Tis the season to be covetous… I know it’s a bit discordant with the traditional, ‘peace on earth and goodwill to all men’ vibe, but it’s true, isn’t it? Christmas has a way of bring out the ‘I want’ in all all of us.
Maybe it’s all the pretty, shiny stuff that comes out, maybe it’s the gleeful air of throw-caution-out-the-window indulgence (sod the diet, sod good taste, sod decorous behaviour among office colleagues) that’s so thick in the air at the moment you can practically taste it (it tastes tacky and delicious, like Baileys).
Maybe, for me, it’s the fact that we’re just weeks away from completing our year long challenge and the kamakaze in me is itching to mess it all up with a gross, glutinous binge somewhere totally vile like Toys R Us (I won’t, don’t worry, but you know how it is…)
So I’m interested, what kids’ stuff do you find hardest to resist? Because I’ve been thinking about what I’ve most missed spending on this year and, actually, it’s kids’ books. Oddly at the beginning of the year, I thought books would be easy peasy. We still have our local library, for the moment. Borrowing books should be a breeze. And for the most part, it has been. But then I’d walk into somewhere like this:
Dear god, museum and gallery book shops – you have been my nemeses. Walking past the shop at the Museum of Childhood demands levels of self-control and general heroism which nature just did NOT bestow on me. I am a week willed, spineless person and I’m cool with that. Unfortunately, that just didn’t cut it this year. And since the museum is our nearest, bestest, free-thing-to-do, I have been forced to shut my eyes and canter past this place on a near weekly basis. Cold sweats, yearnings, the shakes – the literary and parental equivalent of cold turkey.
Because honestly, have you SEEN some of the best children’s books out there? They are beautiful, funny, moving and educational. Books like these, or this, or this that would teach J about the world and which I covert, as beautiful objects, in my home.
As J’s grown up over the course of this year, I’ve felt increasingly bipolar over education. Half of me has realised that so many of the ‘pay-for’ activities we were enrolled in were, basically, rubbish imitations of what nature and imagination provides in unendingly supply for free. The other half, though, is increasingly aware that he’s become a little person, no longer a wee baby (sob).
I blame nursery schools. They create this weird dynamic where your kid suddenly has a private life, a world apart from your own, and suddenly comes home knowing the difference between yellow and orange and red, nonchalantly singing the ABC and generally looking so damned sophisticated you feel you should be mixing a mimosa for this cool little stranger.
It’s made me realise how much I want to set off on learning adventures with him too – through words and numbers and history and myths and art… And that’s where really brilliant books help. Or, at least, make it more fun for both of us.
Another thing: since reading is one of the things I’m most excited about sharing with him, I downloaded the free trial of a programme called Reading Eggs that someone recommended a few weeks ago, as an experiment in whether he’d be at all interested in using it to learn his letters. He loved it, we loved spending time doing it, and now the free trial’s bloody expired. So we’ll have to wait till the new year when our spending embargo lifts. Anyone got any tips for free, fun ways to start to learn to read?
People keep asking me whether we’ll go on a massive spending splurge in the New Year. The answer’s no, the prospect just isn’t tempting. It doesn’t disgust me or anything, it just leaves me feeling a bit… meh. I guess the last year has made shopping and stuff lose a lot of its magic. But there is some stuff I’m tempted by. Things that count as real investments, as I realised when I stumbled over this book while hunting for Christmas presents online:
When Alice was nine years old, she and her father – a beloved school librarian – made a promise to read aloud together for 100 consecutive nights. Upon reaching their goal, they celebrated over pancakes, but it was clear that neither wanted to let go of what had become their reading ritual. They decided to continue what became known as The Streak for as long as they possibly could. From L. Frank Baum to Dickens to J.K. Rowling to Shakespeare, Alice’s father read to her every night without fail until the day she entered college, a remarkable eight years later. In this deeply affecting memoir, Alice tells the story of her relationship with the extraordinary man who raised her – from his steadying hand on the back of her wobbly bike to his one-man crusade to keep reading in schools – the words they shared and the spaces in between. Alice poignantly illustrates the unbreakable parent-child bond, the books they treasured, and the life lessons learned along the way.
“The most direct and enduring way to reach the mind and imagination of the learner is through the mind, imagination and character of the outstanding teacher” according to a chap I got an email about last week called Lowell Milken. I can’t think of a more outstanding teacher than Alice’s father.
We’ve been borrowing and swapping books all year, getting them for a couple of weeks and then passing them on again. When we visited my Mum at her flat recently, I found a dog-eared, hard back, pop-up book of Peter Rabbit. The memories of learning to read with her flooded back. I suppose what I’ve just spend 30 minutes garbling around is this: some books are worth not just getting hold of for the learning they can give us but holding on to for the memories they’ll give us later. So maybe, in January, I’ll go crazy and celebrate the end of the project with a really brilliant book. Sod, it maybe I’ll even stretch to two… Any suggestions?
THIS IS A GUEST POST.