Wednesday 25 July 2012

Summer Learning Loss: should I be bothered?

I may have mentioned on here - once or twice-  how long my sons' summer holidays are, but just in case you missed it due to having been uninterested in our goings on over the last month (hard to believe, but I'm prepared to consider that possibility), here it is again;

Ten weeks.

Or, if you work better in figures: 10 weeks.

That's 70 days. 50 school days.  Or, to put it another way, 350 hours (based on the average amount of hours they spend in class on a school day).

In fact, over the summer, the Boys are off on holiday for a longer period of time than any when they are continuously in school throughout the school year, once you take into account half term and other holidays.

Now, I recall my 6 week summer holidays - whilst I was at primary school - as stretching out seemingly for ever.  I know I can't possibly have lived the 1950's Enid Blyton style existence I remember, but when I look back I see weeks spent on the south coast (foreign holidays didn't feature for us, particularly), cream teas, late evenings, and after breakfast the next day, packing up sandwiches and heading off for days of adventuring in the countryside around home.  We would wave goodbye to Mum at around 10am and turn up in time for tea later that afternoon.  There were books to be read, camp-outs in the garden to be had, and of course not so infrequent spats with my younger sister to fit in.

What I can't remember is any pressure to do school work over the summer break.

And yet, here I am, 35 years later,  with 2 children of my own, determined that whilst we are all going to have fun and relax over the holidays, Boys #1 and #2 will not fall prey to Summer Learning Loss*.

This does not mean I have enrolled them in maths camps and science seminars (although we did all have fun at the Holland Park Ecology Centre on Monday spending a couple of hours pond dipping in the name of learning about amphibians), but it does mean that they each spend half an hour every Monday to Friday morning doing something approaching school work.  Boy #1, who's reading is more than fantastic, gets to practice some basic math problems (not his preferred school subject) and to work on his handwriting, (sometimes by writing letters to friends which I scan and email to their parents), and Boy #2 and I 'discuss' (for which read, 'battle over') sight words and number bonds.

We have a reward structure in place; at the end of a 4 week period when they've done 30 minutes or more for 5 days in those weeks, they get to go and pick out a reasonably-priced toy.  Negotiations on what 'reasonably priced' actually means are currently underway; since the first 'reward day' is this Friday, I think we need to reach an agreement on that sharpish...

Having come this far - we're now nearly 6 weeks into the summer break** with only 4 left to go - I'm hoping that we'll manage to maintain momentum for the next month and that the shock for them of returning to more structured learning come the end of August won't be as great as it might otherwise have been.  Every now and again though, as I cajole Boy #2 to 'look at the word' in the hope he might remember 'had' next time (yes, it is like that), I do ask myself if this is the right thing to do.

It's 30 minutes in a day.  That's not so much to ask them to do, surely?  Or am I just being an over-anxious mother; should I instead just chill out and let them do whatever they want over the loooooonnnnggg summer break?


If only all biology lessons could be like this...

* In case you're not familiar with this term (ha!),  it refers to the loss of children's academic skills and knowledge over the summer break.  See here for Wikipedia's entry on the subject.

** Yes, you did read that right. We have already had one and a half months of summer holidays.  How the hell did that happen?

Sunday 22 July 2012

Too good not to share...

A friend told me today how her 6 year old, who had been going to swim camp unwillingly all summer, won 1st place in the back-stroke race at the end of the season.

When she congratulated him on doing so well and swimming so fast, this was his reply:

"Well, I really don't like backstroke, so I just decided to get it over with as quickly as possible."

Whatever works, eh?

Thursday 19 July 2012

How do you know...

... when you have spoilt your children - just a little?

I couldn't possibly comment.

But I would say that handing your child a dark chocolate KitKat, only to have one of them say;

"Is this chocolate 70%, Mama?"

could be a pretty good indicator that you may have...

Monday 16 July 2012

The Memory Box

Vegemite Vix has written a post asking expats what they would put in their memory box from their current country of residence, and bearing in mind that since in the 6 days I've been back in the UK on holiday, if I've been asked 'What's it like in Russia?' once, I've been asked 50 times, that subject's top of mind for me right now.

My memory box would be huge. There is so much to living in Moscow - and so much living to be done in Moscow - that it's hard to know where to start, but here are a few choice memories...

Like Vix, I would have to include a transport ticket; specifically a Moscow Metro ticket.  So many expats never venture onto this wonder of the world, and yet it really is spectacular; not only in appearance, but in speed and efficiency.  Sure, it can be smelly in the summer, and confusing if you can't read cyrillic, but once you've mastered the latter (and done your best to avoid the former by not travelling in rush hour in the heat of summer), it's fantastic.

