Encouraging boys to read

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A National Literacy Trust report shows that boys are far less likely to read in their spare time than girls in the UK. They are also behind in terms of their reading ability and this impacts on GCSE results not only in English but in other subjects too.

So how can parents encourage boys to read more?

1) Take your son to the library more frequently. Research shows that girls are more likely to be taken to the library than boys.

2) Question your son about their gender stereotypes. Some boys will say that boys that read are geeky, nerdy or boring.

3) Address your own beliefs about why there is a gender gap in reading ability. No evidence has been found to support biological differences between boys and girls in terms of reading. In some countries such as Chile and the Netherlands, there is no gender gap.

4) Make sure your son has a male role model who reads. If dad doesn’t like reading fiction, maybe he can demonstrate a love of non-fiction books.

5) Encourage reading for enjoyment and stock your house with exciting books to read either from the library, charity shop or bookshop.

6) Download the Kindle app and get your child reading cheap ebooks on a tablet.

7) Get a magazine subscription for a Minecraft magazine or National Geographic.










Here is a list of fiction books my 8-year-old son has enjoyed reading himself:

  • Horrid Henry by Francesca Williams
  • Beast Quest by Adam Blade
  • Diary of a Wimpy Kid by Jeff Kinney
  • Billionaire Boy by David Walliams
  • Big Nate by Lincoln Peirce
  • Yuck by Matt and Dave
  • World War I and II tales by Terry Deary. For example, The Bike Escape.
  • The DK Star Wars books

Here is a list of my son’s favourite non-fiction books

  • Minecraft books
  • Usborne See Inside Space book, See Inside Castles book
  • 100 Facts books: Space, Planet Earth, Oceans etc.
  • The Dangerous Book for Boys by Hal Ilguden

Here is a list of books my son has enjoyed me reading to him:

  • Harry Potter by J K Rowling
  • Just William by Richmal Crompton
  • Five Children and It by E Nesbitt
  • Little Lord Fauntleroy by Frances Hodgson Burnett
  • The Sheep-Pig by Dick King-Smith
  • The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C S Lewis
  • Treasure Island by R L Stevenson

Finding easy-reader books for my son with appealing story lines has not been easy. This is what inspired me to write ‘The Fortress’, a fantasy adventure tale aimed at 7- to 10-year-olds. The story is about a boy who has special powers that allow him to manipulate earth, fire, air and water. He is sent on a mission to find the evil Sinisters with his two friends Anna and Sam.  Anna is able to see visions of the future, and Sam has navigating powers.

The children’s search for the Sinisters leads them to a fortress where they meet Electro. Can they win against his lightning powers?



Buy the Fortress









Other websites with suggestions for boys reading are:









Should summer-born premature children be allowed to stay back a year?

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premature babyA friend of mine has an August-born daughter who was born two months premature. Her daughter should have been born mid-October but was instead born mid-August. However, her daughter had to start school in the academic year in which she was born despite her corrected age being mid-October. My friend was unhappy about this from the start as she felt her daughter was emotionally unready to start school but the local authority said that there would have to be evidence of developmental delay from the GP, preschool and educational psychologist for there to be delayed entry. Therefore, my friend started her child in reception with reservations. Frustratingly, after the first term at school, my friend was told that her daughter might have to go down to half days as she was not coping very well. My friend fought this as she works so the school did not push it. Now her daughter is in her second year at school and the teacher is saying that her daughter is behind. Understandably, my friend is angry with the situation. She feels her daughter should not have been in that academic year at all and should be in the year below. Her daughter is actually reasonably high ability for a child who should have been born in October. Compared to other October-born children in reception, her daughter has good numeracy and literacy skills. It is important to highlight that my friend’s daughter spent the first couple of months in an incubator that simulated the womb so she was not experiencing the world like a full-term baby born in August.

Summer-born children are already at a disadvantage academically, so premature summer-born children are at even more of a disadvantage.

What seems to surprise many people is that month of birth affects children even when they are doing their A-levels.

Crawford, Deardon and Meghir (2010) examined the differences between the test scores of children at different ages by looking at their performance in national tests such as SATs, GCSEs and A-levels and university admissions. They found large differences in achievement at age 7 between children born in September and children born in August. This difference was also linear, which means that September born children performed on average better than children born just one month later in October. The difference between the oldest and youngest children in the year did reduce over time but it was still evident at 18-years-old and affected university admissions.

Therefore, imagine the greater problem for premature children like my friend’s child whose corrected age can make them 14 months younger than a full-term September-born child.

In my opinion, parents of premature summer-born children should be given the option of delaying them a year without question by the local authorities.

