Lost boys

Lost boys

I’ve just returned to Lagos and noticed how hard the faces of the local area boys were. Boys in their teens with scars and penetrating eyes, screwed up mouths and desperate husky voices. They wanted some naira for forcibly washing our windscreen. I had no money having just returned that morning. That’s when I realised the 50 naira is what you give to not have to listen to the please of those who beg by day maybe mug by might, to wonder at the harshness of life’s lottery. When i got home I said to my husband what kind of life must they have had to look like that. He replied you don’t want to know. London immediately seems light years away.

We worry so much about the fine points of our children’s education we forget about those who have yet to breathe the rare air of a school room.

Slum to School is a charity I really like because they are trying to provide schooling to the many school kids in Lagos for whom school is like something they dream about when their hard day comes to an end. It kind of puts everything into perspective.

I have yet to donate or do anything with them because of ebola and I’m worried about heading into the slums of Makoko. It takes some courage.

But do check them out – they are doing a fantastic job.

http://slumtoschool.org

Agnitus ipad App

 

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We’ve been using the Agnitus App a while – since last year sometime.  It’s basically a touch enabled fun educational app for kids aged 2-7.  It used to be free but just when it was getting good they suddenly went subscription only.  Anyway we subscribed.  There are a lot of apps out there but what I liked about Agnitus (I’m getting to the things I don’t like or don’t understand) are the fact that there are lots of different very interesting educational ‘games’ within the app and these keep updating either to new levels or replaced by apps that keep pace with my son’s development, knowledge and skills.  They are very relatable with bright colours, sweet cartoons and a friendly learning buddy ‘Icky’.   I can also monitor his usage in my spare time – see where his time has been spent, see how he compares to other children and how well he ‘tests’ at these games. I can edit his collection of apps if I think he is just doing the ‘easy’ ones.  I don’t do that though. For instance I can see my son overwhelmingly prefers maths – over 350 minutes spent across all apps, 250 of those minutes went just on maths.  The categories change but include things like literacy, balance, memory, spatial awareness, quantity, daily routines, visual scanning (whatever that means). My son is really above average at visual scanning.  Proud!  Maybe this means he’ll be good at looking for bacteria under a microscope!

Who knew visual scanning would take me all the way to Harvard!

Who knew visual scanning would take me all the way to Harvard!

Which brings me to the things I don’t like about Agnitus.  They grade your child!  My three year old son spent 1 minute on science and got a C. Really? In a whole 1 minute?  I guess they are appealing to every kind of parent, not my kind.  Also I’m highly skeptical about Agnitus’ ability to teach skills.  I’m not an expert though.  The tagline used to be ‘Agnitus, games for learning’. Now it just says ‘Agnitus’.  Perhaps some regulatory body questioned its claims to teach.  For example  the tracing letters exercise which my son aced, brought him no closer to tracing letters in the real world.  If fact, it may have built some resistance as tracing was a lot easier on the iPad requiring less finger exertion.  Muscle strength in the hands is a huge part of fine motor skills so its not a small thing.  Likewise, he found it quite easy to treat Agnitus like a video game  and ‘score’ with random hits and also just enjoyed treating it as game not actually thinking about the content.

 

http://www.agnitus.com  – ignore the creepy lobotomised mom video intro!

 

But I have stuck with it because it is somewhat educational and it does interest him and it may give me a half an hour to do something else.  As he has gotten older – he’s almost four, I’ve noticed him using it more and more as an educational tool than a dartboard.  We do some games together and he is better at some of them than I am!  I think it has reinforced things I have taught him and perhaps even added to what he knows, although he still treats it as a game and so scores lower than I think his actual knowledge deserves.  It is also showing me where his self directed exploration takes him and that reinforces what I choose to do in homeschool.  It has shown me we can do a lot more with maths and shapes because this sort of thing he really likes but literacy and anything to do with handwriting has to be a lot more fun because he’s not so naturally inclined this way.  He loves reading though and loves being read to by the Agnitus talking books.

I’m not sure what else is out there that might have more value for money but I think I will stick with it because it really suits my needs as a homeschooler who already spends a lot of time ‘teaching’ my son 1-2-1. I don’t feel guilty about this screen time and it seems to be becoming more beneficial as time goes on.  I’m a little excited to see how the app keeps pace with my 4, 5 even 6 year old son.  The signs are good.