Then, I would have to reference my increasing interest in photography, inspired by how photogenic this city can be.  I would include one of the black and white photographs I've taken on the Metro.  It would be hard to choose which, but right now I think it would probably be this one.

I love the way the spirals send you off into the distance, and how you can see the uniformed inspector just walking into the shot on the right hand side.  This shot, for me, represents not only so much of the imagery of the Metro, but also that I am becoming increasingly aware of my surroundings and have the presence of mind to just stop and take the shot when the opportunity arises.

I would also include one of a series of books featuring 'Phoebe's Walks', to remind me how Moscow is a city that is fantastic when experienced on foot rather than from the back seat of a car.  Phoebe Taplin, who compiled these walks, is an acquaintance of mine who during her time in Moscow not only had the presence of mind to research and write down these works, but provided an invaluable service for many expats by inviting them to join her on her walks, giving many of us the chance to do what we might not have had the nerve - initially at least - to do on our own in what can seem like a vast and hostile city.

I would include a recipe for borsch, for kharcho, and khachapuri  (from this site, here, run by a friend), to remind me of the best of Russian and Georgian cuisine.  And one for vanilla cake, to remind me of  how, in spite of everything, I've managed to find time to bake for my kids.

There would of course need to be a photograph of the traffic - but I'm not going to bore you with that here.

And of course, a recipe for Moscow Mule - preferably one from Strelka, a restaurant I love on Bolotny Island and which has fantastic views of the Moscow River, the Kremlin, Christ the Saviour Cathedral, and the totally over the top statue of Peter the Great.  Why the Moscow Mule recipe?  Because nothing chases away the winter chill like a vodka cocktail with a ginger kick...

Wednesday 11 July 2012


We've been back in the UK for just over 24 hours now and I would just like to say;  all that moaning and complaining I've been hearing from afar about how the weather here is rubbish?

I think you might have a point.

Having said that, even in the mercifully brief frequent monsoon-like downpours we experienced today, London is just.  Bloody.  Gorgeous.

And still Home.

Monday 9 July 2012

An Expat Wife's Prayer on departing her home for the summer

Almighty Hera, goddess of House & Hearth,

I am leaving shortly to make my annual pilgrimage to the shrine of beauteous, affordable and good quality homeware (aka John Lewis in the UK).  Bearing in mind that I am making this trip in your name (cough), I beg your blessings, and ask that you will look after my home whilst I'm off on my travels and house and hearth are in care of my Husband.  Hard to believe, I know, but he may have things on his mind other than maintaining the standards I know you expect.  In preparation, I have made the standard offerings for your goodwill; the laundry basket is virtually empty, the beds all have clean sheets on them, the floors are mopped, the house plants watered, and the loo roll restocked.  So that my Husband can make his own burnt offerings and libations to Zeus in our absence, there is pizza in the freezer, beer in the fridge, and long life milk in the cupboard.

Now, if you could just persuade Zeus not to get too free with the crumbs on the floor, to occasionally remind Husband to change the sheets, to close the windows if it looks like rain, and not to leave the deck chair cushions out in a storm and so on and so forth, I would be very appreciative...

And if you are feeling particularly beneficent, making sure that the laundry basket is NOT filled with undone laundry before I even unpack, and that there is fresh milk in the fridge and cereal for breakfast the morning we return would be marvellous.

Hera, I remain, as ever, your obedient servant*.

etc etc,


*In a slighty lapsed Catholic kind of way, obviously

Yes, I have been reading too many of Falco's adventures recently.

Saturday 7 July 2012

Revisiting Old Posts: 'Who is She?'

I thought I would take a leaf out of other blogger's books* and revisit an old post today.  I wish I could say that the 'She' in question got left behind in London when we moved to Moscow, but parenting isn't like that, is it?

Who is She?  (Wednesday 25th November, 2009)

Who is She, this other woman who supplants me between the hours of 7.40pm and 7.55pm each evening if the Boys don't get to bed on time? Because I've got to tell you, she's pissing me off, with her temper tantrums and her short fuse.

For the rest of the day, there I am, (mostly) sweetness and light - or at least, quite reasonable, anyway - enjoying spending time with my Boys, delighting in their quirks, cracking jokes with them, rolling my eyes sure, when I have to ask them for the 5th time to put their shoes on when we leave the house in the morning, but generally fully aware of the fact that they are (mostly) great to be around.