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Teaching children a second language

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Research suggests that bilingual children have improved thinking abilities, better attention spans and self-control. It appears that being able to switch from one language to another develops the part of the brain involved in controlling our attention and emotions.

Therefore, if you are a bilingual family, it is a good idea to start teaching your children a second language straight away.
The most common method is one Person, one Language (OPOL). For instance, the dad might speak his native Dutch, while the mum speaks English. However, there are other methods such as only speaking the minority language at home. The important thing is to be consistent.

Judith offers some tips for encouraging bilingualism in children on her blog: http://sixtineetvictoire.com/10-tips-to-encourage-bilingualism-in-children/

So should we all be teaching our children a second language from a young age?

In my opinion, this is probably very difficult unless we are a bilingual family. There is a myth that younger children are more skilled at learning a second language. A study of 17,000 British children learning French at school, found that children who learnt French from 11-years-old performed better on tests that children who had begun at 8-years-old (Stern, Burstall and Harley, 1975). Another study looked at French immersion programmes in Canada found children who learnt French at 11-years-old performed just as well or better than those who began at 5-years-old (Genesee, 1981, 1987). The immersion programmes involved teaching English-speaking children lessons entirely in French.

This relates to the problem of children coming to England from other countries being immersed in an English education system when they hardly speak any English. Some teachers believe that these children will easily pick up English but as the research shows this is not the case. Children who do not speak English as their first language will need explicit instruction and their first language should be used as a bridge to support learning of English. (Barry McLaughling, 1992).

How can I help my child with phonics?


Letters-and-sounds-fishing-game-with-ping-pong-ballsIn a recent BBC news article, Save the Children’s chief executive, Justin Forsyth, said that children who are behind at 7-years-old are unlikely to catch up. He also pointed out that some children start school with the odds stacked against them because they lack the ability to follow instructions and have poor social skills. In my opinion, this is why preschools are so important for children especially, as some parents believe that children should not be taught letter sounds or numbers before they start school at all. Research suggests that children who enter school with a good knowledge of the alphabet and letter sounds become better readers and that it is beneficial to teach pre-schoolers phonics in a fun way (Phillips et al. 2008).

Most preschools teach letter sounds but a parent can help their child become more familiar with them at home. If you are not sure how to say the letter sounds, there are DVDs that go through letter sounds for children in a fun way. CBeebies also has a programme called ‘Alpha blocks’ which teaches letter sounds and how to blend sounds together to make word.

Children who become good readers at school often have good phonological and phonemic awareness. So what is phonological and phonemic awareness?

Children who have phonological awareness can: identify and make up rhymes; they can clap out the number of syllables in a word and they can recognize words with the same initial sounds like ‘money’ and ‘mother.’

Children with phonemic awareness can recognise individual sounds (phonemes) in words. For example, the word ‘mat’ has three phonemes m/a/t. Phonemic awareness is one of the best predictors of how well children will learn to read during the first two years of school instruction.

So how can parents develop their child’s phonological and phonemic awareness? Here are some ideas:

1) Show two cards with the word ‘mice’ on one and ‘ice’ on the other. Ask your child ‘if you take away ‘m’ from the word mice, what is left then?’ The cards could have pictures on to enhance the learning.
2) Say a single speech sound such as ‘t’ and show six pictured words. Your child then has to pick the picture that begins with ‘t’.
3) Present two pictures of similar sounding words to your child such as ‘cat’ and ‘hat’. You then say such just one of the words and your child has to pick the correct picture.
4) Change the letter ‘c’ in the word ‘cat’ to ‘m’, and ask the child what the word becomes.
5) Get your child to think of as many words as they can that rhyme with ‘fox’.
6) Get your child to clap out the syllables in a word so that they recognise how words are made up of different sounds e.g. you could clap the three syllables in ted-dy-bear.
7)Play ‘I spy’ to help your child focus on the letter sounds at the beginning of words.

Children often know when they are behind and this affects their self-esteem. So don’t get frustrated with your child if they don’t get how to blend letter sounds together even after a number of attempts. Go away and think of a way to make the learning fun. Remember that children (and adults) have different learning styles. Some children are visual learners and take things in by reading and looking at pictures, some children are auditory learners and learn through listening, and some children are kinaesthetic learners and learn through movement. Kinaesthetic learners may only get phonics, if they learn it in other ways than on paper.

Here are some ideas to make phonics learning creative and fun:

1) Chalk out letters on your garden patio. Get a children’s golf club and ball. Your child then has to hit the ball onto a letter, say the letter sound and think of a word beginning with it to score.

