Thursday, 17 October 2013

On pumpkins, joined-up writing and video cameras

It's almost Halloween and there's not a pumpkin to be seen in the bay windows of Southeast London. No skeletons on porches, spiderwebs on trellises or fake gravestones in front gardens. I've seen a few tired looking gourds being marketed as "Halloween pumpkins" in Tesco, but there's no pumpkin patch where we can go and select the choicest specimen to carve for the 31st.

The only people who have asked me about costumes are 1) Iota and 2) my German friend - and both of them were being ironic.

Despite this, I have (rashly) promised the Littleboys trick or treating at Halloween, and have even possibly persuaded a fellow Mum at school to join in. While clearly it won't be an American Halloween, with a costume parade in the school playground, I think going from full on Halloween to nothing would be a bit of a shock to the system for the boys (not to mention myself).

One thing that happened in America was that on every celebratory occasion (Halloween, Valentine's Day and so forth) there would be certain parents that would wrap up a little bag of treats, including pencils and rubbers, for every child in the class. Consequently we now have hundreds. I noticed Littleboy 1 filling up his school bag with rubbers (that's Brit-speak for erasers, for the shocked Americans among you) the other day. When I enquired why, he said: "Well, everyone is always asking me to borrow a rubber, because I have quite a few, and they don't have any. And it's really annoying, so I'm just bringing lots to school and handing them out."

Rubbers, the vestiges of an American education.

We are almost at half term and one thing that has become apparent is that he doesn't know how to do joined up writing - unlike the rest of his class, who have presumably spent years perfecting it. (Littleboy 2, in year 2, seems to have thrown himself into learning this skill very earnestly and practises it every night, writing sentences such as "Mummy is cool" in beautiful script).

When the teacher mentioned his messy handwriting at a meeting, I had to point out that he'd never done it before. And I started to wonder - do we really still need to be teaching children beautiful joined-up writing? After all, by GCSEs surely they're going to be writing everything on a computer. Is it actually a redundant skill in this digital world - or something to be done as a hobby, like painting or sewing? Thoughts, please.

One last cultural difference I've noticed. I went to an assembly at one of the schools yesterday, where the children performed a play. At a similar event in the US, I would have turned up on time to find hoards of parents already there, having bagged the best seats, and would have hardly been able to turn my head for enormous video cameras. In London, as I filmed the performance discreetly on a digital camera, I noticed virtually no-one else was doing so. It couldn't have been more different.


Anonymous said...

If you need to get your Halloween fix and trick or treat in safety please contact the chilltern Americans women club (just outside of London in south bucks) . They celebrate Halloween big style! We did it with them when we were living in London and it was fantastic,

Expat mum said...

On hand-writing - My three kids are the product of the American education system and while I can't fault their education and knowledge, their hand-writing leaves a lot to be desired. You're right of course, that they hardly need it but if you looked at any of them (and I'm talking a 20 and 18 year old's) you'd think it was a ten year old writing.
They do about a term of cursive and then it's forgotten. When they ask me what the point is, I tell them that they will never not need to handwrite something at some point, and cursive is actually very practical in that it allows you to write quickly.
Falls on deaf ears though.

Was Living Down Under said...

My children love halloween. They love the pumpkin carving, the dressing up and the trick or treating. I have to say though that I am somewhat of a grinch when it comes to celebrating all these "days". The culture of handing out "loot bags" for all occasions is seeping into Canada. I find it wasteful and the children don't value the things they receive.

As for teaching cursive, I agree. What is the point really? Having switched between American, Canadian and English schools as a child, I never learned to write cursive. My handwriting was messy and I was made to spend way too much time practicing writing when I could have been doing something more useful (math perhaps?).

I hope you find a way to enjoy Halloween with an English twist :)

Muddling Along said...

"rubbers" *snigger" sorry

It's still a way to go until Halloween - around here you do get a bit more enthusiasm nearer the time (reminds me I must get organised)

Jen Walshaw said...

My boys have and are learning cursive and I am glad. My husband learned cursive and he writes everyday for work. Not on a PC but in books and I hope the boys can do that just like their Dad.

Jacqueline said...