This afternoon, for example, I was 'present in the moment' enough to be able to enjoy it and make sure that I remembered it when my youngest son suggested that if I was going to call for Jesus (following an unfortunate tripping over a crack in the pavement incident on my part), I should make sure to do it loud, so that he can hear me.

And I was able to sit down perfectly happily with both my sons after school and start the lego equivalent of a 5000 piece jigsaw in the full knowledge that we would never finish it today, and that the 'City Police Station Construction Project' is likely to form a core part of our activities for some time to come.

(I should add here that in addition I finally got to make use of what I think is probably one of the best pieces of advice a friend ever gave me about bringing up boys; when you start with the Lego, do so on a sheet on the floor so that when you need to stop / finish / give up because it's time for tea, you can simply pick up all the corners and tip the remaining plastic shrapnel back into the box. Sammie, at the time I didn't know what a gem you were passing on, but now I finally get it; thankyou.)

So today I was aware of how fleeting these moments can be and am now able to sit down and record the memories here, safely storing them away so that I can pull them out at some indeterminate point in the future and turn them over in my hands like lucky pebbles...

And yet, the moment the Boys reneged on our deal regarding an extra 15 minutes of 'Wild Russia' on National Geographic Channel in exchange for not having a book read to them in bed, She arrived. I mean, it's not like they were watching 'Deal or No Deal', for chrissake. This was interesting, riveting stuff; of course they wanted to watch more on how the brown bears like to eat flies on the shores of Lake Baikal. (I know - don't ask). In hindsight, it was perfectly reasonable for them to want to push the envelope and nag me for a story as well after they had previously expressly promised they would go straight to bed. They're 3 and 6 - that sort of double crossing is their job.

Not that She sees that. She felt taken advantage of, exhausted, put-upon. It was all shoutiness and crossness and general childish behaviour for a good 5 minutes. There may even have been a Thomas Tank Engine book flung to the floor when a plastic cup (it wasn't even a breakable glass, for goodness' sake) got knocked over necessitating a swift clear up with a hand towel. Which can, of course, be washed, although you wouldn't have thought that from the huffing and puffing that ensued.

And then, as ever, She left as quickly as she arrived. Two minutes in the kitchen refilling the spilt water glass was enough to bring to me to my senses and send Her packing. She's gone, and I'm left with a sense of shame, a guilt hangover and a resolve that tomorrow I will be a better mother to my two darling Boys.

She should be ashamed of herself. And I am.

It's not all a barrel of laughs, this parenting lark, is it?

*I'm afraid I can't remember the bloggers in question, but if it's you please leave a comment & I'll link to your blog...

Thursday 5 July 2012

Do I look like an idiot? Or: #DearPR...

Dear PR,

let me start by saying that today has not been the least stress-free day I've ever known.  It's not your fault that I'm crawling, bloodied but unbowed, towards the end of Week 3 of my sons' 10 week summer holiday, that our compound now resembles nothing so much as a ghost town without a single other child for them to play with, or that they spent this morning squabbling and fighting in the back of the car both ways during a trip to the supermarket that took four hours from the moment we left the house to the moment we returned. Not your fault; I know that.

Neither is it your fault that I lost it with the Boys only half a mile from home, pulled over and gave them a good talking to, insisting in a completely over the top 'shutting the stable door after the horse has bolted' manner on complete silence for the remaining 5 minutes of the drive.

I also can't blame you for the fact that Moscow's current heatwave has brought the mosquitoes out in high numbers, forcing me to sit here at my desk armed with some heavy-duty Raid to squirt hopelessly at the little blighters as they feast on my shins - again.

And of course it has nothing at all to do with you that right now my hormones are playing havoc with my emotions; possibly if I had received your email this time next week my response would be a little less... shouty.

OK.  None of those things are your fault.

Now let's get onto what is.

Specifically, this:

'Please no not mark the article as 'sponsored' or 'paid for' - if you have a policy on your website to declare third party content, please mark this as a 'Guest Post'"* or "Featured Article".'

I know, Dear PR, that I look but a smidgen of my true age (that's what my bathroom mirror tells me before I put my contact lenses in, anyway).  But do you think I was (expletive deleted) born yesterday?  You are asking me for what is labelled in my rate card as a 'Sponsored' post.  'Sponsored' as in a clear sign that the post has been 'paid for'.  It will be paid for however it's labelled; you know that, I know that.  And bearing in mind that I don't carry "Guest Posts", and have never run a "Featured Article", I strongly suspect that 'The Potty Diaries' readers - who, given their choice of blog are obviously a pretty smart bunch - would be able to work out that it has been paid for too, if I used either of those labels.