2) Chalk out words on your garden patio. When you say a word, your child has to kick a football onto the word/hop to it/throw a disc onto it/hit a tennis ball onto it/skip to it etc.

3) Chalk out letters on your garden patio. Show your child pictures of certain words, your child then has to think of the letter sound the word begins with and spray out the letter with a water gun.

4) Put lots of foam letter sounds or words in the bath and get your child to find them as you say them.

5) Put white stickers on Duplo with different letters on and put the Duplo together to make different words.

6) Make letters and words out of play dough.

7) Make biscuits in the shape of letters and form words with them.

8) Write letters on ping-pong balls and place them in a water play basin. Get your child to bat certain letters across the water or pick them up with a water jug.

Some of these ideas come from a blog ‘Train up a child’, which I really recommend.

So should parents be pushing their child to read as early as possible?

Research suggests that children who are taught to read early do not have an advantage (Sharp, 2002). Children in some countries do not start formal learning until 7-years-old but it does not seem to be a disadvantage. However, these children have been taught reading skills such as a good understanding of letter sounds and rhymes at kindergarten so they are ready to read when they start school. This research suggests that there is no need to push a child to read early. On the other hand, if your child is interested in letters and blending them together then don’t hold them back. Every child is different. All parents need to remember, is to keep learning fun. So don’t push your child to do anything they don’t want to do and make sure your child is in the right mood.

Psychology for parents: Birth to teens’ is for sale as an e-book on Amazon, Smashwords.com, Barnes and Noble, Kobobooks, Sony ebookstore and Apple ibookstore.


Mindfulness at school session 1


Mindfulness in school-Session 1mindfulness meditation teenagers

Today I did my first lunchtime session on mindfulness with a group of teenagers at the school I teach at. I had 30 minutes so time was limited. I started with a test to measure perceived stress levels, which I found free to use on the internet at http://www.mindgarden.com. I wanted to get the students to do this test so that we can see if there have been any changes in their perceived levels of stress after the mindfulness sessions have finished.

I then gave the students a questionnaire to get them to think about what might be causing stress. This included a list of things that might be causing them stress such as parents, workload, examinations, friends, appearance etc. and they had to circle the things that were causing them stress.

To introduce the concept of mindfulness and its benefits, I did a PowerPoint presentation. The presentation included evidence from psychological studies to support mindfulness as I wanted to convince the students that it could work at reducing their anxiety and stress. I discussed how mindfulness helps us to focus our attention so that we can control our thoughts and emotions. Many of them said they had problems with reacting too much to what other people say and that the reason they had chosen to come to the mindfulness sessions was to deal with their anger better. I said that mindfulness should help them be less reactive to situations.

After the presentation, I decided to do a sitting meditation with the students. I followed the following script:

Sitting meditation: Students were asked to find a comfortable position to sit in, which encouraged alertness and relaxation. I told them that their backs should be straight but not rigid. I then asked them to close their eyes and read the following script:
‘When you take your position take a moment to settle into your body and become centered before you bring your attention to the sensations and movement of breath through your body. The mind may wander frequently during mindfulness meditation and you can gently redirect your attention back to your breathing. Focus on your breath for two minutes before moving on. Shift your attention to your bodily sensations. Take note of the contact your body has with the chair or floor and the sensations associated with this. Notice the sensations in your body without judgment, just accept them and reflect on them with curiosity and interest, even if it is unpleasant. Bring awareness to any urges you may have to relieve discomfort, such as moving your body or scratching an itch. Do not act on these urges right away, instead just observe the discomfort with acceptance. If you decide to move then do it mindfully, by observing the intention to move and the change in sensation as a result of moving. You may bring awareness to your environment and listen mindfully to the sounds around you. Notice the volume, tone and duration of the sounds without analyzing or judging them. Observe the periods of silence between the sounds also and then redirect your focus to your breathing.
It is okay if thoughts come into your awareness as this is normal activity for the mind. Observe the thought content briefly without becoming absorbed and then gently return to the breath. You may do this many times over, but what is important is that you observe and accept the thoughts and then return your attention to your breath.
Similarly, with emotions that come to the forefront, just observe the type of emotion you are experiencing (such as sadness, anger, boredom) and then redirect your focus to your breathing.
I then asked the students to continue bringing their attention back to their breath for two more minutes.

At the end of the session I encouraged the students to find a quiet spot where they wouldn’t be disturbed and do a 1 minute sitting meditation every day. I suggested they use a stop watch to time the minute. I reinforced the idea of bringing their attention back to their breath and said that with practice they would get better at it.

The students seemed very positive about the session at the end.

