastic. I, on the other hand, ventured out, once more, to the garden to rejoin Rachel.

The tent has now definitively gone away up to the loft, not to descend until we're comfortably the other side of spring. And the rabbits can have their garden back.