Thirty (one) days wild

I started 30 days wild a day early.

I was filling in the garden watch survey for Springwatch and one of the questions asked how much of your garden is paved over. I thought about it and decided the answer was rather more than needed to be…so I decided to give our patio area back to nature.

Luckily Ian is used to my impulsive decisions by now so he was happy to go along.

Phase one has been digging up half the area (which included digging up a whole pile of concrete that we didn’t know was under there), replacing the hole where the concrete used to be with a mix of soil and compost, and scattering grass seed to turn it into a lawn area.

When the grass has established itself, phase 2 will be to move the picnic table across to the grassy side, and then to take up the other half of the slabs and to turn that into a wildflower area.

Hopefully the birds will enjoy having this extra area of grass to look for food in and other wildlife will find a welcoming environment below the grass to thrive in.

Patio area with some slabs lifted. Lumps of concrete showing through at the front.
Starting to take the slabs up….
Patio area with all slabs taken up on the rightt hand side. No soil and big lumps of concrete.
All the slabs are up so now to tackle the concrete. Aaaagh – it goes down a long way!
Patio area with table and a pile of slabs on the left and grass-seeded area on the right.
Area filled with a soil/compost mix, levelled off and scattered with grass seed.
Patio area with picnic table on slabs on the left hand side and grass-seeded area on the right.
Paving slabs gone (thank you nice couple who took them off our hands!) and Phase One is complete. Now we just need to keep it well watered.
small patio area with table on left and new lawn on right
This is what we had at the end of our 30 days. It took a while for the grass to get going, and then it shot up all of a sudden!

UPDATE 24-07-19
We’ve been rewarded this evening with the sight of 4 young blackbirds hopping around in this new area of grass. They must have found plenty to eat because they stayed for about 20 minutes.

Transferable Skills in Dance

It’s almost time for another series of a well-known dance competition on the BBC, and as the celebrities have now been announced there will undoubtedly be the usual cries of, “It’s not fair – they’ve had dance training!” and, “It doesn’t matter – they’re trained in ballet / street / whatever and this is ballroom.”
So which camp is right? Is previous dance training an advantage or not? In my opinion the answer to the first question is, ” both,” and to the second, it’s a resounding, “Yes … And no!”
If we take the definition of dance as “movement to music” then anybody who has some dance experience will have an advantage. For starters, they are used to timing their movements to music, meaning they are less likely to go off time then somebody who has never danced before. It’s usually the chefs and newsreaders who get pulled up on their timing. Beginner dancers also tend to be a bit “steppy” speech – ie they take one step for each beat of the music – which can make their dancing look unfinished or jerky. Those who already have dance experience, regardless of the genre, understand that the music needs to be filled, and that movements need to flow seamlessly from one to the next.
In this respect, people who have had any sort of dance training have an advantage over a true non-dancer.
It’s also true though that different dance genres have different styles, so some people who have lots of dance experience may have to unlearn years of a particular technique. I remember watching a documentary about Deborah Bull of The Royal Ballet try her hand at different dance styles, and after years of having to keep her hips rigid for ballet, she really struggled to get them to move more freely for some of the other dance styles. For someone who has trained to a really high level in ballet, a dance like samba would almost certainly be a challenge.
So back to the burning question… Is previous dance experience in a different genre an advantage or not? I think a lot depends on the individual, and on the level of dance they have achieved. However if pushed I would come down on the side of any sort of dance training being an advantage.

Things to do in the holidays that don’t cost the earth

A few days ago someone commented on a supply teaching group I belong to that she was worried about being bored in the long summer holidays.

Holidays are difficult for supply teachers, because we don’t get paid, and although in theory the daily rate includes holiday pay, when for some that daily rate is as low as £85 and they’re not guaranteed work for every day of the school term, it’s hard to budget for holidays.

Any holiday activities therefore, need to be cheap, or preferably free! As someone who never gets bored, I find the worry in the first paragraph difficult to understand, so here are some of the things I do in holidays that don’t cost the earth to do.

Blogging: Well, obviously – you’re reading this and it didn’t just write itself! On this blog I share some of my ideas for teaching and give my opinions on education related topics. I’m always looking for guest posters, so if you have an education related idea and you’d like somewhere to share it, please do get in touch with me.

Walking: At the weekend I went out with my husband and dad and we visited a couple of our local nature reserves. We took a picnic and stayed out all day, enjoying the fresh air and each other’s company. We saw several birds (including buzzards,  jays, thrushes and treecreepers, as well as the more common blackbirds, robins, magpies and crows), several different types of bee (including red-tailed and buff-tailed bumblebees) and lots of unusual flowers. There were apparently red deer also to be seen, but we weren’t lucky enough on this occasion.

Cycling: I live in a big city and I’m terrified of the traffic. Gone are the days when I happily cycled to my city centre office job. But even here, there are plenty of quiet roads and designated cycle paths, and I’ve spent a very pleasant day cycling through one of our large urban parks this week.

Catching up with friends: I hardly speak to my friends in term-time, so holidays are a time for seeing the ones who live close and having a good old natter, and putting pen to paper/fingertips to keyboard to write to the ones who live abroad.

Reading: I don’t remember a time when I didn’t love reading. I buy most of my books from supermarkets when they are on offer and pay about £3.50 per book, but if this is too much there’s always the library. I read a whole range of fiction: thrillers, horror, chick lit, fantasy, children’s books, young adult….and then I don’t get bored with any one type. There’s nothing better than curling up in a corner and getting lost in a good story.