May I refer you, in fact, to an excellent post on this very subject from Tots 100What you are asking me to do - albeit in a small way, but you're asking it all the same - is to break the law.  

The Tots 100 post says; '... the OFT guidelines state that online promotional activity, just like any other promotional activity, must clearly identify when promotions and editorial comment have been paid for, so that consumers are not misled. (if you didn’t know, you can see the OFT guidelines as they relate to bloggers right here)**

So yes, I said 'no thank you' to your kind offer.  The money you were offering would have been very handy, I have to admit, but see that badge on the sidebar?  The one that says 'Brit Mums Blog With Integrity'?

I've moved it further up to make it more visible - in the hope I don't have to deal with this type of nonsense in the future.


Tell me, other bloggers and any PR's who may have read this far; am I a naive idiot?  Or simply a principled blogger?  And what would you have done?

* the triple apostrophe is the PR's own, by the way.

** please click on the link to the original Tots 100 article for the link to the OFT guidelines.

Wednesday 4 July 2012

The Gallery: Everyday

This post is for Wk 104 of Tara's Gallery; click here to see all the other entries.

The prompt for this week's gallery is 'The Everyday'.  I toyed with showing you photos of exercise books and musical instruments (I'm attempting to impose some kind of structure on our long summer holidays by ensure that 5 days in 7 the Boys do some kind of school work, boring mum that I am), or even just showing you a bowl of Weetabix but really, there is no question what a photograph of every day life in Moscow should show you.

It's not pretty, I warn you.

Even in the relatively quieter summer holidays, this is what you will probably encounter on any trip, anywhere, on wheels in Moscow.

You develop coping skills, obviously.  If you're lucky, you have a driver to take the pain (we don't).  You choose your music carefully; there's no point listening to heavy rock or nerve-jangling jazz when you can only inch along at 5 kilometers per hour.  You always make sure to have a bottle of fresh water with you, and that everyone has used the loo before you leave the house.  You build in a hefty margin of extra time; if you get there early, great.  Essentially, you prepare for the worst, so things can only be as bad as you expected or better.

Then, you climb in the car, do everything possible to maintain your cool, and you set off.  In Moscow's defence, being stuck in traffic is for some reason nowhere near as stressful here as it is back home.  People allow you to change lanes, for starters.  More often than not, those you let into traffic in front of you acknowledge that fact with a flash of their hazard lights.  Everyone is in the same boat, after all - no point getting aggressive about it (a fact that for some reason seems to escape many drivers caught in jams back in Western Europe, who take things all far too personally).

But however you handle it, this - sadly - is 'the everyday' for anyone who needs to get anywhere by road* in Moscow.

*Since Moscow is huge and the metro - whilst fantastic - has long distances between stops and doesn't serve large sections of the outskirts of the city, that's pretty much everyone...

Monday 2 July 2012

Dinosaurs, mammals, & giant earwigs; Summer holiday breakfast conversation

Over breakfast this morning, I discussed the following with my sons:

  • Which is the tallest animal
  • Which was the tallest animal ever
  • The difference that using the present tense of 'to be' makes vs using the past (i.e; 'which is the tallest animal', 'which was the tallest animal ever')
  • Whether a terror bird is a mammal
  • The difference between the word 'animal' and 'mammal'
  • Who would win, in a fight between a terror bird and a giraffe
  • How long a prehistoric artheraplura* (sic) really was
  • Whether it's stretching from one end of the house to the other was likely
  • Just how far that actually is
  • Why we were not going to measure the length of the house during breakfast
  • The exact length of Boy #2's stuffed crocodile (43cm, in case you were wondering)
  • Whether a baby artheraplura could fit into Boy #2's glass for a drink of water
  • Whether an elephant or a triceratops would win in a fight
  • A return to the 'is' and 'was' conversation
  • Whether an elephant or a giraffe would win in a fight
  • The difference between 'tallest' and 'biggest'
  • Who was going to put their plates into the dishwasher
  • Why that wasn't a question, rather a command
  • Why, in this instance, the words 'plate' and 'bowl' meant the same thing
  • Why they still had to go into the dishwasher, whatever they were called
  • Why mummy needed just a few moments of calm before we head off to the supermarket.

Ah, the summer holidays...

*Basically, a 6ft long earwig/woodlouse.  I know - the thought gives me nightmares, too.