Psychology for parents: Birth to teens’ is for sale as an e-book on Amazon, Smashwords.com, Barnes and Noble, Kobobooks, Sony ebookstore and Apple ibookstore.

Parents express concerns about levels on their children’s preschool and reception class reports


Preschool story time children transformed into...

Preschool story time children transformed into Easter Bunnies (Photo credit: San José Library)

I am on my son’s preschool committee and this year many parents have expressed concerns about the way their children’s progress is being reported in the Early Years Curriculum. Some parents say that although they know their child has good personal, social and emotional skills that their child has not been reported to be working within the 40-60 month bracket. Other parents have said that although they know their child can read very well for their age, their child is still not working within the 40-60 month bracket for literacy. When I have talked to the preschool teachers, they have said that even when children are performing above average overall, if they don’t meet all the criteria for the 40-60 month bracket they must be placed in the 30-50 months bracket. The preschool teachers admitted that there are problems with the way the assessment bands have been labelled. However, as the assessment areas and bands have been set by the government, it is not within their control to change it.

One anomaly with the labelling of the bands in the Early Years Curriculum is that teachers say that most children starting reception are unlikely to be working within the level 40-60 months old even though the children are at least 48 months old and some are 60 months old if they are born in September. I personally cannot understand why the framework does not go to 72 months old? I also think it would have been better if they assessment bands had been labelled as level 1-4 rather than as age bands. Then parents would feel less upset when they hear that their 60 month old child is still not working within 40-60 months.

The problem with the labelling and assessment of the bands seems to continue all the way through reception. I have heard many parents complain about their children’s reception reports too. One of the problems seems to be that children at the end of the reception year are only expected to be able to count to 20 and to be able to work out one less than or one more than a given number. The parents of reception age children are telling me that they know that their children can do much more than this and that they can count to 100 easily and do addition and subtraction at a higher level than one more than or one less than. In contrast, there seems to be much higher expectations for literacy at the same age. Children by the end of reception are supposed to be able to read and write simple sentences. The same parents that feel that their children are way ahead of expectations in mathematics are at the same time worried that their children are lagging behind in literacy. This suggests to me that there are problems with the way the Early Years Curriculum has been written and that the levels have not been adjusted to match the average child. The emphasis on literacy rather than numeracy is also slightly strange as mathematical ability is a much better indicator of later achievement than literacy.

My son is due to start reception next year, I hope that I will be able to ignore the way the reports are written and not get too worried about the bands when I do receive his report. Especially as I know that children in some countries who don’t start formal education until 7 years old are easily able to catch up with us in terms of literacy and numeracy. However, the government should reduce parents’ stress by re-labelling the bands and making sure the mathematics and literacy criteria match the average child.

‘Psychology for parents: Birth to teens’ is for sale as an e-book on Amazon, Smashwords.com, Barnes and Noble, Kobobooks, Sony ebookstore and Apple ibookstore.


Related articles:

Is the UK school starting age too young? http://wp.me/p29Oas-2b

Should all children get a prize on sports day?


egg and spoon race

egg and spoon race (Photo credit: shingleback)

The summer term is almost at an end and many schools are holding sports days. Traditional egg and spoon races, beanbag races and sack races are being held across the country all in the name of fun. However, sometimes what should be a fun competition can also bring tears and frustration to young children. Nowadays in some primary schools, all the children are given a prize for taking part and the emphasis has been taken away from winning and losing. Many parents say that it makes a mockery of a sports day for everyone to win. They argue that children need to learn that they can’t win all the time and to deal with failure.

So should schools being giving prizes, medals and certificates to all the children on sports day? Or is a little competition healthy for children?
Research shows that competition can cause arguments between children and lower self-esteem whereas cooperation tends to build relationships. So perhaps schools are right not to emphasise winning and losing. However, schools would benefit from introducing cooperative games on sports day where teams of children have to work together to achieve a task such as building a den. Team-building exercises build relationships, which is one of the reason why companies spend so much money on these kinds of days.
If traditional competitive races are to be used on Sports Day, teachers and parents should prepare children better for winning and losing. Even if the teachers give prizes to everyone, the children often know themselves whether they have won or lost, which can sometimes result in tears. Lessons can be given on how to be a good sport, for example, children should be taught not to boast when they win a game. Young children need to be taught that everyone wins and loses sometimes and that the most important thing is to be a good sport. If children are prepared in advance for what they might feel when they lose and how to manage those feelings then they are less likely to feel anger and resentment if they do lose a race.

‘Psychology for parents: Birth to teens’ is for sale as an e-book on Amazon, Smashwords.com, Barnes and Noble, Kobobooks, Sony ebookstore and Apple ibookstore.

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