Fiction writing: I love to take a pen and paper and get creative. Sometimes shorter pieces; sometimes poems; sometimes even longer works. I’ve shared some of my flash fiction on my personal blog, and I have one finished book and one in-progress book locked in my desk drawer waiting for me to have the courage to submit them to a publisher.

Stargazing: even if you can’t afford a telescope or binoculars, you can still take a blanket outside, lie down and look up at the night sky. You can watch the constellations as they appear to move over time, pick out several of the planets (we’ve seen Mercury, Venus, Mars and Jupiter this year) and watch out for the ISS as it passes overhead. If you’re lucky enough to have access to a decent telescope you can see the bands on Jupiter and watch Gannymede, Europe, Callisto and Io as they dance around him.  I have writing a blog post about what you can see with the naked eye on my to-do list – it just hasn’t reached the top yet!

Learning new languages: last summer I went on a (free) intensive Chinese course. I was really diligent over the summer, revising what I’d learnt on the course and teaching myself the next steps. Once the school year started I ran out of time for it. I’ve retained some because for two terms I did teach what I’d learned so far, but I’m looking forward to having time this summer to recap and move on. I’ve also been trying to learn German forever, and above my desk I have some Flashsticks that I look at whenever I sit down to work.

Learning other new things: there are so many sites offering free courses now that it’s easier than ever to learn new things. I’ve only signed up to FutureLearn and Open2Study, although there are many more, and so far I’ve learned about the new computing curriculum, archaeology, forensic psychology, how Shakespeare’s life experiences influenced his plays, how to write newspaper articles, the moons in our solar system, how to teach languages to people with dyslexia, the forgotten stories of WW1, Maori and Aborigine culture…….and too many other things to list. The day I want to stop learning is the day I’ll give up teaching!

Watching TV: I’m not one for sitting for hours in front of the box (although I do like Dr Who and Strictly Come Dancing) but there are some good programmes on. Last Sunday was the first in a series about the Spanish Armada which I’m looking forward to watching with my husband when he gets back from his week-long Harry Potter tour.

Craft: I’m hopeless at arts and crafts, but it’s something I’ve always wanted to be good at. I’ve tried a few different things, and like with most things in life, the more I practice the better I get. I’m probably never going to be good enough to be able to sell what I make but I find it relaxing and I’m happy just to be able to see progress. I bought a teach yourself to draw book (£2 from The Works) and I’ve been having a go at sketching. I’ve tried painting and although I’m no Constable there is definite improvement from my 1st to my 3rd ever attempts. I’ve decorated boxes and jam jars with tissue paper and beads, and I’ve taught myself arm knitting! And I’ve not used anything I couldn’t have got from Poundland.

week1week2the final mess





Cooking: This isn’t my favourite activity, but it’s useful and a girl’s got to eat. Usually my husband does the cooking in our household, but sometimes in the holidays I’ll set aside a day or two when I cook all day and then put everything in the freezer to use up when we both get too busy to think about preparing meals.

By the time you add in life’s necessities – housework, grocery shopping, and keeping the garden under control – just about every second of my holiday is accounted for. There’s no time for feeling bored. What do the rest of you do in your holidays? Why not share your ideas in the comments below.

Achievements and Goals

It’s been hard to look back over the whole of 2013 because the last quarter was dominated by two life-changing events: my mom died, and my husband was diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome. It hasn’t been easy to remember as far back as last January, when everything was ‘normal’, so I’ve given up on the idea of 13 things, and just decided to pick out the things that stand out in my mind.

This time last year I was looking forward to an exciting new experience – spending a week observing/volunteering in a school for deaf children. That week quickly turned into paid work as they were delighted to find a supply teacher who could sign, and I had fallen in love with the school – staff and pupils alike.

During the year I also had opportunities to do more of the work I love. I have been working 1:1 on maths and English skills with pupils who find learning difficult and I have really enjoyed seeing them blossom into confident, motivated individuals.  I was also lucky enough to be invited for the 2nd year running to teach French at a local university. The chance to teach ‘my’ subject to a group of adults who really want to learn and who are prepared to put the effort in to practise in between lessons has been fantastic.

In 2013 I learnt the following:

  • As a teacher I talk too much. This became apparent for obvious reasons at the school for deaf children. I have learnt to talk less and to let the children do more.
  • I have some really supportive friends and they weren’t always the ones I expected them to be. I couldn’t have made it through the last few months without them.
  • I had some really selfish friends who were happy with a friendship as long as it was me supporting them, but who were nowhere to be found when I needed help myself.
  • I am more resilient than I thought. Even though the last few months have been tough, I haven’t fallen apart. I’ve managed to keep working and to support people around me who have needed help to survive their own tragedies.

My proudest achievement from 2013 has been helping a disaffected child discover such a passion for English that he now reads for pleasure and no longer disrupts his English lessons leading to zero detentions for a whole term and a happier school experience.

My biggest wishes for 2014 are to find some inner peace after losing my mom and to find a way for my husband and I to cope with his Aspergers. I’m still finding it difficult to look too far into the future, so my only plan for 2014 so far is to buy a hat. If you’ve read Ros Wilson’s article in Teach Primary you will understand why….if you haven’t I’ll explain in a blog post some time in the future when I have had chance to try it out.

I wish everyone the very best for 2014 and hope that it is your best year ever, both professionally and personally.