 

School’s Out, In Out

The latest on schools and the Ebola crisis in Nigeria is that schools were postponed until at least October 13th by the Ministry of Health – a couple of schools were forcibly closed by armed  personnel.  Then  private schools lobbied the government and schools are now due to resume September 22nd.

Since then the debate has been raging for parents – should schools be open or closed.

 

The arguments to open

  • Most parents work and do not have materials, time or inclination to teach their children at home.  Perhaps they don’t even really have a home suitable for children to be cooped up all day or left to their own devices.
  • Some children are preparing for exams – for them every week of school they miss could make the difference in their grades.
  • Parents have also in many cases already paid school fees that schools are unlikely to refund.  They are highly invested in getting value for this money, Ebola or not.
  • Yes there is Ebola but Nigeria is a country of many plagues, from dengue fever to malaria which kill thousands every year. To date Ebola has only killed 18.  Under such circumstances the mentality is very much – life must go on.  Weddings, naming ceremonies, funerals and church services. School too.  It’s not like there’s an end point in sight.  This could go on for some time.

 

The arguments to stay closed

  • Adults can quickly learn the language of Ebola. Preventing transmission requires avoiding physical contact with the fluids of an infected person, so no kissing, handshakes, touching sweat, vomit , blood, diarrhoea etc.   Washing hands with soap and water and using hand sanitisers as well as practice good hygiene can go  a long way to keeping Ebola from spreading. Even teenage children struggle to keep this up.  Children love to touch, are generally nasty and do not understand the seriousness of the instructions.
  • Schools in Nigeria are not regulated and held to the same standards as most Western schools.  Some do not have running water never mind soap. Many do not have toilet paper and, especially less developed areas, the ‘toilets’ will be as basic as you can imagine.  Ebola would rip through such schools leaving the nation with the horrific spectacle of children in isolation and possibly dying.
  • Ebola seemed to be trailing off at one point but has broken out again in another Nigerian city where there are reportedly 400 people under surveillance. This is far from over. Schools should wait until it is over – safety first.
  • It’s easy for me to say schools should be closed as I only have 1 pre-K age son who I’ve already been homeschooling for  a year and a toddler who is nearly 2.  I also think Ebola has been managed pretty well by the authorities here and do not feel too much at risk, hence why I’m still here in the country.   I am with my children pretty much all the time so I can limit their activities with strangers and monitor their sanitation personally.
  • We still don’t have Zmapp in Nigeria. There’s a lot of talk about trials and getting Zmapp but it’s not here.

There are pros and cons and the safety of our children should always take priority. I don’t think the new earlier resumption of September 22nd is wise. I think we should still wait but I do understand this is a tough decision  and a huge responsibility for the Health Minister also my child is not going to school so I will reserve judgement and try to stay positive

 

 

Flying Solo

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I love collaborative learning and especially the way young kids will vibe off each other. When it works – it’s wonderful and often they don’t even realise they are learning, but how often does the magic happen? It’s certainly not most of the day or even every day. Some of my most vivid memories of school (and I loved school) where sitting in the group watching the magic happen for two or three members and feeling left behind (not understanding) or bored (I knew it already). I’ve never been that much of a team player, I don’t like working with others on a task. Being a writer is perfect for me because I like hanging out with people but doing the work alone. I liken the idea of the classroom to a false relationship as in the above meme because it’s not what it’s set up to be. We all remember fondly those teachers who really looked out for us as people, nurtured our talents and inspired us because it was pretty rare to have a great one to one connection with the teacher against up to 30 others. I saw a wonderful Ted Talk on Montessori education – it sounded so good – all the TED talks on preschool education sound good, but so much depends on the teacher, class sizes, other pupils and then the teacher and your child having that great connection. When you supervise one to one instruction, you know if the connection is there or not, if the instruction is effective or not and if your child is enjoying it or not. When you’re child is in a classroom, you’re not there and when you liaise with the teacher afterwards, you’re only getting one side of the story.

