Thursday, 16 November 2017

The Self-Policing Of Gendered School Uniforms

"You got your cardigan dirty yesterday so you'll need to wear your jumper today."

"But I don't want to wear my jumper! People will say I look like a boy!"

This was the conversation I had with Eleanor yesterday morning as she got ready for school. Actually, it's pretty much verbatim the conversation we have every time her cardigan is dirty.

This week the Church of England issued guidance to schools saying children should be free to dress up however they wish, not just adhering to gender 'rules'. I am so happy that the Church has taken this stance - I know some have accused them of hypocrisy given the in-fighting they've had over female clergy and LGBT issues but as far as I'm concerned any progress is good progress. The guidance acknowledges childhood as a safe space to play around with gender roles and work out what they really mean and I think that's fantastic.

The thing is, I think school staff know this on the whole, but, because of the messages surrounding them in our society, children are pretty ruthless in policing gender norms. And not just in terms of play - it's something I've noticed in terms of school uniform.

Our school does not specify particular items of uniform as being for boys or for girls.There is no reference in the policy to boys or girls at all, even when discussing the summer options of shorts or dresses, or when talking about hairstyles. (Long hair must be tied back - I was annoyed at first but then realised it's a nit thing.) I'm aware that other schools do still specify different uniforms for boys and girls so I was relieved to see our school was more forward-thinking than that.

And yet Eleanor will often say that she's had comments from other children when wearing the 'wrong' uniform for her gender. Admittedly she does tend to embellish the truth, but I believe that comments do occur, even if not as regularly as she makes out. I was expecting it when she wore trousers instead of a skirt, but since when was a jumper just for boys? And, for that matter, why are cardigans seen as just for girls? I don't think I've ever seen a boy in a school cardigan.

Then there are shoes. When she first started school there were no options for practical, hard-wearing shoes that covered the whole foot in the girls' section so she wore boys' shoes. We have to walk nearly a mile to school and live in Yorkshire, Mary-Janes won't cut it for keeping her feet warm and dry. But then she got comments, and that bothered her, so I was relieved this year to find Clarks had introduced a token pair of trainer-style shoes with scuff bars in the girls' section. They even have patent straps to 'pretty' them up a bit which was important to Eleanor. But guess what? She still says she gets comments about them being boys' shoes.

I don't really know what the answer is here. If even at a school with a non-gendered uniform list the children still decide what's for girls and what's for boys, what can we do? I'm a bit tired of parroting the same old phrases - "I wear trousers and jumpers, so they're not just for boys. They're not boys' shoes, they're your shoes. There's no such thing as clothes for girls and clothes for boys. Etc etc etc." How many more times do I have to say them before my daughter is comfortable standing up for herself on this? And why the heck should she have to?

I'm really encouraged to see progress happening in what is on offer for boys and girls to wear. I love that shops are starting to see the benefits of not dividing clothes up along gender lines for kids, and I'm happy that the growing number of parents speaking up about this are being listened to. What I wasn't expecting, perhaps few of us were, is how long it'll take for this new 'gender-neutral' ethos to trickle down to the very children who are impacted.

I'm not blaming the kids at all. The urge to find rules in everyday life and enforce them is strong in children, it helps them make sense of the world at a time when it's hard to understand nuance. And where they see patterns (of behaviour, dress etc) they will jump to rules. It just makes me realise what I'm up against. Even if all schools stop gendering uniforms, even if all shops stop dividing their clothes between boys and girls, how long will it take for this culture to fade away amongst children?

Have you come against similar issues with school uniform?

Monday, 13 November 2017

Review: 'Rooster Wore Skinny Jeans' by Jessie Miller and Barbara Bakos

This morning I woke up to news that the Archbishop of Canterbury has called on schools and nurseries to allow children to dress up how they choose, regardless of gender stereotypes. I'm really happy about this, and may write more about it later in the week. But it also reminded me of a picture book I had waiting to review.

When we received a copy of 'Pirates in Classroom 3' from Maverick Books, they also sent a copy of 'Rooster Wore Skinny Jeans'. Written by Jessie Miller and illustrated by Barbara Bakos, it is the story of a fashion-conscious rooster with a penchant for online shopping. When his new pair of skinny jeans arrives early, he can't wait to show them off to the other animals on the farm.

The other animals, however, are unimpressed and make fun of poor rooster. He hides away until he decides that he doesn't need their approval, he's happy wearing his new jeans and being himself.

I really love the message of this story. It champions the individual and encourages children to dress for themselves and find happiness within rather than looking to other people's opinions for validation. It's also a good reminder not to judge others and to accept, and even applaud, other people's differences - as the other farm animals eventually do.