Cursive handwriting serves another purpose. Our brains process spellings a whole lot easier if it is a "pattern" and so by writing a word in joined up writing often enough then it will be committed to memory far easier those printed or typed. Dyslexia teachers recommend this method because that way the word shape is learnt rather than the individual letters and so less chance of muddling up the letters.

Iota said...

I MISS Hallowe'en (though still spell it with that lovely quirky apostrophe).

Don't get me started on joined-up handwriting. I was so pleased that my youngest was missing the chore of learning that - thought her US school was very enlightened, and just downright sensible. But of course now she's back in the UK, she's had to start. What... is... the... point???

Teach joined up writing, by all means, for speed. It's quicker than printing. But all those curls and squiggles, and emphasis on neatness and straightness. For heaven's sake... Dark ages... (I was absolutely horrified to see a page of joined up writing reproduced in the annual school magazine, produced by the winner of the school hand-writing competition. Nearly took my children away from the school on the spot.)

Can't advise on filming school events. I think not many parents do here, but I don't think they all that many did at the school events I went along to in the US either. There do seem to be fewer rounds of school photos per year (thank goodness!)

Nota Bene said...

When we lived in Finsbury Park everyone went out trick or treating...but when we tried it here in Epping Forest they all thought we were weird!

Anyway we will be pumpkin carving next week...and looking forward toit

Anonymous said...

Celebrating Halloween in the UK seems regional at best. Why? Most children love Halloween.

My town decks out the center. Large life size and bigger creatures of all kinds emerge. Candy is abundant. Parents often costume up along with their kids.

For the children that come to my home, I make up individual gift bags customized for each child. I love it. My pumpkins are carved and I'm ready for the holiday.

I am sure you will make a great Halloween for your boys. Maybe others will decide to join in?


Conuly said...

I think you left just before they started showing this ad. Your last observation reminded me of it, but I have to say, I just find the singing veggie kids cute.

As far as cursive writing goes, speed wise most people find that the fastest style, for reading and writing, is a blend of cursive and print or some variation of italic script.

Of course, if we were really dedicated to quick note taking we would just make our kids learn shorthand. Hey, there's an idea!

Kit said...

Interesting hearing about the culture shifts that you've noticed.
I didn't know that British schools were still so hot on joined up writing. My kids went to a Waldorf primary here in South Africa and all learned 'cursive' in about Grade 3 (age 8/9). Now my oldest is in high school he's one of the very few who do joined up writing - apparently in regular schools here, they can choose between printing and cursive and so mostly all stick with print. The Waldorf motivation for continuing with cursive is that it improves co-ordination and stimulates the brain in a way that it needs to develop at that age (no idea about the technical rationale behind it, but I'm happy they've all learned).

But I should think your boys are plenty young enough to start learning it now - it's crazy how young the British system starts the formal academic stuff ...speaking as a Waldorf parent who had to suppress panic at the slow pace in the early years and then found that the kids took swiftly to reading like ducks to water once they did start... now with three total bookworms in the family, or make that five including parents..

DD's Diary said...

Hi, there's a whole aisle full of Halloween stuff now at Sainsbury's and when I went to the park cafe this morning they were giving away knitting patterns for pumpkins .... it seems to get bigger here every year. Bonfire night (5th November) used to be the big thing and I think a lot of families still celebrate that more than Halloween.

Melissa said...

You know what I noticed most about moving from the US to the UK, was just how understated everything here was. Everything. It felt like a bicycle tyre that had gone flat. America seemed so 'up' in contrast. But I've got used to it and would probably now find America 'all too much' requiring a little lie down on a regular basis.

How lucky that you have had the opportunity to compare and contrast both there and back again.

Californian Mum in London said...

I'm American, and though I've lived in London for 11 years we only went trick-or-treating for the first time last year. W now live near Kingston and they really get into Halloween around here. Hopefully I'll find some sort of pumpkin patch soon to add to the Halloween experience.

Elsie Button said...

I love Halloween! We always do a little party. And this year Tom tells me that he is carving a marrow - now there's an idea! And trick or treating is a must! It must be a massive shock being back here tho with lack of celebrations! X

About Last Weekend said...

I do love a beautifully written note. Having said that my own hand writing was so bad, at Uni I had to get in a typist and read out my answers to her, my handwriting was said officially to be unreadable. However those days are well over, I'm totally back and fort on whether they should learn to write properly, my husbands is like chicken scratchings.

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