My 3yo son enjoys group activity very much and I notice he picks up vocabulary, cultural norms and general knowledge that way. But when he needs to master something, he generally needs 1-1 instruction. This was true for me. I know a lot of the ‘bright’ kids at school did work outside school to remain ahead of the class. Their magic was private tuition which starts at age 4 in Lagos for children in school.

Case in point – swimming. Over the past year he has had two sets of 10 weeks of lessons in group format. 4/5 kids every week with one highly qualified teacher. She’s one of very view certified swimming instructors in Lagos. But in those 20 weeks, my son wouldn’t get off the ring. He screamed his head off if you tried to take him out of it but would swim great with the ring on. There was consequently little improvement in his actual swimming ability or confidence. Three weeks ago after a 2 month break we started once weekly lessons with a new uncertified teacher in a format where each child would have their own 30 minutes in the water with the teacher. Yesterday my son was able to swim without any swimming aids for the first time.

In other areas of our homeschool I’ve noticed my son has days where he will move at a snail’s pace and days where he will zip through his activity and beg for more. Each stage we are able to go at his pace. That’s been very helpful.

Group activity has its role to play – but for now I’d just like to celebrate 1-1 instruction. solo-solodolo-Quotes-sayings-swag-swagger-swagg-Quotes

Phonics – the jolly way or the hard way

I confess I am easily influenced, so when I heard Amaru’s peers in nursery were doing phonics I ran out and bought this.

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Learn to read in 20 easy lessons – yeah sure – if you’re an older child maybe but my three year old wasn’t having any of it and we did it every day for a few months and then I just let it go. He was very cooperative and would happily recite but he didn’t really get it. After every lesson it was back to square one. It wasn’t just that it wasn’t working but it wasn’t very child friendly. A huge book with black and white pages with letters on them and the odd graphic.

So I left it for a few months and then I ordered the Jolly Phonics system.

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It was expensive but sometimes you get what you pay for – in this case a little valise full of fab workbooks, a story book, a dvd songbook, a video, a games CD, a phonics poster and there may have been a toy or some pencils or something too. Anyway every time I take out this valise, my son almost wets himself with excitement. It’s really something to see. He will beg to do these phonics all day long. The activities he will want to do again and again. One which was decorating an ‘S’ – we used sssand- and he had to do this 4 different times. Its the kind of thing that also engages my 20 month old. He doesn’t get that it’s phonics, he just enjoys colouring, singing, reading etc.

So no idea if he’ll be reading soon or not but jolly is the operative word. Even I’m having fun! If you buy this new, photocopy all the pages as you move through the book so you can resell it later or reuse it with a younger child. Note: this is British phonics. If we all had American accents I might have tried hooked on phonics.

Inlaws…

School is closed because of Ebola but that doesn’t stop people from telling you your son should be in school. A few people have said, you’re in a good position because your son isn’t in school but most people haven’t.

This week my inlaws weighed in and I always find it annoying when people say your son should be in school BECAUSE he’s so smart and doing so well yada yada. Like at least let it be because he couldn’t recognise his name or add up to 10 or sat at home crying all day from loneliness. Success is not its own reward, it is just another stick people use to beat you with ha ha.

Someone at the summer camp said my son would benefit from school because he didn’t sit still well – which I think is true. He is not a good sitter and he definitely sat and followed tasks better after a few days at the camp. Is this what they call socialisation? I’m not sure. That’s something I’ll take on board, I just don’t know how important it is. What do you think?

My inlaws really want my son in school, even though schools are a hotbed of disease and are currently closed because of the Ebola outbreak. I’m not even sure how I will handle this when schools reopen. Some of my anxieties are cultural. In Nigeria inlaw pressure is more of a phenomenon than in the west. As a wife living with inlaws my children belong to the whole family and inlaws have a say in their welfare and expect their input to be taken very seriously. I know my husband will support me on my decision and my inlaws are great – they’re just more conservative when it comes to education and want the best for all their grandchildren. I guess I will have to decide how committed I am to homeschooling if it means a confrontation with my inlaws about it. I’ll keep you posted.

Ebola Update! Everyone’s homeschooling now!