It's also fantastic to read a story featuring a male character who loves fashion. While skinny jeans aren't necessarily 'girly' they are framed as a clear style choice, and the way the rooster admires them is out of the ordinary for the depiction of boys and men in books. He admires the colours and sparkly stitching, and proclaims, "my bum looks fantastic!" And at the end of the book he purchases a much more flamboyant item - I won't spoil the ending for you though! It's great to have a book celebrating a male character who steps outside the box and loves all things sartorial.

In terms of readability, the text is great - it's written in rhyming couplets which always goes down well with children. I like how there are a few little jokes in there about online shopping that no doubt will go over the kids' heads but will make the adult reader smile!

The illustrations are very bright, bold and cheerful. I particularly liked the little chicks that popped up throughout the book, adding another level of detail to spot as the book becomes more familiar. The farmyard setting is always a winner with children - I've mentioned before that Ezra loves animal-themed books and this one is no exception. He really enjoyed pointing out all the different animals and making their noises - and was very excited by the 'cock-a-doodle-doo' which he loves to emulate!

I really recommend this book. It would be great for a little boy with a sense of style, to affirm that that's OK and it's good to enjoy the clothes you wear. But really it's a story for everyone - a lesson in acceptance and in daring to be different. I don't think there's anyone who wouldn't benefit from that message!

DISCLAIMER: I was provided with a copy of the book for the purposes of this review, but all words and opinions are my own.

Linking up with #ReadWithMe hosted by Mama Mummy Mum.

Read With Me

Monday, 6 November 2017

Review: 'Pirates in Classroom 3' by Alison Donald and Ben Whitehouse

Ezra is rather fascinated with pirates at the moment. I think it's down to catching bits of 'Swashbuckle' on TV - if he so much as sees a picture or hears the word 'pirate' he'll swing his arm and say 'arrr!' It's rather cute!

The lovely people at Maverick Books sent me some lovely books recently and I was excited to see a pirate-themed one, 'Pirates in Classroom 3' by Alison Donald and Ben Whitehouse. I knew straight away Ezra would love it!

It's a really fun story - a class of young children are one day visited by a pirate searching for treasure and go off on a little adventure with him to find the loot he's after. I love how, although the main child character is a boy, the story shows both boys and girls enthusiastically joining in with the adventure.

Eleanor got to the book before me so was the first to test it out. She really enjoyed it, said it was very funny and that her favourite bit was, "the bad pirate who said really funny things!" Being set in a classroom, it's a really good story for older preschoolers and younger school-age children who could imagine themselves going on an adventure from their own classroom.

When I read it with Ezra there was a lot of enthusiastic arrr-ing going on! As he's still quite small the story went over his head, but he absolutely loved the pictures - once we had read it, he kept turning the pages over to look at the little details in each spread. I particularly liked how expressive the faces were - even though the illustration style is quite simple, you could still spot a range of different expressions. So as Ezra pointed at the different children I could talk about their emotions - "that girl looks excited! That boy looks a bit scared."

We really enjoyed 'Pirates in Classroom 3' and definitely think it's one we'll read over and over - so I'd better improve my dodgy pirate voice!!

DISCLAIMER: I was given one copy of the book for the purposes of this review, but all words and opinions are my own. Well, apart from the ones that were my child's!

Linking up with 'Read With Me' hosted by Mama Mummy Mum.

Read With Me

Tuesday, 31 October 2017

My 4 Favourite YouTube Channels For Kids

It's the last day of Blogtober, and the final prompt is YouTube. I have to admit, YouTube is the social network I use the least. I rarely watch videos for me because when I'm on my phone I'm usually keeping it quiet to avoid waking the toddler as her drifts off, or drawing enquiries from the 5 year old as she suddenly wants to know what that noise is. And my kids don't watch a lot of YouTube either. Eleanor used to as a toddler but it was all too easy for her to skip from bearable videos to ones that made me want to scream, so I weaned her off it.

That said, there are a few channels that I actually find not only manageable, but even enjoyable. Here they are, in no particular order:

Barefoot Books

I used to be a Barefoot Books ambassador before the European scheme closed down and I found this channel useful for learning about their singalong books. It wasn't long before Eleanor started watching them with me and really enjoying them. Singalong books are picturebooks containing lyrics with an accompanying CD of the song, and the Barefoot Book channel incudes videos of all the singalongs with animated book illustrations. We used to love joining in with the songs, and Eleanor would sing them to herself all the time!


This is one Eleanor stumbled across by virtue of watching the Barefoot Books ones. At first I rolled my eyes but actually, although the animations are quite basic (and at times a bit creepy) the songs are very fun. They're performed by A J Jenkins, whose voice is reminiscent of Jack Johnson which always made me chuckle. I was reminded of them when Eleanor was in Reception and I spotted her class watching some of the videos on the whiteboard at the end of the day. Which leads me to believe they're highly educational so absolutely FINE for kids to binge-watch.

Cosmic Kids Yoga

This is a recent discovery. Regular readers will know Eleanor is a spirited child and I've been trying out different ways of both getting her energy out and encouraging her to calm herself and focus her mind. Cosmic Kids does both - it's yoga, but not as you know it. Each routine is very lively and follows a fun story, but ends with a lie down and quiet contemplation. We don't often get to do the routines because they are a little long and Ezra climbs on me if we try to do it when he's around, but we love doing them whenever we get a chance.

Maddie Moate

Eleanor and I absolutely love Maddie's show 'Do You Know?' on CBeebies but Maddie started out as a YouTuber and has loads of great educational videos. Maddie is a fantastic children's presenter and role model - curious, adventurous and enthusiastic about learning more and showing what she's learnt. While we have 'Do You Know?' on series link it's great to have her YouTube channel to go to for fresh content to keep Eleanor interested.

So those are my tips, which kids' YouTube channels have you found that won't make me want to scream?!

Linking up with Day 31 of #Blogtober17 - YouTube.


Monday, 30 October 2017

The Four Types Of Pinterest Parent

Ahh, Pinterest. Where good intentions go to die. For me, anyway.

I first joined Pinterest just over four years ago while we were in the process of buying a new house. It's a 70's build so I'd had the great idea of decorating it in a retro style and created a board to store my ideas. Of course four-and-a-bit years on the only room we've redecorated is the bathroom, and it's definitely not-retro. That board hasn't been checked in a long time.

Nowadays I mostly use Pinterest as a way of clearing out all the links I've saved on Facebook or liked on Twitter. But I do hear whispers of other parents who use it properly. Mind-blowing.

As far as I can tell all Pinterest parents fall into at least one of four categories ...

The Perfect Pinner

Not only are their boards well-organised but they are full of relevant pins. And guess what? They've even ACTED ON those pins. They've read the articles, made the crafts, cooked the recipes. Heck, they might even have added their own pins. Wild.

The Optimistic Pinner

This parent will also have various boards, but not particularly clearly labelled ones and the pins inside have been mostly put in as 'ahh near enough'. This is the parent who sees a great idea on the internet, hurriedly pins it so as not to lose it, and then never looks at it again. (This parent is me.)

The Friday Night Pinner

Also known as the 'we've got to make WHAT for your homework?' pinner. Boards are named vague things like 'kids crafts' or 'science stuff' and contain several highly specific pins of animal crafts, rocket experiments and model planets. Updated every few weeks (or for really unfortunate parents, weekly) and always on a Friday after school. Pins are never looked at again after the project is over.

The False Start Pinner

One board containing a few very similar pins, last updated three years ago. This parent clearly realised early on that there's more to life than Pinterest. 

Which pinner are you?

Linking up with #Blogtober17 - Pinterest.


Sunday, 29 October 2017

Why I'm Rubbish At Instagram

Today's Blogtober prompt is Instagram. It's quite a big deal these days, especially in blogging circles where you can even generate an income just from your Instagram feed. And while I do have an account, I'm just not very good at updating it or checking it regularly. Why? Well ...

It confuses me

Now I know I don't go on the app regularly, but how come when I do I have to wade through a load of week-old photos to get to anything remotely recent? Should I comment on a photo posted almost a fortnight ago or is it now totally irrelevant? I just get annoyed with it. And yes I know the 'Stories' are always current but I don't really understand what they are, and besides, if they need sound they won't make sense to me as I'm usually checking my phone whilst getting a toddler to sleep or sneaking a peek while the kids are watching CBeebies so need it to be silent.

I hate selfies

I look weird in selfies. Suddenly I have crazy eyes, a wonky smile and a huge double chin. And my phone's selfie camera accentuates my eyebags. Now I know Instagram isn't all about selfies, especially for my generation, but my aversion to them does cut down what I can post.

My kids aren't Insta-ready

Don't get me wrong, my kids are flipping CUTE. But turn a camera on them and one will wriggle away while the other will pull a weird 'cheese' face. They don't pose artily in fields of flowers or in front of vibrantly painted walls. They don't wear top-to-toe Boden and Frugi. And they Don't. Stay. Still.