Well, not really, not yet.   Some international schools were supposed to resume Monday 18th but they have decided to postpone reopening to give people a chance to return (many parents have gone on vacation and have understandable stayed abroad until they feel more confident about returning).  The Government has declared a national state of emergency and requested schools/nurseries etc not reopen until they assess the situation to be safe.  Interestingly, private schools are making their own decisions. Most are saying they will open a week later. I find this odd, disturbing even – schools wouldn’t ignore government advice in the UK for fear of litigation. On the other hand perhaps this is good news, it shows confidence.   The problem with children is that they are not hygienic.    I have visited enough schools during lesson time to know that young children, like to touch toilet bowls, avoid hand washing, drink tap water, soil themselves and are generally icky.  They have no sense of personal space and all the stuff you’re not supposed to do during an Ebola outbreak, its pretty much guaranteed they will do.

None of this is my business by the way since I homeschool. I’ve finally taken my kids out of camp. I may be travelling to the UK soon with my kids to sit out the next few months.  I haven’t so far because its unplanned and very costly as its still holiday time.  BA is charging 5000 dollars for 1 adult, a 3 year old and an 18 month old for an economy ticket from Lagos to London.  But you know what, we may have to just pay this because we are so worried.

Every one is worried, hand sanitiser is mostly sold out everywhere and where it is sold you can pay up to £25 a bottle.  That’s about $40!   My nanny was so happy today we gave her a pair of gloves and a mask and she put them on immediately with her long sleeved sweater to get her bus home.

We still are doing the odd playdate with just one or two friends and going to restaurants but some people are holed up in their homes, not seeing anyone or they’re leaving.

The next few days will be crucial. We have 10 confirmed Ebola cases. Will there be more?  Will there be dreaded secondary contact cases?  The whole country is holding its breath.  This is make or break time for Africa’s most populous nation.

 

 

Ebola virus in Lagos

It’s a worrying time to be in Lagos.  A Liberian man arrived at Lagos international airport sick and collapsed and was suspected to have the Ebola virus.  Unfortunately he died soon after being taken to hospital and Nigeria officials have confirmed that it was ebola.

Ebola is a nasty virus.  I don’t know of any worse.  It is extremely worrying knowing that here in this densely populated city and just a few miles from our house (where this man died),  the ebola virus was there and may have been transferred.  I’ve spent a few hours terrifying myself with Google images.

Of course no evidence yet that the authorities did not properly contain it.  We may be pessimistic because of the healthcare and infrastructure shortcomings but Nigerian airport staff were  already trained  to watch out for the virus and supposedly all the people in contact with this man from the plane and through to the hospital are being monitored.  Ebola is a slow moving disease so there is no reason to panic yet.

People are very concerned – as they should be – and stepping up their sanitation practices. Some are already avoiding public gatherings – which I think is premature but I’m not a medical expert.  I’ve put hand gel by the front door and I ask everyone to wash their hands.  We’re still going to playgroup and camp and playdates and the store. I was never into street food anyway.

I wish I could run straight to the safe certainties of the UK or USA but that’s just me hyperventilating.  If you rushed off every time there was a travel alert there would be few places in the world where you could live.

So, life goes on while we wait to see to what happens and pray for good news.

 

Some parents be like…

At international playgroup recently, I saw a mother with her son in a body lock while he flailed and screamed.  Been there, done that so I wandered over to offer moral support and maybe learn something.  As I approached, she was trying to force feed him some goo.

“Tell him you will beat him if he doesn’t eat!” she said to me in a strong Indian accent.

“Huh??”

“Please,” she begged with the most angelic smile. “Tell him you will beat him if he doesn’t eat.”

Cheeky. I thought. What do I look like, some nutter who goes around smacking other people’s kids? The  toddler looked at me sullenly.

“Auntie will beat you,” She scolded. “Eat your food!” “Its the only way he’ll eat,” she said apologetically.  “Please – tell him.”

“Erm, so I’m not going to do that,” I said, thoroughly discomfited by the whole episode. Maybe this would end in a  Mediatakeout or DailyMail.com story.

“Maybe wait a bit. He’ll probably eat when he gets hungry,” I suggested.

“He needs to eat now before he falls asleep,” she snapped.

Aware that if you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem, I beat a hasty retreat but I did learn something – that not every parent get’s their advice from Dr Spock.