My house is a mess

Then there's the fact I avoid posting photos of our home because it's a bombsite. I'm not talking 'few toys here and there that a quick tidy would fix' messy. I'm talking 'blu-tac trodden in the carpet, drink spill stains on the furniture and discarded clothes everywhere' messy. I do try to keep it tidy but five minutes after a good clean up it looks as bad as it did before. And yet parents on Instagram seem to have pristine homes so their fashionably-dressed youngsters can pose happily on cream sofas with cashmere throws and perfectly placed cushions. That just ain't my home.

Going out is stressful

Well if I don't like photos indoors, how about taking photos when we go out? I try, I really do. But let's all admit it - going out with kids is A Nightmare. You have to constantly make sure they're not only in sight but behaving appropriately and not wrecking anything or endangering themselves. If I do have time to snap a few photos they're generally blurry, or I've just missed the cute moment, or there's someone else's kid wandering in front. And by the time I've taken it, one of the kids has wandered off and I have to track them down again.

My phone is dying

It's a slow demise, been happening for months, but I haven't had time to replace it because, well, I'm a parent, I don't have time for anything. Heck, my trainers have been majorly leaking for three months and I only replaced them three days ago. But it does mean that it takes roughly five minutes just to load up my camera and take a photo, so what's the point in trying to capture that candid moment?

I'm verbal, not visual

I remember in sixth form my brilliant drama teacher asking the class to do a cartoon version of a play, but for me she asked me to write a poem version, because she recognised that I'm much better with words than pictures. Ultimately, although I like photos, I prefer to write (and read) little life updates. Yes you can add a comment to your photo on Instagram, but as the words mean more to me than the photo, the whole point of the social network is a bit lost on me.

I will keep persisting with Instagram though. Maybe one day I'll crack it - when I've changed my face, found a way of taming my kids, redecorated the house ...


Saturday, 28 October 2017

Six Things I Love About Twitter

Yesterday we were talking about Facebook - well today it's the turn of my other, possibly greater social media love - Twitter. I joined Twitter just over five years ago and it's been eating up my time ever since. Frankly, it's a bit of a problem. But I love it because ...

1. It's great for 'meeting' people

I'm a bit of an introvert, and not always very good at striking up conversations in real life. Online though, I find it much easier - I suppose I'm better at writing than I am at talking! It took me a while to find new people on Twitter but once I did I made some really good online friendships with people I would never have come across. It's broadened my perspective a lot as I get to know people from outside my little Northern-suburbia bubble.

2. It's full of people who live in my phone

Now, I know the people I talk to do actually exist outside Twitter. But, for the most part, I've never met them and am unlikely to run into them. There's something quite freeing about that. I'm not very good at admitting to people face-to-face when I'm having a bad day because I worry about how they'll react. But I can admit it to people who I know I won't bump into tomorrow, who won't ask me awkward questions which I'll gloss over with a breezy, "oh I'm fine." I know that if I say I'm having a tough time on Twitter I'll most likely get a few supportive hug gifs and nothing more. (Whether this is a healthy approach to life or not is another question ...)

3. It makes me laugh

They say brevity is the soul of wit. That's certainly true of Twitter. Those 140 characters have at times made me cry with laughter. There are so many brilliant jokes, one-liners and funny stories floating around on Twitter, it brings a smile to my face at least once a day. Yes, Facebook has it's memes but personally I find a well-crafted tweet much funnier.

4. It makes me think

It's not all laughs. Often Twitter is used to discuss issues in a way that doesn't happen in the mainstream media, or even in real life. It's a mouthpiece for people who wouldn't otherwise be heard. Now obviously this is a double-edged sword - there are plenty of people on Twitter whose opinion I not only disagree with, but actively object to. And there is a big troll problem too. But look past that and you can find out about lots of issues, views and events that you might not hear about in the news. I've thought a lot more deeply about a lot of subjects since joining Twitter.

5. It's great for TV viewing

This is not often something I indulge in because often the big shows clash with bedtime so I watch them on delay or after they've aired. But a good tweet-along is a lot of fun. Following people's tweets about Bake Off, Strictly or Eurovision adds another level, a bit like watching with your mates except they're people you've never met (bit weird) and they're not talking over the good bits.

6. It's good for nosying at celebs

Now obviously I know celebrities probably heavily vet what they put on Twitter. And I actually don't follow many celebs. But occasionally you get a glimpse of what they're like as normal people and it's quite refreshing. It's a peek behind the artifice of TV/film etc to see a bit of personality. And seeing them chat between themselves is surreal but very amusing!